Over the stable door: Real battle of making a prince out of a gangster

Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds .
Jo Foster sorting out the tack at her stables at Menston near Leeds .
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My racehorse Christian blotted his copybook in momentous style on his first outing for us at Market Rasen.

Getting the little gangster to conform to his jockey’s wishes was not going to be easy. After his tantrum on the racetrack I took him cross country schooling the next day. He was joined by Feasty and the old ‘pro’ Pinerolo – both flew round the 32 fences in style.

For me aboard Christian things weren’t going to plan. He popped a few fences quietly but then the further we went the worse his behaviour got. We jumped everything but between fences he was lurching and leapfrogging, bending inside out to evade my every wish.

An hour later we all walked back to the wagon. The girls chatted happily, patting their angelic steeds and comparing photos. Alongside them I sat silently seething. A perspiring, aching, foul-tempered figure. I knew it could take days, weeks, months of work to remedy the problem, if at all.

A few days later was Cartmel races. One of the cross country angels, Feasty, won his race which cheered me slightly.

I sat to have a coffee with Sue and Harvey Smith and explained to Harvey my issue with Christian. Harvey doesn’t say much but what he does is always worth listening to.

“Just keeping working it,” he responded after minutes pondering in silence. “No hitting, that’s not your answer. Just graft.”

I went home determined and doubled the workload again. Christian’s daily routine was a long canter at home, box up to Smiths and canter three times up their steep mile gallop followed by jumping practice – a pattern I repeated every day for a month. I had never worked a young horse so hard and the more he got the more he thrived.

Every morning I would wake, my back in spasm from the time spent being yanked about as Christian battled. I was feeding him bog standard Pony cubes yet he still had energy to argue.

One day I was jumping him in the outdoor school and heard the hum of Harvey’s quad bike draw closer. He pulled in and sat aboard his quad, watching as we popped the fence a few times. A while later he put it much higher.

What followed was an impromptu jumping lesson. Another one followed the day after.

I may see my childhood hero on a daily basis but I never cease to marvel at the face which had plastered my bedroom wall for a decade. A Yorkshireman more famous for his V sign than Winston Churchill, who brought showjumping to the masses and helped his wife land the biggest steeplechase in the world, yet here he was giving me jumping lessons.

Three weeks into boot camp I finally felt something click. Thanks to the showjumping lessons Christian was now pinging his fences with more natural ease.

As his behaviour issues subsided so the trust increased. I wondered if this was another path of deception Christian was leading me down only to end in disaster again. If so it could be the end of his career.

I had entered Christian for Hexham the following week. The owners had expectations, the jockey wanted progress, the stewards were watching closely. Pressure was mounting but would he finally deliver?

To be continued...