‘A freak of nature, a tough little dude’: 15.2hh dun who cost £750 and jumped round Burghley twice put down

  • Done To Order, the chunky 15.2hh dun horse who jumped clear round Burghley Horse Trials twice with Piggy March, has been put down.

    Owned by Libby Ellis throughout his career and retirement, Done To Order won Osberton CIC2* (now CCI3*-L) in 2002, finished sixth and third at Bramham Horse Trials in 2002 and 2004 and completed Burghley in 2003 and 2005, finishing 17th in 2005.

    “He was an absolute freak of nature and I wouldn’t expect to see another 15.2h dun cob in my lifetime as amazing as him,” said Piggy. “He got way further than I ever thought possible. He was a phenomenal jumper and a tough little dude – he just loved it.”

    Done To Order, an Irish sport horse by Golden Cliff, was officially aged 31 when he was put down last month, although Libby believes he was born earlier than the birth year on his papers (1991) and was actually 33.

    Libby explained to H&H how she came to own Done To Order: “After going to Burghley one year – and having a few drinks, probably – I went with a friend to see a horse that Barbara Rich, a show judge and dealer in Leiestershire, was selling. I said to her that I’d always fancied having a dun.

    “Nothing else was said, then a couple of months later I got a phone call early one morning. It was Barbara, saying, ‘I’ve got a dun for you, it’s on its way from Ireland.’ It was 7am and I thought, ‘Crumbs, I wasn’t really prepared for that.’ She said if I didn’t like it, to keep it for the winter and then she’d have it back. This pony arrived eventually, I think he was two years old and cost about £750 or £800.

    “I was so terrified my husband Robin would be furious that I’d bought it unseen that I asked the man who delivered him – who was called Murphy, which was why we nicknamed the horse Murphy – to take him down the road to my friend, Justine Ward. I thought she could tell me what to expect rather than it getting off the lorry and kicking or biting my husband.

    “I fetched him the next day – he wasn’t more than about 13.2hh, very poor, plain and rough looking. I chucked him on the meadow and thought perhaps Robin wouldn’t notice. After about a fortnight, he said: ‘I don’t know what that thing is, but it’s not a bad little thing, it follows me everywhere when I go feeding my pheasants.’”

    Initial expectations were that Libby might ride Murphy around the farm, but after Justine had backed him and Libby had done a few hunter trials and taken him autumn hunting, Justine suggested she did a pre-novice (now BE100) on him and his career progressed from there.

    “I have to give Justine all the bonus points as she took him up to advanced by the time he was seven, then she got pregnant,” said Libby, who started offering bed and breakfast to pay for Murphy’s eventing.

    ‘There was no fence too big for Done To Order’

    Piggy started riding the horse in 2001.

    She said: “When I first had him, I rang his old rider and said, ‘Are you sure I’m going to be ok going to an intermediate?’ At home, he hadn’t much engine and was pretty uninspired.

    “But as soon as we were counted down from five at our first event, he was gone. He was in a snaffle and I didn’t have one say in the matter for the whole course. I’ve never been so terrified in my life. I was steering and hanging on and when I came through the finish, I said, ‘I need a gag!’

    “There was no fence too big for the little chap. He would stand off outside the wings and ran on adrenaline. He taught me a lot and we went on a fabulous journey together to some great places, including Blenheim, Bramham and Saumur.

    “He didn’t have a cross-country jumping fault either time at Burghley and that was in the roads and tracks and steeplechase days. He had a hindleg on him that was incredible and that’s where his quality came from. And he had an amazing heart.

    “I remember getting places and people saying, ‘Your horse looks a bit fat’ or this or that, then he’d go bombing round and be one of only a few inside the time. He put you back in your box if you thought he wasn’t good enough.”

    Libby decided to retire Murphy soon after his second Burghley.

    “He’d done everything and more in eventing and I didn’t want anything to happen to him,” she said.

    She describes him as a “real family pony”, who was ridden by her twin daughters Gabrielle and Nina on their occasional visits home, as well as by her.

    “He was charming, quite spooky and full of himself sometimes, but never a slug and he never did anything naughty. Even my husband Robin, who doesn’t like horses, adored him and I could send him to catch him whereas with most horses he wouldn’t even try. Murphy was a real character and would talk to you all the time.”

    Libby said Murphy was “terribly well right to the end” and still being ridden around the farm, until he had a problem getting up one day and injured his hind end “so the time had come”.

    “He was a ‘dun to order’ and had a great following in his eventing days,” she said. “Only three horses showjumped clear in his second year at Burghley and when he did, the cheer that went up was amazing. Everybody loved him because he was the most unlikely horse.”

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