Ep3. Handshake, the wild horse who saved his own life and became a champion with Julia Kingscote
Today's guest is one of my all-time favourite people. She's been my horse riding mentor since I was 16. She introduced me to the sport of hunting and encouraged me to take up show hunting. She's one of my besties and I also affectionately called her my second Mum. I wanted Julia Kingscote to share the heart-warming story of her horse Tommy with you. It's a story of a little wild horse from the Clarence Reserve at the back of Kaikoura, who literally saved his own life, and together with Julia went on to prove his worth. I know you'll love this story and have a few giggles along the way.
Welcome to the Horseshoe Storyteller Podcast, where I believe every horseshoe holds a story. I'm Kate Bolton, horse rider, creative and accidental storyteller. You see storytelling isn't something I set out to do. But over the last few years since starting my business Horseshoe Mementos. I've had the privilege of clients sharing with me the inspiring, deeply moving and entertaining stories behind the horseshoes I have transformed into personalized lasting memories. Incredible tales of partnership, beating the odds, loss and success stories that speak of the love we share for our noble friends. Stories that are too good to keep to myself. And so I've become the horseshoe storyteller to share them with you. If you love a good horse story, you're in the right place. Let's get started.
Hi, Julia. Thanks so much for having us in your living room today. I've been so looking forward to coming here and having you share your story of of Tommy with us. Your little wonder horse.
Yes, he was wonderful little horse. I'm thrilled to be able to tell his story. It's great.
Before we start with Tommy's story, I'd love it if you'd just share with us your earliest memory of horses or of horse riding.
I was bought up in Ireland in County Meath and both my parents were great horse people. My father actually bred horses. But as girls, there were four of us, and we all had ponies. So my first pony was Twinkle, and my next one was a little skewbald called Bimbo. Bimbo was a bit of a troublesome pony because bimba didn't like to jump. So when we were out hunting and things, I remember when it came to a ditch that she had been lifted over the ditch. So that was my start of riding at a very, very young age, probably about three I should imagine on a lead rain going to the shows with Mum and Dad and things like that.
When you did get going with your horse riding, what events and things did you used to do?
We used to do a lot of hunting with the Meath the Tara Harriers, and the Ward Union, which is a stag hunt, and Fingol Harriers, and we used to also do a lot of hunter trialing, which doesn't involve a dressage, because we were never very good at dressage. But it was like hunter trials over here, which the Hunt Clubs run, and also we did show hunters at horse shows which was just like around-the-ring in New Zealand without wire jumps.
I'd love to fast forward now to your OE where you had grand plans of traveling the world and those plans were unexpectedly cut short where in the first country you stopped to visit you met and fell in love with Willie.
And then after tying the knot and Ireland you you settled with Willie here in North Canterbury in New Zealand.
Which is where you became involved with the Brackenfield Hunt Club and competing in around-the-ring show hunting here.
Yeah, and local A&P Shows and at some point found yourself, obviously you found yourself, looking for a new Hunter, which leads us into the story of Tommy
Yes. Well, it's always a quite an interesting build up to that because I had a little Connemara called Barney, that first got me going with the Brackenfield Hunt and Barney was a nice little horse actually a very, very nice little horse, small cob size. And then I had one called Bravenger. And Bravenger was a big horse and I hunted him for two seasons. And the third season unfortunately Bravenger broke his back, on a hunt in North Canterbury. And I was rather sad to lose him because I started competing on him and everything. And after that I nearly went a year without having a horse. And we were looking and looking and looking. I didn't want anything too big. I was being rather fussy. I wanted to cross bred and things. Yeah. So that's how the beginning of Tommy arrived. Yes.
And so know that you weren't there at the time. But can you set the scene or paint the picture for us of the day that Tommy was rounded up to be culled?
