Nero the Hero—formerly known as ‘Hopper’, for reasons I haven’t been able to verify, but I have my suspicions—is a versatile, 13-year-old Thoroughbred x Australian Stock Horse who was bred in New South Wales. He didn’t quite make the cut for high goal polo and was sent to me as a four-year-old to try when I was living in Australia. Nero was quick, brave and super agile and I often wished I could clone him. However, he also liked to demonstrate his agility off the polo field and would have made an excellent rodeo horse! Nero’s propensity to buck with abandon was the reason I didn’t sell him when I moved back to England in 2017.
It was back in 2013 that I decided to do some jumping in the polo off-season and Nero was the obvious choice, being the tallest of my string, with the best conformation. We moved from the polo fields to the yard of a friend who evented, began jumping a few logs out hacking and had lessons with professional eventer, Sam Fasher, who happened to be our neighbour. Also close by was Christine Bates’ excellent training facility and, for fun, I registered for one of her clinics.
On a particularly windy Saturday morning, Nero felt like a frog in a sock and an unfortunately timed gust came as we jumped through our first double. Simultaneously bucking and spooking, he shot out sideways from under me and raced back to the lorry park. Trying to stifle her laughter, while I brushed off my breeches, coach Christine asked, “Is he always sharp?” Thankfully, the day improved and I felt sufficiently confident by the end of the cross country session to brave the weekend’s mock one day event. To my astonishment, we won, and the horse hockey was suddenly on hold and it was full steam ahead for spring eventing!
Disaster struck shortly afterwards, however. A misunderstanding about the feed Nero was on had led to his becoming increasingly fizzy and a few days off on a potent racehorse ration, combined with my complacency in not lunging him before getting on, created the perfect storm—as soon as I was in the saddle, he bucked us across the yard and through a solid timber fence.
Grounded with a fractured pelvis, I agonised over Nero’s future and I had to muster all my courage to bring him back into work when the time came. We made good use of the round yard, the lunge line was packed for every trip and I vowed never again to delegate his feeding.
Two years to the day after that fateful morning, Nero and I attempted our first Pre-Novice (Eventing Australia 105) at Silver Hills in NSW—our last competition in Australia—and finished the weekend with a win.
Last year I returned to Brightling, the village in which I grew up, to win our BE100 and qualify for a Regional Final. In a tight class at Goring Heath we made it through with a fourth place, just one penalty behind the winner, qualifying us for the Mitsubishi Motors Cup. The prospect of participating in such a prestigious competition on that hallowed ground has made all the twists and turns along the way worthwhile, and now our preparations begin.