At the large livery yard I used to work at, I rode a range of bigger horses and exercised show jumpers and ex-racehorses for owners who were on holiday. Two in particular will always be in my memory as they were both utterly bonkers.
Ziggy was barely a horse, a skewbald with short thick legs and a shaggy mane that covered his eyes giving him a kind of ‘surfer dude’ laid-back appearance. How deceptive.
I should’ve forseen he was trouble by the sheer amount of bridle he was ridden in, martingales, dropped nosebands, all kinds of extras. But…he seemed so small, and was amiable in the stable so the first time I rode him I didn’t expect anything unusual.
The lesson was about to start, we were lined up in the middle of the big indoor school, and Richard the teacher looked over at me and said we needed to ‘take the edge off Ziggy’ before we began. I must have looked puzzled, so he explained I was to canter him in a large circle around everyone else while they checked their stirrups and faffed about. ‘OK..’ I thought.
Then Ziggy did a great impression of a stunt motorbike by galloping in smaller and smaller circles and leaning in, until my inside knee was nearly touching the floor. Everyone else thought it was hilarious. Yes, hilarious that it wasn’t them having to risk life and limb.
After he’d had a gambol he was relatively calm for the lesson. But holy catfish could that horse jump.
I jumped him on the outdoor course for the first time a few weeks later. It was a lovely summer’s day, I was about 15 and Ziggy was pawing the ground. He loved to jump.
Problem was, they’d decided to try him in a snaffle (a simple bit in his bridle – or in other words with no brakes,) and I was the guinea pig.
He sailed over the first bounce combination, boing boing boing like the mad March hare. Then I sat back and heaved on the reins to slow down his crazy speed, only for him to ignore me and continue charging forwards. (Skewbalds. They are nuts.) In front of us was a double wire electric fence.
Next instant I’d fallen off him and landed on top of the fence, knocking half of it down. He kept going, I think, until Worcester.
After a few more incidents where he clarted people off, they sold him to a pro show jumper. These guys came in a huge posh lorry and we watched them test him. They wrong-footed him on purpose in front of massive fences, and he never faltered. He was a little diamond, that horse, he’d jump anything. I hope he had a great life with them, and won some prizes.
Ned was a beautiful dark bay gelding, just under 16hh so not massive, and his owner went away. I rode him in the indoor school, and Richard said he was fun to jump, so he set up the poles.
‘By the way,’ he said. ‘Ned has no brakes- just aim him for the wall.’
‘What the?!?’ thought I. ‘Never. I will be gentle with his mouth and he’ll listen to me,’ I told myself.
How innocent I used to be in the ways of bonkers horses.
He sailed over the jump beautifully, but had absolutely no response from the bit. Literally no brakes except my rubbish attempt at leaning back. Which didn’t really work as he was cantering at high speed. Hence, I followed Richard’s advice and steered him into the wall. CLANG!! His hooves hit the wooden panels and the large metal supports holding the roof of the indoor school on. His rear feet skidded apart as he kind of smooshed into it, squishing me into his muscular neck. It worked though: he stopped.
‘Great!’ I thought. ‘He’ll remember that, and listen to the reins next time.’
Nope. He clanged into the wall every time. I was extremely glad we were jumping indoors and not going anywhere near the electric fence this time.
Richard’s explanation was that he’d either been badly ridden or broken in, meaning that he had no feeling in his mouth or that he was stubborn, completely ignoring the bit in his mouth. I didn’t fancy hacking him out though; kind of like driving a sports car with no brakes.
Bounce combination – a type of jump, where two or three fences are placed close together that the horse literally bounces over, only allowing one stride of canter in between
Gelding – a boy horse with his bits chopped off
Livery yard – a stable yard offering livery – kind of bed and board for horses owned by individuals