Monthly Archives: November 2009

Makemeadiva blogs @ the Racing Post

Steve Dennis, the Senior Features writer at the one true newspaper, has started turning his blog over to readers once a month. Last month my Breeders’ Cup post hit the bar, but this weekend (to my surprise and delight) it went straight into the roof of the net! It can be read here:-

Obviously I must thank my mother at this point 😉

Seriously though, I do thank her and my sister Emily, my Dad who has been known to read extracts out to my Granny, and also to Stephen Foster and lately Jan, all of whom have given me encouragement to persist with the writing habit. 

Blue (the last chapter in horses I have fallen off)

For now.  I hope.

Blue was my own grey Irish draught X horse who I bought from a riding school (Mudchute again, I should have known better) where I had been riding him about twice a week. Along with the horse sale came a copy of a letter I had to sign stating that he was dangerous and in the Chief Instructor’s opinion was only fit for the glue factory. Actually, this was not really true. He was sharp and a bit of a handful, but he was basically well-meaning. The problem lay in his size. He was 18hh and now reminds me of a slow, grey Denman 🙂  I was, to use a technical term, overhorsed!

Of course the moment I had “rescued” him from certain death or a dealer’s yard I was not foolish enough to hop on him, his having gone as sour as you like thanks to the Chief Instructor’s brutal method of schooling in the menage.  Instead I had him boxed straight up to Abridge near Epping in Essex to live in a herd from May until the weather turned in September and the pastures closed for the year.  Then still not feeling sufficiently confident in his goodwill to all man I travelled him up to Easington in South Yorkshire (on the banks of the Humber) which is about as retreatish as you can get for an equine.  Here he was to be sorted out with kindness and understanding and I went up as often as I could to re-establish a bond.  Eventually it became nonsensical to live in London and have a horse I hardly rode in nearasdamnitHull so I found a livery yard in Theydon Bois and had to ride my own horse, on my own, by myself, outside.  Be careful what you wish for folks.

He was a devil in the school and would buck in a resisting way quite a lot when asked to do something, anything really. I ended up not riding him in the school at all as it felt more like a rodeo. His hugeness actually helped for staying on though (think pea on a drum). I can only remember one fall from him, although he did smash my knee on a sign once barging through a narrow gap on the way home. He was a real couch potato, if you put him in the field (unless the weather was 70 degrees C with a cooling breeze) he would be back by the gate within half an hour begging to go back to his yard, where he could kick back, if not with a flat screen at least with a haynet and a salt-lick. 

 The fall was in Epping Forest and I was on my own which is every rider’s nightmare. I can’t remember the detail except that it happened at the bottom of a bit of a hill that we were probably going to canter up anyway. The fall didn’t hurt; I was more concerned with where the hell the horse had got to. No sooner was he rid of me than he galloped up the hill and disappeared out of sight. It is one thing to lose someone elses horse, quite another to lose your own. One deemed dangerous and ready to cause all kind of insurance claim type disasters to unsuspecting third parties. Fortunately the great goon had had enough between his grey ears to wait just round the corner for me. Then I was faced with the seemingly insurmountable problem of getting back on.  It is far more hazardous to be on foot than on board a horse as you have less control and are far more vulnerable (sounds crazy but it’s true).  I generally used a block in the yard, why make a prat of yourself if you don’t have to, but now I was going to have to scale Everest on my own. I think the adrenaline helped because I scrambled up fairly easily in the end.  It certainly put me off hacking out on my own.

In the end the horse went back up to Yorkshire to run and maybe jump as fast as he could in more or less a straight line as a hunter for a blacksmith.  I remain convinced that one negative experience can sour a horse more or less for life.

Blue giving me his customary filthy look!

Mine’s a Hennessy

Much as I try to ignore this jump racing gear (and succeed for the most part during the week) the magnetic effect of the graded contests and the stars that participate would make a nonsense of my blog’s title if I didn’t even mention them.   During the flat season I can write a preview at the 48 hour declaration stage, providing the weather outlook is fair, with the jumps I have to mug up on the morning.

For once Thommo had something enlightened to say on the Morning Line, re Denman:

“We all know he can carry the weight, but can he give it away?”

Well put.  If I may borrow from Heaven 17’s Look of Love lyric for a moment:

“I don’t know the answer to that question.  If I knew I would tell you…”

Well I would.  What I do know is that everyone says Denman is well.  What I know as well is that he is the class act in the field.  What we know too is that he has not quite re-scaled the heights of the season before last since his heart procedure and that he was not foot perfect when we last saw him at Aintree, which is why his price was around 9/2 this morning. 

Barber’s Shop is probably the improving horse to watch for, but I don’t know enough about him to comment so I won’t.  I also know that Gone To Lunch comes top in the Timeform weight adjusted ratings and should come home well.  I would like Denman to win, but the fact of the matter is that he is giving away absolute lumps of lead to quality horses.  For example, State of Play (who was the subject of a midweek gamble from 33s into 16s) who is a former Hennessy winner himself is getting 2lbs shy of 2 stone from the Tank.  Even if the weight doesn’t stop Denman winning, it gives some other good horses a good chance of getting nearer him.

