Graham Fletcher: I’d gladly pay them double *H&H Plus*


  • It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, muses H&H’s showjumping columnist

    There’s been a lot of good advice on veterinary matters in H&H recently. Although, I have to say that when it comes to colic, I have a firm policy.

    As soon as one horse is showing any signs, I ring the vet immediately. I’ve always believed that if you act quickly, with a bit of luck you can stop it getting to the next stage which is one of the most distressing sights you’ll ever see.

    Whether you blame the good Lord or evolution, the horse must have been assembled on a Friday afternoon – because no other animal has a worse digestive system. So for me, it’s always a case of calling the vet, no hesitation.

    And I hope no vets are reading this… because when one says, “He’s going to be fine,” I’d gladly pay them double!

    Signed by James Herriot

    On the topic of vets, I see they’re remaking All Creatures Great and Small for television.

    The series is based on those marvellous books by James Herriot, whose real name was Alf Wight and who was my grandfather’s and father’s farm vet. He was a lovely man and I’d like to tell you a story that proves it.

    Back in the 1980s, I bought a really attractive grey horse that could jump, but not well enough. And in those days, if they got to grade A and weren’t good enough to go any further, there were no small opens or amateur classes. So like a racehorse that couldn’t win a race, they were virtually worthless.

    Anyway, just as despair was setting in and I was bracing myself to suffer a dramatic loss, out of the blue came a call from an American lady. She was in Britain looking for hunter jumpers to take back to the States – and they can be worth top dollar.

    She arrived at our yard in Yorkshire with her trainer. Even though the horse gave a really good show, sadly he gave it the thumbs down.

    But just as she was getting back into her car, I spotted a book on the seat. It was written by James Herriot and I asked her if she was enjoying it.

    “Oh, yes,” she told me – along with most of America, she was a real fan… to which I replied how well I knew him.

    Later that evening, she rang to say she would buy the horse after all (relief!), but she wanted it vetting and the certificate signed by James Herriot (exasperation!).

    I made a tentative phone call to ask if he would come out of retirement to vet the horse. He said he most certainly couldn’t, as it would be unethical to sign it with his author’s name.

    Now it must have taken a lot of doing, because he was of Scottish birth and as straight as a gun barrel, but he rang back later and said that, for once and never again, and because he had such great respect for my father and grandfather, he would do it.

    So off went the grey horse. And all down to the good names of my dad, granddad and that lovely man, Alf Wight.

    “Have you got your tranquilliser ”

    The practice was taken over by Peter Wright, who was our vet when I lived in Yorkshire. He’s also the main character in the Channel 5 series The Yorkshire Vet. And when Peter and I meet up now, it’s all about recollections of yesteryear – many of them featuring our travels to watch Middlesbrough FC.

    I’ll never forget one trip we had to Chelsea. Peter – as always wearing his veterinary garb of Barbour jacket and chinos – had a wide-eyed and innocent look as he hit the big city. We were joined by a pal of mine called Jimmy Taylor who, let’s just say, had “seen a lot of life”.

    The match was a good one and we had a favourable result. But this was at the time of football hooliganism and, as we left the stadium, all hell broke loose. The Chelsea louts were running riot. Very conspicuous in our red and white scarves, it felt as though we were in real trouble.

    “Have you got your tranquilliser gun?” I asked Peter. But one look at his ashen face made me decide to keep the jokes for another day.

    Then Jimmy said: “Quick, run to the burger van!” We made it there and he quickly ordered three hot dogs. And as he did so, believe it or not, the Chelsea hordes surged past us.

    “How did that work?” I asked Jimmy, who replied: “I didn’t think even a Chelsea supporter would hit a man eating a hot dog.”

    It had indeed worked. But Peter took so long to digest his that we nearly missed the last train home…

    Ref Horse & Hound; 11 June 2020