It was the day after Balmoral Show 2014 when the – eagerly anticipated – work began on the two-time winner over hurdles. Being out of training for three months in a field shared with a wicked black pony for company, Tadhg (or Tag as we call him) was feeling pretty sorry for himself. It was decided – by me – that his work load would begin slowly, allowing him to gain weight and get used to his new career. ‘Slowly’ turned out to be backwards and for six months I ran up the lane and down the road beside my skinny bay, as otherwise he wouldn’t move out of the yard. I then got on him from a gate/fence/branch, and trotted on again until he decided he’d had enough. Initially he would rear and spin round followed by some moon-walking and then finally the anchor would be put down and that was him, until I got off and repeated my running routine again.
I provided great amusement to many passing neighbours as I puffed and panted my way down the road, beside (rather than on) my horse. As he gained weight, I lost it. When the running was no longer necessary my battles were won from the saddle. He had rain scald and was missing the luxury of padding that fat provides, so he had every reason to put me in a hedge, but he never once bucked, and his rears were only an act of fear. Generally he was tired, nervous and didn’t want to be forced into hacking round the roads, I knew he was questioning my motives. Ultimately he didn’t know where it would lead and always erred on the side of caution, he thought it was safer not to go, than to get somewhere he didn’t want to be. So we carried on and bit by bit we pieced together hacks.
There was not one hack where we didn’t have a battle of some description and his stubbornness to walk forwards would make a fiesty toddler look compliant. But always after lots of kicking, squeezing, shouting, roaring, crying and sweating (again the neighbours were hugely entertained), Tag started to realise I would not be beaten.
Re-training is tough and without a sand school it is really tough. When a lunge was needed because the weather had been bad (and Tag had been standing in the stable) – tough luck, suck it up and get on that horse and ride it down the road past the school bus, three tractors, and the van with the rattling trailer. Every hack was an adventure – sometimes of death defying proportions – but gradually Tag began to realise that things were staying the same and he hadn’t come to any harm. But he wasn’t ready to commit just yet. At home Tag is like a dog, he comes when I shout, he whinnies when he sees me and he follows me around nudging me from behind.
I knew fairly early in the relationship that he realised how lucky he was to have a second chance, but it was never going to be rushed and his trust was always going to be hard won and easy lost.