All was going suspiciously well with the thoroughbred. I suppose it had to be the calm before the storm. I bought Darcy as a yearling, you may remember, from the builder boyfriend’s mother, who has an eye for a horse and had picked her up in a sale. One day when visiting her yard I saw the little filly peeping over a stable door and got ‘a feeling’.
Oh lord, please save me from feelings. After I took her home, she promptly jumped out of her field and landed on a fence post. We had to carry her on to the horse lorry to get her to Liphook equine hospital because she wouldn’t walk a step. Of course, once you have carried a horse on to a lorry to save its life you are bonded to the animal indefinitely. She was discharged once the surgeons decided it was just a muscle injury that would heal, and I was smitten.
We had toyed with the idea of racing her, but now I decided I would raise her as a leisure horse and give her a more relaxing life.
When she was two I managed to get on her and by the time she was three I was riding her around the woods. The experts said I would never pull it off. ‘You wait until she discovers what she can do!’
I went to see a local racing trainer, just to get some tips, you understand. He talked at me for hours about the principles of raising a racehorse. He showed me his youngsters and said, ‘Is she big like that? She’ll need to be big like that.’ He introduced me to his lads and said,‘Don’t worry. My boys can get up on anything. We’ll take care of her.’
‘Oh no,’ I said, ‘she’s very easy.’
‘Hmm,’ he said. ‘And this is her breeding, you say?’ And he stared down at the scrap of paper on to which he had written the name of the sire, an Arc winner, and the dam sire, one of the world’s great jump horses.
I came away with the vague impression that I was headed for a torrid time. But I determined to carry on, in the hope that I owned the one young thoroughbred with top bloodlines that would become a happy hack.
And so here I am. It’s a year on since I went to see that canny old racing trainer and I have just been through the worst week with a horse that I have ever had with any horse since I learned to ride. And that is saying something because for 11 years I rode an Irish mare called Tara, who used to stand on her front legs and flip her rear legs into the air like she was doing a handstand.
It was as if someone flicked a switch one day in Darcy’s head. We were halfway up a sand gallop, cantering at a stately pace behind little Gracie, ridden by a girlfriend of mine, when the filly seemed to discover who she really was. She suddenly surged forward and all but mounted poor Gracie from behind in a desperate bid to pass her on the narrow track. For a second, I thought she was going to jump over the top. But I managed to pull her up and we made it back alive.
The next time we went out, it was with my friend Karl, riding a huge hunter type. When we reached a canter track around a field, Darcy started to do a series of strange leaps. She rocked back and forth, she flung herself upwards, backwards, forwards, around.
‘I don’t think I can cope,’ I told Karl, as I clung on. ‘Can you try?’
Karl used to ride racehorses and has a reputation for being able to ride anything. After he and I swapped mounts, he instructed me to ‘Keep him alongside’ as he put Darcy into canter. And then she began. In one seamless, utterly improbable movement, she reared, threw her head back so far she socked Karl in the face, fell over backwards, sat down, scrambled up, threw herself in the air, bucked, and sprang into a riotous gallop.
‘Stay alongside me!’ Karl called, as I lurched forwards on the hunter, who did his best. But Darcy was away. Halfway round, she managed to put in a series of stag leaps at full pelt. When we came to a halt Karl was white. He had blood pouring from his mouth where Darcy had head-butted him. When we got back, I rang the trainer.
I know a lot of animal lovers go on about how great it is to rescue a horse from the racing industry. Well, I want the racing industry to rescue me from this horse…