The Olympics

Wow we did well in the Olympics again, winning 67 medals overall. I forget how many were gold, but we were second to the USA and beat China.  Yay

And didn’t our equestrians do us proud?  Gold from Charlotte Dujardin in the dressage and a long-deserved gold from Nick Skelton in the show-jumping.

Charlotte Dujardin

Here are Charlotte and Dujardin and Valegro. Writing this has inspired me to rewatch her wonderful freestyle dressage. A score of 94.3 won her Olympic Gold and a new world record!

Actually I missed most of it first time round because we had a local Worthing builder in doing some alterations. He did a great job but bad timing 🙁

Wow that pair are wonderful. I love everything about it – from her amazing piaffe pirouettes to the fabulous extended trot, extended canter and passage.  Breathtaking.

Charlotte is now the UK’s most successful dressage rider of all time. And so much credit must go to Carl Hester, who apart from being part-owner of Valegro has been Charlotte’s mentor and the pair’s trainer. Unfortunately he didn’t win a medal this year but his influence is undeniable.

There was talk of Valegro being retired which seems such a shame, but as Carl says, the only thing that horse loves more than his work is to eat!  So he’ll be getting a lot of grass and he’s earned a rest I’m sure you’ll agree.

Well that was breathtaking but there was another medal winner who equally deserved his award.

Nick Skelton, 58 years old and show-jumper who has inspired more than one generation of young riders. It was a nail-biting final, which for once I managed to watch.

Nick and Red Star kept us all on the edges of our seats as they went first in the jump off against the clock.

Nick Skelton & Red Star

Nick likes to go first to put pressure on the other riders. So off he went at a good speed and achieved a perfect clear round!  The others followed and one by one they clocked up faults or were just a tiny bit slower.

I hadn’t realised how fast Red Star was until I saw the others apparently hammering around but going slower!

So at the end of the competition the wonderful twosome left us all inspired and happy for the UK team. Well done Nick.

The win was so popular that there’s a movement to nominate Nick for Sports Personality of the Year. I really hope he achieves that but I doubt it will top the euphoria of winning Olympic Gold at last.

And a shout out to the rest of the equestrian team who were all wonderful but just not the best on the day. It must be so difficult because unlike every other sport you’re not just relying on your body but also on the mind and body of your horse. Both have to be at peak fitness and have the mental stamina to take on the world.

Well done Team GB – we’re proud of you

Fascinating facts about Horses

I came across this post about horsey facts and thought my readers might be interested.  I think I knew all of them, but I’m well aware that if you’re not a horse person you might find some of these interesting.

So here goes:

  • Horses can sleep whilst standing. They have a locking mechanism on their back legs to stop them falling over.  They sleep standing more than lying down, which they only do if they feel safe.
  • Horses are flight animals, so they run away when they’re frightened – unless they’re cornered or in a stable, in which case they might lash out.
  • Like most flight animals, they are able to run soon after birth – that’s for self-preservation to escape wolves!
  • Horses have 205 bones in their skeleton and an awful lot of muscles. I know because I had to learn them all for intermediate BHS exams! Not that I can recall them now ….
  • Horses normally live around 25-30 years, though ponies tend to live quite a bit longer
  • Horses have the biggest eyes of any land-dwelling animal. They are set on the side of their heads so they have a big angle of vision, though they can’t see things directly in front of them unless they’re several feet away. So when they jump, they can’t actually see the obstacle as they take off.
  • Horses gallop at around 25-30mph, though I’m sure this varies enormously with the type of horse, the length of his legs and his energy!
  • Apparently the world record speed for a horse is 55mph over a short distance. That’s pretty fast, would love to have been on board, but a fall at that speed would be nasty!
  • The world horse population is estimated at 60 million. That’s a lot of pooh!

I’ve quite enjoyed researching these facts, so look out for more in a later blog.

