16hh Irish Thoroughbred gelding
1980 - 23 December 2008
As a seven year old, Paddy found himself at the kennels of the Quantock Staghounds back in the spring of 1991. He had been bought for Huntsman Richard Down and standing at 16hh, bright chestnut with a white star and snip on his nose, he had a look about him that made him stand out among horses.
He was a true redhead from the start. He couldn’t be clipped, the first time they tried they ended up jumping out over the stable door just by switching the clippers on. He hated his mane being pulled, refused to load and had a nasty habit of ‘dropping’ hunt staff when they least expected it. When took hunting when he first arrived that spring I’m told he went unclipped and had a good hour's hack before the meet, did a full day’s hunting and was still misbehaving at the end of the day. Richard likes to tell me the story of the day he first rode Paddy hunting, apparently the hunt moved on into a big open field where Rick had to draw hounds at which point the field carried on and left him to it. This resulted in Paddy exploding into a full-on bucking session, basically ‘throwing a paddy’ – he was indeed aptly named!
Together the pair forged a partnership that endured eleven seasons of which Paddy was never sick or sorry and remained sound and unblemished for his entire career. Paddy was retired in the spring of 2002 aged 18 and from what probably started out as the worst became the best and is still the best horse of Rick’s career to this present day. When Rick was interviewed by Horse and Hound magazine for one of their “best of day’s/worst of day’s features”, Rick spoke of a time when they had had a run of eleven and a half miles during a period of well over six and a half hours. Reading the article it notes that the second horses never caught up and the horse who carried Rick all day was of course, Paddy. Paying tribute to him in the article, Rick wrote, “He was a horse I hunted from for eleven seasons. He was the toughest horse I have ever ridden and he certainly proved his worth that day!”
I first saw Paddy in October 2005 after a phone call from my mum’s friend who needed to find someone to ride a horse she was looking after, otherwise he was going to be shot. I had recently been in hospital after taking a drug overdose and it seemed as if this horse appeared at just the right time in my life. When I first went to see him he admittedly didn’t look much, he was a bit tatty around the edges and looked pretty miserable with the world, but then again so was I. I tried him out, riding around the field, and he felt quite big and switched on at the time. Minutes later I was sat on the ground looking up at him completely mortified that I had fallen off in front of my Grandparents who I could hear laughing. Not to be outdone, I got back on and stayed on and began to get a feel for him. So I said yes to riding him for my mum’s friend, probably much to Paddy’s horror at the time, but staring down the barrel of a gun I guess he didn’t have anything to lose and neither did I.
After a couple of month’s work it was decided that Paddy was fit enough for me to take hunting. He now looked quite different to the tatty chestnut in the field, he was brighter, fit and muscly and looked a different horse with his mane pulled and being clipped. He had a purpose in life and both looked and felt young again. Our first day was fittingly with the Quantock Staghounds at Crowcombe Park Gate December 19, 2005. His face when he came down the hill and saw hounds was a picture, you could tell he loved his hounds and hunting was his whole life. It was a bit scary leaving the meet. I don’t think Paddy quite understood why he now had to stay behind hounds. He never did quite overcome this, I just hope that it didn’t break his heart too much to watch another horse doing his job up front with his Rick and his hounds. He was always at his happiest out hunting anyway. That first day together is still my favourite day hunting out of them all. To see the joy and happiness on his face and feel the excitement through every bit of his body was a feeling like no other.
We hunted nine more days together that season, mainly with the Quantock Staghounds, but a few days with the West Somerset as well, which Paddy didn’t really enjoy so much and always bucked a whole lot more. I think he just couldn’t quite understand why there was so much standing still.
It was the spring of 2006 when Paddy found himself under 24 hour security protection complete with full time bodyguards. Something had gone wrong with mum’s friend’s work and it was feared the horses would be a main target. We weren’t even allowed to go and see them. It was during this time that my Mum was reading the daily newspaper only to turn the page and find Paddy looking up at her! It was a double page spread of which most was taken up by a lovely picture of the Quantock Staghounds back when Paddy was Huntsman’s horse and there he was up front with his beloved hounds, young and as happy as could be. This was how Paddy became mine. I couldn’t bear to be parted from him any longer and his ‘owner’ was more than happy for me to take him saying that ‘he was dead to her anyway’. So Paddy moved to within ten minutes walking distance of my house and was now all mine.
I loved him more than anything else in the world and he was by far my best friend despite the fact that he could be so stubborn and stroppy. He still hated to be clipped or have his mane pulled and refused point blank to load in a trailer. He also had to have his water buckets in old quad bike tyres or he loved nothing better than to tip them over and turn his bed into a paddling pool! I remember Boxing Day morning that year I was listening to the radio whilst plaiting him up for the meet when the news came on and they had a report of hunting on it. Of course on this report it ended with hounds singing and the huntsman blowing his horn which caused Paddy to grow to about 18hh and shake with excitement!