Well, Tommy was a Clarence Reserve horse and he came out of the last, no sorry, it wasn't the last roundup it was the second to last roundup he came out of. They rounded them up not very often not like St. James horses, but the Clarence Reserve Station was going to be sold. So they wanted all the horses off the Station. And he was rounded up with helicopters and bought into the yards. And predominantly they were two and three year olds. And Tommy was actually a three year old. And they bought them into the yards and some of them are looking so scrappy, with injuries, and most of them were actually dog tuckered. They were sold for $70. But there was one little smarty in there. Tommy. Who decided that this was not for him. He wasn't going to be dog tuckered. So he jumped out of the cattle yards at five foot two or whatever it is. That was the beginning of his career I suppose you'd say. Somebody then noticed and said, Wow, what a brilliant little horse that horse does not need to be dog tuckered and there was somebody else there and they said, Well, I'll take him. So he ended up going up to Blenheim, where he was broken-in, he was pretty wild, pretty, pretty wild by Murray Wilson. And then I heard about him, but he was promised to our Hunt Master at the time, Ian Ferguson. But him been a larger man than me. Tommy would have been too small because it was any 15.1hh. He was a little bay with a double crown and was a very small and very compact horse but he would have been too small for a man to hunt. So the word got back to me that there was a little horse that was out there and would I be interested in going to see it?
Did you head up to Blenheim?
I didn't head to Blenheim actually, I headed to Kaikoura with my old friend Patsy Chafee, who used to do a lot of hunting, sadly deceased now. But Patsy and I left with the horse float. Knowing, no idea what we were going up there for. And we went and saw him and he was in a cattle yard and he was snorting and he was watching everything and I thought oh hell, I'm not going to get on that. So then Murray Wilson who'd actually broken him in, he turned up, and he pounced along arm on the shoulder and said, Oh, it's alright, geared him up, hopped on him and rode, no helmet on, rode him and popped him over a few little jumps for me and everything. Oh I thought, nice little horse, but do I really need something like that? So we only had then to think about it. So Patsy and I went into Kaikoura for lunch, we came back the horse float. And I said, I'll buy him on the condition he passes the Vet. So we bought him back down with us, which was a bit of an effort because he'd only ever been on a cattle truck. He'd actually never been on a horse float.
What was he like loading?
I think it was a bit of a marathon getting him on. There was straps. And there was, yeah, he was a quite determined horse when he didn't want to do something. He, you know, he had his own mind. And he, we got him down here and then I rang my local vet and he came along, and he wouldn't even go in the yard with him. He was so frightened of him. He was front footing all the time and snorting and things. But finally we got him vetted and he passed. So, I didn't pay big money for him. I think I paid looking at my records. I paid two and a half thousand for him. That was enough for a horse that was going to be dog tuckered.
So Tommy's arrived at your house, you've had him vet checked, everything went through. What was he like for you then to handle? If the vet was frightened, you know? How long did it take you to get to a point where you could sort of saddle him up and take him for a ride?
Yeah, well, I had to be pretty brave. So every morning I'd go out there and I'd put leggings on him and I put things on his back. He had been backed so I didn't think there was too much. I had a friend neighbor lived across the road and she used to come over and we used to sort of you know, make him walk over things but he was so spooky. He'd jump at anything. And it would make you jump as well because he'd jump, you'd jump. But no, not too long. And then we went and did some mustering over there at the neighbour's farm. So that was quite good. But he had quite a hard mouth even for a young horse. He didn't have a soft mouth at all. I had one day that he just about bolted with me across there. And I had to just turn him in circles and things to slow him down. So, he had one speed on his mind and that was fast. Yes.
Was he named when you first got him?
He was named Tommy and believe it or not, I think actually was. Or did I name him Handshake? Anyway, he got the name Handshake. And there were lots of reasons for that because he was very, very nice about shaking hands with people. He used the front foot a lot. Whether it be standing behind the float at the Show, he'd dig a hole in the ground there waiting his turn because hunter rounds were always at the end of the day. There would be a show horse beforehand and Tommy by the end of the day would have a huge big - I would've washed his legs and he'd used to have a huge big mud pile that he dug up. And when the vet came he would always sort of maybe just do a flick out the front so you're always a bit wary of his front legs. Back legs he was fine. So that's where old Handshake came in.
