Sunday, 30 March 2014

Selling a couple of my horses and Dad takes out his licence as a racehorse trainer.

At the beginning of 1961, the Mozambique Army approached me with an offer to buy Kismet from me; we were not really getting on that well together and the offer was a good one, so I accepted it and thus the stable shrunk to three horses. 

Kismet on his way to a new country.
Only a few weeks later, our  stable number reverted to four horses, when my boss, Bill Wakefield, offered me his stallion National Anthem, who had unfortunately proved to be sterile. 
National Anthem
National Anthem had been imported from the United Kingdom to stand at Borrowdale Stud. He had been second in the Derby Trial Stakes in the UK and had an impressive blood line. With the Derby winner Straight Deal as his sire and his great grand sire being Gainsborough, he would have improved the Rhodesian blood line no end, but sadly this was not to be. He was a very grand looking dappled grey of 16.5 hands high, with an amazing temperament for a stallion. He had not been ridden for some years, so training meant starting again at square one and I spent many hours with him in basic dressage and over small fences. 

National Anthem and myself in mid air over a fence.
Rustler, meanwhile, was proving to be a real handful and although we had a few wins along the way, I was fairly certain that he was never going to become anything other than average, whilst also causing me some dramatic surprises!

We were entered in one cross country event, where having discussed the water jump into a dam with various riders, it was decided that the sensible thing to do was take the first fence very gently, then ride around the shallow edge of the dam to take the second fence, out of the dam on the other side. Rustler, unfortunately, had his own ideas and, with some enthusiastic fly jumping approached the first fence. While I was trying desperately to slow him down, he took off for the jump with a huge leap that carried us right into the middle of the dam at its deepest point!  He was unable to keep his footing with the speed we were travelling and the inevitable happened; we somersaulted in the water. I was unable to hold on to the reins, and when I surfaced, blowing out jets of water, I saw him back on dry land, in a flat gallop, disappearing into the distance!  Fortunately, neither of us suffered any serious damage, but it really was the beginning of the end!  

A few weeks later, we found a buyer who was convinced they could do better with Rustler than I could!  I don’t ever remember seeing Rustler in the show ring again from that day on!

By 1962, Dad’s interest in horse racing had developed to the extent that he was keen to take out a trainer’s licence and start training race horses himself. A property on the Dombashawa Road in Borrowdale (a suburb of Salisbury) was up for rent, and it had a training yard of twelve stables, a tack room and a feed room, plus plenty of accommodation for the stable hands. It also had a small but adequate size training track, so a deal was struck and we rented out our existing house on the Lomagundi Rd and made the move to Borrowdale. It certainly suited me much better, as my drive to work was cut by half the distance!

Hy-Li-Li and myself in a cross country event. This time we stayed together, not as I did with Rustler in my narrative above!
The first two horses to move into our new yard, besides Dusky, National Anthem and Hy-Li-Li were Lady Heath and Jewel’s Reward. Lady Heath was a seasoned hurdler and Jewel’s Reward was a two year old that had been home bred and was still owned by the breeder. 

In May that year, Lady Heath became my Dad’s first winner, when, with me riding, she won an amateur hurdle race at Marandellas, a small town not far away.   Dad then found owners who were prepared to give him a chance with their horses and so he filled the stables up with flat race horses; mainly ones, I might add, that had been rejected by other trainers as being unsuccessful!  Because he trained each horse as an individual and not using bulk training, he had a certain amount of unexpected success with these rejects.  Unexpected it was to other people, but not really to us, as my Dad was very committed to this new activity.  The stable expanded again and another 6 stables were built at the back,  soon to be filled with new prospects!

Myself leading Rear Guard into the winner's enclosure for my Dad (who is holding my handbag for me!).  The owner, Jack Quinton, was absent on that day, so the honour went to me!

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 

The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Another horse for show jumping and starting work at Borrowdale Stud.

