Retired journalist Ingrid Sofrin describes how she got back into Western riding after spotting a horse for sale that looked very familiar.
Twenty years ago, Western riding was an important part of my life. I had a yard near Frome in Somerset where I bred and trained quarter horses, and as the West Country rep for the Western Equestrian Society, I organised regular Western clinics and demonstrations. Then, nine years ago, I sold up and moved to a small village near Penzance, bringing my last two horses with me. One of them was a palomino youngster, lightly backed and ready to be brought on, but with another horse to ride and an old house to renovate, I decided to sell him. That horse was Chantry Golden Wonda, stable name Crispy - by Jac Wonders Who, out of Smooth Doc Olena. By a circuitous route via Western trainers, Sophie Cotton in Falmouth and Shane Borland, he ended up in training with Steve Young in Pembrokeshire, and was eventually sold to the interior designer Anna Ryder Richardson.
So ended my involvement with the world of Western riding, or so I thought. I still had a part-bred quarter horse, who was approaching retirement, so I figured that it would be the end of my horse days once she went. I had taken up painting when I moved to Cornwall (there’s a lot of it goes on down here), and I was getting more involved in exhibiting and selling. I had two holiday lets to run, and my 65th birthday was looming. And just when you get your head around the idea that things will be one way, life surprises you and comes up with something unexpected. That ‘something’ was a Facebook post by Steve Young announcing that he was selling his ten-year-old palomino gelding, Rolex. It stopped me in my tracks because it was like looking at a picture of Crispy. And no wonder, it was, because Rolex was by the same stallion as Crispy, and the name Olena figured prominently on the dam side of both horses. Lou Tallintyre bred him at the Mendip Stud, and his registered name is De Ja Who.
I suddenly found myself toying with the idea of contacting Steve but no, that would be ridiculous, and anyway, he lived hundreds of miles away. Then final decisions had to be made about my remaining old horse, Jet, who was getting lamer and lamer and out of condition, and we agreed that it would be best to put her down. That left me without a horse for the first time in 35 years, and somehow it just felt wrong. Almost against my better judgement, I found myself messaging Steve about this horse he had for sale and was relieved to discover that he had as good as sold him, and the people were coming to confirm things the next day. It could have been the end of the story, but Jill Thomas, who runs the livery yard where I’d kept Jet (herself a top endurance rider in her day), said I should make a final check with Steve because often things fell through at the last minute.
To cut a long story short, it hadn’t worked out with the other people, so I immediately jumped in my car and drove the 300-odd miles to Haverfordwest.
Needless to say, Rolex was an absolute delight, and along with his Barbie doll good looks, he had perfect manners and a brilliant temperament. Steve loaded him up along with his quarter horse mare Nita and drove us a few miles to a disused quarry where we strolled around, loped about, went up and down tracks and beside lakes, and generally had a great time playing ponies. All the while, I was aware that Steve was scrutinising me and sussing out whether I was worthy of his rather wonderful little horse. It wasn’t until we’d got back and turned the horses out that I put the question I was almost afraid to ask. Would Steve allow me to buy his horse? He seemed to think we’d be an OK partnership, so we shook hands on it there and then in his kitchen, and I drove off back to Cornwall with my head in a spin.
My visit to Wales was way back in April, and Steve told me then that he was booked in to ride at the Buck Brannaman clinic at Aintree in June, so I couldn’t take delivery until after that. So, that’s what happened, I went up to Aintree for the three days to watch my new horse being ridden by Steve, under the eye of the master. A week later, Steve delivered Rolex to his new home in Cornwall, but he didn’t just drop him off and drive away. Instead, he stayed on so we could both ride him in the school once he’d recovered from his long trip, and then I rode him down towards the beach, with Steve following on foot.
Rolex has been with me for over a month now and has been an absolute dream. We hack out on bridle paths and on the beach, and the yard has a big school with a springy shredded rubber surface that we ride in regularly. I’m having a new lease of life with my swanky little palomino, and I’m hoping I can do much more with him than just hacking and homeschooling. Once we’re fully settled, and I’ve had a few outings with the trailer, I’m hoping to find other like-minded riders down here, so we can get Western riding established in this far-flung outpost of Cornwall.
First printed in Western Horse UK magazine - 2019