Susan Lyon-Heap
I was born in South Africa, and lived in Egypt where my father worked for Shell Oil. We saw beautiful Arab horses, but owning a pony was a child’s dream. I now live in rural Cheshire and the dream was realised in multiple terms! I have a BHSAI qualification, and am a former Pony Club instructor, and selector and spotter for the British Junior Event Team. I have produced event horses to International level including Badminton and Burghley. I hunted with the Flint and Denbigh hounds in the days when ladies wore bowler hats!

My winning racehorse Mister Tiger, is being re-trained for eventing. He is registered with the ROR - British Horseracing Retraining of Racehorses. His progress will feature in my Haynet blog.  

I have had a booklet published illustrated by myself, charting a year in the fields and garden around our house, assisted by Jack Russell terriers - Pickle and Beetle. I am a member of the Countryside Alliance.

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The Thrills and the Awful Spills of Equestrian Sport by Susie Lyon-Heap

I begin this blog on rather a serious note. After four successful BE events, jockey Katie Ayres and I were looking forward to my former race horse Mister Tiger’s next competition, at Somerford Park on May 20th. Somerford Park in Cheshire is a brilliant event, efficiently run with well built, innovative X country fences.

However just a week before, Katie had a horrible fall at Chatsworth International, and was rushed to hospital with a broken back. This happened at the end of the course, the second/third to last fence. Katie was riding her own horse who is experienced. Thanks to the expertise of the surgeons, Katie had a successful nine hour operation, and is now recovering at the new Yorkshire branch of the Injured Jockey’s Fund rehabilitation centre - a fantastic place.

Equestrian accidents can happen catching a chunky cob in a field of loose horses, to competing on a fit horse at Badminton or the Cheltenham Festival. But it is that element of danger that is a major part of the attraction. It is the winning of trust with an animal of such superior strength and speed that is so challenging. We borrow that speed when we ride them, and in the days when ploughing was done with horses, we guided that strength to the way we wanted. Little girls love to groom their ponies, spending hours brushing tangled manes and tails, washing the white bits on legs, and oiling hooves. Boys may well disappear on their bikes, but quickly turn up again, when ready for the off on a hunting day. Risk or danger is far from their minds. Many of us have had our foot trodden on by half a ton of horse, or our nose bashed by a tossing head, or crashed jumping a big hedge out hunting, but do we give up that sense of adventure and the allure of our four legged friends? No - or rarely.

It is 28 years since I watched my daughter Polly Williamson nee Lyon complete one of the fastest rounds of the day at Badminton, earning her a place on the British squad, and 22 years since my elder daughter Tory Jowett also nee Lyon, win five Ladies’ open point-to-points. Watching is agonising but you never really thought about the danger, it was more the dread of things going wrong after perhaps months or years of striving and expectation. Disappointment can be a bitter experience, but it can also be turned into an opportunity and a lesson for the future. Perseverance and the willingness to learn from mistakes - and perhaps a little bit of luck, are the keys to success. This could be a win at the local riding club, passing the post first at a pony race, or the glittering experience of competing at Badminton or the Foxhunters at Aintree. The thrill of ones own personal achievement can take you soaring like a bird in the sky. It is addictive. No wonder we want the experience over and over again.

Below is my impressionistic painting of Bechers Brook at Aintree, demonstrating the thrill and risk of jumping at speed

Striving for safety by the governing bodies of equestrian sports is a continuing operation. There are frangible pins on fences at horse trials. Body protectors that automatically inflate during a horse fall. Crash hats are worn by the majority out hunting. Jockeys are banned from re-mounting and continuing a race after a fall. Paramedics as well as specialised life saving equipment, have been in attendance at race meetings and horse trials for many years now. But these and other safety measures have evolved over the years. There are pictures of Sheila Wilcox who won Badminton three times and died on June 9th aged 81, which show her flying round the X country with just a velvet peaked hat without even a chin strap.

On holiday in Southern Ireland in the 1960s I recall galloping full pelt through the surf, and across the sands of Glenbeigh on a hireling, without a care in the world or a hat on my head, and the following week hauling on the reins behind a bolting horse between the shafts of a travelling caravan - also hired, as it swayed alarmingly like something out of The Lone Ranger, along the Irish lanes, with my husband dashing along behind, trying to catch up. Fortunately in those days motorised traffic in that part of County Cork was nearly non-existent. It was only when we returned the horse and caravan, that we discovered we had given Bridie - as our chestnut friend was called, four times the amount of oats that we should have done!