In August 1959, I took Hy-Li-Li to her first amateur race meeting at Gatooma, where she won both the first sprint of the day over 4 furlongs and the final race of the day over 6 furlongs!
Diane at an amateur race meeting on Hy-Li-Li
All three of my horses were well and truly coming up to expectations and doing their best. It was not long after this, that I was out exercising Kismet and just on the last stretch home, we walked through a large puddle of water. I had forgotten Kismet’s love of water and he liked nothing better than to have the sprays watering his paddock, so he could just keep walking over the top of them. He also was the only horse I ever knew who, if he had a big enough trough to drink from, would put his head right in up to his eyes. I was digressing - the end result of the puddle incident was that he caught me completely unawares and dropped straight into it, to try and roll - rider, saddle and all! He came out of it with a slight scratch on his knee, but I ended up with a broken elbow!  This was a huge setback for me, as this time there was no plaster for support and I was in a sling for close on 6 weeks. I was told that there had to be movement and controlled exercise during the healing process, as it was thought it may set in a locked position otherwise.  I might add here that when I got home, my Mum was frantic about the scratch on Kismet's knee and cold compresses were applied to alleviate any swelling. It was only the next day that anyone believed that I had damaged my elbow and so was taken off for x-rays!!

While still in a sling and feeling sorry for myself, Dad asked me one day if I would like to help him collect some horses that had arrived at the railway station. There were seven race mares imported from the United Kingdom; initially they were all for racing and later they would be put to stud to bring in some new and excellent blood lines as part of the country's breeding programme. They were consigned to Borrowdale Stud (Borrowdale is a suburb of Salisbury), which comprised a large racing stable with stud attached. I naturally jumped at the idea and off we went to the station to collect them. It was here that I met Bill Wakefield, the owner of the stud, and his trainer Jack Perry. By the time we had settled the horses at the stud, it was arranged that I would start work there in the January of 1960. I finished school in December 1959 and so it was, with great excitement, that I went off to work in the New Year. 

Working in racing stables meant a very early wakeup call, being on the road by 04h30  and with the first string of racehorses we would be out of the yard by 05h30!  By then, my elbow had healed well and I would ride work with either one of the stable lads or with our regular Irish jockey Johnny Roe, who used to come out to the stud three times a week.  Johnny, on returning to his home in Ireland a few years later, became champion jockey there 9 times.
Johnny Roe on one of my all time favourite race horses 'Snack' at Borrowdale Stud.
Luckily for me, in Rhodesia I could take my car driving test at 16, so driving to work and back was not a problem. Dad bought me a very old long wheel base Lloyd (now a very rare make!) which served the purpose well. I have to admit, though, to having one serious mishap one morning on the way to work. The route at one point descended quite a steep hill and at the bottom of the hill the tarmac stopped and the road turned abruptly into a loose sandy surface. I was driving a bit too fast and on reaching the sand, I started to go into a slide; lack of experience caused me to put my foot on the brake which made the car do a complete roll-over and back onto its wheels again!  The vehicle looked a little the worse for wear(!) but was still running and I seemed to be intact, so I carried on to work. The reality of what I had done hit me when Jack Perry came running out and saw the car! He phoned my Dad and put me on a horse and sent me off to concentrate on other things. Mum and Dad came out to collect the car and took me home later in the morning. The whole episode did one good thing for me, though. It taught me never to hit the brake if your car is in a slide! In later years, I did training on a skid pan and learnt exactly how to handle that and other situations on slippery surfaces. Basically I was none the worse for the experience, just a whole lot wiser and Dad found another small car for me to use to go back and forth.

Early in 1960, Hy-Li-Li was really on form and won several point-to-points and a number of show jumping events. Dusky, meanwhile, was coping very well with the lower show jumping grades in the adult classes and Kismet was getting the odd place but was not showing any dramatic improvement. 
Myself and Rustler at Salisbury Show (now Harare). Salisbury show was a big event and riders from South Africa used to travel up to it.
Towards the end of 1960, Rustler joined the stable and we were then up to four horses. Rustler was a very flighty bay  about 16 hands high, with a nasty habit of ‘fly jumping’ when approaching a fence. This is similar to jumping imaginary jumps, usually when the rider least expects it! He generally succeeded in putting me in the position of being unable to correct his stride so he was in the right position for the fence we would be approaching. I spent many hours training over small fences to try and prevent his exuberance, but although he improved, we never did really get it right.
Myself and Rustler at Sinoia Show; the biggest event of the year, the Show Jumping Derby, was held here.
In September of 1960, we had the Horse of the Year Show at Chikarubi Farm, just on the outskirts of Salisbury. I took all four horses. Kismet and Rustler were a complete disaster, knocking fences over in all directions, Hy-Li-Li certainly did not let the side down, but in the main event for which we had to qualify, Dusky really came into his own!   It was a handicapped event, which is unusual in the show jumping world, and it involved C grade up to A grade horses.

