Meet Jill Thomas

  • Jill Thomas’s Badminton Tarafiya (Max) is an eight-year-old, sponsored by Badminton Horse Feeds, and bred with endurance credentials on both sides.

    His dam Dhawa is by Dhruv, as is British team horse Dacoit, while his maternal grandsire is Achim, grandsire of the great stallion Tarim.

    After four years when, at times, Jill wondered if she should be riding him at all, Max has begun to achieve national success, clocking up a win and a third place last season. Jill also has a 15.3hh youngster to bring on.

    “His stable-name is Hairy – for 55min of an hour’s work you need spurs and for the other five you wish you’d never seen him!

    “You can tell what my yard is like from the horses’ names – Mad Max and Hairy!

    “I don’t find horses, they find me. When I went to look at Max, I had no intention of buying a horse. It was the same old story – someone had bought a youngster for their daughter to grow into and it hadn¨t worked.

    “My father came with me and, as we drove away, he said: ‘That’s another Khalifa’ It took me 10 days to tell David I’d bought another horse.”

    David is Jill’s husband and enthusiastic crew. They live in the little Cornish town of St Just, on the Roseland peninsula, where training is blessed by the mild climate, but hindered by a lack of hills and limited riding trails.

    Having followed an established regime with Khalifa for many years, Jill changed her methods for Max.

    “You have to recognise that what is right for one horse is not necessarily right for another. If you can’t do that, you are not being fair to your horse or yourself. This horse is much more athletic and prone to boredom. Whereas with Khalifa I could go and canter round a field for half an hour, I will take Max in the trailer to the beach or a different area, for a sweetener. ”

    She admits: “For 12 months I wondered if I’d bitten off more than I could chew. He was a nightmare. He would spin and throw himself to the ground in temper.

    “One day, I was in a hurry and he started to spin so I just jumped off and led him. I looked at his face and it was like a balloon that had been pricked. I realised I was spoiling his fun and I discovered that if you didn’t fight him he would give in.

    “Now, he’s fantastic to ride. He’llnever be easy but I did 75 miles at the Red Dragon and enjoyed every minute. Several times on those mountains I just shut my eyes while he slid down the slopes. He had great fun – he thought he was skiing.”

    Their survival at the Red Dragon is all the more telling, as Jill was recovering from a broken wrist and elbow.

    “I fell over a 6in wall and landed on an empty pallet at work. There were two clean breaks. I only kept the plaster on for three weeks because of the Dragon and Julie, my friend who is a nurse, came and crewed for me.

    “But Max was as good as gold, an absolute gentleman. I was riding with one hand and my elbow was so sore that I kept my other arm hooked in my jacket.”

    Unlike David, Jill is not Cornish-born and -bred. She hails from Old Trafford, Manchester.

    “I worked my way down south. I found that six weeks – working in a factory would give me enough to spend the summer on a beach.”

    After working as a social services carer, Jill began helping in the equine department of the local agricultural supplies firm.

    When the company was taken over, she and a colleague started their own business, Eclipse Equestrian. They now rent a two-acre site and are about to install an outdoor arena. As soon as the mornings arelight, Jill will resume riding the 12 miles to work.

    “Customers are surprised to see a real horse looking at them over the stable door,” she grins. “I can’t wait for the arena because it means I’ll be able to school without having to travel somewhere. I’ve started having dressage lessons with Sue Anderson, a BHSI, and I want to do some novice tests with Max.

    “In the old days, with Kelly [Khalifa], it didn’t bother me too much if he went around with his head in the air, but I now appreciate how important schooling is for endurance horses.
    “I like to see a horse which is not completely collected up like a dressage horse, but nicely balanced and working well, using the engine at the back and not dragging it along behind.”

    Five years out of the international limelight haven’t worried the former champion.

    “I used to have a lot of pressure, because people expected me to be successful. Now, my aim is to get this horse up to international level and, if he’s half as good as Khalifa, I’m going to have some major fun.

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