The midas touch - full story
Midas was my second horse and we bought him over the winter of my 14th year. My Mother was determined to find a very good schoolmaster for me. Although Zac, my first horse was excellent on the flat, being a Medium Dressage horse, he was not a reliable jumper.
My Mother had seen Midas advertised in Horse and Hound and was convinced on paper that he would be the right animal. He had been successful eventing with intermediate points and had been on a Junior Team and competed at Boekelo. He was a crib biter so he was within our price range. I don’t remember well going to try him out in a livery yard near Henley on Thames, but Mum informs me he was the only horse we saw at that time and she was doubly convinced when she saw him that he was exactly what she was looking for. Apparently, Mary Jane, his owner had broken her leg badly and he had brought back her nerve. His owners were very fond of him so wanted to come to Maidwell to see where he would live and approve his new home. They were happy so we had Midas. Several years later Mary Jane came to live with us at Maidwell for a season and brought 4 horses with her to event.
Midas was about 16 hands, a bit top-heavy, lacked some bone below the knee and had great big flat feet that were prone to corns.
Midas and Zac with my hard-working friends Rachael and Alysia
His crib-biting never caused him a problem, (I find it does occasionally with some horses), and no one else ever copied him. He was a quietly spoken horse, gentlemanly and well brought up! He did however buck quite hard if he wanted too, I believe he gave his previous owner much to hold onto. He never seemed to cause me much trouble except once soon before I was to sell him. I remember on my virtual daily crossing of the main road, I had asked him to wait for traffic and he went into a frenzy of bucks, quite surprised me at the time, had a close shave with a couple of cars! An occasion previous to this was when my brother, trying to impress yet another girlfriend put her on Midas. We thought he would be the most suitable as he was so easy. But no, while she was getting to know him in the ‘jumping paddock’, he bucked her clean off, with utter astonishment and cries from us, “well he has never done that before”!! This happened on several occasions with several of my horses until my brother finally gave up as his love life started to suffer. The last occasion was a very pretty little girl who we were told was a very good dressage rider. I thought a little horse I had at that time called Topper, would be suitable. He was a bit of a nappy sort and I seldom could get him to do anymore than the bare minimum but nevertheless I was very fond of him. So, she was legged up in the indoor riding school (we had learnt our lesson by then) reassured that he would not conjure up more than a steady walk, trot and canter. This pretty young thing arrived looking very neat and sexy in her fancy dressage kit, long leather riding boots and a very expensive schooling whip. On she got, and Topper and she adorned the school. I was riding another horse at the time and my brother and mother sat on the school chair to watch. The poor girl, I am sure must have felt most under pressure. This fact, coupled probably with the expensive long whip, might have triggered some long buried inspiration from Topper, who seemed to get a little agitated and when in trot started to go along with more spring than usual. I was impressed. Then the spring turned to a quickened tempo and trot soon became canter and my mouth dropped to witness Topper hitting off the sides of the indoor school faster than he had ever gone before or since. This was most alarming, as it was clear the poor girl was completely out of control and so it seemed was Topper. I tried to head him off with my stead and grab his reins but with no joy. Until, my brother, with a surge of masculine prowess, leapt out in front of the wild beast like Superman or the Milk Tray man and amongst some dust, tamed and halted him. That was the end of free girlfriend rides.
Topper cross country schooling with me
Back to Midas, as I said, he was a quiet soul and somewhat lacked character. But he was a great competitive horse. He would just consistently reproduce what was needed to always be in the ribbons. He gave me much success. He was the horse that made the Pytchley Pony Club notice me as a member! Very soon I was doing team training and was made a member of the Event Team. It was wonderful being part of a Team. Midas was always reliable and I was very proud to be the first winner of the Pytchley cup for the highest placed Event team member at the Area Trials. We won it again the following year. The third year was not be, as he got lymphangitis 2 days before the Trials and had to be withdrawn. I remember being very ungracious at the time as I would have dearly loved to have won it a third time. My friend, Lucy Underwood won it on her lovely mare, and it was very well deserved.
The second year I went to Lars Sederholm, I took Midas. Lars remembered the horse from being on a Junior Team and singled him out to give him credit to the rest of the students, which was very nice. I came on leaps and bounds that occasion and shortly after I left, entered the brilliant PC event, Aynho, which was run by Mr Lawrence. Aynho was ahead of its time, being well run with excellent XC courses, very educational. I entered Midas, Zac and my old pony Kerry and had a clean sweep of prizes. I was in my heyday then, I would overhear fellow competitors groaning when they read out that I was in their class on Midas. This as I have said elsewhere was a very short lived notoriety but was fun while it lasted; they say everyone has their 5 minutes!!
