Over the stable door: Tough search for a calm hunter

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My friend Beanie bought herself a new hunter some months ago. As regular readers may recall Beanie (Bee) is an ex-trainer friend who exchanged her role as skint and stressed-out employer to that of care-free employee when relinquishing her training license.

Her new role is racing secretary to a large southern flat trainer. “It’s a relief to leave behind the constant worry of finances,” she tells me frequently. “If owners don’t pay or staff don’t turn up for work it is not my place to worry any longer.”

With a new job Bee found she had the time and money to enjoy a season’s hunting again. Having spent her youth on the three-day event circuit and riding winners as an amateur jockey she’s not without ability. Numerous falls left her needing surgery on a back condition last year and she realised she now needed a quiet, reliable hunter to look after her.

A friend forwarded details of a bay gelding for sale in the North East. The horse was owned by a respected competition dealer her friend knew well. Bee called the dealer after reading the ad. The bay cob gelding was described as ‘a well-behaved experienced hunter’ so it was agreed, due to there being 300 miles between the two yards, the horse would be sent to Bee’s for a week, the purchase price paid and if the horse proved unsuitable she could return it and be refunded.

When the horse, nicknamed Cob, arrived Bee settled him in. The next day she tacked up and lunged him for a time before attempting to mount. The eight-year-old gelding wouldn’t allow her anywhere near. She tried from a higher mounting block, then tried vaulting on but he danced in circles veering away when she came close. Her sister helped. Together, they checked the tack but there were no obvious problems. Putting it down to nerves, Bee turned the gelding out and returned that afternoon with another horse for company. Eventually with two strong sympathetic handlers and a narrow passageway she was aboard.

Cob set off like a bucking bronco across the yard. My friend sat tight, holding on with determination as he careered beneath the branches of an old apple tree, sending fruit flying. Eventually Bee steered Cob to the walled garden where there was no escape for him.

After ploughing through the sweet peas and annihilating neat rows of Aunt’s prize cauliflowers she pulled the horse to a standstill. His teeth were gnashing in anger. She patted him calmly and squeezed him forward with no intention of letting him win. Any thoughts for her injured back were swept aside. Cob surged forward with slightly less purpose and 20 minutes later he finally relented, and Bee trotted him calmly up and down round the paddock.

Bee relayed the events to the dealer later. Both agreed she would give the gelding another try to see if it was, as he swore, completely out of character. There was something about him she liked but inside her instinct was flashing warning signs.

“I will see how he behaves tomorrow,” my friend said pensively as we chatted that evening. “Yes, you never know,” I replied, but even I could not have foreseen events that were about to occur.

To be continued...