A SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP
MANY YEARS AGO AT THE ROYAL CORNWALL SHOW
It must have been some twenty years ago, during the time the Whitaker and Smith brothers still travelled all the way to Cornwall to jump at the Royal Cornwall Show.
A little girl with the cutest little pug nose covered with freckles was holding on for dear life to a post on the edge of the main arena where the first class of the day was in full swing.
'YOU'VE GOT A PROBLEM!'
Having gotten closer, I recognized the parents who were both trying to convince their young daughter to let go but she stubbornly held on for dear life. I had to laugh so hard. Neither parent had anything to do with horses, as far as I knew, and their worry and disbelieve was somewhat hilarious. The father, Michael, told me they had been there for quite a while with Chloe completely mesmerized watching the horses jump.
'You've got a problem!', I laughed as I continued my stroll, not knowing that this was the beginning of an adventure which would also touch my life one day.
A FRESH AND SUNNY MORNING IN THE AUTUMN
It was a beautiful and fresh sunny morning at the end of autumn and Buz and I were plucking geese in the shed with the doors open to catch every ray of sunshine when I saw my horses in the field prick their ears for the sound of hooves coming up the drive. It was Chloe, by now some 14 years old, and her dad Michael.
I had not seen them for years. When Michael, some years ago, decided to give up his business of making musical instruments, build a wagon and buy a horse in order to go traveling, I looked the other way. This with the thought of dreading animal abuse out of ignorance. I could just see myself yet again trying to solve someone else's equine problems and did no way want to be involved.
FROM APPLEBY TO FRANCE
How wrong could I be! Michael not only is a most diversely talented man, but also did his homework as far as horse care and, more than that, soon managed to understand the art of breaking horses, not only for the wagon but also under saddle. Both my farrier Paul Martin and my vet had huge respect for how Michael educated himself and we often talked about him and his adventures, travelling to Scotland, to the famous Appleby Fair and across the ferry to France.
Chloe, from when she was about eight, travelled with him for some years and earned her own money playing her fiddle with Michael doing the same with his bagpipes. But what filled up quickest was the jam jar for the 'carrot fund for Dominingo', the donkey, who helped pulling the wagon with the lovely cob mare Jessica.
SCALLY, THE NAUGHTY PONY
Occasionally, on his travels, Michael was virtually given unrideable ponies and horses and always managed to make something of them. Scally was one of them, by now nearly ten years old and backed three times without result. Michael showed his daughter that this is something you can still turn around; a wonderful start for a young girl who wants to spend her life with horses.
Chloe rode Scally beside the wagon all the way from Cornwall to Brighton. A most effective way to make a horse traffic proof!
DRAMA ON THE ROAD
It was an extremely tough learning curve at times. The year they found us in the shed plucking, not only did Chloe lose her beloved first young horse, but also Michael lost a horse in a traffic accident and little Chloe was there. Romance and drama are often closer than we would like...
That sunny morning in the shed, when I mentioned their losses, I saw two big tears well up in the eyes of this young and shy girl and thought, yes, cry, it's good for you. Pony girls are often tougher than is good for them.
ON TIME AND SWEEPING
A few months later Michael had gone off again, now possibly forever, and Chloe was staying with me. She wanted to become an event rider and it was up to me to lay the foundation.
It was a challenge! Chloe was very clever with horses, but getting up on time, sweeping and brushing needed some attention. So, without taking any notice of the grunting and angry wrinkles in her nose I managed to get across the rules of a well-managed horse yard, so that I could send her to event rider Lucy Wiegersma without running the risk of embarrassment.
During the time with me she rode successfully around the x-country course at her first proper event at Lanhydrock with Scally. Of course I was more than proud to watch her tidy dressage test.
THREE YEARS ON
And then, two weeks ago, there Michael appeared in the yard. What a warm reunion! Both a little older, possibly a bit wiser, and it was bliss to sit in the back garden exchanging stories. I was grateful to hear Michael's pride when he talked about Chloe.
Her life had taken an unexpected turn when she decided that one year in the eventing world was sufficient to know she wanted to do it differently. After having done some agricultural courses she now is doing relief milking, in order to have her hands free to play with horses the way she wants to.
She sold her pony Scally to a wonderful home and brought back a thoroughbred on loan, with which she's done some hunting, some competing and on Facebook I just saw her little clip doing some lovely well-balanced canter work on the circle in an outdoor school, without a bridle. The apple did not fall far from the tree...
And Michael? Oh, he's building another wagon, the fourth one, I believe. The old one he sold to someone for their garden.
Every now and then we play music together, he on the whistle or bagpipes and I on my guitar. I do so enjoy those moments, so different from everything else I do. And such an honour to have a good friend who works with horses in such a very different way, but with the same interest and greed to learn. Someone who is not scared to start a new adventure, building a new wagon, finding a new young horse to train -the previous one sold to a more sedate home after some 12.000 miles-, weld another little wood stove and hopefully back on the road in the spring.
Sometimes I am, just a tiny bit, envious of my friend...
Pictures, top to bottom: Royal Cornwall Show; Michael leaving my farm; Chloe with Scally; Michael with his wagon in Scotland.
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GOOD BYE DEAREST PRIDDY, A HORSE WITH A BIG HEART
GOING DOWN MEMORY LANE
When I saw Katie Nicholas' message on Facebook about her lovely and loyal mare Priddy having gone to horse heaven, I immediately went down memory lane.
Katie and I go back a long time and I've seen her on quite a few different horses. Her first lesson with me was organised by Claire Daniels, who got a group together for me to teach during the time they were still at Duchy College.
Katie was riding her sister's thoroughbred and from there we grew a wonderful relationship which continued in her riding arena at her home on the south coast. Either her mum or dad would provide me with cups of tea whereas several dogs would keep me company.
A BIG HEART AND KEEN TO LEARN
When I saw Priddy for the first time, Kate was a little apologetic, 'Sorry, Liz, she is not exactly a big mover.' Katie had bought her from Claire Rushworth to event and when Novice was achieved and Katie decided to have babies, it was time to focus on a dressage career.
Now, lack of movement has never affected me much as long as it is a horse that is eager to learn and has a half decent canter. Priddy certainly had that; she had a big heart and was keen to learn. She was also a mare, so a little moody at times, but together with Katie's endless patience we tinkered away and waited for when Priddy was ready to step up the game.
FLYING CHANGES, HOORAY!
Having learned from her previous horse not to get too carried away with the flying changes, Kate and Priddy took their time and, blow me, there they were! From every six strides to every four strides and then every three strides!
The real fun started when the basics were there sufficiently to start the half steps into piaffe. She was good at it and from there the trot, which had already improved through the canter work, got better and better. It would never be huge, but it was correct and Kate and Priddy were a lovely picture together.
PRIDDY PRIX ST GEORGE
We had already worked on the quarter pirouettes in canter but they were difficult for this sweet mare when moody, so we had to pick our days. Still, there was a moment that Kate, after some decent Advanced tests entered her first Prix St George. For me as a trainer a fantastic moment. My first pupil at that level!
PRIDDY STOLE MY HEART
I think back of those days with great fondness. A rider always willing to give everything, a horse willing to give more than ever thought possible and all those lovely cups of tea...
I am with you Katie,I miss her too. Priddy stole my heart many a time and we will never forget her...
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...
My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.