Frankly I don’t know what to do!  My shortlist consists of Denman, Barber’s Shop, Gone to Lunch and State of Play.  State of Play and I go back the furthest and the money and featherweight he carries is encouraging, but I am not keen on backing against Denman.  Maybe it is two bets – win and each way.   Anyway good luck to all the field. 

N.B. If you are betting each way in the race go to Skybet or VC who are the firms offering 1/4 the price for the first 5.

P.S.  I really like the look of Solwhit in the Fighting Fifth @ Newcastle and that was before Barry Dennis made Binocular his Bismarck!

The Strange Case of Animal Welfare in Australia

On the one hand it has been announced that due to the death of 20 horses in jump races in the last 2 years the state of Victoria is banning jump racing in 2010.

On the other they have announced that 6000 feral camels are going to be culled in the Northern Territory next week because they are damaging water supplies locally.

If it wasn’t the end of a very long and tiring week I might know what I even begin to think about these stories.  The cull of camels using helicopters and guns sounds awfully distressing, not to mention the piles of enormous dead camels?  Apparently there are over one million such camels across Australia so the cull is a drop in the ocean anyway.  As a non-native breed now causing such problems it makes me thankful we only have the grey squirrel and myxomatosis to worry about.

Voodoo Child

Not mine; Jimi Hendrix. This was recently voted the best guitar riff ever. Who voted and why I don’t know. A vote seems a bit superfluous to me.

Friday = Geetar Music.

Cat in a Hat

I am mad with busy ness today and have some other things to write so I thought I had better skip the blog today. Then I bought a drink with a hat on (as you do) and couldn’t resist getting the cat in, who was perfectly happy in next-door’s garden, to dress her up in her most evil feline pose with the knitted bonnet. Of course I am totally against dressing animals up, because it’s just stupid. Standby for the dog in a mac…

A suitably outraged Bibi

Shaun the Sheep

I know I have had a trying day when I struggle to follow the plot of this CBBC programme (available on Freeview and highly recommended). If you like Wallace and Gromit and subversive sheep you can’t go wrong with a bit of Shaun. On around 4 p.m. but you can catch it here if you have to be out doing something more important at that time (difficult to comprehend in our world).


Even I have limits when it comes to talking about myself although I know that might seem hard to believe! Nonetheless, I am holding back on my two other horse-related stunts for now (one featuring my very own grey diplodocus Blue) to allow some interjection from my sister: The Devon Home Cook.

In the latter part of the decade that I was flinging myself from equines she was spending summers on Sark driving them. Sark is one of the smallest Channel Islands that can only be reached by ferry and notable for (then) its feudal system and ban on all motorised vehicles barring tractors.

In her previous incarnation as the Sark Carriage Driver she hung out in the village square (probably smoking?) waiting to take tourists round the island, for which you have to pass a test. The test was not only to show that you could stop, start and steer a horse, but that you had the correctly entertaining grockle spiel in three different langauages as you took them round the island. I think the highpoint of her career was having Ian Beale from “Eastenders” in her carriage 😉

She has reminded me on yesterday’s comments that she had a carriage bolting incident once, so I am hoping she is going to come on here and fill in the truly terrifying gaps. Sark actually consists of the imaginatively named Big Sark and its unequal and opposite, Little Sark. The Sark Carriage Driver had to travel across the isthmus, called La Coupee, that joins the two to get back to the ranch. I am hoping (for my mother’s sake) that the escapade wasn’t across this dramatic but highly dangerous tourist attraction.

La Coupee: The razor-edged isthmus joining the main island to Little Sark, is the most spectacular sight in the Channel Islands. Before 1900 when protective railings were erected, children from Little Sark, had to crawl on their hands and knees to avoid being blown over the edge.

I am also wondering if that choice detail was included in the tourist chat?

Horses etc. Part 2

This morning’s painful hip put me in mind of this horse:

Spider – was a good bit thoroughbred, but with something else thrown in I am certain, given her height (very leggy like a supermodel in Westwood shoes). A bay, she was a bit of a cow but reasonably manageable in the school. This day (why do they say that in racing circles? My 5yo also says it when she is looking forward to something e.g. “Is it after this day and that day?”) we were hacking around the Mudchute city farm on the Isle of Dogs. It had passed uneventfully, but when a canter back to the yard was suggested things went a bit pear-shaped. My friend set off in front on Digby, a nice piebald cob, and then I was to follow. Except Spider just took off and to this day I think the t*sser that passed for an instructor smacked her or something given the way she shot away down the narrow track like a BAGS railer at Crayford.

