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Ride of my life: Johnny O’Shea

Johnny O’Shea recalls his best ride on North Sands, known as High School

The first time I ever rode North Sands (or High School as she was known) was out cubbing in the autumn of 1966.

On that first morning I couldn’t hold one side ofher. Half way through that season she finally started to settle and drop the bit. After that I would let her have her head, give her a kick and she would jump anything – the bigger the better.

The best day I had on her was towards the end of the 1970/71 season. We met at Saighton Grange on 13 February right in the middle of our best hunting country. Back then it was a sea of grass and you could jump anywhere if you were brave enough.

Hounds found in the spinney by Platt’s Rough. We did two circuits round Saighton, jumped the drain – the most famous hedgeline in Cheshire – twice, before the fox straightened his neck, crossed the main Chester-Whitchurch road and ran along the railway, past the Brock Holes by the River Gowy, before being brought down in the shadow of Beeston Castle.

It was a 10mile point and easily 16 as hounds ran without a check in just over an hour.

We jumped some of the biggest fences I have ever crossed, as well as some trappy little places – apparently an innocuous little hedge and ditch brought down a good few, but nothing was too much for High School that day.

There were not many in at the finish. It had been wet, so the ground conditions were fairly mucky, and it found out a lot of the horses, but High School just kept running and jumping.

You cannot beat Thoroughbred blood – even at the end of 16 miles without a check she would take me to the last fence just as she had the first of the run with her ears pricked. I can honestly say that she never took a bad step all day.

When she finally finished hunting, I bought her myself and bred from her. Prince Charles bought and hunted her first foal – a colt by a horse of Eric Cousin’s that was favourite for the Ebor.

Of her other offspring, one bred a point-to-point winner for Gemma Dewhurst, who still has the line. It is nice to know her descendants are still going strong out with the Cheshires.

Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (26 September) where Tim Fairburn talks about his ‘ride of a lifetime’ atthe Horse of the Year Show on Scotch the Rumours.

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