Over the stable door: Farewell to classy, charming Peggy

We are already flying through the pointing season and this weekend promises to be the busiest yet with two Yorkshire meetings scheduled. The Cleveland meeting is tomorrow at Witton Castle whilst on Easter Monday the Staintondale is to be held at Charm Park, Wykeham. Both meetings boast strong entries and promise some competitive races.

Country Week columnist Jo Foster has paid tribute to her late friend and former teacher, Peggy Alpin.  Picture by Tony Johnson.
Country Week columnist Jo Foster has paid tribute to her late friend and former teacher, Peggy Alpin. Picture by Tony Johnson.

The Staintondale is offering a 20 per cent discount on e-tickets purchased before the day. It is one of the first meetings in Yorkshire to try the initiative. Tickets can be booked via www.pointinginyorkshire.co.uk and cost £8 per person.

This week I attended the funeral of my friend, the Northern Area Pony Club rep Peggy Alpin. Peggy was a stylish lady. Whether at the local race meeting, on the hunting field or teaching children, she oozed class and never seemed to age.

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When we first met, I was a 14-year-old pony mad tom boy attending pony club camp with 65 others who were sleeping in the Wetherby racecourse stables for a week. She was our instructor. At the time, she had a young baby daughter called Charlotte who is now grown up and show jumping all over Europe.

Peggy was fun but strict, energetic yet realistic. She taught me how to fit the perfect bandage, a small thing but I think of her every day when I’m putting that skill into practise or teaching the apprentices. My friend Catherine, whom I met at the same time, still laughingly mocks me, “those damn tail bandages”. She claims I could get away with murder. I can hardly deny it. The thought of Peggy telling me she was pleased with my efforts was as important as winning the ‘camp hoof’ – a trophy awarded to the best stable management of the week. I’d spend hours perfecting everything from plaiting the front of my straw bed, washing stable windows, chalking a white sock and polishing every buckle in case Peggy inspected closely.

There would be a line of grubby looking children holding pristine ponies ready for inspection at 9am sharp. Our ponies smelt of shampoo and baby oil, collectively us kids smelt worse than the dung heap.

The next year we had a camp outing to Wetherby swimming pool. This was the closest most of us came to water all week so the DC, Mrs B, thought it a necessary evil. A great plan was hatched - two of us pleaded illness, skipped off to the supermarket and arrived back at the bus with bags full of cider and wine for a last night soiree. But the plan didn’t extend to getting the loot back to camp so we stood gripping our bags in a panic, wondering how we could get on the bus without the DC catching us - alcohol was not allowed, if found we would probably be sent home. Peggy quickly ushered us towards her car and shouted to Mrs B she would take us back. She knew exactly what we were up. When we got out we thanked her profusely. “I was young once,” she said grinning widely.

Thirty years later, despite the hardships life had thrown at her she was just the same: beautiful and classy, funny and charming.