Bybeck Ee's Away, a registered Fell Pony otherwise known as Bertie, was born on the 28th May 2004, the son of Murthwaite Black Bobby and Baronshill Eternal Flame (by Sleddale Bertie). He was born at the Bybeck Stud in Tebay, Penrith, Cumbria.
When he was 17 months old he was sold to the Mere's Stud in East Sussex - 160 acres of picturesque farmland.
He took his stallion duties very seriously and no fence was high enough to keep him away from any of the mares. The only way to contain his enthusiasm was to keep him in the cattle yard and bring the mares to him, which meant quite a lonely and isolated life for him most of the time.
Thing took a turn for the worse for Bertie when he was five and managed to get in with the stud's other stallion, Townend Pippin, one year his junior. They fought very badly and Bertie came off the worst. They apparently nearly killed each other.
The stud's owner was already in poor health after a spinal injury and the decision was made that one stallion had to go and it was decided that it should be Bertie.
He was gelded in April last year (2009) and sent to Ashford Cattle Market to be sold in October, along with two of his yearling sons and another yearling gelding. Bertie had banged his head just before the sale and injured his eye which reflected in the price he was sold for. A previously well thought of stallion within the breed society he was sold for £275. The yearlings went for even less.
They were all bought by a dealer and taken to his farm on the edge of North London where they spent the winter in less than ideal conditions. The dealer's wife had been receiving treatment for cancer and things had spiralled out of control on the farm.
In March 2010 the decision was made to auction off all of the 60+ horses on the farm that May. In order to try to get more than meat prices for the Fells it was decided to try to break them to harness. The three two year olds were still 6 months short of their 2nd birthdays.
I was told about these ponies and went to see them. The babies were tied up in dark sheds, frightened, thin and losing hair where they had been lying in wet muck. Bertie was in a makeshift stable and would come nowhere near anyone. His huge eyes were full of anxiety.
I felt that I was in no state to help them as I was constantly fighting off depression and anxiety myself and came away in the depths of despair on their behalf and on my own, wishing I had never gone to see them.
I discussed the matter at length with my friends and the more I thought about them the more I knew I had to do something but taking on responsibility for all of them terrified me. I was still trying to learn how to look after myself and live on my own for the first time in my life. My new life was all so surreal still that I was still struggling to keep touch with reality and this nearly pushed me over the edge but I couldn't just leave them to their fate, especially the babies who were nowhere near mature enough the cope with working.
I went to pick them up the following week, on the 18th March, and brought them home. I nearly left Bertie behind as he was old enough to break in but something made me buy him as well. He was a Fell after all, closely related to my beloved Dales and nearly as rare a breed. I couldn't take the chance that he would be sold for meat if he couldn't be broken in the timescale and looking at how nervous he was it seemed unlikely that he would be.
I was warned that he was "a different kettle of fish" to the babies as he had been a stallion but he loaded without much fuss and unloaded here like a lamb.
I wormed them without any fuss at all and found that they were all quite good to lead and quite trusting, apart from Bertie, who was very suspicious and difficult to catch. None of them liked having people behind them or being touched on their hind quarters but not one of them has ever so much as raised a hind foot or put their ears back at me.
It quickly became clear that Bertie was absolutely terrified of other horses and needed to learn how to be friends with someone. My old pony, Russell, who we bred 21 years ago, has always been very easy going with other horses so I began to turn Bertie out with him and they are now quite good friends.
One of the babies had a snotty nose but seemed well in himself so I didn't think too much about it.
I moved Bertie into the barn where my other horses are stabled at night and apart from problems catching him everything was proving much easier than I thought it would be.
On Easter Saturday, April 3rd, Bertie looked extremely dull and ill. I took his temperature and it was very high at 105F. I called the vet and, remembering the youngster's snotty nose, while I was waiting for the vet to arrive I phoned the yard I had bought them from. Pippa, who works there 2 days a week and has become a friend of mine, immediately said "I know why you're phoning" and confirmed my worst fears. They had an outbreak of Strangles.
All the feelings of fear and dread I had experienced at the thought of taking on these four sad ponies seemed to be coming true. In all my years with horses I had never had to deal with Strangles and had always dreaded it. The name "Strangles" is enough to plant fear into the heart of any horse owner!
After the death of my partner, best friend, constant companion and soulmate of 28 years, followed by the death of his dog and so many changes and challenges in the previous 12 months of my life all I wanted was to establish a little normality and solidity in my life and wrestle back a little control, but things were spiraling out of control yet again.
I dreaded telling everyone here and felt totally and solely responible for putting all our horses at risk. If any of my liveries or my own horses suffered badly or died as a result of this I would never forgive myself.