“This wasn’t on my bucket list…”

Once upon a time, I did an apprenticeship in horse breeding and management.
Being 18 years old and having grown up with a Shetland – and let’s call them what they are: Shitlands – rig stallion, I was pretty darn fearless. Once Poly was done with you, nothing much fazed you. Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it.
The stud I worked at was relatively small, but we had around 30 horses (including foals and stallions) to look after. The mares used to go out into the fields to graze, and those fields were all over the place.
There were 16 mares in one large field, about a mile (1.6km) from the stud, and a few were in another smaller field.
One fine afternoon, I’m having a nap at home. (We did 5am to noon, then 5pm to…whenever. Usually about 7 or 8pm.) So yeah, very long lunch break, kinda. But I was 18. Chances of me being in bed by 9pm were…nil. If I got 3 hours sleep per night that was a lot. I needed the afternoon naps.
The phone rings. “The mares are out!”
Turns out the 16 mares had decided the field wasn’t big enough and mowed down the fence. Boss got a call from someone and mobilized the troops, one of which was me. So, I got on my motorbike (off-road trail bike) and went looking for them, a bit resentful because hey… I was tired and sleepy and hadn’t even eaten yet.  
First stop was at the stables, to pick up a sack full of head collars (halters) and enough rope to hang the beasts with. (KIDDING!) Off I go, heavy sack tied to the bike, bombing up and down the rutted trails, trying to spot them.
Can’t be that hard, right? I mean, 16 heavily pregnant mares won’t have gone far, right?
Wrong.
It took me an hour of circle after circle after circle, when I finally spot the miscreants…in a farmer’s cornfield. I am faced with 16 of the beasts, no head collars on them, having the time of their life, and they really didn’t want to leave this font of abundance.
What’s more, this was in the early 80s. Mobile phones didn’t exist, and I was about 4 miles (6km) from the stud – forget the walkie-talkie.
I started to round up the mares, who were luckily too heavy to take off at high speed, or I’d have been doubly screwed. Alas, it still was no mean feat to grab a 16hh horse who looks at you and then trots off before you get to it.
There was much swearing.
After about an hour, I had each one tied to trees and bushes. That solved one problem.
Getting them home… yeah. I could hardly leave them there, tied to trees, without anyone there to supervise.
Did I mention I’m 18 at this point? And fear was not a thing?
I cobbled pairs of mares together, having to rejig things now and then because there were squabbles. Rope from halter to halter, then another rope to tie the pair to a tree.
Eventually, I had 8 pairs of mares tied to trees and bushes.
There was one mare who wasn’t the size of a medium tank – the lead mare, who wasn’t carrying a foal. In a brilliant move, I hooked my train together with ropes going from pair to pair. Now I had 8 pairs of mares cobbled together – and a motorbike.
Well, that wasn’t going to happen, so I locked up the bike. But… I was pretty damn exhausted by now, and I didn’t want to walk 4 miles home, with 16 horses in tow. Through town. So I dragged the front pair with the lead mare to a tree stump and climbed up. She hopped a bit, but hey. I was used to a wildly bucking Shitland. This was nothing.
It took some doing to get this train moving, but eventually, everyone fell into a steady clip-clop, and we crawled our way toward home. (Do you know how slow a heavily pregnant mare walks, especially when she doesn’t want to go? Half frozen molasses move faster.)
On we went, through the middle of town, because I didn’t want to drag this lot all the way around it.
Much to the astonishment of half the town, but then, they were used to me getting up to weird stunts. And I honestly didn’t care what they thought. Then down a busy main road. Nearly sending several cars into a ditch because they couldn’t stop staring. Then along a narrow single lane road, making a lorry reverse about half a mile so we could get past. Until, eventually… we arrived at the stud.
My boss stood in the yard, catching flies with his mouth. His jaw was hanging somewhere by his knees. Then he goes in this almost calm low voice: “Get OFF that HORSE. Right NOW.”
You know the tone. That suppressed “I really want to yell at you, but I can’t” voice.
I slide off, thinking “Uh-oh…”
We untangle the mares, take them in, check each one for injuries, and once they were all pronounced safe and sound… My boss goes “What the HELL possessed you to ride THAT mare?”
“They were in a cornfield in X! It’s a long way!”
He shakes his head and goes “Do you have ANY idea what you did?”
I’m shaking my head, thinking “Oh shit, I broke the horse.”
“THAT mare has NEVER been RIDDEN!!!”
Err… Oops? The hop suddenly made sense.
“Why didn’t you call for help!”
“I was in the middle of nowhere! What was I supposed to do? Send smoke signals???”
“Walkie—”
“Out of RANGE.”
“Oh.”
He wasn’t actually telling me off, it was simply that –being the adult in this equation—he was concerned about what could have happened. I never even gave it a second thought, I just figured I’ll do what I can to get the horses home.
But hey… at least the mare was now backed and could be ridden. Sort of. Meanwhile, the stable manager, creep extraordinaire, comes along once everything was done. He’d not even gone out to look, he’d just taken the afternoon off. Boss was not happy, but I don’t know what was said. I doubt it was pleasant.
Unfortunately, no photographs exist of this little stunt, but I bet it was a sight to see. 😊
I did ride the mare once more when everyone was on holiday, and I was the only one at the stud. She was still a pleasant ride.

7 thoughts on ““This wasn’t on my bucket list…””

  1. This is great, makes me feel very nostalgic. I used to work at a stud farm when I was young and it’s just so true about not having the tech back then to record all the shenanigans you’d get up to. You had to make snap decisions as there were no phones – Wonderful story 🙂

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