Grading in Rhodesia was done, at that time, using points awarded for success in show jumping events, with A grade being for the most successful horses. D grade was for beginners, who hoped soon to move up the ladder!

By then, Dusky had been upgraded to C and was finding the fences just about at his limit. He managed a clear round first time on the course and then had to jump off against the clock. As there were both A grade and B grade horses in the jump off who were much larger than him, his chances were not very good as his stride was just not able to lengthen enough to cover the ground as fast as they could. What none of us had taken into consideration was that because of his small size, he was able to manoeuvre and turn far more easily, thus shortening the distance and time between fences.  I have never been so proud when the final results came through, to find that Dusky’s clear round was 0.5 of a second faster than anyone else!  There were huge celebrations with Dusky drinking beer (no champagne available) out of the Horse of the Year trophy. This was his final event in the show jumping arena, as I knew he was not capable, or large enough, of being upgraded any further, so he retired in the glory of being named Horse of the Year in 1960.  I was so proud of the little pony.
Myself with Kismet at the back and Dusky in the front.
I am finishing up this episode with a few newspaper cuttings from the local Salisbury paper, in case anyone should be interested! The photos aren't very flattering and you will note that there are several minor errors of fact, my Christian name being spelt with an 'a', for one.  Also errors with my height and age, which has an apology attached! Journalism and printing processes have come a long way in the last 50 years!

Being led into the winner's enclosure on 'Seaforth' by the owner, Mr Dalrymple

19 October 1961

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 

The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Adding more horses to my show jumping experiences.

In 1958, we built another couple of stables and Hy-li-li was the first horse to move in!  She was a very slightly built, 15.2 hands high, dark brown mare that had been bred for racing by Jack Quinton in Umvukwees, a tobacco farming community 70 miles or so north of Salisbury. Jack was another of Dad’s contacts from work. 

Hy-li-li had been placed in races a couple of times, but it did not look as if a racing career for her was worth pursuing. She was a lively little horse and it was planned that I would use her for starting my adult showjumping career the following year, when I turned sixteen. We would both start in the bottom grades together and hopefully learn from each other!  It was also planned that I could use her for hurdling and steeplechasing;  at sixteen, I could then start my racing career as an amateur jockey.

Only a couple of months later, Kismet also joined my growing team of  horses. He was a complete contrast to the other two, being a gangly 17.2 hands high chestnut with a season's experience of show jumping. Not long after Kismet had joined the family, I took him to a paper chase, and while galloping across a large field, a sizeable hole opened up underneath his front foot!  We both did a complete somersault and luckily for him, he got straight back up on his feet, none the worse for wear. I had somehow contrived to hold on to the reins and not let him go, but I soon realised that I now had a very odd shaped left wrist!

I managed with some difficulty to remount him  and rode gently back to where my parents were with the horse box. We took Kismet straight home, where he was checked over and stabled and I was whisked off to hospital for x-rays. After discovering that there was a definite fracture, my wrist was put into a splint to allow for swelling and I returned a couple of days later. It was at this time that the surgeon realised that my wrist had started to set slightly out of position and he called in his partner for a second opinion. The partner’s comment was that I would probably fall and break it again, and if so, it could be set straight then! The end result was that it was left, and so to this day, I have a very odd shaped boney bump on my wrist which at times is still very painful. After the decision to leave it, I was then put into a full plaster cast for 6 weeks and I was back riding once more.

