By Village Connection oo Stormy C (Creativity)
It’s fair to say that Herbert (Thunderstorm) was NOT keen on (harness) racing.
It didn’t matter a jot to him that all his family had sprinted round the circuits for generations, or that his breeder, Maureen Westwood was looking forward to watching him fulfil his pacing destiny; Herbert felt that if his competitors wanted to rush around in that recklessly undignified manner, that was up to them. But he’d rather not. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy his Away Days, he loved being out and about, and he knew he was Handsome because he won the prize for Best Turned Out…..but it was all so….exhausting, especially for a big boy like him…and then there was The Training. He didn’t mind obliging Martin, in fact he hadn’t put a foot wrong, or objected at all in any way when Martin did all these mysterious things for weeks that culminated in him climbing onto his back. Perhaps he was tired? Herbert happily took him for walks, but that obviously wasn’t enough, because after a while, Martin put this cart contraption behind him and expected Herbert to exert himself a bit more. Why? But he trundled as requested.
Of course, Herbert could happily pace when wearing those hopple-things, it wasn’t hard, but he just didn’t see the point of the speed he was being asked/encouraged/persuaded to go. He was doing everything Martin and Stella asked of him….but he wasn’t enjoying it. They were sympathetic, and wondered how to tell Maureen that Herbert’s heart just wasn’t in harness racing. She would be very upset.
Then Fate took a hand in several different ways. Herbert was quite thankful when Covid suspended the harness racing season and Martin stopped expecting him to puff for miles in his fitness regime. Then one day Stella came out waving Herbert’s STAGBI passport, telling him that she and Martin were now his Official Owners, as Maureen had undergone serious surgery, and she needed to recuperate. She had to part with Herbert, but didn’t want anyone else to have him because Martin had taught him all he knew…
There weren’t many equestrian activities happening during Covid, but suddenly Fun Rides, run over ten miles or more in the fresh open air, with various obstacles to leap if wished, became a regular occurrence. For want of a change of scene, Stella entered Herbert and Martin for a couple. Privately, she wondered if Herbert might find it Hard Work, and as distasteful as racing, but she couldn’t have been more wrong. The more small obstacles Martin encouraged Herbert over, the more he enjoyed it, and it was noted that he actually had a beautiful outline and a powerful jump. He wasn’t silly or too free-going, but he was careful. With help from Helen Mcguigan and her staunch cob Boris, Herbert was introduced to a small course of boggling coloured fences, and though he was sometimes cautious on the approach, he flew. THIS he could do, happily!
When restrictions eased a little, Herbert was entered for a small class indoors at Kings, a reasonably local equestrian centre. Stella, who had been a groom to an international show jumper back in the day, was prepared to be disappointed. After all, Herbert was only four, Martin was about fifty years older, held together by metal bolts through his ankle, and most of his jumping experience had been over big black fences, not a tight indoor arena where fences came at you quickly, and you had to remember where to go… one round against the clock. Stella was rehearsing how to console Martin if he and Herbert were eliminated, so was in a total state of shock when the pair exited with a clear round that earned them the runner-up rosette.
In the following year, Herbert won over fifty rosettes, gaining confidence over small courses, and was even placed in a couple of show classes to remind everyone how handsome he is (Though Martin says showing isn’t his cup of tea). Herbert even managed a couple of runner-up places jumping with Stella (a recycled wreck) precariously in the saddle, he had to be a bit careful with her – after all, she supplies the carrots.
Maureen Westwood might not have had her pacing winner as she hoped, but so far Herbert has brought home eleven lovely first rosettes, an Arena Eventing Novice Series Championship, a beautiful cup and medals and placings galore. And he’s having fun. Barefoot, living out, never schooled, he is the epitome of a pleasure horse, going out and doing his best whatever the height or course, enjoying standing and watching in the collecting ring (and all the carrots!)
How very LUCKY that Herbert wasn’t keen on racing, or his real talent might never have been discovered! What a lot of pleasure would have been missed.