Mark Perry on his superstar passengers, the importance of patience and herding a mule up a Spanish mountain
I have the perfect job – I love horses and everything about trucks. But I was born a cockney in London and, until we moved out of the city when I was 11, I thought milk came from a supermarket, not cows. But I fell in love with horses then, and haven’t looked back.
I used to work as a breakdown van driver, and it was on a call-out that I got speaking to this guy who turned out to be Bruce Wofford, who runs his international horse transport business. He asked if I fancied a change and I ended up working for him before setting up on my own in 1991.
There is no typical day, or passenger, in this business – the number of horses I travel around every year is immense. In an average four days I might take 20-odd horses and two miniature donkeys. I have two lorries – a nine-horse forward-facing one and a 3.5-tonne backward-facing one.
The most unusual journey I had was travelling 17 horses – ranging from warmbloods to Shetland ponies and a mule called Gonzo – to a trekking centre in Spain. Bruce and I drove them from Britain because a chap was setting up a business there. We reached the top of this mountain and stopped in the village square where the man came to meet us and told us we’d have to herd the horses the rest of the way. So we ended up herding every shape and size of horse the final 10km up this mountain. I’m pleased to say we got them all there in one piece.
One of my favourite moments was taking all the British team horses in and out of the London 2012 Olympic Games. My job was to take them from the holding yard to the venue so I had a lot of superstars in the back. I was busy working, but I did manage to watch as much of the Games as I could – I was so proud of them all.
The best part of the job is all the wonderful people and horses I get to meet. I’ve learned so much from working with all the para-equestrian riders, which I’ve been doing since 2003. I’ve taken the teams to all the big championships and I always travel with team vet Rod Fisher and osteopath Karen Robertson – they have taught me so much about the care and scientific side of it all.
My top tip for reluctant loaders is patience. I’ve always managed to get horses on the lorry, but I did once have to turn round and take a two-year-old colt back home after it turned itself inside out in my lorry. It was simply too dangerous to travel.
The hardest part of the job is the long hours. Of course, there are restrictions on the driving hours, but they are still very long days. Luckily I could fall asleep standing up so I can switch off very easily at the end of the day.
I used to be a rugby player and my friends from those days find it very surprising that I ended up doing this job – let alone that horses fly round the world in an aeroplane. Airport runs are a common trip for me. Since meeting Alan Davies, I’ve taken a few of his horses to the airport and back.
To unwind, I love to walk the dogs – I have two Jack Russells and one of them, Gus, used to come with me, but he’s elderly now so he retired himself from the job. I’m 60 now, but I love this job so much and, as long as I’m fit and able, I hope I’ll still be doing it for many years to come.
Ref Horse & Hound; 30 April 2020