In December of the same year, I took Kismet to his first show since I had owned him and although I only had him entered in the "handy hunter" class, he won first prize!  In March 1959, I won my first cross country event with him.
Kismet - 1959 Bulawayo Show
During this same period, I had met up with a farmer friend of my Dad's, who owned several race horses and some others which he kept at the farm and hoped to hurdle race. I went out to the farm several times for weekends and rode 'work' on the track and helped with the training over hurdles. There was a large point to point meeting in April 1959 and as I had not reached my 16th birthday, the farmer applied for a special licence for me to be able to ride. He also went to the expense of special insurance, which was also a problem due to me being under age. I am pleased to say that I justified his confidence in me! Of the three rides on his horses, I won two of the races - on St Memo and Remember Me -  and I was third on Stephen. This was the start of my amateur racing career and one that I always enjoyed. Unfortunately, weight would always be a problem for me and it was impossible for me to ride much under 9 stone even with the lightest of saddles.
Newspaper cutting 30/4/1959
In May 1959, Kismet was at his best and was winning at several shows around the country. At about this time, a week-long show jumping training course was held by Chris Coldrey (a top rider, who went on to be one of the finest European course builders I ever met), and twelve of the top Rhodesian riders were invited to take part. I was lucky enough to be one of those riders and Kismet joined me on the course. It was a tough week with both practical and theoretical tests; we were all given points for our performance. The final crunch came on the last Saturday, when we had a show jumping event and the results of that would be added to the week’s points and prizes would be given. Kismet put everything into the event and when all the points were added up, Kismet and I were the final winners!  It was truly an amazing week and an experience of a lifetime; I learnt so much from Chris's tuition.
On the Chris Coldrey course.  I am 6th from the left, Chris is 8th from the left with his young son.  Normally, we never ride without hard hats, but they were removed especially for the photo!
Kismet with one of his 'famous' early 'take offs' at a fence during the course.
Kismet and Dusky showing some of their trophies and rosettes.
My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 

The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Good Bye David.

In 1956 I started senior school, and became a founder member at Arundel, which was a very prestigious private school on the outskirts of Salisbury. During the first year, I became friendly with a girl in my class who also rode; her father, who was a judge, helped enormously with the pony club as well. Although the whole family eventually moved to the UK while my friend was in her late teens, we are still very good friends to this day.   As far as I can remember, the school consisted of only 60 girls in the first year it opened. Most of us were in the first two senior forms (I and II), but a  6th form girl  was head girl. We all started out in one room in one of the boarding houses, as the classrooms were not quite finished, but a week or so later, we made our way to our new classrooms and school work began in earnest. The sports fields and swimming pool were very soon all finished and sport became a very important component of the school curriculum. I was a member of the netball and swimming teams, but I hated hockey and I was absolutely useless at tennis!
 Some of the girls from the first day at school. I am 5th from the right, kneeling in the front row.
I have recently discovered that two of the girls that started out with me there are now living in France!  One lives here permanently and the other splits her time between the UK and France.  We all met up earlier this year and had a great reunion.
A staff photo soon after the school opened.  Many I remember well; some because I really liked them, but a couple because I could not stand them!!

My pony Dusky’s first show was at Gatooma in July 1957 and he surprised us all by winning his very first jumping event; he had four second places and one third in the gymkhana events. I was so proud of him and his training had obviously paid off!  Gatooma was in an area called the "midlands" of Rhodesia and a large horse show was held there, alongside the annual agricultural show. During the year, there were always a couple of horse shows there, combined with  race meetings which ran over a whole weekend. A team of Lewisham Riding School riders always used to go down and we stayed on the farm owned by the local butcher. I remember he had a couple of semi-tame zebra there which we tried unsuccessfully to ride on one occasion!  Sadly I do not seem to have photos of of this escapade!

Dusky and me in 1957 at Lewisham Riding School on Parents Day.  I remember at the time being told this was a good photo, as I was already looking ahead to the next fence off to the right!  Dusky can be seen growing out his mane here; this had been clipped off when we bought him. The practice of clipping resulted from there being so many ticks  around farmsteads; also polo players  preferred not to have mane in the way while they were playing!

In August 1957, Mary Adams took a team of horses and riders down to the Rand Show in Johannesburg. Dusky was not up to this standard yet, so he stayed at home, while I took Judy the piebald as my mount. The show was fairly successful with our riding school members getting a number of places, but no wins. It was a major experience for all of us, as the competition was of a very high standard.
 Rosemary, Clive, myself on Judy and Ray on Santa Fe.  Ray was tragically killed by a truck on the road, while out taking a ride at his mother's riding school some years later.

