‘He’ll keep my heart safe for ever’: meet the cob who changed and saved his owner’s life

  • The owner of a cob she says changed – and saved – her life believes hers is a story that has “probably been told a thousand times”, and she hopes it will resonate with others.

    Alice Price told H&H she cannot imagine life without Alfie, the 14hh cob who “looked like Frankenstein’s monster” when she first met him, over 14 years ago, but with whom she has shared everything.

    Alice said she does not come from a horsey family; she was “the typical little girl who had a horse phase but it never left me”.

    “I think my poor mum hoped I’d be a ballerina or something,” she said. “I was allowed to ride in summer, then when the clocks changed, that was it till the spring. I think the plan was that I’d forget about it, but the next March I’d be ‘Is it time yet?’ – I spent as much time with horses as I could.”

    As a teenager, Alice started helping at a yard to which young horses would be sent for training. Every weekend, she and others who became close friends would be living “the dream”.

    “We were the guinea pigs, put on anything that needed riding, as we bounced!” she said. “And that’s where I met Alfie.”

    Alfie was “an unknown entity”, a little piebald cob who had arrived with a load of “beautiful sport horses”.

    “We would get youngsters, and get them ready for their first shows; that was the deal,” Alice said. “And that was the deal with him – only it took a hell of a lot longer.”

    Alice said Alfie was in a “woeful state”, terrified of everything and semi-feral.

    “You couldn’t get near him,” she said. “He fell by chance into my hands and it took months. I spent days in the field, trying to win his trust, but little by little, day by day, he got there.”

    Over the next couple of years, Alice’s work started to pay off, and he was eventually in ridden work and ready for his first show.

    “It was the worst day of my life,” Alice said. “He was amazing at the show, but the deal was that then, he would go back, and he wouldn’t be mine any more. The day came, and there was a horsebox waiting at the yard but I couldn’t face loading him. I asked my friend to do it but he wouldn’t go because he was looking for me. I took him and he followed me up, then I went out of the jockey door. They drove away and I could hear him calling, all the way down the road. It was heartbreaking; as a teenager anything can be the end of the world but this felt like it was.”

    Alice said her parents could not afford to buy or keep a horse, and she struggled without Alfie, her schoolwork suffering.

    “I couldn’t drag myself out of the pit of missing him,” she said. “Other horses came into my life but I was just going through the motions.”

    By the time six or seven months had gone by, Alice had “given up hope”, assuming Alfie had been sold and was living a new life. Then she had a message to say the sale had fallen through, as the buyer had lost his job, and Alfie’s owner asked her to go and visit.

    “I thundered downstairs and begged my mum and dad to take me,” Alice said. “I think they were worried about what it would start, but pleased at the chance of having a slightly less heartbroken daughter. When the day came, they both took me.

    “We got there, parked and before we turned the corner, heard this chorus of neighing and snorting. The yard owner said ‘I think he can hear you’. My feet carried me to him, I was through the door, arms round his neck, face in his mane, and he cuddled me with his head. I burst into tears; euphoria and heartbreak in one. I had everything I’d ever wanted, but it was just that bit out of reach.

    “Mum and dad were agape. They went off with Sally, came back and said ‘He’s yours now; we’re taking him home’. It was beyond my wildest dreams. To have him as mine, and safe for the rest of his life, is more than I could have hoped. We’ve been together ever since.”

    Every decision Alice has since made, about university, jobs, homes, has been made with Archie’s wellbeing as top priority.

    “It wouldn’t be outrageous to say that Alfie, at times, has truly saved my life,” she said.

    “Through battles with severe and completely debilitating mental illness that threatened to take my life altogether, needing to drag my resisting body to the stables every day to care for Alfie, quite literally put one foot in front of the other for me. I had my entire world in my hands and he gave me the resilience and grit to keep hold of life, to keep hold of him, with everything I had.

    “Every day, he faced his insecurities and fears. He listened to me over his instinct to bolt and flee the panic and took steps on his road to recovery. I just showed him the way, and he followed me every time. His trust in me kept me tied to life. I saved him, and in return, he saved me.”

    Alfie is now 20, and has overcome a cracked tibia, having been kicked in the field last year.

    “He’s remarkable; he didn’t need surgery and he was so good on box rest, he just did what he needed to do, to heal,” Alice said. “I really thought I was going to lose him; we’ve had a lifetime together but that’s not enough. Every day with him is precious.

    “Ours is probably a story that’s been told thousands of times but it’s my life and hopefully it will resonate with other people who have been through similar. Life will change, but he’ll keep my heart safe for ever.”

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