I just can’t face one more argument with anyone, ever again

The cyclist was on the wrong side of the road coming towards me head-on. It was a winding country lane with blind bends and as I came round one, there was the cyclist, pedalling furiously along the lane on his hard right hand side. I slammed on my brakes, but instead of beeping my horn, I thought: ‘Let it go, I can’t be bothered. I just can’t face one more argument, ever again, with anyone.’ I never seem to get disputes one at a time. Troubles always come to me in multitudes. I fight at least two major battles on behalf of someone else or myself at any given time.

My mare has had a ‘misalliance’ with a pint-sized stallion

My favourite vet came to see Darcy and immediately put his finger on the problem. Dusk was falling when he climbed out of his battered 4×4 in khaki shorts and crumpled T-shirt, sun-burned, muddy and sweaty from the day’s call-outs. He is a victim of his own brilliance, and the decades of experience that have made him invaluable. Everyone asks for him, and he tries to get to his favourite clients even though he ought to be retired. It was 7.45 p.m. and after me he was heading for a traveller site in Croydon. He does not discriminate. He’s my kind of hero. We had Darcy standing ready by the

The politics of horse muck

‘You coming to help us poo pick?’ said my friend Terry, in a desperate sounding voice message. The builder boyfriend and I were lying in the garden having a well-earned sunbathe on Sunday, his only day off. Meanwhile, as we full well knew, the builder b’s fellow livery customers were hard at work shovelling horse muck out of the fields at the country estate where he has been grazing his two cobs until we can move them to be with my two horses at the new stable yard we have just taken a lease on. This mania for ‘poo picking’ is all very well if you are talking about paddock

The art of picking winners

‘Some of our players can hardly write their names,’ moaned one leading football manager. ‘But you should see them add up.’ With soaring energy prices and grocery bills going up, up and up, we are all getting better at maths. My monthly energy bill has just risen by more than I paid for my first car so I need to find a Twelve to Follow this summer that will have the bookmakers making a contribution to the difference. After his domination of the early Flat scene, the most logical option would be to slip on a blindfold, poise a pin over the list of Charlie Appleby’s Godolphin stable inmates and

Why I won’t be following the new equine vaccine regime

When the vet had finished giving my horses their annual flu boosters, she reminded me the vaccination regime had changed. For the purpose of competing, horses must be vaccinated for flu every six months, which is something that had passed me by. What with worrying about human vaccines, I had not noticed this change in the rules for equestrian jabs. I thought about it for a split second, then decided. ‘Lucky I don’t compete then,’ I told her. Because being a rabid anti-vaxxer, I don’t want my horses pumped more full of vaccine than is absolutely necessary. And this is precisely the sort of irrational and illogical reaction people have

My horse is allergic to beige carpet

The horse lorry arrived and lowered its ramp — and I stood in front of it knowing that my thoroughbred was not going to load. We were already beyond stressed, having been told our lease at the farm was not being renewed, and with the shooting season bearing down on us. In one week the guns would be going off around us. The horses had to be moved. But this blasted ramp was covered in beige carpet. If it had been red carpet, Darcy might have been happy. She is so precious, so oversensitive, so self-absorbed that I have no doubt she would have appreciated a red carpet. But lumpy

The truth about Surrey’s obsession with horse masks

A saloon car pulled up opposite our fields and a man sat there looking at the horses with a bewildered expression. I had noticed this car meandering along the farm track, driving between the horse fields and stopping every time he came alongside a horse, sitting there for minutes on end. Then he would start driving again. Then he would stop alongside another horse. For quite a while he was parked by the grazing fields above where the builder boyfriend and I have a smallholding, and was stopped staring at our friends’ horses, I realised. When he got to our fields, he pulled up again and began peering into our

How can we feed our horses when there’s no hay?

‘We’re closed for lunch,’ said the farmer, sitting behind the counter of his farm shop with a scowl on his face, not eating anything. ‘Well then,’ said the builder boyfriend, ‘I’ll come back.’ And the BB went off to have a bite to eat at a nearby caff, where he texted me the news that he had yet to score, but was going to try again later. There is no hay, or at least there is not enough hay in any given place to make farmers want to sell it. While the human food supply managed to recover from last year’s panic-buying, animal forage was different, because there really is

My Twelve to Follow on the Flat

Combing through race recordings to try to find some fun horses for Spectator readers this summer, I have been struck by how often even the best riders find themselves stuck in equine traffic with plenty of horsepower underneath them but nowhere to go. Gaps open in a flash and then close again, forcing riders to snatch up and probe, often too late, for another opening. It is never, though, as simple as it looks from the stands. One former top jockey was berated by a trainer on his return to the unsaddling enclosure: ‘Why didn’t you go for that gap between the leaders two furlongs out?’ ‘Because, Guv’nor, the gap

