I moved to Bournemouth when I was 4 but I still spent all of my holidays at my Grandfathers farm. I have a vivid memory of one summer when I was about seven. After I had been sent to bed I watched from the window whilst my Grandfather, Uncle and two of the farm hands tried to break a horse. The more the horse panicked the more ropes were attached until the horse reared up terror and came down on my grandfather knocking him to the ground, his front hoof scraping the side of my grandfathers head and taking his ear clean off. Afterwards I always asked if I could sit on the other side of him while I ate my dinner so I couldnt see the ear that had been sown back on! The following day I asked what happened to the horse and never got a straight answer. From that day onwards I believed that you should gain an animals trust rather than force it to do something out of fear
.I always knew there had to be a better way.
The first horse I ever rode belonged to a girlfriend. I was 18 and had still never had lessons. I rode bareback with a head collar as the girl didnt ride anymore and so had sold the tack. This was my baptism into horse riding and I spent every spare minute with that horse until the girlfriend finally got fed up and dumped me! I then rode as often as possible hacking out in the New Forest. After a while the owner of the stables let me take rides out for her as she had become unwell. I rode there for several years until the owner died and the stables were sold on. A friend then introduced me to a lady who kept racehorses and from my first ride I have had a life long love affair with the English Thoroughbred, which in later life has led to my re-training several ex-racehorses for other uses. I feel that re-training race horses is as rewarding as starting the youngsters.
I moved to France with my business and soon became friends with a family who bred Comptoise, a native breed similar in appearance to the Hafflingers of Norway, the best of which were used for driving. Serge Morrell was an expert driver and I quickly became very interested in this aspect of horsemanship, going on to compete in driving competitions for many years.
My children began taking riding lessons and I soon started riding again, hacking out and helping to take rides out for the local stables. I bought my first horse from this stable. El Nino was a 16.2HH Spanish, as fast as the wind. I hacked out on him at weekends exploring new trails and reveling in the countryside. As a family we went on a few trail riding holidays in France around the Lot, the Cantal, and the Aveyron. We did several long weekends and I just absolutely loved the whole aspect of it all and enjoyed helping with it immensely. The stables that we were riding at closed and we started taking lessons at an excellent riding school in Limogne comprising of dressage, jumping and horse ball. Although I wasnt the expert in the family I thoroughly enjoyed it and played in the veteran team for horse ball.
By now we had accrued five horses and often rode with friends and visitors. It was on one of these days enjoying a picnic by the river that one of the visitors said that although she had been on many riding holidays around the world, this had been the best days riding she had ever experienced, and suggested that I could do it for a living as I was so passionate about the horses and the riding. This got me thinking and French Riding Holidays was born.
One part of the business that gives me great satisfaction is starting a young horse by gaining its trust, making their first experience of having someone on their back a good one. The longest it has ever taken from being introduced to a horse to having a rider on its back has been 1 hour. The grim experience I had as a child watching my peers literally breaking a horse has stayed with me and we have strived to find a better way.
It was a great pleasure last year to start a horse whilst we had guests here and to watch them participate and ride the newly backed youngster.