Christmas week has been, unsurprisingly, all about horses. Not just mucking out the 14 we've had in over the holidays and enjoying some sensational jump racing but, for me, the much more important question of finding the perfect hack – and we've had the ghosts of hacks past, present and future very much in our thoughts.
Hack future seems to have been solved with the discovery of the most perfect horse ever to wander the planet in the shape of the divine Pantomime Prince. He's still in training at the moment and long may that last but once he's retired I'll move heaven and earth to buy him. He's the most unflappable, straightforward ride and an absolute teddy bear to boot. Hard to believe he's only three.
So to hack present, the bold Desiree. Since returning from Devon she has proved once and for all that she really does not enjoy being on the heath. She's still treated like a princess in the yard and we love her dearly but, having demonstrated the potential I firmly believe she has when in schooling with Christelle, it's quite plain she needs a much better rider who is keen to compete and bring on a young event horse. She's a great jumper and has responded quickly to flatwork in a really short time. Now we just need to find a home where she will be given the work and attention she deserves on a permanent loan basis. She will always have a home back here if arrangements don't work out but that is my number one priority for the new year: to find a suitable partner for Des.
Sadly, news of hack past is not so positive. On arrival at the Boxing Day meet of the Thurlow, we bumped into the owner of Flint, the lovely grey cob I had here last summer. Expecting to see the great white beast pawing the ground and raring to go at the meet, it was a shock to learn he had been put down in the summer, suffering from laminitis and arthritis.
Flint developed quite a following while he was stabled here. It was impossible not to love him. He had the most adorable face and would call out to me in the morning, anxious for his grub. While his short sturdy legs and ample girth gave the impression that he would be the safest of conveyances while allegedly performing hack duties, the wide open heathland was so unbelievably exciting for him that he took every chance he could to muck around.
For such a windy rider, Flint's sudden impulse to bolt was initially alarming until I realised that he would soon run out of puff after a few furlongs and pull himself up, particularly if pointed uphill.
My worst day aboard him was undoubtedly the busy Saturday morning he decided to bolt across The Severals. Suze was with me on Sergeant Small and we were just heading back from a light exercise when a horse whipping round on the packed trotting rings was enough to give Flint licence to misbehave and off we shot. Amazingly I didn't fall off and, even more amazingly, he pulled himself up before we ploughed into an oncoming string (James Fanshawe's, I think) and through the rails onto the Fordham Road. Even this relief was not enough to drown out the hoots of laughter from other (proper) riders that followed us across The Severals and still ring in my ears today.
I can forgive him all his high jinx for what a wonderful horse he was to be around. So kind in his stable and always pleased to see me. I cried when he left and I haven't stopped bursting into tears since I heard the awful news on Boxing Day. The way I'll remember him is on the scorching hot summer's evening we ventured out alone (fewer excuses for naughtiness when there are no other horses around). The sun had baked the orange sand of the heath tracks and heat seemed to rise up from them. Flint, for once, behaved immaculately and I can't recall seeing another person for the entirety of our wonderful ride. It was a perfect Newmarket night on the most characterful little cob.
Thanks, Flint, for reminding me how to sit deep and stay on. May the God of horses ensure you are clearing huge hedges in that great hunting field in the sky. Tally ho, old boy.