Owner of ‘one in a million’ mare, 31, who’s changed countless lives seeks information on her past

  • A 31-year-old horse who allowed a 93-year-old to achieve her dream of riding for the first time has changed countless lives, says her owner, who is hoping to find out more about the mare’s early life.

    H&H reported yesterday that Melita Richardson had enjoyed her first ride on 15hh Sally, at Three Lane Ends Farm in Bishop Auckland.

    Yard owner Christine Barratt Atkin told H&H she has long been looking for more information about Sally, who has been with her for about 11 years, so she can write a book on her life. Sally was given to Christine by the late Mark Turnbull, and his wife Kirsten, with whom she had worked in logging and drawn a carriage in Cambridge, but Christine does not know details of the mare’s early years.

    “She’s starting to slow down a bit now and I want to write the book while she’s still here,” Christine said.

    “I’ve kept hitting brick walls when I try to find out about the first 10 years of her life. I think she came from the Bristol area and rumour has it she took a retired couple round Europe in a caravan for three years. I contacted someone recently who confirmed she’d once pulled a barge too, but I didn’t get much further than that.”

    Christine knew that Sally had been moved on from the carriages when she took fright at something and “took off”, leading to a damaged cart, and about her more recent escapades mainly caused by her love of scratching. She has been known to flood a campsite by scratching on a water pipe, damaged some conservationists’ car by using it as a scratching post and let four other horses out when her bottom-rubbing opened a gate.

    “They were found by police miles away in a pea field,” Christine said.

    “She’s had such an amazing life. She used to do bracken clearing and Mark said three times, she stopped dead. Once there was a wasps’ nest, once a snake and once an exploded bomb.”

    Christine paid tribute to Sally’s “amazing” contribution as an Riding for the Disabled Association horse.

    “I wish we had 10 of her,” she said. “She still enjoys a few rides a week; during lockdown, she’d be standing by the gate, she couldn’t understand why she wasn’t coming in to work, and she’s changed so many people’s lives. She’s one in a million.”

    Christine cited as one example a young man whose drink was spiked on holiday. He fell into a coma and was given a 10% chance of survival.

    When he returned home, his occupational therapist, who became his wife, recommended riding as therapy.

    “He was shaking with fear when he came,” Christine said. “But he kept coming, and eventually his ambition was to ride to the pub, so he rode Sally down there and had a pint on her outside. Then his dream was to walk down the aisle and thanks to Sally, he got there.

    “He’s got her to thank for that but there are so many other stories of lives she’s touched.”

    Christine hopes sharing Sally’s story will unearth or jog the memories of those who knew her in the past.

    “Someone must have known her; someone’s parents or grandparents must have been the ones who took her round Europe,” she said. “I’d like to do the book while she’s still here; not a long book but the story of a very special horse.

    “There are horses who have won the Grand National or the Gold Cup, showjumpers and dressage horses who have won Olympic medals, and Sally will never get that accolade. But she’s given so many people so much pleasure and help, in so many ways, so in our mind she deserves a big gold medal.

    “She means the world to us. We have to accept that she’s 31 and won’t be here for ever, but hopefully we’ll have plenty more time with her yet.”

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