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:-

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Rocky becomes a new member of our family.

For my 21st birthday, my parents bought me a Great Dane, who we named Rocky. He had been bred by our local veterinary surgeon and at the time was about 9 months old. I went to the surgery to meet him, and found him lying happily in front of the fire with a litter of Chihuahuas playing happily on him, climbing back and forth over the top of his back and belly. He seemed more than happy to jump into my car when brought outside and we became instant companions. He was very protective and seldom left my side. When in the car, nobody dared to come close as he sounded a bit like a lion in full roar; not even my friends who he knew well would take the chance of going near the car if he was in it!


At the same time I changed to a double bed, as Rocky decided that there was no doubt about where he was going to sleep and that was on my bed! Very little room was left for me on my original single bed. The door to my bedroom led to the outside, so it was ideal that not only could he be by my side but he was also in a position to guard the comings and goings in the garden area surrounding the house. 
Introducing Rocky to Dusky.

Seems they are happy in each others' company

Not too long after Rocky joined the family, I went to see Neil at the farm. While on the road, I passed a family who were obviously going on holiday with their caravan, but their vehicle had broken down. On passing I realised there were small children there, so as I had Rocky in the back I reversed back to see if I could help in any way. The father asked if I could take him to the next town where he hoped to find someone who could help him, so I said jump in and I would take him with me. While talking to the parents, Rocky was unusually quiet but as soon as I had an unknown passenger in the car, a low growl started in the back. I spoke to Rocky and told him to calm down, but I saw my passenger stiffen and freeze into position. It was  a trip of only about 5 miles and I have seldom seen anybody get out of a car so quickly with garbled thanks when we arrived at our destination! Hopefully the poor man found some help fairly quickly so his family could resume their travels.

My Dad with Rocky.  Dad was just on 6ft (1.83 metres) so this gives an idea of how big Rocky was.  The Pekingese at the bottom is a dog that I was given when the owners returned to the UK.  He  also thought he was the boss and Rocky had a lot of respect for the snappy little fellow!

Going for a ride :-)

Neil with Bits the dog that his family owned.  Bits was quite a character and was frightened of thunder.  He always took refuge in the bath of all places. You had to remember not to leave the washing in soak in the bath if there was a storm around!!

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:-

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Pietermaritzburg show (South Africa), Rhodesian Colours and turning 21 in Umtali (Rhodesia).

That evening, we loaded the horses onto the train for Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, and set off smartly by car down the coast road, hoping to get to the Mozambique/South Africa border before it closed for the night. There were two cars; I was driving alone and the other two riders were in the other car, trying desperately to keep each other awake. I have always been lucky, in the respect that no matter how tired I am feeling, I seem to wake up as soon as I get behind the wheel of a car! This is inherited from my Dad I suspect, as he was much the same. 

On arriving at the border, we encountered Customs and Immigration, housed in just a caravan - this was 1964! Upon knocking on the door, we were told that they had just closed! After much pleading and begging, we were told that if one of us went over to the South African arrival post, and they were prepared to allow us through, he would let us exit Mozambique. No mobile phones in those days!  Off I went to speak to the South African border force, returning with a big grin on my face  and saying that we had the all clear! I had planned to stay with a friend in Pietermaritzburg but the other two riders were staying with friends in Durban, so we split up on arrival in Durban and I had about 100 kilometres further to go from the coast. After another 45 minutes drive, I was knocking on my friend's door in the early hours of the next morning. Unfortunately, the horses were also travelling overnight, so after only a couple of hours' sleep, I went off to the station to unload the Rhodesian team horses. 

We had a great show and my horse Mr Smith was beaten into second place in the Grand Prix  by only a short time margin. The horses then returned to Salisbury by train, but I was faced with the very long (1600 kilometres or 1000 miles) car journey home. The little map below is quite deceptive and the distances are great. It doesn't look far, but remember it took two whole days for of us to drive in our 1960's cars from Salisbury to Lourenco Marques!

Mum and Dad told me to have a rest halt and stay overnight at the hotel just over the border at Beit Bridge, the little town on the giant Limpopo river which forms the border with Rhodesia in that area. On arrival there in the evening, it was to find the place was fully booked; so I got back in the car and just kept going! I think this is probably the longest drive I have ever done in one go; in later years, I drove the 1100 kilometres from Johannesburg to Salisbury many times but with the extra distance from Pietermaritzburg  tacked on, it was not something I would wish to repeat! On my return from South Africa and Mozambique, I was awarded Rhodesian colours for equitation, of which to this day I am extremely proud!

Meanwhile, after his good showing in Pietermaritzburg, Kubla Khan was going from strength to strength. He was showing every promise that he would soon be competing with Mr Smith as my top shop jumper. At the beginning of the 1964 season, he started winning event after event in the D (lowest at that time) grade, and by halfway through the year, he had enough points to be well up into C Grade. 

The beautiful scenery in the background at Umtali, on Rhodesia's eastern border with Mozambique.