Do you have any memorable moments of when you first started riding him or first started competing him?
Yes, I do. McLeans Island. It was, it was the Christmas Cracker. And I brought Tommy along and I'd entered him into I think I'd only had him a couple of months. And I'd entered him in a couple of small classes, the Christmas Cracker. They weren't big classes or anything because he hadn't really done a lot of jumping. He was just a natural jumper. He was cow hocked. And he was compact behind. He just loved to jump. So I put him in a few small classes there. Marian Kelly was just absolutely, he was the talk of the day apparently. He just picked up Red Ribbon after red ribbon. And once again, we're back onto loading the float and somehow when I was in the front of the float, he front footed me and he got me across my hand and broke all the bones across my hand. So that was quite a memorable day. Then we set off to Little River Show and I think that must have been just that January. And he cleaned up at the show and he'd never done a hunter round before. He had a technique so tidy, and he just loved to jump, loved to jump.
Tommy the hunter, tell me what he was like. What was it like hunting, Tommy?
Whoa, well, you were always hoping to get home alive at the end of the day. He was a goer, he loved to hunt. Even when he was younger. He loved being up front. He loved to face a full wire fence. We were very lucky then because on Wednesday's hunting we used to have, there was hardly any sparring and it was all wire. And it was a small group of people always. But he was a strong horse to hold. I think we went down to the lowest bit on the Dutch gag that we had. But I always felt safe for him, I always felt safe going into a fence. I used to go in quite short with him on a fence. But he'd still be able to jump off a long stride. But I used to just stride him intothem. And he'd just little lift up his legs and just pop over and yeah.
Tommy as an around-the-ring Show Hunter. What was he like?
Amazing. He was amazing. He was just, he'd come into the show ring with his little ears pricked. And we would do a little canter around and just before we come into the first fence, Tommy used to do his usual little pig route, you know, out the side just like, it was not a buck, but just a little pig route. And then he was all set by that stage. And so you'd go over your first couple of jumps. He always used to find the double quite long because he was so small, but he'd stretch it, he'd really stretch it. We had some entertaining around-the-rings where I was so busy looking at one of the jumps that I was very worried about it was the one with the ramp and the two bars on top that I went so deep into it because coming out of a corner that I actually fully missed a wire jump and when I got out, a the Christchurch Show the commentator said oh handshake and Julia Kingscote eliminated. I was thinking, why was that? I went and missed a whole job, but had done a lovely round. But no, he was a super super hunter and he really could have done it with his eyes closed. I could have done it with my eyes closed. You know, he was amazing. He gave me a lot of pleasure and even to this very day, I can close my eyes, and I can ride him in my imagination around a Hunter ring jump that last jump and he'd know, three strides and it's time to pull up and face the judge. Not all judges liked him. No.
Oh, tell us about that.
Well, when you're at some of the bigger shows, your judges like to, when you're pulled in for the championship your judges always like to, they like to look at the horse. See the horse's confirmation. Well, Tommy didn't have the best of confirmation. I had one judge say to me, pity about the confirmation, nice hunter round, but shame about the confirmation. I thought that was awfully rude thing to say. But anyway, I came across that judge quite a few times. And in the end, at one of my later hunter rounds up at Oxford Show he decided he would, he said frightful confirmation but I'll have to give you a championship. So I was very pleased about that in the end.
What was some of your? I mean, I know that you had, you won a lot of championships with Tommy and you did do the the A&P circuit in the South Island, didn't you? Yes, we certainly did. Can you rattle off some of your accomplishments with him?