The ugly truth about natural horsemanship

The rope riders came down the driveway slowly, their horses veering this way and that, side to side, forwards a few steps, then backwards nearly as many. It took them an hour to trespass from the bridleway that crosses the top of the drive and make their slow, dangerously shaky course between the paddocks full of horses until they made it to just opposite our smallholding, where their mounts gave up completely and just refused to take another step. There were four horses, but only one was wearing what I would call tack, as in a saddle and bridle. The other three, including a child’s pony being ridden by a

The poetry of Bryony Frost

Hearing that the Queen has both a real and an official birthday, a small boy asked the obvious question: ‘Does she get two lots of presents then?’ Horses, too, have an official birthday: no matter the month in which they were foaled, they all become one year older on 1 January. The advantage for some is that they then become eligible for the increasingly popular veterans’ races confined to horses aged ten or more, like the classic Unibet Chase we saw at Sandown last Saturday. What racegoers love about these contests is the presence of familiar names on which they have won money, or narrowly lost it, over the years,

The horse with a taste for human flesh

Greville Starkey’s great victories as a jockey included the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on Star Appeal at 119-1. In 1978 he won the Derby and Irish Derby on Shirley Heights and the Oaks and Irish Oaks on Fair Salinia. He was also known for his unerring mimicry of a Jack Russell terrier’s bark, a distinction that once had an airliner’s departure delayed while stewards sought in vain the animal aboard. When he deployed his trick during a celebratory dinner at Quaglino’s, trainer Henry Cecil wrapped a napkin round Starkey’s neck and led him yapping out of the restaurant on all fours. In races he used it to disconcert his

Why animals’ names matter

Pretty Man was a plump white pony in the forefront of a sad picture. The photograph showed the seizure by the RSPCA of 123 horses from a farm down the road from where I live. The picture came to summarise many aspects of a story that exploded on to social media and released so many emotions among the public, especially horse-lovers. A plump white pony is standing defiantly in the middle of a herd of muddy horses being rounded up and loaded on to lorries to be taken away. Later it emerged that the pony wouldn’t load. He refused to get on the lorry. It took most of the day

How I won €160 by mistake

My French friend André speaks perfect English and is the kindest of men. After reading last week about my futile efforts to place a bet on the French state betting terminal in the village bar, he put himself out during the week to have a word with one of the bar staff. He gave her my description and told her to expect me to appear in the bar the following Sunday afternoon in time for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. And he drew an assurance from her that she would help me decipher the betting-form multiple-choice hieroglyphics. Or, better still, take a verbal betting instruction over the counter. I

The WFH community are finally walking their own dogs — with terrible consequences

Every time I get on a horse I have to face the likelihood that a dog, or pack of dogs, will have me off. This issue of idiot dog owners walking their dogs for the first time now they are working from home is a situation that has developed since Covid but as far as I’m aware, no government guidelines have been issued to deal with it. Traditionally, dog owners in the idiot class don’t walk their dogs themselves, delegating that to a dog walker who collects the dog in a van and drives it to a place where it is walked with a load of other dogs. Either that,

There were horses loose in a Public Sex Environment

The two horses looked like they had never seen anything like it. They had wound up in a dark car park renowned for the practice known as ‘dogging’ after being found wandering perilously close to the M25. A jockey who just happened to be passing — ahem — was holding on to them as the usual nocturnal customers of this beauty spot carried on doing what they do. The police were out in force, busy trying to solve this baffling crime. We arrived after getting a call from a neighbouring horse owner warning us that horses in our area were loose. After racing to our fields around 9 p.m. to

What no one tells you about owning a horse

When people ask me what I did during lockdown, I would like to give an inspiring answer, apart from growing vegetables. I thought I would write The Real Life Guide to Keeping a Horse, with all the stuff other books won’t tell you. Chapter One, ‘You Will Need’, will give the most realistic list ever published of the items you should assemble before bringing home your new equine friend. Number one item: gaffer tape. I know you’re thinking the farrier comes every six weeks. But in practice most farriers are harder to get hold of than O. J. Simpson on the San Diego Freeway. Thoroughbreds reign supreme in the art

The magic of Cheltenham Festival

Every time the Cheltenham Festival looms, I recall a remarkable experience. It was already 25 years since Dawn Run’s recovery from a seemingly impossible position to win the Gold Cup of 1986, becoming the only horse ever to add victory in our greatest steeplechase to a triumph in the Champion Hurdle, when, for my Festival history, I interviewed her jockey. Jonjo O’Neill took me through every stride of the race as if it had been the day before: ‘We were flying down the hill and I could hear them coming behind us. I thought we’d gone a right gallop and couldn’t believe they were so close to us. We jumped