Many riders have had their horses at their weddings.
There cannot be many, however, whose horse has been the best man, delivering the rings without batting an eyelid, given an entertaining speech at the reception — and even gone on the honeymoon.
The only thing 17.2hh former racehorse King Erik didn’t do, when his owners Paul Boyles and Kay Clark got married on 28 May, was join them in the first dance.
“Knowing Erik, he’d probably have had a go!” Paul told H&H. “It was absolutely amazing, and I don’t think anything will ever top it.”
Paul and Kay’s wedding, which had been booked for April 2020, was twice rescheduled owing to Covid, but had the original plan gone ahead, Erik would not have been part of it, as the couple did not buy him until May last year.
“I’d never had a horse before; I’d never ridden before, but Kay had had horses when she was younger, and had been badgering me to get one. I finally relented, and Erik was the first one we went to see,” Paul said. “I told Kay I’d found a thoroughbred and she said ‘Oh no, not an ex-racehorse’! We went from the northeast to Buckinghamshire to see Erik, and absolutely fell in love with him.
“I was 46 and had never ridden but I said ‘Let’s do it’. I had some lessons — I’d never realised the bond you could have with a horse.”
King Erik, now eight, had four starts over jumps before injury put an end to his racing career. He had moved to Louise Robson, who retrains racehorses including some belonging to The Queen, and it was there Paul and Kay found him.
Lots of walk work and hacking followed, and Paul got on board for the first time last October.
“Since then, we’ve done miles,” he said. “He’s absolutely beautiful, and cheeky — he trumped in someone’s face once and laughed — but he’s protective too. In the field, he’s everyone’s friend, but as soon as we go in there to get him, any horse that comes near us, he chases them off. Once, I went to get him and the horses were stampeding, and he walked in front of me, turned and stood there so they couldn’t get to me. I honestly think he’s almost human.”
Paul, who says he now cannot imagine a horse-free life, came up with the idea of having Erik at the wedding last October, and enlisted the help of Stephanie Marshall, a friend from the same livery yard.
With permission granted by the venue, and after Paul had recced the outside space in which the ceremony was to take place, Erik, with Stephanie in the saddle, arrived at the wedding to the Black Beauty theme.
“I decided not to have an official best man, and that he would do it, but no one knew; not Kay or the 95 guests,” Paul said. “When I was asked for the rings, I fumbled around, pretended I’d forgotten them, then turned round to say ‘Please welcome my best man’ and Erik made his entrance. He walked up the aisle and brought the rings, in a little treat bag on the saddle, then stood there while we finished the service and walked down the aisle behind us.”
Kay was surprised to see Erik, having been told by Paul the venue would not allow horses there, but “over the moon”, Paul said, adding: “When he brought the rings, she went over to see him and it was a bit of a struggle to get her back for the bit where she actually married me!”
Erik’s part wasn’t over, either, as when it came to the best man’s speech, Paul had arranged a “live video link” to the yard, where Erik was back in his field. Possibly struck by stage fright though, the horse said nothing, so Paul played recordings of him whinnying instead, to cheers from the guests.
The newlyweds then headed off for a hacking honeymoon in the Wales/Shropshire borders, with Erik and another horse borrowed from a friend.
“We did 11 days’ hacking and it was absolutely amazing,” Paul said.
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