Here is a photo of Aynho several years earlier, myself, Mum, by brother and his pony then – Kerry. Kerry was a real character. He was Connemara and extremely wide! He was a very good sort and jumped well up to a certain width. I had a couple of great friends who loved horses who would come up at weekends and we would have many larks. My poor friends were also put firmly to work by my mother and often I, weeding the gravel yard was their favourite job...not! My life long friend Rachael’s definite favourite was Kerry. She was absolutely devoted to him. Kerry was quite a scream. One occasion that comes straight to mind, was when we had French students staying over the summer. I took them out on long hacks. Francois rode Kerry, again she loved him too. We went out on an epic ride, I happened to turn round just at the point that Francois and Kerry disappeared! My guiding was not up to scratch and I had allowed them both to walk straight into a massive horse sized ditch that was overgrown with grass. Knowing how wise horses are on such occasions, I thought it hysterical that Kerry had just supposed that was what was wanted!!
Me on Kerry in earlier years
Midas and I won many PC open classes. One I remember well was an Oxfordshire PC Open event. It was particularly large and had some very good competition, I was very pleased to beat them all. It was at this event I saw the first copy of the Eventing Magazine. I was very excited to see a magazine which was dedicated to the sport that I had chosen.
Midas and I winning the Oxfordshire Open Horse Trials
We knew nothing about BHS (as it was then) eventing. We were encouraged by another mother on the PC circuit to try for the Junior Teams, which would mean competing at ‘adult’ events. So somehow, somewhere I found a list of BHS events (no computers then either)!! The first one that looked suitable was Blair Castle, I rang the lovely secretary and asked if she could send me a schedule!! She very kindly and patiently told me that I would have to register my horse and myself with the BHS first and they would send me entry forms to fill in and then I needed to send to her. Not fully realising my ignorance I thanked her and contacted the BHS! By the time we had registered, I no longer had time to enter Blair Castle so entered Witton Castle instead.
Having turned 15 (the youngest you could compete BE then), we set off in the Autumn of 1985 to our first ‘big’ event, Witton Castle Junior Novice 2 day event, with steeplechase and roads and tracks, (an Autumn event put on to have a look at the young event riders for the following year). It was a real adventure to drive for 5 hours up north to my first proper event. We got there and all the young junior heroes of the time were there as it was a selection observation event. Typing away here almost 30 years later I can still smell the atmosphere, the excitement and anticipation is very memorable and powerful. The excitement of the briefing was soon dampened when everyone took to vehicles to view the Roads and Tracks and mum and I took to our feet as we knew no one! Nevertheless, I always walked the R and T’s at every 2/3 day event as you got a thorough look at the terrain, best way to educate yourself to keep you horse sound during these phases.
We were very lucky to have the use of Sylvia’s horsebox, a wonderful revamped Bedford TK. It had a Luton and was herringbone partitioned for 4 horses, rear and side ramps. We would make a living in the first half of the back by putting the partition straight across. We had an army camp fire and camp bed for Mum, and I would climb up on the Luton for my bed, we had a couple of deck chairs and a plastic garden table, all of which could be folded away during the day, to make this area the tack room. We took a gas fire for heat; this of course created much condensation on the metal walls but it was better than nothing and masses of duvets kept the worst of the British eventing weather off us at night. Mum and I found the whole experience great fun and obviously very character building. We travelled and stabled over at events like this for the following 15 years until we bought a lorry with built in living (what a treat and still is). We had some dodgy moments, like when the camp fire, cooking baked beans on the floor of the lorry, managed to set some hay alight that was the other side of the partition, much excitement later we ate our beans.
Witton Castle went well, I was thrilled to have a great ride cross country early in the morning with a very low fog over the course. The 2 day ran with dressage on the first day and the endurance (roads and tracks, steeplechase and xc) on the second day with the show jumping in the late afternoon of the same day. I remember Midas being quite tired in the SJ but the whole experience of my first adult event was enthralling.
Midas and I storm across country efficiently at Witton Castle, galloping through the low fog
In those days there were 2 distinct seasons: spring and autumn, with a marked break over June and July. It was customary to give your event horses 2 clear breaks. So after Witton, Midas had his Autumn holiday and then came in at Christmas to start a 16 week program of getting fit. At a young age in those days one learnt how to get a horse properly fit, still being closely linked to the army regimes and the majority of the horsey fraternity hunting. The art of getting a horse fit has seemed to become lost in many quarters these days not helped by the roads becoming so busy and the ‘invention’ of outdoor menages.
I was seriously excited to get my ‘soon to be’ Junior team horse fit for the Spring season of Junior open intermediate trials (this is all a 15 year old had to compete at in those days). I would get up at 5 in the morning to take Midas out up the road, timing my walking and trotting, with only a hand held torch to warn the traffic and to show him the way. Dreaming of representing my country inspired me and drove me to incredible dedication, withstanding dark, cold, wet mornings. We also had the very fortunate addition of the indoor school with lights, to school and do bareback canter work in a head collar. This was something that I had learnt at Lars Sederholm the previous summer, an excellent way to improve your seat and give the horse a break from the saddle and bridle.