Time and experience teach us knowledge and awareness which can help in avoiding horse accidents, many of which are not serious, and par for the course. And there is always tennis - although you might have got heat stroke if playing, or even watching at Wimbledon last week!

Badminton seems ages ago now, but I did record it, and had another quick look again, and was reminded what a spectacle it is. The television presentation has got better and better with the years, with magnificent views of the park, and the great yellow stoned pile that is Badminton House. After 35 attempts, Andrew Nicholson’s win was a perfect example of gritty perseverance, and many years of experience.

Note the tractors removing the gravel, and preparing the hard surface in front of Badminton House below, for the veterinary trot up of competing horses before the competition.

I photographed these swans flying serenely above the X country course at Badminton, unaware of the drama and excitement going on beneath them.

I am now looking for a replacement jockey for Mister Tiger for the remainder of the event season.

 

by Susie Lyon-Heap

Remembering a Horse In A Million by Susie Lyon-Heap

I hope the following will be of interest and encouragement to anyone engaged in the challenge of re-training a racehorse. We have turned a page with Mister Tiger since I last wrote nearly 8 weeks ago. The house is not exactly showered with red rosettes, but he and jockey Katie Ayres have completed 3 BE ODEs well. There has only been one glitch. Tiger was very pleased with himself, with a leading score going into the X country at Stafford. Galloping through the finish on the button, he was looking forward to a rosette - perhaps a red one. Unfortunately his jockey had forgotten to tell him to jump fence 13! Poor Katie was mortified. But there is always another day, and I was delighted with his first event since his racing days.

Eland Lodge and Kelsall followed with 32/30 dressage, one down show jumping and wonderful X country. Such a thrill watching this last and best phase when they go well. Off to Bradwall this W/E, and hopefully a clear show jumping. To sum up, it is this phase that is proving to be the trickiest. Jumping coloured poles in an arena does not come naturally to a race horse, and we are having to work at this. I would say he is ready to move from BE90 to BE100 X country, but we will hold back till the first two phases improve.

 

The grass is growing, but this week has been so cold, I have put a rug back on Tiger’s mother Tootsie, mentioned in my last blog. She is 32 years old, and I noticed she was quidding her haylage with a greater significance than in previous years. There are not many teeth left. However I discovered a feed called Simple Systems which consists of grass in cubes. Soaked for an hour or two, it bulks out into a mash. She took to it right away. Her normal feed through the winter is damp pony nuts, sugar beet and boiled barley. In the cooking barley go chopped cabbage leaves, vegetable tops, and crushed egg shells. She eats it all up. The difference in her condition since including the grass nuts as a separate feed was amazing. Below is a picture taken after feeding this for two weeks, at the end of March, when she normally looks her worst after the winter. Although she has a stable to shelter in, she prefers living out in a rug (notice the mud where she has rolled) whatever the weather, and if she thinks I am going to shut her in for whatever reason, she gallops away bucking, and refusing to be caught. The only time she really wants to come in is to avoid the flies in the summer.

I was chuffed to see a letter of mine published in Horse & Hound on 30th March, as letter of the week, and the customary bottle of Champagne duly arrived. The letter was in response to an article the previous week, referring to former eventer Daisy Berkeley’s memories of good advice given to her by Lucinda Green, about balance and position. Lucinda was our family’s inspiration when we first joined the Pony Club. She was outstanding in the X country phase, and always with an eye on the clock, never wasted time. In my letter I emphasised the importance of a firm lower leg on the horse’s side when jumping X country fences. This theory also applies to jump jockeys. Watching Ruby Walsh land over a chase fence, his lower leg is secure, but also ready to shoot forward in case of a peck.

 

The following week - 6th April, Horse and Hound published an article on horses who took their riders from ‘Pony Club to the Top’. Included in that article was a dun horse we owned called Highland Road known as Bumble in the stable. He was one eighth Highland pony and seven eighths TB, and took my daughter Polly Williamson from Pony Club to four European gold medals at junior and young rider level, and then Badminton and selection for the senior squad. A horse in a million.

 

Below are my illustrations of Highland Road at Badminton, and with Young Rider team members William Fox-Pitt, Pippa Funnell and Susanna Mcaire.

Dressage has tended to dominate in eventing at the top level in the last few years, but there is evidence that the X country is taking priority again - as it should. Badminton is next weekend. With a new course designer Eric Winter, I am looking forward to spending the W/E in front of the TV. In my next blog I hope to make some intelligent and informed comments!

