Tuesday, 7 July 2015

The tragedy of Kauto Star

In response to the Kauto Star debate I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts.

I have two ex-racehorses.

Lord’s Bidding, by Auction House out of Lady Ploy, aged 10, trained by Roger Ingram, raced 13 times, highest flat rating 65, highest placing 2nd, winner of £2697 in prize money, retired at 4 with a tendon injury – and kindly given to me by the trainer and owners – because I had ridden him at home throughout his racing career and they knew how much I liked riding the horse.

Kings Troop, by Bertolini out of Glorious Colours, aged 9, trained by Sir Henry Cecil and then Alan King, raced 43 times, highest flat rating 86,  winner of 4 races, winner of £25,803 in prize money, retired at 6 and kindly gifted to me by the owners – and recommended by Alan – as I had a close association with the horse having ridden him at the Cheltenham Festival in 2011 and every Saturday for the two years thereafter.

In both cases, I knew the horses I was taking on. 

Lord’s Bidding currently competes at dressage at novice level (the 2nd one up) and is about to go to elementary (the 3rd one up), has just been registered with British Dressage and shows some potential in the sense that he looks good and moves in a nice balanced way.  It has taken me five years (with a lot of help) to get him to this and since I have had him, he has had many issues including a summer of extreme head shaking (that was so bad we thought he might have to be put down), concussion in both his front legs (6 months off) and about a million lessons to teach him (and me) how to make him go nicely.  He has always had a nice temperament albeit with a fast left spin when he gets stressed or doesn’t want to do something.
We tried eventing with him but due to his racing injury and the fact he simply didn’t seem that enthusiastic to ‘go’ cross-country I did not want to pursue making him do this at the cost of him breaking.
He seems to like dressage in the sense that he is very calm and is able to ‘turn it on’ in the dressage ring.  In Wales recently he won a dressage to music competition beating around 30 other ‘normal’ horses who had not come from racing backgrounds.
Every time he competes, especially on a level playing field with ‘normal’ horses, we are thrilled with the positives because we know his history and how far he has come. We also have low expectations for him - and the events he has been competing at are very low level on the Charlotte Dujardin scale of things!

If Lord’s Bidding went to Olympia he would get very excited but would eventually calm down.  I could not be confident he would be able to perform in that environment.

Most of the time, he lives out in a field with his best mate, Kings Troop, occasionally hunts in winter and we have a lot of fun hacking him around the countryside and riding to the pub!
He is a happy horse.  He has taught me patience.  And I have spent probably £30K on him in the last six years.

Lord's Bidding 
Trained by two of racing’s top trainers, Kings Troop raced on both the flat and over jumps so when he came to me I gave him some time off to chill out before I started retraining him.  I applied everything I had learned from Lords to him and he has always been eager, willing and just so very keen to get on with everything.  He seemed to take to dressage and at home is hard-working and talented.
He has some inevitable wear and tear from five years racing though and although he is sound, we have learned that he does not move that well and does not – and probably never will – have the same flowing paces as Lords, who raced a lot less.  He also has an issue with sticking his tongue out!  He did it throughout his racing career and this habit is very hard to break.  We have, and continue to try, bits, nosebands and gadgets to stop him doing this.  But so far we have not been able to.  And I am not going to force an ex racehorse in his second life to be uncomfortable and do things he doesn’t want to do.
He also gets very excited when he goes out, is extremely spooky out on his own and he bucks a lot with flies in summer!
He has competed at the lowest – prelim – level in dressage.  Sometimes he does a nice test. Once he did a test that was so awful that to an onlooker it would appear he hated every minute of it and I tortured him at home.

If Kings Troop went to Olympia I suspect it would blow his mind.

Most of time, he lives out in the field with his best mate, Lord’s Bidding, occasionally hunts in winter and we have a lot of fun hacking him around the countryside and riding to the pub!
He is a happy horse.  He has taught me more patience.  And I have spent probably £10K on him in the last three years.
Kings Troop
I know my horses inside out.
They have also proved to me that you cannot tell an ex racehorse what discipline it might be able to be good at.  The horse will tell you. In time. 