Meanwhile I must write more about the origins of the horse – it’s just that I’m too lazy to do the research lol

Stroller and Marion Coakes

I can’t resist writing about Stroller because he was my absolute hero as a child.

There was this 14.2hh pony and a young girl competing against the world’s best – and frequently winning. I don’t think there’s ever been such a jumping pony, either before or since.

Marion was a farmer’s daughter from Hampshire when Stroller was bought for her as a junior showjumping pony. It’s a lovely story.

Stroller came over from Ireland in a job-lot of horses, as was usual in those days and was bought by a horse dealer from Sussex. The dealer sold the pony to a local butcher for his daughter Sally.  It soon became apparent that Stroller had some talent and he was sold to Marion’s father in 1960 at the end of the Horse of the Year Show. Stroller was eight.

Marion and her two brothers had been taught by their father and were excellent showjumpers, all becoming members of the British Junior Showjumping team.

The two made a brilliant partnership and were both exceptionally talented. When Marion turned 16 her father wanted to sell Stroller and move her on to bigger horses, but Marion wasn’t going to give up her beloved pony so easily.

The rest is history. Together they went on to take on the best showjumping horses in the world. They won the Ladies World Championship at Hickstead in 1965 then the same year won the Queen Elizabeth Cup at the Royal International Horse Show. Astonishingly they won the QE cup again 6 years later.

In 1967 in a puissance class at Antwerp, Stroller amazed his audience by clearing the wall at 6’8″, and almost clearing 6’10”.  To put it into perspective, he was only 5’4″ at the withers!

Stroller and Marion went on to win many more major showjumping competitions and to win a place in every schoolgirl’s heart.

The great pony retired in the 1970s and lived until he was 36.

History of Horse Racing

horse racingAccording to some research I’ve done on Google, horse racing started as a sport in the UK back in the 12th century. In those days, of course, races were run cross-country and were probably pretty rough affairs.

Charles II was very interested in horse racing and held races across open fields between two horses. The first race meeting was held in Newmarket, where many English racehorses are bred to this day.

In the early 18th century match races became less popular as bigger races were held and gambling became established. In 1711 Ascot was founded. Astonishing to think that many of the original sites of the great sport still thrive today.

The Jockey Club was formed in 1750 and instituted a set of rules for horse racing, and of course they still regulate the sport of Kings and point-to-pointing today.

The Jockey Club instigated plans to regulate the breeding of race horses and started the General Stud Book, first published in 1791. The General Stud Book has been run by Weatherby’s since 1793 and they have recorded the pedigree of every foal born to registered stock. Thus the development of the English Thoroughbred is very well documented.

In 1815 the Classics came into being as races for three-year-olds. They are: The Epsom Derby, The St. Leger, The 2,000 Guineas (the Triple Crown) and The Epsom Oaks and 1,000 Guineas, which are only open to fillies.




About Bayside

Originally I didn’t intend to include much about Bayside, but as I remember back to our times together I’ve decided to write more about her.

I have my friend Pete to thank for finding Bayside. He’s a tree surgeon in Horsham now, but back then he was a student. He always loved nature and horses and I remember him always climbing trees and making camps up in the branches.

Anyhow one day he was out helping to lay a hedge when a woman came running down the street, asking if they’d seen a runaway horse!  They hadn’t but because he was such a horse love, Pete joined in the search. To cut a long story short, it took them over 2 hours to find the horse, then another hour to catch her.

Pete helped the lady to walk the horse back home and they got talking. Turned out she had several horses and was a bit fed up with all the work. Her daughter had gone off to university leaving her with 3 horses and a donkey to care for, as well as her own horse. So she was thinking of selling a couple.

Pete knew I was looking for a nice safe riding horse, so he put us in touch and I trotted off to see Bayside.

It was love at first sight – for me at least – I’m not sure Bayside was quite so impressed. I’m not the world’s best rider, just a happy hacker who wants a safe horse to love and have some fun with.

percheron x thoroughbred

As I said before, I don’t have any photos because they were lost in a fire, but I’ve found this picture of a couple of percheron x tb horses and the one on the right looks quite similar to Bayside. She was probably a little lighter in build, but it’s difficult to tell from just head and neck.

