Thursday, 30 October 2014

Not feeling well, but a fabulous day's racing for my Dad!

On our return to Rhodesia from the 1962 Beira show, we had a few days to settle the horses down and relax, before we were off again, this time to the Marandellas Agricultural Show. Marandellas is a town  about 50 miles east of Salisbury.

On arrival, I was not feeling too well, but it was an important show, so I pulled myself together and both Hy-Li-Li and ‘Smith' jumped well throughout. On the final day and the main event, the Grand Prix, I remember walking the course wondering what I was doing there, as I felt absolutely terrible! I can only think what a terrific horse Mr Smith must have been; I did nothing at all to help him in the event and still we managed third place, beaten only in the jump-off against the clock. I feel sure if he had been helped along the way, we could probably have notched up a Grand Prix win. Anyway, we had done our best and put the 'if only' thoughts out of our heads! On the way back home in the car, horsebox behind, Mum said she realised how bad I must be feeling, as she had never known me to drive so slowly (!) and the next morning I woke up to find myself covered with spots! The doctor duly made a house call and I was told that I had chicken pox. I was apparently at an age where I would probably get it quite badly and bed rest was the only answer. It took a good ten days for me to feel like going back to work and to this day I still have not got 100% hearing in my right ear, due to the effects of the illness.
Mr Smith 3rd place at 1962 Marandellas show.

During my time in bed, I managed to do some theory work, as I was due to take my British Horse Society Pony Club 'A test' at the end of September. This "top of the range" theory and practical test covers, amongst other things, anatomy, stable management, course designing, coaching, care of the horse, saddlery and paddocking, apart from all the riding and horsemanship aspects. 
At that time, there had only been one person who had taken, and passed the 'A Certificate' in Rhodesia, so I was more than determined that I would make the grade and add my name to the pass list! This I managed to do, with one other member of the Pony Club, so two more passes were added to the list!

Collecting the cup for a Pony Club Team event, for which I was the team captain.

In November, a young jockey named Dennis was visiting from South Africa; he'd previously ridden a few times for my Dad. He travelled with Dad and I and the two horses, Lady Heath and Jewel’s Reward, to a race meeting in Marandellas.

Lady Heath was in the first race, an amateur hurdle and due to be ridden by me. The second race a five furlong sprint and Jewel’s Reward was to be ridden by Ivan, one of the Rhodesian jockeys. Dennis was booked to ride him again in the last race over six furlongs. What a day it proved for my Dad, who was triumphant with three winners from two horses! See the "Salisbury Herald" newspaper report below.

On our arrival home, I remember Mum coming out  and asking how we had got on. Dennis, with a very long and dismal face, said “well, Diane won the first one with Lady Heath”,  and after a long pause , with Mum saying how pleased she was, he went on, “Ivan won the second race on Jewel’s Reward”.  Mum said that was wonderful, then Dennis, laughing out loud, said “and I won the last race on him as well”. Mum was quite overjoyed by this and we all went indoors to celebrate, after seeing the horses fed and settled in their stables. It was really quite an achievement. Two races for a horse in one day was an unusual occurrence, even in those days, but now it is unheard of. I am pleased to say that Jewel's Reward suffered no ill effects from the extra exercise and in fact he came back home looking all ready to race again!

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:-

Thursday, 16 October 2014

A new show jumper and an amazing trip to Beira in Mozambique.

Sorry about the long break but time is not always on my side!!
In July 1962, the gelding ‘Mr Smith’ joined my show jumping string. We had bought him just before the Sinoia Show and the show jumping Derby that month, with the understanding that we would only take him over after the event. David Stubbs from South Africa had been booked by the seller to come up to Rhodesia for the show to ride him. To my delight, he won the Derby, but this of course made life all the more difficult for me, as I had to prove that I was able to ride him equally well! 
Only one month later, 'Mr Smith' and I entered the six-bar event at Salisbury Show. "Six-bar" means a competition where riders jump six fences set in a straight line. The fences are equally spaced, the first fence being the lowest and each subsequent fence is higher than the one before. 

I was over-the-moon when we won the  event, clearing just over six feet on the final fence.This was certainly the highest fence that I had yet  experienced!

Mr Smith and myself winning the 6 Bar event.

In August, I was more than proud and pleased to be selected to jump for the Rhodesian team at the week-long International show in Beira, Mozambique. All expenses would be paid for my travel and two horses, Hy-Li-Li and Mr Smith. Mum said that she would like to come with me; naturally, she would pay for herself. The Mozambique authorities objected to that idea;  they generously insisted that Mum's expenses would be settled as well!

Mr Smith jumping the wall in another event at Salisbury show.

We had the most amazing trip and a show that I will certainly never forget, even though we had no wins and only places in each event. The Portuguese people were fantastic hosts and 
our every whim seemed to be catered for! On arrival, we discovered that all the horses had been unloaded from the train they had travelled down on, and put into spacious stables at the army base. 

Our hotel rooms were ready and waiting and we were taken on a trip to see the arena that had been set up for the show. It was a large indoor stadium and the floor had been laid with thick rubber matting that had been covered with sand. This was a first for the Rhodesian team, as none of us had ever competed indoors before and I suspect it may have been a first for the South Africans as well. Three countries would be competing, Rhodesia, South Africa and Mozambique. Our first reaction was how the horses would respond to being inside, with a large crowd very close by. We need not have worried, as they all just took it in their stride, other than on one occasion which I will mention in a moment.

The first two days of the show went well and ‘Smith’ managed a fourth and a fifth place. Hy-Li-Li became the favourite of the crowd and, it seemed, of the judges as well; each time she appeared, everyone was chanting a chorus of ‘Hy-Lee-Lee, Hy-Lee-Lee’!! She obviously enjoyed all of this and pranced and bucked like she never had before, showing off to every one’s delight. In one event, where she finished seventh, she was suddenly called forward at the prize giving as in seventh place. In every other event during the whole show, only 6 places were in the line up; proof that that she was loved by the judges and the crowd too! On the third and fourth days, we were all taken off for a two day safari in the large game reserve close by, while our horses were well looked after by the army stable hands. Mum was included in this trip which a great experience as we saw masses of game including the big five of lion, elephant, rhinoceros, buffalo and leopard!

On our return to Beira, we  had the main event of the team show jumping and this fell on my nineteenth birthday! All the horses jumped well, but South Africa outstripped us when jumping against the clock, so the final result was South Africa first, Rhodesia second and Mozambique third. We all went in for the final prize giving, myself on Mr Smith who had been the perfect gentleman throughout the show. After the team prizes had been presented, we were all asked to stay in our places for a special presentation. Two of the largest bouquets of flowers I had ever seen were brought out and presented, one to myself and the other to Maria Fernandes of the Mozambique team. The brass band then struck up very loudly with 'Happy Birthday' which sent most of the horses into complete turmoil, ‘Smith', included, which was all the more difficult for me to control because of the large bouquet in my arms! With no damage done and no riders on the ground, we all managed to regain control, cantering slowly around the arena before making our way out. I discovered afterwards it was Maria’s 19th birthday as well, and she was as surprised as I was by the whole presentation!

A Mozambique magazine featured a 7 page article on the whole event, of which page one, plus a photo you can see below. I apologise for the quality of the images, but they did not photocopy well!

Page 1 of the article.  The person who sent it to us marked it all with red arrows and underlining.

Trying to hold on to flowers and Mr Smith when the band broke out with Happy Birthday!

Mr Smith and myself again at Salisbury Show and below.

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, 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:-