An ex-racehorse has been reunited with the work rider who saved his career after generous villagers stepped in to buy him.
Paul Sheldrake, who now has his own breaking and schooling yard in Pembrokeshire, formed a special bond with the sensitive Ellerslie Tom when he worked for trainer Peter Bowen.
Ten years ago, Tom had to bid a sad farewell to the 16.2hh gelding when he was moved to another trainer’s yard.
But the pair are now back together after Tom’s fellow Clarbeston resident Kay Sinclair-James spotted the horse for sale on a Facebook page.
“I sat down one day after work and saw the advert and I recognised his distinctive stripe. I contacted Paul and said ‘I think I’ve found Tom, do you want him? He said he’d have him back in a hearbeat as he was his best friend.”
Tom’s owner, who had broken both her legs, had turned the 15-year-old away in the field and was asking just £500 for him.
But Kay explained that Paul, who has recently invested in new facilities, got married and had a baby, didn’t have the spare cash to buy the son of Octagonal himself.
“I said I’d put the money up but then the phone just started ringing with people offering to contribute,” said Kay
“I contacted Tom’s owner and explained I was going to gift him back to Paul. She said she had a lady who wanted to try him as a hack coming to see him the next day but I told her to tell her not to come. He was going home.”
Paul revealed when he went to pick Tom up, he “had the feeling he recognised me”.
“It was a bit emotional,” he said. “He was very friendly and we had a bit of a cwtch [hug] and then I got him on the lorry and took him home.”
Paul first met Tom as an unruly five-year-old at Peter’s yard and was instrumental in turning the horse’s fortunes around.
After his first couple of races, the gelding was considered to be so dangerous that no jockey would get on him.
“In his first race with Richard Johnson at Plumpton he got to the second hurdle, jumped perfectly and then tilted his body and landed on his shoulder and girth. Richard came back and said ‘I think he’s thrown himself on the floor Paul’.
“I thought ‘he can’t have’ but then he went to Newbury with Timmy Murphy, got to the second hurdle and did the same thing again. After that no jockey would ride him,” he explained.
Paul schooled him over fences at home — “It was just a case of calming him down and making him want to do it,” he said — and the horse then formed a good partnership with jockeys Lee Stevens and Tom O’Brien.
Tom remained at Peter’s yard with Paul for about a year and a half, with the muscular 16.2hh going on to win £97,000. But the horse’s owner decided to relocate him with trainer Alison Thorpe.
“It was emotional seeing him go,” Paul acknowledged. “He was my favourite horse.”
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Tom did not record another win after leaving Peter’s yard and later damaged his pelvis in an accident. He is thought to have passed through five dealers’ yards before ending up in his most recent home.
“It was great of Kay and the others to do what they did,” he added. “He has a home for life now and is very happy where he is. I can’t help thinking I wish it happened to more horses.”