Finding my horse: Unusual pairings
Every story of how a horse found their human is unique, but some stories are truly special. Amy Powell hears from three riders about how they came across their horses in the most unusual of ways
Kim Aitkinson found the pony of a lifetime for her daughter Taggy when out hacking one day, but the story starts 10 years earlier.
“As a six month old foal, Showtime II (aka Midget) was won in a card game by an Irish traveller and they smuggled him into the UK in the back of a transit van,” she says. Midget was then used as a stallion until he was 10, when Kim suddenly entered his life.
“I was out riding on my daughter’s 13hh pony and this man leant out the window of his white van and said ‘You need a bigger pony! I’ve got a 148cm jumping pony you need to buy, come and see him.”‘
So, off Kim went to view a pony knowing very little about it, but trusting her gut that, for some reason, she should go. When she arrived, Kim rode the pony around the arena and the seller told her: “He’ll jump the post and rail fence out of the school.” Kim’s response? “‘I don’t need to see that’, but he called his wife over and she got on the pony, jumped him out the school, cantered through the field and over the next hedge, then turned round, came back and jumped back in the school!”
Chancing her luck, Kim asked for the pony on trial and he was delivered that afternoon. When her then 10 year old daughter Taggy came home from school and tried him, it was love at first sight, “so I just took the money straight down and bought that pony.”
Fast forward four years and, having had some good results at BE90 and BE100 level, Midget and Taggy were ready to go up a level. “A couple of friends were telling me she could Pony Trial and I thought that sounded good, so off we started and we ended up getting a number of invites from Sarah Hancock [the chair of selectors] and they did really well together,” Kim tells me. Thanks to those years with Midget, Taggy is now pursuing a career in eventing. “He’s a phenomenal little pony – he’s black and white, looks like a gypsy pony and has bad conformation, but my god has he got the heart of a lion. It’s all down to him and he owes us nothing.”
The horse that can’t canter
Back in 2011, Lucy Counsell found herself without a horse with no money to buy another. ‘Tm just an amateur who works full time in government. I’m from a farming background so never had much money to spend on horses – they were always acquired because there was a bit of an issue and everything has always been cheap and cheerful.”
Lucy came across Bakkleys Tornado (aka Arthur) through the then Master of Weston and Banwell Hunt, Lizzie Milton. “My mother happened to be at a dinner party with Lizzie and said she had a horse she thought I should go and look at. Mum saw it over the stable door and said it had a lovely head and that it was chestnut, but that’s all she could tell me about it – nothing to do with his size, conformation or movement. She said she’d probably had one too many at the dinner!” Lucy laughs.
Lizzie found Arthur while visiting a yard. “She travels to some insalubrious places as part of her work and at one such yard she spotted two chestnut geldings in a terrible state,” Lucy tells me.
“Lizzie ended up buying them and taking them away. When they came home it was a case of if they last the week, they’ll be ok. She basically wormed them and fed them for survival that week, slowly increasing the amount of food.”
It took a week to get the encrusted muck off Arthur’s elbows, but slowly he and his brother returned to full health, and that’s when Lucy came into his life.
“He was really weak, but I taught him to jump and then took him on the Badminton fun ride. He could only trot into a jump but I knew then this horse is really brave, so I came away optimistic thinking this 17.2hh horse that can’t canter might be something special and I just have to be patient.”
The following season, Lucy and Arthur contested six BE100 events with some promising results and returned the next year, moving up to Novice by the end of the season. “Our dressage was slow to improve and he took a long time to learn to fit into a 20 x 40 arena,” Lucy says, but the pair eventually finished double clear earning a point in their final event of the year together.
A good risk
Advanced event horses are usually bred for a specific purpose, but some appear in less traditional ways. William Fox-Pitt’s 2003 European Championship horse Moon Man was originally found by renowned horse dealer Vere Phillips in a trekking centre in Ireland in the 1990s.
“He was their typical heavyweight conveyance that had all the big chaps, and Vere bought him as a hunter,” William tells me. “I went up to view another horse and spotted him. I’ve always had a bias towards a white face and I just thought I’ve got to have him. Vere was convinced he wasn’t the event type, but he was quite sensible money and I thought he was a good risk, so I bought him when he was six and he was one of the best buys.”
To this day, William still isn’t sure what he saw in Moon Man. “I can’t think why I bought him – he wasn’t an amazing mover or the best jumper, but he just had something about him and he was a real trier.”
All of these horses had something special about them and though the wisdom says ‘buy with your head, not with your heart’, there’s something to be said for buying with your gut it seems.
This article was first published in British Eventing Life Nov/Dec 2020