There’s a very long boring story behind the reasons a lot of these pictures are such bad quality, but that’s not relevant, unfortunately I no longer have all the photos of me competing Liberty and Shearer other than poor quality phone pictures, this was a few years ago now, before phone cameras got so good!
I had taken a bit of a break from riding as a mid-teen to discover boys for a bit, but when I returned my mum had taken over the ride of Liberty so I think the idea was for me to move onto my first horse so we could ride out together. At the time Liberty was still young and fit enough and was in regular work. So we went out to find my first horse. We saw a LOT of frankly bloody awful horses. We made it clear it was a first horse for an average teenager. We saw a range of very unsuitable horses to say the least before we came across Shearer, what we didn’t know at the time is that he was probably the most unsuitable of them all!
Calarux Shearer was a 15.1 registered Welsh Section D, I think he was 11 when we bought him. He had big movement and a big jump and seemed very nice to ride when we tried him out, if anything a bit lazy and God he needed a lot of leg! Warning bells should have run when he tried to kick the vet and towed the owner into a wall when she trotted him up in the 5 stage… But he had a gorgeous eye and presence and seemed a gentleman to ride… However it took nearly 2 years of ground work training to be able to handle him in a regular headcollar and even then it was a risk to do so! If he decided he wanted to go somewhere he just went, he would trot off into the distance, pulling the handler along with him, so he had to be lead with a dually pressure halter and a stick at all times to be safe. He would also bite, A LOT. The bruises he gave people were horrific, my arms were black and blue most days, you couldn’t go near him if he had food, you had to keep an eye on him any time you were within reach. We started to suspect that he may have been cut late and it became very clear he had big problems. But we felt sorry for him and we’re too stubborn not to give it a good try first! It took a few weeks for our saddle to arrive so we just got to know him and tried to get him a bit politer in the mean time, it wasn’t until I got on we found out the real problem. I have never seen a horse buck quite like he did, and he liked to do it a lot! I hit the deck regularly, but eventually learned how to stay on it. He also refused to leave the yard, bucking on concrete and spinning. When I did get him off if I asked for canter I had to hang on to a strap for dear life while I tried to get him to stop bucking. After a couple of transitions he would calm down! He only ever bolted once and that scared the life out of me, I can deal with a lot of things but bolting is a bit of a problem for me. He started to really knock my confidence, I would shake tacking him up, regularly in floods of tears. We didn’t know what to do! We couldn’t sell him because we didn’t want him to hurt anyone else, we didn’t want him to go to a dealer to be passed around and probably shot, and that stubborn part of me didn’t want to give up on him.
It took 6 months and to be honest I really can’t remember what changed, but one day we went out hacking and it was stubble season. My mum and I looked at each other and said “shall we?”. And he bucked and bucked and bucked, but then he stopped, and started to enjoy himself, and so did I! After that day things improved a bit, it’s like I realised I could handle it, I knew what he could do and I could deal with it. Oh and he could really jump!
Unfortunately I think my stage fright held us back as I never gave him a positive feel at a competition. He wasn’t used to shows and with a more confident rider he would have probably fed off of that, but the more he went out the better we got, we jumped some jumps I never thought we would, we got a few frillies, he was a great mover so always got good marks in the dressage as long as I could control the canter. Again we managed one one day event, again we got eliminated, this time in the show jumping! But they let me do the cross country, where we also got eliminated on refusals, but he flew most of it and I was so proud! Another problem was he didn’t take well to time off. He’d pulled a muscle in the manège one time so he had a bit of a rest every now and then when he would feel a bit off. Each time he had a rest he would regress in his confidence. We’d had a few weeks off competition for one of these rests, then went to do a little eventer trial. It was a series of unfortunate events that day, no-one had showed up and I didn’t have the guts to say I wasn’t ready to go before my allotted start time. So we rushed, and I came off into fence 5, popping my little finger out. It was fine and popped back in quickly, so that was a wasted evening down A&E. After taking him back and putting him to bed of course!
Unfortunately that was the last time we were to compete. That winter I was on my way back from a hack, walking off on a loose rein, when a little ball of hay or something rolled out the hedge in front of us. I never would have thought that could be the end of his career let alone the beginning of the end of his life. He spooked, slipped and fell down, another trip to A&E for me with a crushed leg, and a trip to the vets for him with suspected tendon damage. His scans were clear but after explorative surgery in his near hind pastern they found a hole in his annular ligament so they cut it. He seemed to get sounder. He hated box rest, I was at uni and mum bore the brunt of walking him for up to an hour in hand with him kicking and biting and rearing, he had been improving to handle by this point as we’d had him a couple of years, but he went back to square one and became horrible to handle and miserable in general, he was so unhappy. He was on 8ml of sedalin every day and it made no difference. I was given the all clear to start riding in walk for 5 minutes after a few months, and to give him restricted turn out. But every time he went out he went mad and had to be brought back in. Then he went lame again on the same leg. They found multiple tears to his hind suspensory, probably from going mad in the field. By this point he had been in for 6 months and he’d had enough. There was a 50% success rate with steroids and we couldn’t bare to put him through any more pain and stress. If we’d had our own land back then things might have ended up different, I think about how we could have just turned him away for a year and seen how things went, but to be honest I’m not sure that would have made any difference anyway. We made the decision that was best for him and had him put down. He taught me so much and made me a far better rider than I’d have been without him.
Looking back a the photos of Shearer it’s quite depressing to think how long it’s been since I jumped a big jump, but there’s a very good reason for that coming up next!