This is Fred who sadly had to be put to sleep in October 2017.
Fred found us on a cold November day. The sort of day when there is no sunlight, just clouds and rain that was carried through the air on cold biting winds that seemed to come from all points of the compass.
We had just finished doing our horses and were walking across the yard to our car to go home to the warm. At the gateway next to a barn a group of horses huddled to get what shelter they could from the weather. Pressed against the gate was a little grey pony with big black eyes that looked straight at us. My wife and I looked at each other and without speaking the decision had been made.
We walked back to the office and asked the yard manager about the little grey pony.
"He's being picked up tomorrow by the slaughter man... you can have him if you want."
We found a head-collar and lead rope. Walked back to the gate where the little grey was waiting. After shooing the other big horses away we brought him in. Our two horses had gone out for the day with full stomachs and winter rugs on so we put the little fellah who was cold, who was wet, tucked up and almost shivering in one of their stables which had deep straw beds and mountains of hay.
During the day my ever resourceful wife had managed to get hold of some outdoor rugs that would fit our new arrival.
Until we could get him a stable, we were going to bring him in during the day and then turn him out at night when our two other horses came in. That evening we went back to the yard to do evening stables. There in the stable where we had left him was 'Fred' who was dry, warm, and looking relaxed. Our friend who was at the yard all day told us that soon after we left 'Fred' had eaten the breakfast we made for him, eaten some hay, and had been asleep in the straw since mid morning only waking up just before we had arrived.
Painfully we rugged him up and turned him out for the night so our two could come in. This was the routine for just a couple of weeks until the yard could allocate a stable for Fred.
That was back in 1997.
In the week before Christmas that year he took the equine lead in the yard Nativity Play carrying Mary into Bethlehem and appeared in the local press in this role. From the threat of the impending slaughter van to a third page photograph in less then two months had to be a miracle.
Since then, Fred became the darling of every yard we have kept our horses on in our travels. He has been ridden by novice children. He has been ridden by disabled children. He has been walked in hand by the elderly and the infirm. In all of those experiences he never once put a foot wrong.
Then, put someone on him who can ride or thought they could ride and oh what a change. He was able to drop a shoulder quicker than an F16 taking off forcing the rider out of the side door. This happened so often with one rider that his Dad remarked from outside the arena, "Tom, the whole idea is stay on." We nicknamed him "Sevenup" after that.
Lots of children learnt to ride on Fred but he never let them forget who was boss in the relationship. The softest of nudges would have a child pushed over who had not given him a treat from their own lunch box. Or, planting his feet just when a young handler starts running to lead him up in a showing class.
In his later years he was not ridden anymore yet he still had a spark of devilment. One highly experienced yard owner was leading him in at the end of the day. She was busy looking at her phone and was soon on her face when Fred decided to bolt for his stable. Fred never liked being taken for granted.
His final few months were spent at a farm where he had a stable with a deep straw bed just like twenty years ago. His days consisted of going out with his companion "Rainbow" to graze in a paddock with an oak tree for shade and a lake for water. His height of activity would be trying to round up the Canadian geese that dared to graze in his paddock. These last few months were full of sunshine that was so bright and warm it dried out the tears caused by hardship, cold and hunger that Fred had suffered.
Hopefully his new paddock has a big tree for shade, lots of green grass, a lake for water, and of course those wretched Canadian geese that will always need to be rounded up.