We had been told by the previous owners that Midas was not quite up to Intermediate, saying he could either do the speed or the widths but not both. To be honest, he could do neither and he had a substantial phobia of big trakehners. There is a marked difference between a novice and intermediate ditch, most horses with a ditch phobia can be taught and relaxed up to and including Novice ditches but if he has a true phobia, an intermediate ditch will start to find him out. I remember Weston Park JOIT well. The saw bench under the trees was maximum width and rather took my breath away and my mother spent much time with her measuring tape! This was then followed at the bottom of the hill by a very large log over a good old fashioned ditch. Midas struggled over the saw bench and neither of us was in a good frame of mind coming to the trakehner. I am sure that we had a stop at it and slipped on the way in (maybe not?) but I certainly clearly remember him jumping it very badly, in that frozen lack of effort way a horse will when he is genuinely frightened, clambered over it and somewhat landed in the ditch on the far side. We stayed together and I kicked on in true British eventing style (of that time). We completed the cross country somewhat bewildered. I realised then that my dreams of the last 6 months may not come to fruition. We definitely did a few more JOIT’s but I seem to have blanked them from my mind, there must be a very good reason for this!!
Midas and I struggle over the final fence at Weston Park JOIT
Dear Midas continued to PC event very well and gave me much experience and success and I carried on with him into my 17th year. Our team was thrilled to be asked to Show Jump at Burghley Horse Trials. This was such an honour. The Pytchley hadn’t been asked for many years. I was so exciting to actually ride there during the main competition. The atmosphere is palpable and as a very young rider you are filled with the expectation that very soon you will be riding there again with the big boys and maybe picking up that trophy!
With our team, checking out how the course was riding and an extremely faded photo of Midas jumping the planks with Burghley house in the background.
But then came the time to try to move on to a horse that may take me further and therefore he needed to be a schoolmaster for someone else. Also at this time I was working in a pub as a waitress. The manageress’s son had birds of prey and I bought my first Barn Owl off him. He was about 5 and had been bred in captivity. He was most beautiful and he was very tame and soon loved me very much. Loved me to the exclusion of everyone else!! He spent a lot of time in the house and would terrorise the poor dogs and tried to make nests in Mum’s hair until he dug his claws in one day. It hurt my mother so much, that is sheer instant reaction she slapped him as he proudly alighted on the back of the chair and as owls are just bundles of feathers he was sent flying across the kitchen floor! Well he was most indignant and neither he nor my mother ever forgave each other! But I had a wonderful relationship with him, he was just divine. He loved being stroked and scratched much like a cat and would gently chuckle and talk to me.
We advertised Midas and we had some interest. Someone from America was very interested and really wanted to buy him. But before they were due to come the following weekend, I found Midas in the field looking very strange. It appeared that he could only eat the very tops of the long grass. I brought him in and indeed he could not lower his nose below his knees. I put his food and water at a suitable height. I was very concerned that he had tetanus as he showed positive to the tetanus test. We had to wait until the next day for the Vet. The senior Vet came out. To my absolute horror he tried to manually bend his neck to the side. I had tears in my eyes seeing the distress my poor horse was in and the stain was bringing his front legs off the floor. He let Midas go and turned to me very gravely. He explained that in all his years of being a Veterinary Surgeon, he had only seen this once before – a broken neck...
We were booked to take Midas for an X-ray many weeks ahead to confirm the diagnosis. Again in those days, things like x-raying the horse’s neck were a very difficult procedure. Midas was given Finadine, but his discomfort seemed to progress very quickly. His medication was increased to a maximum level. Shortly, he started to get a ‘dropped elbow’ on his near fore. This is usually when the radial nerve is impinged to the point the horse’s front leg muscles become unable to receive information and is paralysed. As this leg was hanging, all the pressure was on the other front leg. Because we had such a long wait before he could go to the hospital, I put on a support bandage on his other leg.
It soon became apparent that we would never be able to get him in a lorry. So it was time to experience having my first horse put down. It is always the most ghastly decision any horse owner has to experience. The waiting is the worst part of the whole thing. So one day I woke and knew the hunt was coming that afternoon. I was working in a factory at the time, I remember well spending all morning endlessly folding ESSO T-shirts and putting them in bags, knowing what was to happen in the afternoon.
My mother came to pick me up. I got in the car and we quietly set off for home. After a while my mother said she had something to tell me.. “darling, I am afraid, I found your owl dead in his cage this morning”.
We got home and I went in to see Midas. He was such a noble and good horse, he so didn’t deserve this end. I took his rugs off and gave him a nice groom; my brush strokes getting slower and slower as my hands started to shake. For some reason, like one does on these occasions, I thought he should have his bandage taken off before he was shot. I put his head collar on, and hiding my face in his neck and keeping my eyes cast down so no one could see, I saw the tendons of his leg that had just been unsupported. The fibres started to ping, I saw the point at which a tendon breaks down.
The huntsman arrived and I lead him out. He had to rock back onto his hindquarters, rear up and take a leap forwards. Slowly and bravely, he took these little leaps out to the muckheap. The huntsman did not want me there and I was led away.
I would like to thank the great work that the Hunt do for us horse lovers, their efficiency in ending the suffering of a horse that I have experienced has always been excellent. Being horsemen they manage the heartbreaking process it in a way that the horse is unaware.
We had an autopsy done on Midas and they never found an obvious broken neck.
Darling Midas was a super horse who I will never forget.