The equestrian world is full of unsung equestrian heroes, working with equine charities, teaching, training, breaking and schooling and generally devoting their lives to horses. Sara Walker talks to Cheshire-based Linda Rose about her work promoting the sport of driving — and the two Shetland ponies who can turn their hooves to anything.
“I started riding when I was five — that seems a long time ago now!” laughs Linda. “I was the typical pony-mad child, making showjumping courses in the garden of our house in Scotland out of washing props and chairs. I got my first pony, Tinker, when I was 11, in the 1960s. We’d moved to Jersey by then, and I was lucky enough to get a lot of competition riding at a riding school where I helped out.
“All through school, all I wanted to do was work with horses so I’m afraid I didn’t really apply myself! I finally did my BHSAI when I was 18, but only worked with horses professionally for a couple of years before deciding that lifestyle wasn’t for me. Instead, I went travelling round Europe before marrying and moving to Cheshire. A friend then told me of a thoroughbred mare who needed a home. I went to see her and of course ended up buying her! She was practically a rescue case when I got her, thin as a hat rack, but that mare won me first prizes at Wembley, Hickstead and the NEC. I later bred a daughter, a grandson and a granddaughter from her, and kept them all as competition horses.
“I also joined Wilmslow Riding Club, which had been going since the 1950s and at the time was one of the biggest clubs in the country. I was on the club’s committee for more than 20 years — I think I did every possible job with them from cleaning toilets to being chairman! I was working full-time in IT support, and fortunately had an extremely understanding husband as the club took up so much time. In the 1990s, the club was recommended by the BHS to take part in an annual exchange visit with a German riding club, which continued for many years and was a fantastic experience.
“In 2002, something happened that would change my life although I didn’t know it at the time. My husband John and I used to go for walks and would regularly see two Shetland ponies in a field. They were young stallions, completely unhandled. The owner was about to lose his grazing and was on the point of sending them for meat, so John and I stepped in and bought them, naming them Blackie and Brownie. I had mares at my own yard so couldn’t take them home, so a friend with grazing and a barn nearby offered to help.
“Gradually, we worked with them, got headcollars on them and eventually had them castrated and started breaking them. I’d thought all along I wasn’t going to keep them, but I’d got so close to them by this point that I gave in! I brought them home, and a local riding school used them on Saturdays. A lovely girl called Anna also rode them and competed with Blackie and Brownie. At competitions, everyone always thought we’d brought them as companions for a big dressage horse — the look on their faces when they realised they were competing was priceless. And even more so when the Shetlands won! Another local family, the Hodgsons, also brought their two small sons, Mike and Richard, to ride and compete both ponies, doing very well at shows.
“I’d done some driving in Germany, and when it became apparent these ponies were staying, I decided to drive them myself. They took to it immediately. Mike Hodgson switched to driving when he was 11 and did fantastically well, winning against juniors and adults alike and even going abroad with team GB. We competed at Sandringham and Windsor — I remember Prince Philip saying he was amazed to see a team of Shetlands competing at such a high level!
“There used to be a series of indoor driving events in Cheshire, and gradually they’d died a bit of a death, so in 2008 I decided to restart them with my good friends Lesley and Andrew Goodden. Indoor events involve precision and paces, cone and obstacles, so they’re a really good work out for the horses as well as being great fun. We worked under the umbrella of Chester Horse Driving Trials, and again we did everything from organising to setting up cones! The events are still thriving now, and are held at Reaseheath College near Nantwich.
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“I still drive now, and Blackie and Brownie work as Riding for the Disabled ponies as well as taking part in musical rides with our local Pony Club. I’ve made so many great friends through driving, it’s a real community sport and everyone is so friendly. I worry about the amount of traffic on the roads these days, so I’m a member of the Countryside Access Forum, liaising with the police about rural road safety and working to save and increase off-road routes.
“When I first saw Blackie and Brownie in that field all those years ago, I’d never have believed where we’d all end up together. They’ve touched so many lives, people recognise them wherever they go!”
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