At Umtali Show, towards the end of his first season, he jumped brilliantly and I knew that with the points he had gained there, he was sure to be starting his second season in B Grade.
I only wore my pink hunting jacket for special events!
Kubla Khan and myself collecting a prize.

Umtali was a success all round and while there I celebrated my 21st birthday. A friend, Neil, whom I knew from both horse racing and show jumping took me across the border into Mozambique for dinner. There is nothing to beat Mozambique prawns and Portuguese wine and we celebrated well into the night! This was the start of a long friendship and only after five months of going out together, did I discover that he was almost 5 years younger than me! He was in fact still at school at the time, and only left there at the end of that year to go farming with one of my father’s race horse owners and a close family friend. By this time, age did not come into the equation and we continued to be constant companions.

Neil and myself 1964/5. Not sure where we where!  Possibly at Mermaids Pool, once a very popular resort  just outside Salisbury in the good old days!

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, 11 February 2015

A trip to Lourenço Marques as part of the Rhodesian team.

Training my new horse Kubla Khan was an absolute pleasure, and he seemed to enjoy it as much as I did!  Right from the start I realised his potential, and he had the biggest heart of any horse I had owned so far; he was ready to try anything, regardless of what I asked of him.   He was really very special and I was so looking forward to his first jumping events! 

At the end of the show jumping season in 1963, the final show was at Umtali near the Mozambique border and I had decided beforehand that this was to be Hy-Li-Li’s last competition. As a result of the points she had won to that date, she had been upgraded to grade C and I knew that she would not be able to cope with the higher fences and stiffer competition. She of course surprised us all by winning everything in which she had been entered, but I knew in my heart that she was really at her limit. I did not change my mind, so she retired in glory, as did Dusky, after his Horse of the Year show success. It was decided that she would return for a couple of months to Jack Quinton’s (from whom we had originally bought her) where he would cover her with his newly imported stallion.

Results for Hy-li-li in the Umtali post. (The Hill Billy Team had nothing to do with me!)

In 1964, I was again picked to jump for Rhodesia (against Mozambique and South Africa) with my horse Mr Smith; my friend Gail Hall who had a brilliant little horse called Royal Amber, was also picked for the team. Firstly in Salisbury at the Glamis Grounds, followed a few weeks later in Lourenço Marques (LM) [since Mozambique's independence, now called Maputo]. We had been beaten by South Africa in Salisbury, but left for LM with a feeling that we could do better! Mr Smith had thankfully not let the side down and we had jumped two clear rounds - photo below.

The same team to travel to LM.
Gilbert Fischer, Gail Hall, Angela Edwards and myself.

Gail and I set off on the two-day drive from Salisbury to LM, (almost 1,300 km or 800 miles). Cars then aren't what they are now! I remember stopping overnight at a little village called Groblersdal in South Africa and it was absolutely freezing! We had both been in bed for a while when I heard Gail quietly ask me if I was still awake. I said yes, I was far too cold to sleep so we both got up and rummaged around for some extra bedding and clothes. By 04h00 we had both reached a state where we could no longer endure the cold; we packed up, climbed in the car and made our way to the Mozambique border. On arrival in LM, the language problem began -they speak Portuguese- while asking directions and this set us both off giggling like two young schoolgirls. We finally found the stables, managed to see that the horses were comfortable and eventually we tracked down our hotel. We discovered that the Rhodesian team was in one hotel and the South African team in another; this did not go down well with Gail, who was quite keen at the time on a member of their team!

As we had been the first riders to arrive, on our first night Gail and I went off to find a restaurant at the coast where we could get some dinner. We discovered a little Chinese restaurant which looked good, so this is where we made our stop. We were highly impressed with our waiter, who was in fact half Chinese and half Irish, his mother being the Irish blood! We had never seen a duck carved so expertly with chop sticks before and we were soon chatting away to him and telling him about the horses and the show. Afterwards, he invited us both to go downstairs to see his tropical fish collection in the cellar. It was a very impressive  sight, the room full of fish tanks stocked with exotic species, and he told us this made his pocket money,  as he exported such fish all over the world. The evening stretched out much longer than planned but we finally said we had to go as we had horses to attend to early the next day!

Having seen to the horses and exercised them early the next morning, I returned to the hotel  to  discover the largest bunch of flowers I have ever seen in my life, waiting for me on the bed! Our Chinese friend from the night before had sent them; we never did get back to the restaurant, but I did at least find the phone number, so I could relay my thanks.

Myself and Mr Smith

We were in LM for almost two weeks, and although I had no major single wins, I managed to cover expenses with  my prize money. Rhodesia did  win the team event however, beating our main rivals South Africa into second place. We had a great time, with many parties along the way! Suddenly it was time to leave for home! Gail was returning to Salisbury with friends, and I had planned to go on to the Pietermaritzburg show in South Africa, as did a couple of other Rhodesian team members. The local press gave us recognition, as you can see 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:-