I am handmaiden to a foul-mouthed member of the royal family

My thoroughbred Darcy is descended from the original Godolphin Arabian; with that heritage, no wonder she acts up

Real Life

19 May 2016

Some people call their house Dun Roamin’ to sum up their state of mind. After ten weeks ministering to my horse’s tendon strain, I’m thinking of putting up a sign outside my house saying Dun Bandagin’.

Wrapping Darcy’s front legs painstakingly morning and night for several months has been an interesting experience. In a way I shall miss it because it has taken me out of my own worries, apart from the main one, which is sinking into horse-induced poverty after attempting to train Darcy for the racetrack.

I’ve said it before, or if I haven’t I ought to have: a thoroughbred is like a Porsche 911 — when it’s going well you think it’s the only car in the world it makes any sense to own.

Why would anyone not sell their home and live in a ditch or indeed live in their 911 in order to own a 911? Surely even thinking of driving anything other than a 911 is the very definition of insanity because the 911 is so good?

But when the tiniest thing in a 911 goes wrong (I am reliably informed, because while I’ve driven one I’ve never owned one), you stop thinking it’s the best piece of design engineering to grace God’s earth and you fall to your knees crying out to the ghost of Ferdinand Porsche for mercy: ‘In the name of all that is holy, help me!’ you beg.‘For this is a nightmare from which I cannot wake!’

That pretty much sums up thoroughbred horses. When you’re on board and it’s going well, the thoroughbred is the lightest, most responsive, most exciting horse to ride of all the breeds of horses in the world. As you glide down the road, you cock a snook at the poor sod on a fat cob, or the housewife on the Haflinger pony, kicking like an overgrown Thelwell character.

No kicking for you! Why, your steed barely has more than one leg on the ground at any one time. In canter, you take the corners slanted almost on your side like a Motocross rider.

But when the thoroughbred goes wrong, which is often, you are plunged into a state of almost total despair, responsible for putting right the most complicated living, breathing engineering malfunction known to nature. Open your wallet and get ready to squeal.

Darcy herself, I must point out, is quite happy. She has shown no sign of discomfort since her tendon strain. She was only slightly lame for a day, and then behaved as if nothing had happened. If it weren’t for the modern wonder of ultrasound scanning I wouldn’t have known there was a small black blob where some of her superficial digital flexor tendon should be.

For ten weeks, Darcy has stood perfectly still every morning and evening, letting me cold hose and then bandage her improbably long, beautiful and fragile legs.

I couldn’t quite work this out at first, because normally when she stands in her stable she swings from side to side with impatience — weaving, it’s called — or else grabs hold of any hard edge she can find with her front teeth and uses it to ‘wind suck’ — honking huge gasps of air into her lungs in a short, sharp blast, the thoroughbred equivalent of the sorts of things that go on in the movie Trainspotting.

Being highly strung myself, I’m not judgmental about this. Maybe one day there will be support groups for thoroughbreds: ‘My name is Darcy and I’m a windoholic.’

However, when I’m grovelling around her legs, cold hosing or wrapping them in comfort pads and stretchy bandages, she is as regally calm as Lady Mary from Downton Abbey having her jewellery put on by Anna the maid.

She sighs with graceful forbearance, fluttering her eyelashes and looking down with mild disapproval at me if I drop the bandage and it unravels.

That was when I realised that she likes me skivvying round her. She is so highly bred, so impossibly grand, so assured of her upper-class heritage (being three removed from Nijinsky and four removed from Northern Dancer) that she expects me to wait on her hand and foot.

I just tried to work out how many horses are between her and the original 18th-century Godolphin Arabian and it is only a few dozen. She must know she’s a member of the royal family. No wonder she acts up.

When I’ve finished doing her legs, she nudges me away as if to say: ‘That will be all, Kite, thank you.’

She’s very gracious. She treats me well. But the second there’s nothing happening to entertain her she stops being Lady Mary and morphs into a member of the Effing Fulford family, throwing herself about the stable, spewing expletives. These artistos are complicated.


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