The Winners 2005 Under 26 Runner-up

I should have known that falling in love would end in heartache. My sister’s series of failed romances told me that becoming emotionally attached to someone would usually end in tears. But I never expected that when my heart was broken, it would be because I fell in love with a horse.

Growing up on a stud farm on the outskirts of Newmarket, horses were always around. It was never anything particularly special, it was just a fact of life. If anyone had asked me what my favourite animal was, I would probably have said it was a cat, or maybe a giraffe – after all, I was just a little girl with a penchant for things which were unusual. And horses were anything
but unusual on a stud farm.

Dad, who was one of the grooms in charge of the brood mares, never forced the issue on me – I was allowed to leave all those important horsy tasks to people who cared about it just a bit more than me.

That all changed one February night when I was 11.

It had been bitterly cold for a few days and a hurricane was supposed to be on its way. The storm, when it came, was devastating – there were branches everywhere, the sheds were taking a real battering and a lot of the fences were in pieces. Before long, the power was out.

Mum was just tucking me into bed – by candlelight – when my father came rushing in.
“I need you both,” he said, “One of the mares is foaling now and the roads are blocked so no-one else can get in to help out.”
Mum was already getting her coat and shoes on when I piped up worriedly: “Why do you need me Dad? I can’t help, can I?”
He looked down and smiled.
“Don’t worry sweetheart, I just need you to hold the lamp for me,” he said, “It’s pitch black in there and the boys haven’t been able to get the generator up and running in the stable block yet.”

And so I stood there, shivering as the storm raged outside, while this incredible thing happened – a new life came into the world. Just as the little colt got unsteadily to his feet, wavering dangerously between falling down in a collapsed heap on the stable floor and standing proud, the
generator finally started and the lights came on. He looked at me, standing there with his long, spindly legs and that was it. It was as simple as that; I was a goner from that moment on.

The colt had a fairly impressive pedigree, the first progeny of a classic-winning stallion, so he had a fairly stupid name, but to me, thanks to those tottery legs, he was Giraffe.

To say we were inseparable from that point would obviously be untrue – I had to go to school and do all the normal things 11 year olds have to, but I spent an inordinate amount of time as Giraffe grew from foal to yearling. I would visit him nearly every day and just talk to him about what I’d been doing. That was if he wasn’t galloping about like there was no tomorrow, he loved to run.

My dad joined me one afternoon while I was leaning on the fence, watching Giraffe, nearly a year after that stormy night.
“Good horse that,” he commented, “Should think he’ll be snapped up at the sales.”
I was devastated – I had never really thought about Giraffe being sold even though I knew that was how it worked. I resolved to spend as much time as I could with him before that moment came.

But it seemed like no time had passed when we were helping pack him up into the horsebox to go to Tattersalls. I fought back the tears when Dad told me he thought it would be best if I said my goodbyes at the stud and stayed home from the auction.
“Don’t want you getting too upset now, huh?” he smiled at me, slamming the door of the horsebox.

I don’t remember how much Giraffe sold for, but I was pleased he stayed in Newmarket. Even though I couldn’t see him anymore, I knew he was nearby and I would be able to keep track of what he was doing.

The day of his first race dawned and I was as excited as if I had a stake in his success. In fact, I suspect Dad may have had a little flutter on him on the sly. We all gathered around the television to watch the race and there was anticipation in the air.

As the horses left the stalls we were all shouting at the screen and to begin with it looked like Giraffe would fulfil his promise. But then it happened. One of the other horses clipped into Giraffe as he was overtaking and he stumbled. At first I thought he was going to recover and get back
into the race but then that first prang turned into a full-on collision.

The fall looked awful – I could almost hear the leg snapping. The room fell silent apart from the drone of the commentators but I didn’t hear what they were saying.

I saw my mum glance at Dad. Barely perceptibly, he shook his head and with that I knew. Giraffe wasn’t going to get up again and any drugs the vet had for him were not to help him heal but to help him die. I vaguely remember Mum comforting me as I dissolved into floods of tears but all I could feel was an overwhelming sense of loss.

Nearly 30 years later, I have had my heart broken many times but nothing has stayed with me like that moment when I knew that Giraffe was going to be put down. The pain is as raw today as it was then. After all, they say you never forget your first love.