The next summer (2007) we found ourselves moving again but little did we know that this was where some of the best times were going to begin. Shortly after moving I found myself working as groom for the West Somerset Vale which then turned into becoming the 2nd whip and by Boxing Day that year the only whipper in! By now I’d moved Paddy up to the kennels where I was now living and he thoroughly enjoyed himself. Out on exercise he was the naughtiest of the lot – spooking and whipping round on a six pence and the bucking displays would have put a rodeo horse to shame. The best time was when we had just rebroken a 10 year old which the huntsman usually rode and I’d take Paddy out as company. One day we were hacking up through some fields when we came to a lovely huge green field that went on to another field so the huntsman turned round to me and said he wanted to canter up through the first field into the second until we came to the gate. Next minute I was gone straight past them as if we’d been shot out of a canon, bucking and leaping and twisting the whole way! When I managed to stop I looked round to see him laughing at me whilst the newly broken-in horse cantered beautifully up behind us, apparently he knew what Paddy would do and just wanted to see how his horse would react!! I whipped in on Paddy a few days that season and he absolutely loved being back up with hounds again.
The next season I moved 250 odd miles away from my home and took Paddy with me for a job with another hunt, this time the Thurlow. By now Paddy was just starting to look a little tired, so he spent the days out in the field with another horse and came in at night to a deep, warm, cosy bed. This was when my life fell apart.
I wasn’t going to sit here and write that Paddy was the perfect horse because by now you’ve probably guessed he wasn’t. Yes he was stroppy, a little arrogant and gave me a fair share of hair-raising experiences. To me though, Pad’s was perfect, a dream come true, my number one boy. He was brave, full of courage and as hard as nails. Looking back I think he did live for his hunting, it gave him that little bit more zest for life. I feel privileged that at the age of twenty I can honestly say that I have had a once-in-a-lifetime horse and I know now that without a doubt I will never find a better horse to ride hunting. When hunting Pad’s was in a league of his own. He always knew what to do, where we should be and would always be the first of us to spot a deer and I think he even got used to foxes in the end. I would trust him completely, he knew the hills inside out and how we stayed upright at times I will never know, but he just kept on going, always refusing to give in, just simply the best.
He was my best friend and the best part of me. I owe so much to him, he changed my life. As I sit writing this now, I still don’t believe what happened, I’m still waiting for someone to tell me it didn’t happen, it's not as it seems and that I’m going to wake up to find it was all a bad dream. Slowly though, there is a part of me that knows my baby boy is gone and no matter how many times I go to sleep and wake back up again, it’s not going to change and it’s like a stab to the chest every time.
The day he hurt his leg will stay with me forever. I just went to get him in from the field as usual. Leading him in he was very slow and I started to think that he really was beginning to feel his age. It wasn’t until I washed his legs off that the nightmare began. Blood started pouring from his near hind, washing the mud away must of knocked a scab off and I was sitting there pressing my hand over his leg, his blood running through my fingers like a waterfall. I remember screaming for my friend who rang the vet. The vet arrived and the blood was still pouring and after closer examination I was told that Paddy had fractured his leg. From then on I could see people talking but the world was silent, I was numb and could feel my world beginning to crumble. After coming to my senses the vet told me that there wasn’t really a chance of getting through this apart from the operation, risk of infection, strict box rest. It was Paddy’s age that put the icing on the cake. But I wanted to try because Paddy always tried, he was a fighter and I also didn’t want to lose him just yet. To look into and see the fire in his eyes was to understand his desire to live. Even crippled he belonged in a world running with his precious hounds. Paddy was always so full of life, I couldn’t see him laying down and giving into a leg that didn’t support his dreams.
The hours that followed showed me how quickly dreams can turn to dust. The fire in his eyes had now burnt out, all that was left was pain and suffering. For the first time he truly looked his age and he looked so desperately tired. For the first time he was giving in. But how do you tell a horse it will never run again when running with his hounds was what he lived and breathed for? How do you ask those sensitive ears if he understands? How do you say your'e sorry that you failed when sorry is a word so easily said? Throwing my arms around his neck, sobbing into his shoulder, I knew that it was all I could do. I couldn’t stop saying how much I loved him, I couldn’t tell him enough as I tried to hold onto these moments for as long as time would allow and then the vet came. Minutes later he was gone and as I said goodbye I knew it would not be forever. My guardian angel had at last been given his wings and was able to fly to heaven's herd.
A few weeks later I had a dream that I was at a hunting festival that was being held in a big football stadium. In the dream I'm sitting in the stands as they start the parade of hounds. There at the front leading the way is my precious horse prancing along with his hounds. The round of applause is deafening and I’m looking round and seeing people with banners with slogans like, “Paddy’s the best”. People are chanting his name as he does a final lap of honour and gallops out of the ring. I feel like it’s his way of saying he’s home and everything’s alright.
I took Paddy’s ashes home and we scattered them underneath the tree where they stand for the meet at Crowcombe Park Gate. Rick came and blew the hunting horn as his ashes fell upon the earth. My gorgeous, brave boy is at last hunting the hounds of heaven on his hills forever.
I love you, always will…..