Over the years Bayside and I had some great times. The hacking around here is pretty good with lots of bridleways and woods just around the corner. We used to find the odd tiger trap or small pile of logs to hop over and we often went out with friends on their horses.

Occasionally we went to a local show or to a lesson through the riding club or a local riding school. I had a trailer so we’d pop off when we felt like it (or when I felt like it). Nowadays everyone seems to have boxes, but Bayside and I loved our trailer and the old landrover that pulled it around the Sussex countryside.

It all ended sadly when Bayside was 18. She was in her stable as the weather was awful when she started looking strange. If you’re a horsey person, you know when your horse is off-colour. I’m not going into details because it’s too painful, but Bayside had bad colic.

We rushed her to the vet but she had a twisted gut and unfortunately the operation was unsuccessful.

I have to remember that we had 8 year together and I am so grateful to have such lovely memories with Bayside. I just wish I had some photos.

In the unlikely event that someone reading this has a photo of a Percheron/TB/Arab, would you please be so kind as to send me a copy?  You can reach me here

Sport Horses

Irish sports horseA sport horse isn’t a breed, and in fact I never came across the term until relatively recently – I mean 20 or 30 years ago.

Many of our sport horses come from Ireland, where they breed wonderful thoroughbreds too, of course. The Irish Sports Horse often has a lot of quality – here’s a photo of one.

But sport horses have become almost like a breed in the way they are described and people buy them, so maybe one day they will have their own classification.

To me a sports horse is one that is normally crossed somewhere with a Thoroughbred. It has to be athletic and often suitable for multiple disciplines. So it may become a showjumper or a dressage horse, or an eventer. But being suitable for multi-disciplines inevitably means that the horse will be a jack-of-all-trades to some extent. He may be good at a number of things, but he probably won’t excel in any one.

So you’d probably have to get a horse that is bred for jumping if you wanted to be a serious showjumper, for example. Or a horse bred for its movement and concentration if you want a top dressage horse.

These specialist horses are incredibly expensive of course, so most people buy a “sports horse” and try to turn it into a super horse by good training. Sometimes it pays off.

Coloured sports horse

This lovely coloured sports horse looks suitable for a number of disciplines. Coloured horses, piebalds as we used to call them and pintos as they call them in America, are becoming more and more popular. That was certainly helped by the Queen’s lovely stallion Mars, who sired some top horses.

The Arab

Arabs are the most beautiful horses. They have small, slightly dished andThe arab elegant heads, high head and tail carriage and a lovely springy movement. They snort and prance and show off their beautiful bodies to all who wish to watch.

This photo to me is a typical Arab, with his beautiful flowing mane and tail.

Arabs have wide foreheads, big eyes and nostrils but small muzzles, giving their faces a wedge-shape. Many also have an unusual and distinctive bulge between their eyes. This is thought to have been to give extra sinus capacity to help the horse in its native dry desert conditions.

The Arab is one of the world’s oldest breeds and the English thoroughbred owes much of its grace and strength to Arab lines. In fact almost every modern breed of riding horse has some Arab blood.

As is evident from its name, the breed originates from the Arabian Peninsula and apparently there is evidence that horses resembling the modern Arab were around 4,500 years ago.

I think most riders either love or dislike Arabs (hate would be far too strong a word). They are a narrow horse and ride with a high head carriage that doesn’t suit everyone.  But those who have had an Arab and love it often won’t consider any other breed.

Around the world Arabs are raced and there are special races for them in the UK. They’re not as fast as thoroughbreds of course, but they’re still pretty speedy. And they have great stamina so make good endurance horses.

The Anglo Arab is a cross between Arab and Thoroughbred and that is another very attractive horse which takes some of the characteristics of each breed.

