Settle in for the ride people, because we have just arrived at the train station of TIGGER. There’s only one way I can write this one, and that’s to tell the actual story………..They say all the best horses are sold by word of mouth and my one in a million Octavius of Neika was no exception.
Kate Nash, Laura Darvall and myself were sitting in the tie ups at Marine Park with our obligatory cups of tea and chocolate biscuits, shooting the breeze and discussing horses, fashion, the meaning of life, you know, all the big stuff. Anyway, Tigger came up in conversation and I remember saying to Katie how I WISHED I could have a grand prix schoolmaster like Tigger. Sometimes you put something out into the Universe and the Universe does you a solid. A few days later Katie came running up to me, “You won’t believe it!” “Whaaaaaaat?????” I said. “Liz rang me last night and the Wright-Smiths want to sell Tigger because Liz is going to Germany to buy a new horse and they aren’t doing anything with him”. “Oh my Gaaaawd, arrrghhh, don’t tell anyone, can I afford him, how old is he now, he’s a fixer upperer isn’t he, I still haven’t sold my other horse, how am I going to break this to Michael A Tweedie, when can we go and look at him, Oh my Gaaaaaawd, arrrrghhhh?” Anyway, the words tumbled out of my mouth, you get the idea.
Katie spoke to Liz and she said a. He’s at Kim’s b. We will already be in Aachen and c. You know where everything is, just get him out of the paddock and saddle him up. It was good fortune that the Wright-Smiths were in Germany because the first time I rode him I CRIED. So, LUCKY because if they had have seen that, I never would have been able to negotiate on the price.
Tigger was clever like Teddy but he was also POWERFUL, powerful in a way I had only felt once before (a stallion at Jamie Coman’s called Beretta, also an unforgettable ride, but I’ll have to save the OMG, I’m riding a stallion story for another day). So, the first day I rode Tigger, to be completely honest, I didn’t feel like I could even ride his basic gaits, but he felt amazing and I was DETERMINED that I was going to be able to ride him for the following reasons; 1. I am a normal person and I do not have like a billion dollars so therefore 2. There is no other grand prix horse in my future. So, the news was broken to Michael A Tweedie, it was love. Luckily, my husband is not just a truly wonderful vet and my soul mate, he is also a dyed in the wool, Irish, HORSEMAN so you don’t need to explain the meaning of ‘good horse’ to him, he just KNOWS. So, at the grand old age of 21, Tigger came home with us to show me the ropes and show me the ropes he did.
Under the patient tutelage of Kate Nash we rode tempe changes, half pass zig zags, pirouettes (the most fun dressage movement ever invented) and my very first piaffe and passage. It was a wild ride, so many new discoveries in such a short time, every day was truly a gift. The most important lesson I learned was that horses that make it to grand prix don’t get there because they are QUIET. There was never a bad ride, only a challenge and upon returning to the tie ups after a session, I would be like NAMASTE BITCHES.
At home, Tigger was a determined old rascal and if he got adrenalised on the way back to his paddock he took off like a ROCKET (he got away from ALL of us) and you basically had to cover your eyes until he calmed down and stopped piaffing and passaging and generally turning the whole place into an upside down shambles.
In competition, our most memorable test was my first Advanced test (it was at Balmoral), I wore a pair of second hand tails and cantered up the centre line thinking this is it, I have just exceeded every expectation I ever had of myself. On that glorious day, I managed to crack 60% under Adam Reiss. That might not seem like much to some but I GRAFTED for that 60% and the vino that Julia Battams poured for Katie and I after she caught us hooh haahing and wallopping in front of the results board tasted pretty amazing.
If you asked me to name Tigger’s best quality, it would absolutely be his work ethic. Every day when you put your foot in the stirrup, Tigger put his ears forward and basically said what do you want from me, I’ll give you 150%. If you told me to name one thing that Tigger gave me, it would be self-belief. He showed me I could rise to a challenge and he changed me as a rider.
Schoolmasters like Tigger are a gift, but they are also a responsibility. As much as they give, it’s up to you as a rider to know when to stop taking and there came a time when Tigger told me without words (or without holding his leg in the air because he retired metronome sound) that it was time to hang up my spurs. His inflammatory bowel disease was becoming increasingly difficult to manage and we made the decision to palliate him and give him the retirement he deserved.
Making that decision was easy as a vet but hard as a rider and I took it HARD. I sobbed, I took up running and I’m pretty sure I went through the seven stages of grief. There were two things that made it better, Michael A Tweedie because he picks me up off the floor like no-one else and the knowledge that I knew I made the most of every second I spent riding that horse.
Tigger had a wonderful retirement until the sunny day when Michael A Tweedie helped him find his way across to the other side (he’s one of the good guys, who never lets you down and steps up for all the hard jobs) and we all said goodbye. It might seem like this story has a sad ending but I don’t think it does, it’s a story of friendship and love, of a horse well loved and a horsey life well lived.