On the way north back home, we all drove  through the Kruger National Park, so we had a holiday as well. On my return, I had the worst possible news waiting for me. While I was away, Mum had in fact phoned Mary Adams with  some terrible news, but it was decided that nothing would be gained from upsetting me  and the news could wait for my return. David had been killed in a car accident on 29 August and he had already been buried by the time I got back to Salisbury. I was devastated by this and I still feel as if part of my own life has been taken away from me. He had so much still to give, and we had so many happy years removed from our futures. I can only think how terrible it must have been for my parents, especially Mum, to have lost a son when he was only 21.
David 1953

David 1956 in his prized MG during his army call up period.

A smiling David during his army call up period.

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 

The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-

Monday, 29 July 2013

Dad's fibreglass car and my first pony in Rhodesia. Still in the 1950's!

At the time of moving house, Dad had ordered a fibreglass car body from the UK. I think that the original plan was to build it up for use in the local car club driving events, but as far as I remember, this  never materialised!  The car was built with a Morris Minor engine, and when the weather was good, Mum would use it most of the time. It had an open cockpit, with no doors and I remember her always having to wear slacks when driving it!   One of the stories about this car that is vivid in my mind was when Mum was shopping one day; a school kid asked Mum what kind of car it was. She replied “it’s a Morris Minor”, so the friend with him responded  “ask a silly question and you  get a silly answer”!
My Dad's Morris Minor 'Special'. This must have been before it was registered as I see there are no number plates on it.  You can understand how my Mum could not wear a skirt to go shopping when she had to clamber in and out!

Soon after the house move, we had a stable and tack room built and then the search was on for a pony for me. By this time, my Dad was selling tractors and a lot of his time was spent travelling to farms in different areas. He had gone to a farm in Umwukwes, where the farmer was a keen polo player.  Dad asked if the farmer knew of any ponies for sale and the farmer replied that he had one that might be ideal for my purposes. It had been bred on the farm and although he had high hopes that one day the pony would be part of his polo team, Dusky, as the pony was called, did not have the heart for the game. So long as he did not have to ‘push off’ another horse, which is required in the game of polo, he could do everything else that was required; however, the game is tough and he lacked some of the heart and power to push the horse playing next to him out of the way.
Dad off-loading a Nuffield tractor that he had sold on the farm. Note the basic but clever loading platform!

After some discussion it was arranged that I would go up to see Dusky at the weekend, and before we knew it, I was the proud owner of a pony and there was a head looking out over the new stable door!!

The very next day I rode over to Lewisham Riding School to show Dusky off. I was so proud of him and everyone appeared to be duly impressed. It was of course going to be a long time before I was riding him in competition, as he still had to learn how to jump and nip around quickly in the gymkhana events. During the week I still rode the school ponies in class, but at the weekends I took Dusky to Lewisham where everyone helped me with his education. He was a quick learner and seemed to relish the fun of gymkhana events which involved lots of quick twisting and turning. 

Dusky and myself about 1958. He was just 14:2 hands high.
He was very strong, and at times it was all I could do to keep him under control. Jumping came more slowly to him and he did not seem to show too much enthusiasm; but when I took him on his first paper chase, he loved every minute of ‘running with the hounds’.

The Right Honourable John Long owned a pack of hounds and "paper chasing" became particularly popular in Rhodesia, where of course there were no foxes! Paper chases take place on a route laid out by a member of the hunt and he rides from starting point to the finish, dragging behind his horse, a sack carrying the scent that the hounds will follow. These events were also a magical training facility for young horses, as they socialised and learnt the manners needed in a crowd. I think that the horses enjoyed their day out as much, if not more, than their owners!
This first event seemed to inspire Dusky's jumping and from there on, he went from strength to strength. We used to ‘hunt’ a couple of times a month.
Above and below, photos of me from  previous years, riding the grey pony called Prince Charming at a gymkhana.

My Life Before Charente to be continued :-) 

The section of my life story during our overland trip is published on Kindle if you should be interested:-