96-year-old who hunted into her 80s has no plans to give up riding

  • A 96-year-old who has no plans to hang up her boots says her twice-weekly rides on a 17hh former racehorse are her “lifeline”.

    Grandmother of five Elizabeth Breton won point-to-points in her youth but then had a long break from the saddle, returning when she was about 70.

    She hunted till she was in her 80s and still rides thoroughbred Billy, who is “very comfortable”, she told H&H, near her home in Gloucestershire.

    “I’m not sure I’d enjoy my riding so much if I was hacking around flat Lincolnshire!” she said. “We haven’t been able to do anything exciting recently as it’s been so wet, but I did nearly fall off last week when a pheasant made a meal of coming out of the hedge and I had no reins. I was definitely unseated but luckily survived, as he’d be quite big to fall off.”

    Mrs Breton said she started riding aged two, and has pictures of herself on an 11.2hh grey, who “pulled like mad” but cemented her love for horses.

    She remembers winning the Beaufort ladies’ race on Farm Hill, who was 25-1 with the bookmakers but 80-1 on the Tote. “Someone said ‘that horse came through like a dose of salts’,” she said. “My husband Peter had 10 shillings in his pocket and didn’t put it on; he went to the pub that evening and they all expected him to stand a round!”

    Mrs Breton had plans to compete at Badminton but one horse had to be put down when it developed navicular, then another also had to be put down when a heart condition was diagnosed.

    After her break from riding, Mrs Breton started again when her daughter-in-law was lunging a horse who had a girth gall, and Mrs Breton got on bareback.

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    “It was no trouble at all,” she said. “It took me a while to get back to feeling really at home, then my son and his wife had a 13.3hh pony for their children, also called Billy. He was too much for them, but I got on rather well with him. I took him up to Lincolnshire and hunted with the Belvoir; we had great fun.”

    Billy had to go back to his owners after a year, so Mrs Breton rode a horse called Bundle for a while.

    “I bought a cob but that was a mistake as she simply wasn’t fast enough,” she added. “So I sold her.”

    Mrs Breton cannot remember why she stopped hunting, some 10 to 15 years ago, although “I think my son asked me not to do it any more”, but she has carried on riding.

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    “They’re the best days of the week,” she said. “It’s my exercise and fresh air, and it’s absolutely everything, my lifeline.

    “I started skiing again at the same time I started riding, but it’s not in my DNA like riding is. Horses are lovely, aren’t they? I had great fun with little Billy, years ago, and I have great fun with big Billy now.”

    Mrs Breton’s niece Veronica Stephens told H&H Mrs Breton and small Billy used to “come up here and jump all the big hedges”.

    “She’s amazing,” she added. “She’s a good example to anyone to keep going and look at the positives.”

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