Bayside was 25% Arab and this brought a special beauty to her. You could definitely see the Arab influence in her face. I miss her.


The English Thoroughbred

I love the thoroughbred. Look at those fine lines, intelligent head and limbs built for speed. They are the ultimate racehorse, of course, and in the UK most thThoroughbred mareoroughbreds are bred for racing. The majority never come good, so they get trained for other disciplines, or sadly some just fall by the wayside.

Many of our top sports horses have at least some thoroughbred blood, and they add speed with their light legs and quick movement. Unfortunately those same legs are vulnerable when they fall because they have less bone than other breeds.

Sovereigns owned and bred the best of these thoroughbreds and our Queen today still maintains that tradition with her love of horses and breeding programmes.

The three stallions who are the foundation stock of all English thoroughbreds and from whom all our present-day thoroughbreds descend are the Darley Arabian, Goldolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk. These three were imported in the late 17th century and bred with the best English and imported carriage mares. These mares were stronger and heavier than the Arab and Turk. Many other fine stallions were later imported improving the bloodlines until we reach present day.

Thoroughbreds are wonderful to ride and light of foot, but many are not suitable for novices or riders who lack confidence. They tend to be sharp – easily spooked and quick to shy or move rapidly sideways. This can easily unseat an inexperienced or insecure rider.  These days I prefer a horse with some steadying influence in its blood – maybe a warmblood or a draught.

That sort of cross tends to produce a horse with more weight and bone with a more sensible attitude – which suits me.

Thoroughbred racehorse

My lovely Bayside had more than a touch of English Thoroughbred.

The Percheron

Percheron police horseThe Percheron is a draft horse, of course, of French origin. Percherons were originally bred as war horses, then they were used to pull stage coaches and agricultural machinery. They’re big, strong-muscled horses, usually grey or black, and are recognised for their intelligence and easy nature.

In the late 18th century, they were crossed with Arabs to add a little lightness and speed. This is something I’ve only just discovered. Early Percherons must have looked even stronger and stockier than their modern counterparts.

Before the First World War, the breed became popular in the USA and thousands were shipped out. This stopped though during the war, when Percherons were needed as war horses once again. Some were even shipped back to join the fighting. It was a bad time to be a big horse!

In 1918 breeding began in the UK and the British Percheron Horse Society came into being.

After a few ups and downs, Percherons are now pretty popular again in the US, where 2,500 are newly registered each year. And they are still used extensively as draft horses – though the French breed them for food.

Nowadays, when Sport Horses are so popular, the Percheron has been cross-bred with lighter breeds like Thoroughbreds and Arabs to produce competition horses. But purebreds are still used extensively for pulling carriages and you can see from the picture at the top of this post that they also make good police horses.

My Bayside was half Percheron

If you own a Percheron or a cross-bred Percheron, I’d love to hear from. You can contact me here

Bayside – Percheron, Thoroughbred and Arab

This blog, “Bayside, my favourite mare”, is in honour of the most lovely horse I ever owned. She was called Bayside and her sirePercheron race was an Anglo-Arab, out of a Percheron mare.

She was a beautiful girl, big, kind and easy-going. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of her following a fire at the flat where all my pictures were stored. So I’ve decided to write a blog and to find out more about the three breeds that made her so special.

Bayside was dapple grey, 16.3hh and 10 years old when I got her. We didn’t do anything special, just hacked around the Sussex countryside near Horsham and had some fun. We went on the odd sponsored ride and occasionally entered a small local show for a laugh, but mostly we just hung out together.

She was a safe horse and never made me fear for my life, like some I could mention! But she was still quite fast and had lots of stamina. I had her for 8 years until we lost her, and she left me with many fond memories.

It’s an unlikely mix – Percheron, Thoroughbred and Arab, but somehow it worked. So I’m going to learn much more about these breeds and their characteristics. And because I have a head like a sieve, I going to document everything I learn, so I can go back to it from time to time.