‘Heavy horses can do it’: 18hh Shire enjoys hunting and hunter trials with aplomb

  • The owner and rider of an 18hh purebred Shire who competes in hunter trials and hunts all day wants to promote the fact “heavy horses can do it too”.

    Ben Colman bought Sampson as a yearling, having never owned a horse before, six years ago.

    “He’s the real deal; the main man,” Ben told H&H. “I’m convinced there’s nothing like him.”

    Ben has ridden since childhood; he lived in London but had “strong links” with Cornwall, where he first sat on a horse, then hunted on Exmoor as a teenager. London life put paid to riding for 10-15 years, but then he moved to Cornwall 10 years ago.

    “I’d never owned a horse and didn’t know what the hell I was doing!” he said. “I saw this advert, and only went because the farmer was local.

    “Sampson was standing in the yard, covered in mud, a yearling who wasn’t much handled. Two days later, the breeder said he had interest, and I said ‘I’ll come with the money’.

    “I gave him £1,800 and he gave me a piece of rope with a horse on the end.”

    Ben then went through a tough time, as he was made redundant, and Sampson’s breeder, Gordon Mugford of Treveor Shires, asked if he wanted his money back.

    “But I wasn’t going to let him go,” Ben said. “I’ve always loved heavy horses, and this was a one-off opportunity.”

    Later, Sampson was backed, and was “as good as gold” throughout, and “hasn’t put a foot wrong since”, Ben said.

    “I’m lucky because I’ve got beaches within 15 minutes’ hacking, so we go there, and he’s good in traffic, but I really bought him because I wanted to hunt him,” Ben said.

    “I started with autumn hunting, then he started jumping, and he loved it.”

    Ben said he and Sampson have been to a number of hunter trials, always the only Shire of hundreds of entries.

    “You see people looking and thinking ‘Really?’ but when they see him go, they understand,” he said. “He’s not the quickest, and he’s never going to win, but that’s not the point.

    “I love him and he’s special, and that’s all I want.”

    Ben says negotiating low branches in woods can be a slight issue, owing to Sampson’s height, but otherwise, he is responsive, easy to control and not fazed by anything.

    “Luckily, in our country, we don’t gallop for miles on flat fields; we go for a run, stop and get our breath back and then go again, which suits him,” he said.

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    “He goes for the full day and jumps everything all the others do, but he never pulls and is always in a snaffle. He’s never refused or anything, he’s a lovely horse.

    “I’m not a betting man but I’d say it’s likely there’s no other horse like him; a pure Shire who does what he does. But heavy horses can do it; if they’ve got the right conformation, then yes, they can do whatever they want.”

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