Thursday, 13 August 2015

Goodbye to my show jumping days, getting married and a move to Raffingora.

On 31st December, 1967, Neil's 21st birthday, we got engaged, with no further dates in mind at that time for getting married.  He was busy working at the farm in Beatrice, 50km away from Salisbury and I loved my job and the horses, which were all stabled with my Dad.

Engagement 31 Dec 1967

In 1968, my star horse Kubla Khan started contracting colic quite badly and regularly, so I was hardly able to ride him at all! We finally sent him out to the farm with Neil, where we turned him out in the paddock, hoping that the rest would bring on a recovery. Unfortunately, after what looked like some good progress, the colic returned and getting a vet to go to see him out at Beatrice was not a practical option. We therefore brought him back to my Dad's home at Borrowdale, Salisbury. It was eventually agreed by our own vet, and from a second opinion, that there had to be an internal problem and the only answer was to put him out of his misery. It took me some time before I could agree to this and when I finally did, I took him to the Vet Research Laboratory where my boss Dr John Condy finally put him to sleep and did a post-mortem. The right decision thankfully had been made; we discovered that he had a badly ulcerated intestine, which the vets suspected was due to a massive dose of worms probably when he was younger. I was utterly heartbroken that such a brilliant horse should end his days this way, but I can only say that we did at least find an explanation for the persistent colic. If the post-mortem had produced a negative result I don’t think I could have ever lived with myself.
Kubla Kahn.

As I was then pretty much without a show jumping horse, I managed to find and buy a 16.2 hands high 5 year old gelding called Chervil during 1968. He had only raced a couple of times and both times had ended up at the back of the field! This meant that I had to go back to the very beginning again and spend much time on schooling and training him as a jumper. Chervil made his debut in the low grades in 1969, showing lots of promise, but he did not have the enthusiasm that I was accustomed to from Kubla Khan and I felt this partnership would mean a slow rise back to the higher grades! 

At the beginning of 1969, Neil moved from the farm at Beatrice to work for one of the local vets, who owned a farm at Raffingora, 140km north of Salisbury. As this was much further away than Beatrice, to see him on the odd weekend was not nearly so easy for me.  We decided now that it was time to finally get married. This of course meant two major changes for me, in that I had to leave my job with Dr Condy, and my riding days became somewhat numbered, being so far from Salisbury, where equestrian activities were centred.
20 Sept 1969
Neil and Diane

Myself with my two bridesmaids.

The Bruss and the Beak families
Don Beak, Georgia Bruss, Neil, Diane, Les Bruss, Dulcie Beak.


Meanwhile, Chervil had been improving all the time, though slowly, but of course my time was limited for schooling and for entering shows even more so. In 1971, one of the young riders that had just gone into adult classes made me an offer for the horse. As he was by then, all I had, I turned it down. They were obviously very keen and kept phoning me. After talking it over with Dad and Neil, I put a price on Chervil that I considered to be outrageous, so I hoped then that they would not bother me any more. The next thing I knew was that I had a cheque in my hand and no horse in the stable! Chervil in fact did very little after I sold him and I never did get to see him in the higher grades as I had expected which was quite disappointing. Maybe the sale was definitely in our best interests!!

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:-

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Very Early Days

Apologies I just updated a label here and it has jumped back to the end instead of at the beginning!!!

I was born during the latter part of the Second World War, in Poole, which is a coastal town in the English county of Dorset.

Apparently I was two weeks late arriving and my mother Dulcie told the story many times, of how, during this period, she had been put in baths of hot water, and then wrapped in hot towels to induce the birth. One of her favourite anecdotes about this treatment was the occasion when the doctor said she may as well go home for the weekend and come back on Monday. She was leaving the hospital with her suitcase when the senior matron asked her where she was going. My mother told her what the doctor had suggested and the response from the matron was “What do you think this is - a bloody hotel?” My mother duly went home and returned to the ‘hotel’ on Monday! If all this had happened nowadays, I guess that my Mum would have had a caesarean, or been given some drug to induce the birth and I would now be a few days older than I am at present! Nevertheless, it was a normal birth, and apart from the fact that I apparently looked two weeks old when born, all went well.
Another of my mother’s favourite stories was that she had prayed that I would have red hair, to take after my father Don, who was in the Merchant Navy at the time. When I was born one of the first questions she asked was “has she got red hair?” and the answer was "yes". In horror, my Mum said “Oh I forgot to pray that it would be curly”; she did not have to worry, as a teenager I spent my time trying to iron my hair straight!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

An update on my Great Dane, Rocky.

