Landsker Alfred by Ken Edwards
This is about one of my best mates. He’s called Landsker Alfred. Fred, to me, and Alfred to some of his previous friends. He’s 29 and no, this is not an obituary, although at the speed I write, it could be before I finish.
I’d given up riding and was trying to concentrate on being sensible. Difficult, when horses are around. Daf, my wife, still had her old Arab, Cricket and we had arranged the holiday of a lifetime: to go to Canada. I thought, if I’m going there, I want to ride in the Rockies. So for a few weeks before we flew, I rode Cricket about so that the muscles wouldn’t ache too much and the bum wouldn’t get too sore.
We returned from our hols and planned to sell up and move to Devon. In the meantime, one of our friends had heard that I had taken up riding again. Not that I had, really. They rang to say that they knew of a retired point-to-pointer that they thought would suit me. And there was no money involved.
John Smith from near Badminton had been given the horse to hunt, but it wasn’t working out. John, at the time, was nearer 90 than 80. Anyone who knows the Smiths will be aware that they can ride anything, and so, despite John’s age, I envisaged a lunatic horse. Didn’t really want one, anyway. I rang John and Peggy to thank them for the offer, and added that, if I took on another horse it would have to be one that could spend all week eating good grass, be dragged in, ridden away and wouldn’t buck me off or do anything stupid. “Just the horse!” they said. I was still apprehensive; the Smiths are proper horsemen. “Anyway,” they added, “take him home, try him and if it doesn’t work out, he’ll probably end up at the kennels.” We all know what that means.
That was over twelve years ago. He was what they said. And we’re still together. Both a bit spronky, he goes up hills better than down and takes about a mile to loosen up. I go on steady and sometimes loosen up. Since we’ve been here on Dartmoor, Fred and I have ridden the moors together, shepherded sheep on the commons, even tried helping with the annual drift, when the commoners bring in the ponies. He did turn into a pillock that day and I haven’t done it since.
I think the only time he has let me down was when I let him down. We were shepherding on the moor, several miles from home. The sheep that I was moving were the wrong side of a wet patch, and it was a long way around. I thought I knew best and so tried to find my way through. Fred went down to his belly and deposited me beside him. I swear he looked at me in disgust. He rolled on his side, extracted his legs and I did my best to keep out of his way. He scrabbled out, I reached out for the reins and he shot off. If he could speak he would have used a few expletives and added, “you can walk home, now.” He proceeded at racing pace. I feared for his safety. I walked. When I got back he was standing by our field gate from the moor, twiddling his hooves, saying “You took your time.”
A few years ago, I decided to try and fulfill one of my lifetime dreams: to win a point-to-point. I had already attempted with eight different horses over 35 years, riding three of them (badly), but failed. I purchased a lovely horse called Dare Too Dream. I did the prep work before he went into training. What a thrill – jumping a racing fence I’d built – must have been at least five feet high and travelling at 35 miles per hour. Or maybe it was three foot(ish) and we were going at an old man’s pace.
Now Fred had to be brought out of retirement, so to speak, so that we had something to gallop and school with. Lizzie, who helps me break a few horses rode Fred on these occasions and although aged, he put his best hoof forward and flew. We looked like cheshire cats and the grin stayed through rain or shine.
As I mentioned, we break a few horse and ponies and Fred has nursemaided them all; protecting them from all things dangerous, introducing them to water and giving them a lead over small jumps. I can’t tell you how many miles I must have ridden, leading them from him. We used him again this year as company to get the current point-to-pointer, Hameldown Tor, ready. I’ll own up. Lizzie rode Hameldown Tor most of the time, and I rode Fred.
That’s Fred up to date. But I should point out that in his time he was trained by that legend of point-to-point, Dick Baimbridge and ridden by the then leading lady jockey, Alison Dare, to win eleven races and be placed more than twenty times. What a horse.
Coincidentally, when attending a funeral in Wales I got talking about horses to someone I didn’t know and mentioned Landsker Alfred. My new acquaintance smiled and said that he had been involved with the breeding of him, the breaking of him and the showing of him as a youngster. It’s a small world.
His old teeth are a bit spronky now. Keith the Teeth (our horse dentist) tidies them up the best he can on a regular basis. The horse always was parrot-mouthed and you certainly wouldn’t use him for a toothpaste advert now.
I know he can’t go on much longer and I’d sooner write about him while he’s still alive and I’m enjoying him. Will I give up when he’s gone? I don’t know. He will be hard to replace.
Point-to-points? Yes, I got my winner: Hameldown Tor. Polly Gundry trained and rode him for me, and yes, I cried, soft twit. My parents brought me up to be a good loser, which I got very used to being. But, my goodness, there’s nothing like being a winner!
Tomorrow, if it stops raining, I shall ride Fred. He’s eating enough food to be in full training at the moment and I don’t begrudge him a grain of it.
Have you got a veteran former Westcountry point to pointer in your life? Let us know what you are up to!