On Friday, Last Thyme turns two years old and this, for me, is a milestone. My long equestrian career has been cursed with misfortune when it comes to achieving dreams - like my top performing and wonderfully bred, the mare being tipped over by the trainer while on a lunge and fracturing her neck - like being beaten to a National Title by 1.1 - like the long-awaited foal breaking its leg at the age of six days. As in all things, there are highs and lows and I keep being reminded that it is a continually turning circle but, with an established history of standing up and falling down, standing up and falling down, getting Last Thyme to a two-year-old is worth celebrating. Last Thyme has his name for a reason because he was the very last time I was going to attempt to breed my own horse.
Last Thyme's father, Nugget of Aird, is a huge, eighteen hands high, black, Clydesdale with four generously fluffy socks and with the most wonderful temperament, one could ever wish for. He stands very aloof, as stallions do, and when he moves the imagery of knights and jousting etherise around him. From a distance he will spy you, raise himself to twenty hands and begin slowly to lift each massive hoof into a forward movement. In a remarkably short time, this movement has gathered enough impetus to resemble the force of a tsunami and you stand, cowering helplessly, with the sound of the thunder accompanying each footfall growing louder and louder as he nears. The first time I experienced his approach I was standing in an open paddock, alongside the stud owner, and my heart rate began to match Nugget's footfalls as I furtively looked for cover.
An authoritative comment came from the owner, "He's fine - don't move - stand still!"
And I did, partly through fear and partly through awe at this magnificent beast bearing down on us. With incredible balance and agility, the tidal wave halted in front of us and Nugget lowered his head, gobbled the treat being held out, and then offered his ears for a scratch.
I had two thoroughbred mares I wanted to put in foal to a heavier horse and the year before I had seen Nugget in the middle of the Christmas Parade, towing a brightly painted wagon covered with things that waved and clanged and yelled and danced. As he passed by me, his hindquarters captured my attention - big, round, well proportioned, and strong.
I decided then and there, "That's the bum for my girls."
I wanted to breed something that was not going to be weak behind and, as Nugget's rump carried on up the Avenue, the mares had their futures planned. But one broke her leg before she got to stud and the other proved sterile. The next mare I had to stand alongside Nugget was a big-boned and very elegant-looking grey with a gentle nature and an elevated action. She dropped twins at ten months, both dead! The following year the same thing - dead twins at ten months, despite being scanned and checked at the correct time.
I had run out of mares and the breeding venture was put on hold until a friend offered the use of a broodmare she had on her property. The mare was big (seventeen hands) and was from one of the best bloodlines the country could offer, but she had never conceived since losing a foal in a very difficult birth several years before. She was being used for light hacking but was surplus to requirements for a couple of years. I was told by a stud master, who knew the mare, that she would never get in foal again and I knew she had been sent to some very expensive studs with no results. But Nugget was different - he had his mares as a herd and everything was done as nature intended. I had nothing to lose. It took a while for the mare's hormones to return to normal, which is why Last Thyme was such a late foal, but the situation obviously suited her and, despite being sent off to an exclusive stud after Last Thyme was born, she has not been in foal since. My handsome horse standing out in the paddock is probably her last time too.
So far, Last Thyme's upbringing has been copybook. I knew he would be a big animal and, therefore, he has been handled since day one. There haven't been many problems and, just like his Mum and his Dad, he has been pretty laid back about things. He has the usual sort of attitude youngsters have ... "Good morning everybody. What can I wreck today?" or, "That looks tasty and chewable." or, "This would be much better stuffed into the water trough!" And he has had the odd mishap because of his inquisitiveness ... "How far can I pull this gate with my teeth. Oh, no - it's coming over on top of me!" or, "I wonder what happens if I lift my hoof up really, really high and paw the hay net? Oh - I think I'll wait patiently for someone to rescue me." But it is his sheer size that causes difficulties. A little while ago this was illustrated very clearly to me when he decided to give his tail a rub against the gate in the cowshed. Now, this is the gate that has held vets, vet assistants, willing helpers, and me as a one-hundred-and-ten-kilo Mrs. Pig was trussed up! This is the gate that held the girls as they had their new, legally required, earrings put in! This is the gate that has regularly survived ten hungry calves charging the calfateria hanging on it all at once! Last Thyme wasn't being malicious or pushy - he just quietly backed up to it, leaned his bottom onto it, and snapped it in half on the first rub!
With great 'fear and tremble' I made the decision to send him to boarding school for his first lungeing and mouthing lessons. If we were going to have an argument I knew I didn't have the facilities at Middelmost to be able to make a point of showing him who's boss and, if the time ever came for him to be pushed through a little confrontation, I didn't want him to ever get the opportunity of understanding that I am no match for his size. So off we went in the truck - Last Thyme with his overnight bag and Luke for some company on the trip. There had been a fantail in the house a couple of weeks ago and I regretted my superstitious mind as Luke and I returned home leaving Last Thyme in someone else's care, but what will be, will be, and I crossed my fingers.
It was the right decision. Every day for a week I popped back in the car and we were able to work together with experienced support, excellent equipment, and in a busy environment, which gave Last Thyme lots of opportunities to see a different side of life. He took it all in his stride and charmed everyone who handled him. During the week he became a grown-up boy, accepting the bridle and side reins and becoming receptive to all of the voice commands required for effective lungeing. Also during the week, a chance arose to sell Luke and I thought it best if Last Thyme came home to an empty paddock. As a schoolmaster for a gangly youngster, Luke had been invaluable, but it was time for me to concentrate on Last Thyme alone and Luke now has a wonderful retirement home in an approved riding centre, where he is being loved to bits by a group of beginner riders. He was finding Medium Dressage work a little tough with me and he will enjoy being a Prelim horse again.
With the fabulously warm and calm days now hovering over Middelmost, the levels in the milking bucket are rising as the girls are no longer battling with the weather. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could lie about in the sun all day and have my productivity improve!