On one particular night, Dad had been going down to the stables at regular intervals to monitor a horse which was not well and on one of these occasions, while approaching the house, he saw the light of a pencil torch and someone peering through one of the windows.  He suspected we might have a  burglar!  

My parents owned two poodles and this light must have made them aware that there was someone around, so they both started yapping loudly. This, in turn, disturbed Rocky and he careered around the outside of the house in full pursuit of the prowler! My father ran up the path and shouted at Rocky, who obediently returned to his side, only for Dad to discover that he was covered in blood.

His first thought was that the prowler (if that is what it was) was carrying a knife and he had slashed at Rocky, but after washing him down we discovered no marks on him at all! By this time, it was around three in the morning and as attention to Rocky had been our priority, anyone trying to break in would have undoubtedly long since disappeared! My father thought that there was little point at that stage in phoning the police, but he proposed to report the incident in the morning, which he duly did. Later that day, the police phoned us to say that a gentleman from our area had been admitted to hospital with part of his buttocks missing! The patient said that he had been out walking in the early hours and that he had been attacked by a lion! We then knew the source of all the blood which we had washed from Rocky! Up to that time, we had always thought that Rocky was very good at sounding alarms, and had the loudest growl we had ever heard, but we had had our doubts  that his "bite was as good as his bark"!  He had certainly proved us wrong with this behaviour! 

My Dad getting a big kiss from Rocky.

A couple of years later, when we were all away for the day, a police sergeant and a constable came to speak to my father about a car of his which had been stolen. They arrived at the house, opened the gate and Rocky, who met them on their way down the drive, happily walked along with them. They walked onto the verandah and after knocking at the front door several times, they realised there was nobody at home. They turned to leave, only to find Rocky lying in the entrance to the verandah, growling at them. Neither was brave enough to find out how serious he was and it was some several hours later when one of the stable hands came up to the house to check on something, that the situation was discovered. When the police phoned Dad the next day, they said that they felt absolute fools, but after that earlier prowler episode, I am sure that they did the right thing by not taking any chances with him.

What a great dog he turned out to be and I was always very confident when he was by my side.

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:-

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

My Mum buys a race horse.

At the end of 1963, my Mum successfully bid for a horse called Thorstone at an auction at the Borrowdale race track. 
Thorstone when we bought her.

She was a large, very gangly chestnut mare who, to that date, as a two year old had shown nothing at all on the race track. Dad was convinced that as a three year old, she would fill out and with that would come the improvement he expected from her. His patience paid off and she had a number of second places, which more than paid for her keep, before finally gaining some wins.

My Mum leading in Thorstone, with jockey Charles Purchase, into the winning enclosure on 14 March 1964.

and with Jockey Ian Mackenzie-Smith 4 July 1964

In September 1965, when there was a large amateur race meeting at Borrowdale,  I partnered her, to win the main race of the day.

A proud Dad leading Thorstone and me into the winning enclosure.  This win actually caused a big upset, as the horse that finished second had been very heavily backed!  At least the bookmakers were happy!

I had an excellent day’s racing, achieving another two wins, riding a chestnut called Significance and a dark bay called Happy Time.
Significance owned by Mrs Nicholas, trained by Errol Abrahams and ridden by myself. Won by a short head!

Kubla Khan was still going from strength to strength and by this time he was well into A grade and competing in the Rhodesian team events. He had certainly taken over where Mr Smith had left off. He was an extremely strong horse and it had taken me some time to find the solution to the problem of keeping him under control! I came up with the idea of using a hackamore, which is a bitless bridle, and this just worked miracles with him. Suddenly I was in full control and he listened to every move I made. He was the only horse on which I had ever used one of these bridles  and I was more than impressed with the result!

Myself, and Kubla Khan wearing a normal snaffle bit in this photo.

The next couple of years were a mixture of the Veterinary Research Laboratory, wild life work, falconry, riding Kubla Khan and competing in local shows, while at weekends, when possible, going to the farm to see Neil. 

Myself on the farm with Neil's two dogs, Yogi on my right and Trixie under arm.

 Dad was still training, enjoying it, and holding his own with a number of wins at the race track.

