He wasn’t elegant in the dressage, exceptionally nimble in the show jumping or fast on cross country. He needed sympathetic and careful management for exercise and competition due to various ‘quirks’ and idiosyncrasies, but of all the horses I’ve had the pleasure of owning Snowy was by far my favourite, and the only one I couldn’t bare to pass on because of the bond we had developed. After a number of years in retirement at pasture, old age finally caught up with him and I had to make the inevitable decision to lay him to rest on Monday.
I bought him as a 9-year-old, after so many before me had tire kicked him and subsequently rejected him for his imperfections. He’d not long had a wind operation when I bought him, and not competed since going under the knife. Our first competition together was a pre-novice at the lovely little course at Mattlingley and I distinctly remember taking our time on the cross country to see how he was coping with his breathing. He managed amazingly well, although his wind op took several years to really bed in, during which time I would restrict his grass intake the day before a competition and have to give him a good canter as part of our warm ups to rid his airways of any food debris.
Snowy was also ‘cold backed’ which meant strapping a saddle on his back had to be a carefully planned operation that usually involved him taking several dainty fairy steps and then suddenly striding off at a good rate of knots before settling. I would often walk him in hand for a minute or two before carefully sitting astride in order for him to get comfortable.
Despite all of his quirks and imperfections, we had an amazing time over the course of more than a decade, that saw us on the podium at one of my favourite events, Hambleden. We had plenty of fun away from the eventing circuit too, like riding to the church for my wedding through a picturesque forest. Snowy was also the perfect gentleman with everyone that had the opportunity to pat him.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Russ Hardy & Lucy Broadhead at Boomerang Stables. I bought the horse from Russ. They looked after Snowy, and they looked after me. I’m a real ‘weekender’ when it comes to certain aspects of horsemanship, and can’t plait for toffee. Lucy would always plait him for me with the most beautiful tiny plaits that always drew admiration wherever we went. I seem to remember him having something like 27 plaits in his mane. Russ has taught me for as long as I can remember and even took the time to drive me to a few competitions. It must take plenty of patience to train someone on a horse you once owned. I’ve learnt heaps from Russ over the years and he’s been invaluable to the fun and success Snowy and I have enjoyed.
Lucy and the rest of the crew at Boomerang spent two days bathing Snowy ’til he shone in preparation for my wedding and he looked amazing with ribbons woven through his mane and tail. They brought him over to my house gleaming pure white for me to ride in my top hat and tails through the forest to the church. It was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.
Despite my ambitions to compete Snowy at Novice, Pre-Novice was really his limit due to the increase speed needed for Novice,and his lack of speed. We did attempt it a few times but he always blew hard panting like a dog after cross country. At Pre-Novice though we could be very competitive, often finishing within 5 secs of the optimum time, without incurring penalties or blowing hard.
Barbury Castle Horse Trials is my local event, and they hold a novice, but no pre-novice class. Whilst I love the event, I’ve never had any ambition to ride round it’s cross country course which winds it’s way up and down the side of a steep sided valley. However they have some fabulous wildflower meadows and the dressage arenas for the novice mean you had to walk though some of these meadows. Crazy I know, but this walk through wildflower meadows on horseback and the fact it was local so my family could join us for a day out were the reasons I wanted to compete at Barbury. It wasn’t our best result, but we had a cracking day out in the countryside.
I have to confess to being something of a fair weather rider and only ran in competition between late April and Early September, and I would also plan everything around the country estate type events, like Highclere or Hambleden, where the Pre-Novice classes were usually a bit meatier, and the tradestands and services a little more substantial. We used to get some big brush fences at Highclere, and Hambleden used to have a great bullfinch fence on the cross country which I fondly remember Snowy sailing over. Snowy may have been too slow for Novice but boy could he jump, and would jump anything you pointed him at.
Our competition record was not all plain sailing though. I often hurried through the dressage, let nerves get the better of me in the showjumping and even once fell off during cross country, although I blame neither him nor I for that one. We were at West Wilts having a great run on cross country when the horse following us, lost it’s rider and took a short cut back to the lorry park. That short cut involved cutting in front of us three strides before a hedge. Even though the horse lightly brushed Snowy’s nose, he adjusted and cleared the fence. I however did not adjust and we parted company over the fence, and Snowy trotted calmly towards the next fence (pictured above). Back in those days you could remount and finish, which we did. From that point on I never travelled to an event on my own,and this photo (my all time favourite) takes pride of place by my back door to remind me to stay in the saddle at all times!
I’ve never really been one for material possessions, preferring to spend money on experiences, so I see myself as more of a caretaker for Snowy rather than an owner, and we shared some wonderful experiences and made memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Imake no apologies for how soft and sentimental this sounds – you can’t buy these sort of experiences, you have to make them happen.
I would like to thank all the event organisers, volunteers, contractors, official photographers, and everyone else involved in this sport that has contributed to providing me with some of the best years of my life thanks to this horse and the sport of eventing, and most of all huge thanks to Russ & Lucy without whom none of this would have ever been possible.
Snowy was a horse of a lifetime for me. I miss him dearly.
RIP Snowy. “Mont Blanc – Mon brave”.