Well, I think to me, one was doing the Christchurch A&P Show because when I first came over here, I always thought that I'd love to do the Renown Cup. I think I did the Renown Cup three times on him. Never actually won it, but came second one year and got amazing write up in the Horse and Pony Magazine. I think a lot of people as I was first to go, which was really unfortunate, but he did a really clean, snappy round and a lot of people thought he should have won that but he got a second. And I was so thrilled. I said, I've done it. I've done it. And they said, What have you done? Have you won? I said no, but I got around. The stone wall we used to have then in the hunter rounds, the brick wall, that used to be quite big. And I remember my blacksmith saying to me, when Tommy was coming into that wall, all you could see was the two little ears pricked. And the next thing you'd see this little horse climbing over the big wall. He really had guts. He really loved to jump, but never showjumped. Never really showjumped him. Jimmy Stevens, who was actually the first person to give Tommy from a Maiden class at Hawarden A&P Show to a Championship. He said he'd never probably be asked to judge again after he did that. But he was so lovely. I think he thought he might have been a Saint James Station horse. Because he always said to the very day he died, I think he thought Tommy was a St James, but we never told me wasn't because Jimmy was such a lovely man. Jimmy said to me once, he said you will spoil that horse if you showjump him. You have to ride differently, you have to put your leg on at the top of a jump so when he's landing, he's moving forward, like the hounds are in front of you. And I always remember him saying that, he did do a little bit of showjumping. He was good at it because he was quick and he could turn and things but showjumping wasn't really for me. After Jimmy said that to me I decided no, hunter rounds, hunting and hunter trials. He always cleaned up at the Brackenfield Hunt hunter trials. I think his name's on the Cup quite a few times.
Did you ever consider selling him when he was in his peak?
We got an offer of an open cheque at the Christchurch A&P Show but we never asked what the cheque was, or how much it was for. No, no, never considered selling him. I never thought I'd have that horse as long as I did, from a three year old to a 30 year old. I never thought. And he won his last hunter round when he was 28.
Wow, such an achievement.
Yeah, from a three year old doing hunter rounds right up to 28.
Did Tommy have, apart from his front footing, did he have any unique quirks or characteristics?
Well, he had a double crown and I'm sure that was because he was a good little horse. I think it's supposed to be very lucky, isn't it? And on his rump, he had a bit of a...it was there since I bought him. On his rump he had a bit of a hole apparently he reared up and fell back onto a stake. So I always remember that. And half his dock had been broken. So that must have been when he was a wild horse.
What do you think made yours and Tommy's partnership so special and so successful?
Because I think he trusted me and I trusted in him. He was quite hard horse to ride. He was very goey. Yes, he wouldn't really walk when you're out hunting much. He was always jogging, jogging. The day was exhausting in fact because he was always jogging. And he was always looking where the hounds were. And yeah, but no, he was a hard horse to hold. He wasn't everybody's cup of tea. But you certainly learned how to ride on him very quickly. I put other people on him, some people who could ride. I was very careful who I put on him. But some there were a few girlfriends of mine who did actually ride him and hunt him. They had an amazing day hunting, amazing day!
That might have been me.
It was, do you remember that?
Yeah, I'll never forget that day actually because I think that was my very first hunt. And you wanted to make sure that I was going to be on a safe horse. And so you said, would you like to hunt Tommy? And I couldn't believe it because I didn't really know you to have shared him out much before but um, gosh, I remember there was just one fence and it was heading down, down quite a steep hill. It was a wire wasnt it?
Yes, you'd clear the wire and it was very steep on the other side.
Yes, and you jumped that and I didn't. And that was bye Kate.
Yeah. And then I don't think I saw you for the rest of the day. It was incredible.
He'd look after you. He was one of those horses. I mean, I did have some nasty accidents. I'm not denying it, but half of the time they weren't even his fault. I mean, one was out hunting down South Eyre Road and he put his foot down. In fact, I'd just come back from Ireland and I decided I was going to go to the gate not jumped the silicones they had because it was a dairy farm. And I went to gallop to the gate and he put his foot down a post hole and he twisted and fell and he rolled. I think he hit me but then he realized he'd hit something and he rolled the other way. So that was one of the accidents I had on him. But yeah, I came with a few broken collarbones and things and, that one ribs I think was actually. And then down in Ashburton A&P Show we just got the striding into the second to last fence wrong. And he jumped it but took most of the fence with him I think, and I went flying like a catapult I didn't even have time to put my hands down. A lot of accidents I had on him were not really his fault. There was another one hunting jumping a big hedge and somebody lower down had taken the wire out. And I landed and had done two strides and Tommy picked up the wire and he flipped. So you know, those things happen.
