Someone asked a while ago how I became interested in breeding, and it all goes back to when I was thirteen at the riding school, so not far off fifty years ago now!
They had a pony arrive called Poppet and I was 'given' her to look after when I was there, along with my others. All of the children who went regularly were given 'their gang' to do which meant catching in, grooming, tacking up for lessons and so on. We all took it very seriously and there was always a bit of competition about who could be first, whose ponies were cleaner, whose tack gleamed and so on. It was a lot of fun and we learnt so much, not least how to take 12 ponies back to the field in one go with only three of us - totally non-PC of course, bareback, no hats and ponies in old rope halters – and I still can't vault on anything bigger than 12 hands!
Poppet was well named - she was a sweetheart; even though she was only four, she had an old head on young shoulders. She wasn't in the best of condition when she arrived but soon turned the corner and started to bloom. A few weeks later I thought she was blooming a bit too quickly and said so to the owner, who laughingly said I had a vivid imagination and would be saying she was in foal next. As a thirteen year old, it had never crossed my mind, as we weren't so forward in those days! A month or so passed and Poppet got better - and bigger - so I did say “Wouldn't it be wonderful if she was?” not having a clue what I should be looking for. A week later, I was brushing her over and nearly leapt out of my skin when her stomach moved with what I know now is foal movement. Looking back, I can't believe how green I was, but I had never seen or had anything to do with foals, other than seeing the wild New Forest ponies on rare trips out and the Manual of Horsemanship, my Bible, didn't exactly mention them either! The owner had a look and the vet was summoned a few days later who confirmed she was in foal and due very shortly, in the next few weeks, they thought. Great excitement!
You have to remember that back then, horses weren't pets as so many are nowadays, they had to work for their living so for Poppet to be in foal was a financial blow to the stable owner. Needless to say, we children didn't let it worry us, we were just excited. I can't remember anyone staying up with Poppet as you would now; they might have done but I don't think so, as when I got there one Saturday morning, the staff had been as surprised as me when they had found a lovely filly foal there in the straw beside Poppet! True to her sweet ways, she had done it all herself and presented us with her surprise packet. The foal was called Frolic and I had a lot of fun and experience handling them both. I was even included in the article and picture in the local paper about 'two for the price of one', my first and only claim to fame! They both went on to be long-standing riding school ponies that were very popular with their nice characters and abilities.
After that, it was several years before I had anything to do with youngsters again when I was working in a mainly hunter livery yard, but I loved handling them and getting their confidence. And so it was no surprise when, years later, I swapped a 12.2hh gelding which I had bought for my son (who was only three at the time so more interested in playing with his tractors!) for a very poor yearling which grew up to be a useful riding club type. We had just got to the stage of going to a few fun rides with a friend, who luckily had a trailer as we had nothing like that when she sold her pony and was looking around for a challenge. She found it through the local paper and asked me if I would go with her as another eye.
This is what we saw; a mare shortly due to foal and her still suckling yearling filly:
Not exactly what I had in mind, but there was something about the mare underneath all that scruff and, surprisingly, boy, could she move through the bog that was their field! She was by the HIS thoroughbred, Harvest Spirit, a great big raking horse, that stood locally and was out of a 13.2hh mare which the stallion handler had bought out of Beeston market.
I wanted her, even though at first it was just to take her out of that field, but I couldn't afford her unless I sold Wilf first. I tried all ways to plead with my husband, but he was having nothing to do with it, wouldn't lend me the money or anything. I was so upset and Julia had already decided to buy the yearling, and I could see her slipping away. Then I saw a neighbour while I was exercising and asked him if he fancied a new mare. He didn't but he offered me the money to buy her and to pay him back when I had sold Wilf! I was ecstatic but OH poured water on the idea by refusing to let me take the money; you can just imagine the rows but again, back then, I had no option but to refuse the money. A week later, out of the blue, someone asked if I would sell Wilf; it was to a great riding club home where he stayed for the rest of his life, some 17 years later. Chestnut mare, here I come! Talk about the cat who had the cream!
We collected them, which was quite exciting to say the least. The mare, Spryte, was very good but the yearling filly wasn't even halter broken so we had to use straw bales to funnel her into the trailer. Boy could she jump! We put those bales up three times before we could slam the ramp shut on them. They came back to our small field and we managed to get a headcollar on the filly before she came off the trailer which we managed without the trailer tipping over - the filly was so cross! They were separated the next day and I started getting to know my new mare who turned out to be a total sweetie unless she was frightened, when she would just run for her life until she felt safe again.
She was a month off foaling and my vet advised me to just feed her a cool mix and hay as she was so poor. He didn't want the foal to grow too quickly while she was in such a bad state. It worked. She had a colt, very easily, and I was watching over the door the whole way through. It was magical, and even after all these years, I've never lost that feeling - there's no other word to describe it for me.
Spry as she was called and Jasper at a day old. He was by Doon Lad, another HIS stallion.
The vet had checked them both over and couldn't get over the change in the mare. "You should show these at Nantwich" he said and the seed was sown - seven weeks later we were at Nantwich Show, in the Lightweight Hunter class! We weren't placed, being 7th from eleven but I was thrilled with them both. Better still, she was awarded her Broodmare Premium (vetted on the spot by the judge, a well known local horse vet!) which in those days meant she automatically went onto the Grade ll register, was also given £25 and the chance thereafter to register her stock with the HIS. Even in those days, I remember the buzz getting their passports through as normally, only posh thoroughbreds had passports; they were very new fangled bits of paper for pleasure horses which very few people bothered about.
Jasper was sold in the spring and ended up at 16.2hh, despite Spry being just 15 hands! Spry was broken in which was quite a challenge but eventually she was a great hack, very safe in traffic, but if something frightened her then she would run with the devil behind her and she was far too strong for me, so in the interests of safety and with a family to consider, I stopped riding her on the roads. When I snapped the tendons in my wrist it seemed the logical thing, if I could afford it, to put her in foal so I started hunting around for a suitable boy for the following year.
Something else we have done is show and breed Border Terriers and earlier in the year we had sold our first litter. One of the dogs had gone to a nice lad from near Stafford and we had kept in touch. One day he rang and asked if he could call in one night with a friend. It was his first date and he brought her to see us, poor girl! From that inspiring start, she is now my best friend, we went to their wedding and I'm Godmother to their daughter, but almost best of all (only joking Y if you read this!) is that she is the daughter of a stud owner who used to stand Hill Farmer and Colman, two quite well known stallions as well as some others!
Needless to say, that was my first port of call and I decided that their new thoroughbred, Big Connaught, would fill the bill nicely. Spry was bundled off to Embla where she was no trouble and went in foal first time but that's another story.......................