Neptune Collonges won the Grand National and now competes at dressage but started out at the very small mickey mouse events, in the same sphere as my horses to see if he liked it.  He seems to.
Comply or Die won the Grand National and I was at event with Verity Green, who now has him at home, a few weeks ago.  He is quirky and lively, so she is taking it very slowly with him and they are having fun together.

For me this is the great tragedy of Kauto Star who raced 41 times, won 23 races and earned £2.3m in prize money.
This ‘once in a lifetime’ racehorse was sent, against the advice of the trainer and those who knew the horse best, to ‘do dressage’ to someone who did not know him at all.
He may have been relaxed and talented when they schooled him at home – and he was probably extremely well looked after.
But he was never seen without a neck strap in public.  And his display at Olympia was simply painful to watch. 
After 'retirement', he was sent very quickly on the glory circuit to look good at a sport the owner felt he should do.

It was said Kauto Star ‘did dressage’.   

But I do not think he ever competed at dressage at all.

Lords and Troops in the field at home

Monday, 26 January 2015


My first blog offering for 2015 is going to be a rather unprofessional affair, based not on what I’ve been achieving via my work life, but on my own personal loss.

For the last eight years of my life – so pretty much the whole time I’ve been working for myself, and working largely from home - I have had the wonderful companionship, joy and affection of my most beloved dog Tess.

She decided to depart this world in the first week of January this year, leaving me desolate, stricken with grief and so terribly afraid.

Writing is a hugely cathartic thing so the reason in penning this blog is for me as much as for anyone reading this and to pay tribute to Tess, who was so much a part of me, everything I did and who I have become.

Tess was a joyous individual – always happy, full of boundless amounts of energy, adoring of affection, and in turn comforting, kind and hilariously funny.  For eight years I looked after her, and she looked after me, and anyone who worked with me, or socialised with me, all got used to the idea pretty quickly that wherever Liz went, then so did Tess.

I have always been a driven individual, which in the earlier part of my life, meant I was always dissatisfied with what I was doing and looking for the next thing.  
Tess taught me about the simple things in life – walking on a beautiful day, looking down rabbit holes, lying by the fire and just being content in the moment and totally at rest.  
She made me less materialistic and happier to be outside, she made me love to be at home and more content in my own company and she taught me that just sitting and staring is a perfectly acceptable and fulfilling way to spend time.

Having largely spent the last eight years alone, her importance in my life was more that of a beloved child than ‘just a dog’ and her death has been like a physical pain to me – shocking, debilitating and draining me of all my energy and joy in the world.

To get through it, I have tried to be brave, a quality I admire so much in others, and although failing shockingly at times, taking an example from others I know, or have known, has been of great inspiration.

My family have, as always, provided an unbelievable strength and constancy, my friends have been unswerving in their loyalty and patience, and Barrie, my partner, who I admire so much in all things, has had to bear the brunt of my suffering and yet been infinitely kind and never once told me to shut up or pull myself together.

I have also read a lot about grief, which is so much part of life, and have found strength in the words of others.  CS Lewis articulated the feeling that grief is like fear.  And for me this has struck a particular resonance.  Known as a happy and ‘sorted’ individual, in the last few weeks I have wavered between sadness, insecurity, terrible anger at the world, a crippling inability to do anything and terror in facing the world and everyday life without the stabling and comforting influence of my dog.

Some may find it trivial, and almost comical, to be so brought down by the death of a mere animal but I make no apologies for this blog.  My great friend Jilly Cooper, known publicly for her huge affection for animals, has been a great comfort to me and said to me just after it happened that only people who can love so deeply, can in turn suffer such a deep sense of loss.

So as I pick myself off the floor and look towards the future and a happy life without Tess, I leave you with this.

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow,

I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight. 
I am the soft stars that shine at night. 
Do not stand at my grave and cry, 
I am not there; I did not die.

Liz Ampairee, January 2015