Tamaris (my horse of a lifetime)

Tamaris (my horse of a lifetime)

Tamaris – Here is a brief introductory tale about a young teenager & the thoroughbred horse that she fell in love with. A short story that horse fans might enjoy; a tale of learning, perseverance and understanding. Gees, what a ride it was!

I Meeting

I had not had the opportunity to ride horses until I was almost 13 years old. I’d grown up on farms, around all sorts of livestock but a pony wasn’t a possibility until my parents had kindly bought me ‘Ginger’ a chestnut 13-2 character with a huge heart & a bigger sense of humour. He had taught me to ride over the previous year & a bit; by the simple premise of “If you do something wrong it’s my responsibility to dump you”. As you might imagine dear Reader, for 6 months I fell off on a daily basis. However, when you got things right ‘Ging’ was so much fun, but that’s a different story; so back to the tale in hand.

I was just 14 years old when a neighbour’s groom rode this beautiful but desperately thin bay thoroughbred past our drive gate. He caught my eye and I called out,

“Hey, that’s a new one you’ve got there M”

“Yes, the boss has picked him up to sell on – fallen on hard times this young lad has”

“He’s gorgeous”

“Hmm maybe, but I’ll be glad when he’s gone. I’ve told the boss I’ll not ride him on grass; to damn fractious this one – I call him Reggie”

{giggles} “M, you call all the geldings Reggie!”

“True enough – well I’d better be getting on, see you again”

“Bye”

At this point I had already decided that this Reggie was the horse for me. Whilst briefly patting him, it had been like a meeting of minds; almost as if he was asking me to be his friend. Just how could I make it a reality?

I spoke to my parents but my Dad would have nothing of it:

“Look at him, he’s just skin & bone – wrong shape and a bit of a wild look too. No, you get all of these silly ideas out of your head. You’re not ready for a horse yet anyways.”

Well I have to concede that last bit might have been correct, maybe I wasn’t ready. But when an opportunity comes along that feels so right – you don’t just pass it up. I spoke to people that I knew in the farming & hunting communities. They all came back with similar answers: You’re mad – nobody ‘ll ride that one – he’ll do for you – look elsewhere.

But I was a determined young teenager and you know how much notice I was going to take of all these warnings. So I arranged to sell Ginger, on a buy back agreement to a young pony clubber who desperately wanted to compete him. I sold 2 of the 4 young cattle that I had started breeding 2 years previously and I cycled to see my neighbour & horse dealer.

I begged the dealer’s wife (who had been an Olympic Show-jumper) to ride ‘Reggie’ over some jumps. He jumped like a stag, pinging the 3ft 6in fences as if they weren’t relevant. Two days later, after a vetting and also promising to ask the dealer for an escort the first time I went hunting on Tamaris (his real name) – Tamaris was stood in my stable at home. I was the happiest teenager around and it would only take 3 years for my Dad to calm down (no I’m not kidding, 3 years!)

II Building Trust

The next year was hard but fun. Tamaris had been bought as a yearling to be an amateur rider’s future steeplechaser. He had wanted for nothing. His backing & basic schooling had been excellent and he had obviously been treated with great kindness. Sadly, at the time of the Lloyds insurance crash, the family had fallen on hard times. They had kept T as long as possible but finally he had to be sold as they simply couldn’t feed him anymore.

T’s condition score was very poor. It took 12 months of careful & imaginative feeding (T being the fussy gastronome that he was) to get him back to a good condition. I did jobs for the local horse folk & the neighbouring farmers, just to earn the funds for all the extra food. Oats from Scotland, Lucerne from Newmarket, Linseed Tea, grains from the Ovaltine factory, a bottle of stout every Saturday! You name it, I fed it, T loved it. Huge thanks go out to friends who chipped in, like Mr B who found an old copper for me to boil up mashes in and everyone who gave advice not minding me picking & choosing which gems of information to take.

It was an invaluable 12 months. The hours spent grooming, the evenings sat in T’s stable reading equine nutrition books by torchlight. The outreach lectures I attended, given by local vets disseminating advice on equine therapy & fitness. As time went by the bond of understanding between T & I became stronger & stronger. And then, when the time came, the riding. We started with short hacks out along the local lanes. The short hacks became long ones – exploring the Buckinghamshire bridlepaths – visiting different villages – by the next summer (10 months later) we were covering 70 to 100 miles per week.

III First Jumps

Our first jumps were 45 gallon barrels with a pole on top and another pole on 5 gallon drums a yard in front. This makes an inviting jump of about 3ft 4in in height. I was soon to learn that T loved jumping especially from pace. In a field with an island fence in it, he would actively pull to the jump – if he hooked off with you, it would be over a jump. He certainly wasn’t the fastest TB out there but he had a strong will & loads of stamina; about as honest a fellow as you’ll ever meet. It was this strong will that had caused no one to want to buy him. Going across country he became so excited. You could, by negotiation, maintain a little degree of control but you could not bug out – once on-board you were fully committed, no turning back.

If I hadn’t understood before, I definitely did now:

  • consistency & quiet determination are always better than aggression
  • you will never win a physical battle with a horse
  • understanding the horse’s perspective is invaluable
  • think ahead of time, otherwise it will be too late
  • keep a conversation open with the horse, don’t give in to fear, anger, or whatever
  • throw your heart over that jump – the rest should follow, hopefully!
  • you can do it – if you’re committed enough

As an example of Tamaris’ character and the things above, let me tell you of one typical occurrence:

IV No backing out

Picture the scene, it’s a late autumn morning. The frost & mist have lifted, save for the steam coming off the horses. You are galloping across glorious grass & hedge vale. There are about 5 horses & riders in front of you and about 120 behind. Across the field in front of you looms a boundary hedge, a large hedge, probably a little over 6ft high. You’ve never jumped that high before ..

Hmm, that looks pretty big. I wonder if discretion would be better than valour.

{you sit up slightly}

Yep that’s bloody big!

{you start to put pressure on the reins, undecided whether to shorten the horse up a bit (a novice mistake) or just to chicken out completely} [your horse ignores you]

Tamaris will you please slow down & think about this!

{you pull firmly on one rein, hoping to do a circle} [your horse turns his head and grabs hold of your foot in his teeth]

Oh crap! No bailing out now and he’s not even looking where he’s going. We’re going to die.

{after a moment you commit to the jump, retaking a forward seat & pushing your horse’s neck onward} [your horse releases your foot from his grasp, faces the fence, extends his stride and ..]

Weeeeee …  this is f**king amazing!

Beneath you, on the landing side of the hedge there is a deep ditch, freshly dug out, the spoil heaped up beyond the ditch. You clear the lot – thanks to your horse teaching you another invaluable lesson. Only 17 others clear it, wow!

V And so ..

Once you gain the trust in each other, that Tamaris & I eventually did, there really is no stopping you. Perhaps it takes the horse of a lifetime and someone crazy enough to go with it but its one of the best things you’ll ever experience.

I read a lot of Surtees, love the art of Snaffles and got to live it for real with Tamaris. We had many adventures, many lovely moments and a few disasters. I had the privilege to care for my best friend for another 23 years. He died aged 30 in his field, he’s buried looking over the fields & hedges that he would love to jump. Perhaps I’ll tell you more of his tales another time, but for now I’m tearing up too much. Thank you dear friend – it was a blast.

1 Comment

  • Sal

    April 13, 2019 at 2:02 pm Reply

    Oh, I absolutely loved that. I can’t wait for the next installment. 😊

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