Yeah, we don't like it when they happen. You said that you won quite a few trophies with the Brackenfield Hunt Hunter Trials. Was there any one particular one that sticks in your mind?
Every year Brackenfield Hunt would have their hunter trials. We had a handy hunter which he loved to do because he could turn on the spot. And then the Open Hunter. He actually won those cups three times in a row, outright. I couldn't believe it when I was handing them all back one year I was sad saying goodbye to them. And then I come home with them all again. But at the end of the hunt season, they used to always have a presentation and this year I can't exactly remember the year. Anyway, I was in the marquee listening and watching and then all of a sudden I saw Handshake, Tommy being lead into the marquee. Oh my goodness. And he got awarded the Hunter of the Year. It was an absolutely great award for him. And to me, it was very special also because Patsy Chafee, my friend who actually died horse riding, it was actually her cup I won. Her Memorial Cup. So that to me, seeing all those people in the marquee and then little Handshake up there and being presented with a prize was very special.
Very special. Oh, that's a lovely memory. I can't believe, did he spook coming into the marquee full of people?
I don't think he did. No, he was he wouldn't stand of course because he was always itching to move. He was moving around a lot.
What's been one of your most memorable or magic moments with Tommy that still sticks in your mind strongly today?
Ahhhhh the last hunter round I ever did on him. It was amazing. Yeah, I retired Tommy about three or four times, we kept bouncing back again. Always for the Hawarden A&P Show and the Oxford A&P Show because they seemed to be his favorites. And then in the Brackenfield. This was very special because all the judges have seen Tommy do many many hunter rounds and things. He was 28, and he did the most superb faultless hunter round and the judge said that was the best hunter round he had ever seen Tommy do. So that was very special. And I think the Christchurch Show in Renown Cup. We never won it, but we got a second, we got third and we got a fourth and to me, that was my achievement. I would have always loved to have won one it but that's the way it goes. He didn't have great confirmation. Let him down.
When did you know it was the right time to finally retire him?
Um, I think he would just get a little bit sore. A couple of times I had to put him on a bit of beaut and things and I just never wanted to see Tommy be an old horse because he had such a young spirit at Heart. He had a big, big heart. So during his final days, I think I'd had him for a year out in the paddock. And yes, sadly the day had to come but there was certainly nothing wrong with him. He'd probably still be alive now if I had him, but I just thought it was time. I didn't want him to be an old horse. I didn't want him to be sad and I wanted him to go out and a high because he was just such a brilliant little pony really.
I know that we've created a framed horseshoe memento for you. With his horseshoe plated in gold and a photo of you jumping. What does having that memento mean to you? And what comes to mind when you look at it?
Oh my goodness. I'm so fortunate to have it. It's actually upstairs in my bedroom. I have it. I know it's not the best place but it to me it is because I look at it and I just have such special memories. And you know, all happy memories. I just think it's a wonderful way to remember a horse or a pony is lovely.
Thank you so much for sharing Tommy's story with us. I know that there'll be people listening who will have completely resonated with, you know, Tommy's against the odds, jumping out of the cattle yards to save his own life and become a champion. So lovely, lovely story.
There we have it. I hope you enjoyed the story of Handshake and Julia. Isn't she a great storyteller? Can you see why I have so much fun hanging out with her? If you liked this episode, I'd be so appreciative if you subscribe to this podcast. If you're curious to see photos of Handshake and Julia and the framed horseshoe memento, click on my show notes. If you want to continue on this journey with me, and of course it would mean so much. I'll catch you in the next episode. Thanks as always for listening to the horseshoe storyteller podcast. Where we believe every horseshoe holds a story.