You know those films where there’s a big sawmill about to cut someone in half, all grinding teeth and flying sawdust? Well, that’s what I thought we were going to do to poor Digby as we bore down on his rear end. That turned out to be a feature of this most terrifying of bolting escapades i.e. what I thought would happen didn’t. Somehow we squeezed past Digby at breakneck speed. Then I thought we would definitely stop at the yard as it is an unusual horse that will gallop right past their comfy stable. Spider didn’t stop. She kept on like she was in the bloody Pardibuce Velka. I then kidded myself she was going to grind to a halt by the time we were in the car park, after all cars can be pretty scary for horses can’t they? No chance. By the time we had charged through the car park I was utterly resigned to our hurdling the five-bar iron gate that lay between Mudchute Farm and the superstore Asda.

Spider seemed pretty committed to this suicidal aim, having taken complete leave of any little sense she had, but as she hit the tarmac of the road and tried to rally hard left her shiny and slippery horseshoes just betrayed her and she shot hard right as her legs were taken from under her. I was flung out the sidedoor to the left and we landed in a dishevelled heap at the feet of two police people patrolling on foot (as they once did in days of yore). Of all the hoodlums they expected to see on their beat that day in E14 I imagine Spider and me were pretty much not on the list. I can’t remember much else. I know I hit the road hard on my left side. I drove home and must have taken myself to the hospital later. The doctor could not believe all I had broken was my ring finger on my left hand which must have just been snapped by the reins as we parted company. Neither could I. Apart from that, severe bruising to my hip and not being able to use my shoulder properly for about six months I was grand. It didn’t put me off riding, but I swear the most frightening thing I can still think of is being onboard a crazed, bolting horse.

See, the thing is, I know what to do on a horse that has run off with you. I had bridged my reins already like a jockey and because in a tug of war between a human and a horse you know you won’t win, the thing to do is haul on one side of their mouths, which should unbalance them and start to make them turn. I used this to good effect with that other miscreant, Peggy Sue. You make a huge turning circle like the QEII and eventually they get bored of running in mile diameter circles and slow down. With Spider there was nowhere to turn to. We were on tiny tracks and trails and car parks! Lessons learned though: only start a fast pace where you have room to manoeuvre and don’t trust riding instructors as many are from the dark side.

What Spider did next

Horses I have known (and fallen off) – Part 1

I was going to do a short run today with the dog, but my back was painful so I thought I could just get away with going out on the bike. Sometimes all that thudding about is not what a creaky body needs. In the wind and the rain on the seafront I had plenty of time to wonder about the niggles and twinges I get. They are definitely worse when the weather closes in and although they mainly wear off as the day wears on, I think the joints are crying out for a little glucosamine. I wonder if a lot of it has been caused by my tumbles from horses over the years. If you have come off a horse a few times you can understand how the jockeys, say at Aintree today, hop back on their next ride with seemingly not a bother on them and you can also understand how poor Timmy Murphy came to be carted off to hospital with concussion 😦

I have ridden too many horses to remember and have fallen off too many times! There have been so many falls I couldn’t actually say how many but there are some memorable ones that I have decided to record for posterity. Posterity needs to be in no particular hurry because when I had finished typing the post was too long. So there follows one fall now and the rest during the week. It’s an occupational hazard with horses but it doesn’t stop me wincing when someone hits the deck at the races.

First up – Peggy Sue – a bison thinly diguised as a horse. She had neck muscles that she was determined to use to her advantage, namely carting her rider off in any given direction. I was out on Salisbury Plain to investigate the general unacceptableness or otherwise of fox-hunting and Peggy was a hireling for the day. They knew what she was like and had fitted her with a bit assembled out of barbed wire and broken glass to aid her rider in their vain attempts to hold her (actually it was called a cherry roller bit but my idea would $have been better). This was the only time that I have been “hunting”. I didn’t see a fox all day and I could only crawl on all fours myself by the next morning.

The two falls were jumping a ditch (understandable) and then when she was (as she tried to all day) leaning on my hands and tanking along only to come upon the inconveniently placed rear end of another horse. Undeterred from her raison d’etre – to get IN FRONT – she simply jumped sideways and carried on. Presumably the horse in front had had the sense to slow for a bit of gravelled road we were crossing, something of no consequence to a real bison. I travelled across the road at speed, and minus my horse, on my very own arse – the burning pain of which has yet to be equalled.

Now of course, when you are being tortured and humiliated in this manner the last thing you want to do is get back on the beast, but 10 miles from civilisation atop a windy plain you have no choice. Sadly neither of these spills were the most frightening thing she did that day. That honour belonged to the occasion when she charged down a vertical cliff with an enormous flood at the bottom and a tree that resembled a redwood. I got the feeling (and I had little time to think about this) that her dastardly plan was to fire me headfirst into the giant tree trunk and then hold my head under the water with her hoof until help arrived, preferably too late. When I asked her about her behaviour, as we loaded the buggers onto the box at the end of the day, she said she just having a bit of a laugh. A more inappropriately named animal it is hard to imagine.

Ok, "she" didn't have horns but otherwise this is an exact likeness