Dad leading in Budget with jockey Andrew Erasmus in the saddle.
19 April 1965

Me leading in Budget with Roddy England in the saddle.
7 June 1965

Note:  My Mum would have been 100 years old today, 10 June 2015. RIP.

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:-

Friday, 22 May 2015

My life changes.

At the beginning of 1965, I left my job at Borrowdale Stud. I decided that maybe it was time I did some ‘real’ work and earned a sensible salary!  

After an interview with the director of Veterinary Research Services, (who I had met through the racing world), I was offered the job of assistant/secretary to a Dr MacLeod. The man was apparently impossible to work with and was going through staff at a rate of knots, some lasting no longer than half a day! I knew with my complete lack of office experience, I was going to have my work cut out. However, if I wanted to prove my worth, I was going to have to grin and bear it! What a tyrant he turned out to be, but he quickly found that he had encountered someone who was not going to burst into tears, was willing to learn and could give back as quick an answer to his rude comments as he was likely to get!  After the first month, I was called into the director’s office, given a raise in salary and told that they were more than happy with the way I was getting on. 

I used to go to the race track most mornings before work to ride the race horses in training, and then in the evenings I came home to school and train the show jumpers. Meanwhile Hy-Li-Li had given birth to a filly we named Rising High.
Newly born.

She was not the prettiest of foals, to say the least of it, and with a very odd shaped forehead, we all wondered if she had a problem. Our fears were allayed by the time she was 6 months old and ready for weaning, as she had really been the ugly duckling who had by then turned into a swan!
Rising High, staying close to her Mum
With one of our grooms.

During the year, I had an offer for my top show jumper Mr Smith. We felt we could not refuse, as he was certainly not getting any younger, and my time was limited now that I was in a full time job and did not have the freedom of the past 5 years working at the Stud.  Kubla Khan was by then more than ready to take over from him in the show jumping world, and so at this stage I was back to only one show jumper. National Anthem was never going to be a jumper;  he was though a great horse to hack out on and use for the occasional showing class.  Hy-Li-Li was back in foal again and ready to be Mum once more.

At the end of 1965, Dr MacLeod was relocated back to the UK and I was offered the job as receptionist at the Vet Research Laboratory. Wow, I had to use one of those old switchboards with plugs and wires in all directions; things have changed a lot over the years!  I had become acquainted with Dr Condy who was the Wild Life Research Officer. I asked him if there was an opportunity to work as his assistant, as the current incumbent was due to leave in the not too distant future. I was told that if I was prepared to  study hard, take and pass the technician’s exams, the job was mine. After nearly nine months on reception, a lot of hard work reading, learning and writing exams, I then managed to join the Wild Life department and John Condy, whose work was mainly in the field and not in the office. 

Three young warthog bred at the Vet Research Laboratory.
The animals were well looked after and none were ever hurt in experimental work.

Working on Reception though was never dull, and one of my highlights of that time was when our Prime Minister Mr Ian Smith used to come in and collect his vaccines for the cattle on his farm. He was keen on racing and I had met him on a couple of occasions in the parade ring at Borrowdale race course. While waiting for his vaccines to be packed and ready, he generally came and chatted to me about the horses and how racing was going. What a lovely gentleman he was.  I doubt if there are many Prime Ministers who were as down to earth as he was, and not a security guard in sight!

Prime Minister Ian Smith in the centre facing the camera, my Dad on the left and myself far right.

Ian Smith talking to me (see arrow) at the race course. My Mum in white just in front of me

Dr John Condy was very involved in Foot and Mouth Disease work and this was particularly interesting. We collected many samples from wild life and would send them by air for testing in the UK. My main enjoyment for working with him though, was his interest in falconry, which took up a lot of after-hours training. By this time, I was trying to fit in the race track in the early morning, falconry during the lunch hour, plus a couple of evenings a week, and of course there was still Kubla Khan to exercise, and sorting out what shows I could manage to fit into my then busy schedule! 

At times, there were two to three falcons on the go plus the odd goshawk, and when Dr Condy had to travel around the country, I was invariably left to look after all his birds of prey. I had an excellent training in managing and looking after the birds, and I loved every minute of it. The birds seemed very content and appeared to enjoy their training as much as we did. Falconry is a licensed sport in South Africa and the USA, but strangely enough, no licence is currently required in the UK so it seems!

John Condy with Sasha, a peregrine falcon. She has just caught a grouse, which, as you can see, is bigger than herself!

Zita the goshawk.

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:-