A horse of a lifetime, a phrase that is used a lot when talking about horses in and out of racing. But what exactly does that mean? What is it about a horse that makes it worthy of such a title? Some horses teach you, some change you, some go on to achieve amazing things and with others, there’s just an incredible bond.
The ones that teach you.
I often say I have two horses of a lifetime, at the same time. In many ways this seems impossible, but it’s the reality for me. My two have each added to my life in such different ways that I will carry them in my heart for a lifetime.
So, I’ll start with Matilda. Of all the horses I have met, ridden and worked with, she has taught me the most. She’s quirky, sharp and annoyingly difficult to figure out whilst also being amazingly talented and athletic. She came to me at 11 years old, already having had multiple homes and at times she was pretty fearful of people and terrified of jumping.
Because of all her quirks and idiosyncrasies I’ve never achieved everything I wanted to with her, which sometimes upsets me. But when I think of everything we have overcome together, conquered the fear of jumping and had so many first time experiences together, how can I be sad?
Everything I haven’t been able to achieve with her, I’ve been able to achieve with Grumeti, using everything she has taught me. For that reason alone, she is a horse of a lifetime. A royal pain in the ass, but still worthy of the title.
The one that changes you.
I’m far from quiet about how special Grumeti is to me, but there as so many reasons for that, he has changed me as a person and changed my life. When you have a horse that is as challenging as Matilda and then get one as kind and generous as Grumeti, you change as a rider. He has given me the desire to be a better rider and he’s given me confidence and bravery in and out of the saddle.
We’ve had so many hurdles to tackle together, even just keeping him healthy and fit has been a battle, but each of those obstacles has come with a hundred more rewarding moments and without him I wouldn’t have done my first one day event, competed in my first 100cm show jumping class or have ridden on the beach, all of which have been childhood dreams of mine.
He’s continued to make my dreams come true away from him too, giving me the opportunity to start this blog, meet new people and take on incredible opportunities.
If that doesn’t qualify for the title of horse of a lifetime, what does?
The one that you change.
Whilst thinking about horses to feature in this piece, I wanted to include my own two horses and then a flat racer and a national hunt horse.
There are so many amazing flat racers around, but one story that has captured my heart is the story of Judicial. Known as Jude at home, he was known for being quirky and difficult, he won 3 starts for Roger Charlton, but became increasingly difficult to handle and so came his move to Julie Camacho’s smaller training yard.
With a change of routine and environment the Camacho team began to see improvements in Judicial on and off the racetrack and he has gone from strength to strength, taking the Camacho family team to amazing places, including their first trip to Royal Ascot and their first group race win.
An amazing achievement and milestone for any trainer, but to do it with a horse that has taken clever training and management must make it even sweeter.
Jude is now a part of the family, described as a lamb to ride and amazing around children.
To put in the work with a tricky horse, have it pay off and to achieve so many firsts together, that surely make Jude a horse of a lifetime for the Camacho team.
The one that keeps on giving.
Picking a National Hunt horse to highlight in this piece seems like a really tough task, afterall we all get so attached to these special horses when we see their careers develop from the age of three, up in to (in this case) their teens. I considered highlighting Bristol De Mai after his amazing run in the Betfair chase at Haydock and seeing the love Daryl Jacob has for him.
But then Perfect Candidate casually sauntered home to win by 45 lengths, in a race that caused some real problems for the horses, but how could you not be pleased to see it? A horse that at 13 years of age just loves the job and keeps on giving it his all.
I’m incredibly lucky and honoured to have ridden Perfect Candidate at Fergal O’Brien’s and to hear Fergal speak so fondly of the yard hero. PC has been with Fergal for 8 years and in that time has won from the 4 different yards Fergal has been based out of, including three Grand National attempts.
With social media we see cries for horses to be retired as they get older or fall out of love with the job and knowing when the time is right for owners and trainers can be a tough call to make. But I think Perfect Candidate’s performance just goes to show, he’s still got it, he still loves it and he’s still living up to his title as a horse of a lifetime for Fergal and the Ravenswell team.
Therefore, with all of these horses in mind and the impacts on the people around them, I really believe there is no true answer to ‘What makes a horse of a lifetime?’ but rather, there’s so many things that as dressage riders, eventers, showjumpers, happy hackers, work riders, trainers, racing fans (I could go on and on) make these horses our horses of a lifetime. They capture our hearts, our souls and our imaginations.
Everyone says their horse is the best, and none of them are wrong.
Thank you as ever for taking the time to read my pieces. I’m hoping to be out and about doing more yard visits soon.
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