Spring Planning With Work Ahead by Susie Lyon-Heap

Multiple winner THISTLECRACK is out of next month’s blue riband of jump racing - the Cheltenham Gold Cup. These were the headlines of sports pages last Wednesday 22nd February. What a gutting blow for all his connections. With the brilliant, flamboyant jumper favourite to win, his Jockey Tom Scudamore described it as ‘the biggest sickener I have ever suffered in racing.’

 

How familiar this must sound to anyone involved with jump racing. Owner, trainer, jockey, breeder or groom. Reading the reports, we nod sagely remembering our own experiences with that beautiful beast, the thoroughbred racehorse. The Cheltenham Festival like the Grand National attracts the elite, the champions, the most famous equine athletes; but those who have waited months to see their special horse run at its’ first point to point, will understand Scudamore’s bitter disappointment too.

 

Mister Tiger is a horse I bred, still own and is currently being re-trained to go eventing. I say re-trained because he began his competitive career as a race horse. His mother Thamesdown Tootsie is still with me - she is 32 years old! Tiger went into training with jockey/trainer Sam Allwood at his yard near Whitchurch. Sam had been champion amateur twice in the West Country while based with Robert Alner. I wanted the best jockey I could find for my horse, and with that in his CV, I reckoned Sam was the one. Racing in point-to-points was my preference for Tiger. You can watch your horse without travelling to the other end of the country and meet like minded friends. Winning at a point-to-point is however fiercely fought, with several top class horses.

 

But what is Mister Tiger up to now? Like Thistlecrack, Tiger strained a tendon. We had had some life enhancing experiences on the race course with him, and now I decided his legs may be less vulnerable eventing. My vet was sceptical so I could be right or wrong, time will tell. Tiger was given platelet rich plasma by Centrifugation. He was sedated, his leg clipped of hair for sterile reasons, and blood was taken from his neck and injected into the site of injury. He behaved well and stood still. This was vital as Campbell Thompson at Nantwich vets, explained that injecting into exactly the right spot was intricate and crucial. He came home to me from Sam’s, and as recommended by Campbell, he spent a month in a fenced off level space of approximately three by eight yards, with access to his stable. Every day I picked grass for him, and he had plenty of carrots. He was a horse still racing fit and full of protein. I wanted to make sure this was flushed out of his system. Gradually his pen was enlarged into his paddock, little by little as the weeks passed. The object was not to give him space to gallop or canter, but enough to walk about and exercise himself. We used electric fencing which he knew about, and every week this was dismantled and re-erected on a fresh patch of grass. I kept him on his own away from his mother Tootsie - in the other paddock, so he looked to me as his companion and was easier to handle on my own. He was as good as gold and soon settled into a routine. Two light feeds - non-heating cubes and bran am and pm, in at night, in his pen during the day, and whinnying to Gary Hanmers pointers as they passed along the lane on exercise. This picture shows him about 3 weeks after his last race, so just beginning to ‘let down’ and become rounder. He has naturally well sprung ribs and a deep girth for a smallish horse.

 

Tiger had nearly 12 months off. He has now been in work for 12 months with eventer Katy Ayres and point-to-point jockey Rob Jarrett, who have a mixed yard of breakers, pointers, hunters and eventers. Katy started hacking at walk, building up to trot and short, steady canters on good ground. When he was ready for work in the school we used ground poles spaced for trotting with one stride in between to start with, and then no strides. He learnt very quickly, and soon began to drop his head and stretch down over the poles. We took him to a dressage competition early on, the test was simple - just walk and trot. He collected a third rosette. Tiger has three good paces, particularly in canter which is so important for jumping. He did however find canter on the left rein difficult to start with, falling out onto his right shoulder. We practised many turns on the forehand, leg yielding, and half halts. Tiger really enjoys his work, and we have been careful not to pressurise him and to keep him relaxed. His jump has always been good, but of course he was used to jumping out of gallop and flat. Out came the poles once more and grids. Again he has learnt quickly and does not like to touch them - making an audible grunt when he does, and jumps high next time if he knocks one. Sam hunted him and took him on cross country rides as a young horse, so cross country schooling has come easily, he has jumped ditches, corners, banks and trotted into water with relish.

 

I understand writing a blog is meant to be in the form of a diary of current happenings, so going into detail of Tiger’s past golden glories and heart stopping scares on the race course, are recorded in my book ‘Top Hats and Silks’ to be published later this year. These are unique and memorable experiences which many people will associate with, whatever their equestrian involvement.

 

Katy is doing a marvellous job with Tiger, helped by Rob. The eventing season has started. I must register him and get planning. He has completed two BE 90 Arena competitions - just one fence down in each. Will I experience the thrill of watching my lovely horse galloping and jumping once again? Dare I hope he may be at Weston Park in early April?