Horses have been part of my life from the year dot, with hunting and Pony Club activities being an integral part of growing up in Herefordshire. At six years old, I joined the Ross Harriers & South Hereford Hunt Pony Club and went on to compete in Pony Club teams in Eventing, Dressage and Tetrathlon. Going to Badminton Horse Trials was an annual event – watching riders like Lucinda Prior-Palmer, Mike Tucker and Richard Walker inspired me and competing at Badminton became my goal very early on.
After school and then Agricultural College, I went to New Zealand where I worked with dressage horses before going on to spend a few months at a stud in Australia. I then returned to New Zealand where I started eventing in 1987-1988 and met the NZ trainer, Lockie Richards who I later went to train with in the USA. Early in Lockie’s career he came to the UK to teach and gained his BHS Fellowship in 1963 before moving to and teaching in the USA. He competed at advanced level eventing in the US and coached several members to selection for the 3DE team. Eventually Lockie went on to coach the NZ national team. Lockie also trained with Franz Rochowansky (ex Spanish Riding School) at the American Dressage Institute.
One of the horses I rode under Lockie’s tutelage was Zattellite, a dressage horse that had been competing at Prix St George but had lost his way. He had been pushed too hard, had lost his confidence and been sent for rehabilitation. During my months with Lockie, he opened my eyes to the importance of the horses mind, taking the first small steps on a journey of communication and understanding which is always a ‘work in progress’. In Lockie’s own words, “To develop a harmonious relationship is one of the most beautiful experiences one could ever wish to have. The unity between human and animal is a precious quality that sinks into the soul, making life more meaningful.”
On my return to the UK in 1989, I set up an eventing yard in the Cotwolds with my wife to be, Anne-Marie, with horses from the lower levels to Advanced. In 1990 I trained in the US as an equine dentist. Those were busy days, with riding and training fitting around my job travelling the country doing horses teeth. Trainers who helped and influenced me enormously are Chris Bartle, Yogi Breisner and Ferdi Eilberg.
Most of the horses I rode weren’t the most straightforward and it’s fair to say that my best horse and friend, Ben (Secret Papers), wasn’t the easiest ride in the world though was absolutely phenomenal across country. We qualified to compete at CCI**** level after completing Blenheim (CCI***) in 1999 but, feeling he needed more experience, I opted to go to Lühmühlen (CCI***) instead of Badminton in 2000. Ben was awesome at Lühmühlen, finishing 11th which proved to be the highlight of my competitive career. In 2001 Badminton was cancelled because of foot and mouth disease, along with many eventing fixtures that season. My chance to achieve the dream of competing at Badminton was then dashed after we were unfortunately balloted out in 2002.
At the end of 2003, I hung up my eventing boots (though they have been brought out of retirement on a couple of occasions since) after competing in a number of three day events including Blenheim***, Lühmühlen***, Punchestown***, Boekelo***, Waregem **, Burgie**, Blair Castle**, Weston Park** and Breda**.
I continued to work as an equine dentist until 2008 and also gained my qualifications as a BHSI and British Eventing accredited coach. During the post-eventing years, a particular highlight was 3rd place with Ben at the Royal Wessex Yeomanry Ride, which is run over 2.5 miles of natural obstacles – stone walls, hedges – at Didmarton, over part of the Badminton estate. So we did get to Badminton in the end…
In 2004, I went to the Crimea for the 150th anniversary of the Charge of the Light Brigade which took place at Balaklava. As a member of the 17th Lancers Display Team – a multi-period, historical cavalry reconstruction group – our purpose was to commemorate the anniversary of the Charge and hold a mounted memorial service to the fallen with serving members of the Queens Royal Lancers.
Part of my role was to make sure the Ukrainian horses we had gathered together were assigned according to rider ability. I spent two days riding 50 horses to assess them and within four days we had 26 horses and riders working in as a cohesive unit.
In 2006 I went with the 17th Lancers Display Team to Natal, in South Africa, to commemorate the Battle of Ulundi with an Impi of Zulu warriors, which took place in 1879 during the Anglo- Zulu war.
Another cavalry skill I learned with the 17th Lancers was Tentpegging, one of the mounted skill at arms. It involves galloping flat out using a service lance to pick up a small wooden peg. Not easy…
In 2005-6, I worked for English Heritage as a knight in a jousting competition called the Knights Tournament. Organised at English Heritage locations across the country, it was an event with four teams comprised of a knight, man at arms and squire. The idea was to recreate the true nature of the tournament of 500 years ago, with jousting, armed foot combat, skill at arms and archery. As in medieval times, the aim is to test the accuracy of the jouster with the lance not to unseat the opposition. The lance is tipped with a light wooden point which is designed to shatter on impact, but I can honestly say that the armour took a fair bashing. In 2005 I achieved the ultimate accolade of becoming King’s Champion.
In 2007, I transferred my horse training skills to camels….. tasked with training a camel to take part in the Household Cavalry Historical Pageant at Horse Guards Parade in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen. I would rate this as one of my more challenging training experiences. There was a sticky moment when I had to fire my rifle and a camel isn’t easy to sit on when it changes direction rapidly.Mercifully camel and rider combination remained intact!
In my spare time, Africa became a bit of a second home during this period. I worked for a horse safari in Botswana and later in Tanzania as a relief horse safari manager in the Grumeti Reserve on the Serengeti.
2008 marked a huge change in direction for me and I joined the humanitarian de-mining organisation, The Halo Trust. I started working in Sri Lanka and then Cambodia before spending 2.5 years in Afghanistan. I then went on to managing the HALO programme in Mozambique before returning to the UK late in 2012. In 2013 I spent several months in South Sudan working for Danish Demining Group and I continue to work for short periods overseas on a consultancy basis.