This is an amazing true story about acceptance and lack of acceptance. It shows how wrong it is to assume all ‘difficult’ horses just need to be ridden more forward. It is wrong to assume that just because a horse is unwilling, napping, rearing or bucking that they are being naughty and need discipline. Indeed it is dangerous to assume this. A proportion will undoubtedly have this behaviour because of pain.
ONE LADY AND TWO HALF BROTHERS
As part of his horse business my father was sent many young horses to be introduced for the first time to a human on their back, and most were riding through the quiet Cornish lanes in a matter of days. However we had three youngsters who tested everyone to the limit. They were all out of the same mare, Black Velvet, who herself became a brood mare because no one could ride her.
The first youngster was a mare, who we christened Duchess of Argyll after the lady whose divorce was a great scandal in England in the early 1960’s. Others had tried to ‘break’ her before but this lady was not for breaking. She was gentle in every way until you tried to ride her, when she would show an impressive athletic talent, culminating in her shooting the saddle over her head by lifting both fore legs to her nose and ducking her head, before returning to her best angelic look.
My father persevered and thoroughly enjoyed working with her but it still took nine months for her to ‘accept’ being ridden. She was fantastic and was sold to Judy Bradwell, the Olympic judge who was then a teenager, and became her first Advanced event horse.
Our second offspring of Black Magic was a gelding I named L’Empereur. He was meant to be called Little Empereur but my inability to pronounce this at his first show meant that he became L’Empereur or Lomp for short!
He was even more difficult and wild, and once again had learnt all the tricks of the trade from those who had failed with him before he arrived with us. He took a full year to be rideable. A year which included many hours of being driven in long reins round the Cornish lanes with my father sitting on the bonnet of a friends car!
Lomp could only ridden by my very athletic brother Charlie, who had to run alongside the cantering Lomp and vault on, as he refused to stand still to be mounted. He was bought by clients of Cherry Hatton-Hall FBHS, the trainer who taught Princess Anne to ride while she was at school in Kent. Despite being only 15.1.he finished his career competing at the four star Burghley Horse Trials.
THIRD TIME LUCKY?
The third youngster was the best looking and was by Spiritus, the soon to be very famous event horse sire....and joy of joys no one had tried to do anything with him before. However it was the same story. This one was not going to be ridden in a few days. Our hearts sank as we faced a long haul to acceptance. Then after three days my father had him put down. My brothers and I were amazed, but the post mortem showed a tumour on the brain.
We thought he was just wild but my father knew he was not well, and throughout my equestrian life I have remembered this. I always give difficult horses the benefit of the doubt until I am sure they are not in pain. In my experience a huge number of horses that are ‘difficult’ are in pain or have learnt their bad habits while they were in pain. Good listening and empathy to horses is an art, a huge pleasure, and a vital part of achieving acceptance . Happy days. William.
NEXT TIME...BEST OF WILLIAM MICKLEM - 2 - A good idea has to give way to a better idea.