Take a Very Good Natured Horse, Two Idiots, and a Railway Sleeper


Or Golden Sunset of Broome, which was his registered name…

…was a beautiful horse, inside and out.

He was a bright chestnut with four white socks up to his knees so exact they looked like we had stood him in a bucket of white paint.

And he had a white blaze.

He was 15.2hh, 7 years old, and a registered part-bred Arab.

You could not fault this horse. He did everything that was asked of him and was excellent at jumping and had wonderful paces. Just the perfect horse. He used to lift his legs up and throw them out and looked so gorgeous.

One day I had the brilliant idea that he would look fantastic pulling a trap. I asked my friend Billy if he would help me train him as between us I thought it would be a piece of cake. Years ago, I had spent hours and hours watching a man training horses to harness. There was never any stress involved, and it looked very calm and so easy.

He had unhandled Welsh Cobs straight off the mountain and within weeks they were calm, well-trained horses who were totally chilled out.

They had to be because they might have started their lives on the mountain with the rain and the wind in their manes, but they were going to end their lives down the pit breathing in dust and only having artificial light for vision.

That’s what happened back in the day and thankfully those days are long gone.

Horrible as it was, the ponies and horses had better working conditions than the miners as they were more valuable to the management. Vets and farriers were always on hand and they were very well fed, with comfortable stables to sleep in at the end of their shift.

I know this to be true because I had uncles who worked with them and absolutely idolized their ponies. Anyone who mistreated their pony or horse would be sacked.

Sadly, they only smelt the fresh air in the last week of July and the first week of August, known as the Miners’ fortnight.

Every year they showed it on the television as they hoisted horses out of the belly of the pit in a sling with their eyes protected from the light and they released them into a field where they would gallop around bucking, rearing, and rolling and having a great time.

Then there was Billy.

His parents were a mixture of show people and gypsies who lived very unorthodox lives. There were at least 6 children and they were quite feral. Unfortunately, they lived near my stables and they robbed us the first week we moved there.

It didn’t take long to work out who it was, but I soon got to know the family and was impressed with their knowledge of horses.

Billy was one of the good guys.

I was fully aware that there wasn’t anything too hot or heavy for them, but thankfully I was never robbed again.

So between us, we thought we’d give it a go.

We started by getting hold of a cheap Indian leather harness. We kitted out Sunny and played around until it fitted and he looked the biz, so smart. Sunny didn’t have any problems with any of that as he was such a good boy.

The next stage was long reining and that went well.

Full of confidence and thinking how clever we were we moved on to the next stage. Here we found an old railway sleeper and attached it to the harness. It all looked very professional and we were very pleased with our achievement.

So far!

We were outside the stables and the plan was to turn Sunny around to walk down the long gravel drive to the lane. At this point, the railway sleeper banged Sunny on the back leg. We had the sleeper too close and he reared up and took off.

I was holding the reins and they became tangled around my legs. Within seconds I was being dragged down the gravel drive flat on my back with my head banging up and down on the ground.

Luckily my legs became free and I was lying there with gravel burns and a sore head. I still have gravel in my knuckles today.

Sunny had disappeared. Gone!

We ran down the drive onto the lane and started looking for him. We soon found some council workers who were working on the ditches and they asked us if we were looking for a horse. They said that they tried to stop him but when they saw that bloody big sleeper flying through the air behind him they dived for cover.

On we went running and running and not being able to speak as we were gasping for air.

We arrived at the end of the lane approaching the main road and felt sick dreading what we might find. Luckily nothing, so we crossed the road into a council housing estate. Still running, sweating, and out of breath we kept going through the streets and then we stopped dead and we said in unison…

‘Oh shit’.

There were a group of people standing around a car on the road scratching their heads and looking thoroughly puzzled. There was a lot of discussion going on but nobody had a clue what had happened. The back two wheels of the car were parked ever so neatly on the railway sleeper.

We hastily abandoned the running and walked past them, heads down and anxiously avoiding any eye contact.

On and on we kept going and then we saw Sunny happily grazing on the school grounds without a care in the world.

Quickly scanning the area to see that nobody was looking we grabbed him and started back to the stables by a different route. When we found a quiet spot we checked him over and there wasn’t a mark on him except his front shoes were on sideways!

That was the first and last time I tried to train a horse to go into a harness.

We thanked our lucky stars that nobody was killed – especially the children in the infants’ school.

I learned very quickly that a true expert makes something look so easy because of their years of knowledge and experience and you don’t get all that from just watching.

I was also left very traumatized waiting week after week for that knock on the door from the police. Thankfully they didn’t come and Sunny was not worried at all about his experience.

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