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A baptism of fire: Entering into the hard graft of working with horses *H&H Plus*

Working with horses is hard graft, so it’s no surprise that the equestrian industry demands some of the toughest initiations. Madeleine Silver talks to those who have taken the plunge

If a horse came out of one of the late Badminton-winner Sheila Wilcox’s boxes with straw in its tail, 10 pence had to go in a box; stable floors had to be clean enough to eat off; summer sheets were ironed and her honesty was startlingly refreshing – she had no qualms in telling a working pupil that her hair was greasy. But two years spent on Sheila’s Cotswold yard was, says Olympian Mary King, the making of her.

“[She] was a perfectionist,” the now 58-year-old remembers in her autobiography. “The awful thing was that if she was critical of someone else, you couldn’t help but be relieved that you were getting a break.”

Fast forward more than 40 years, and the road to the top is often no smoother for those with their hearts set on a life working with horses; eye-wateringly early starts, bruised muscles and equally battered egos are par for the course.

Trooper Laura Angus, soldier

Camaraderie and physical resilience are vital to surviving the Household Cavalry’s 12-week riding course for new recruits. Laura Angus had a childhood spent riding on her side when she embarked on the course last year – but that didn’t ease the pain of the first four weeks spent in the indoor school without stirrups.