I grew up in Kingsclere, Hampshire, in a house on the top of a steep hill, less than a mile from the stables where my father was responsible for around 100 racehorses. He trained one of the best horses of all time, Mill Reef, who won The Derby at Epsom in 1971, the year I was born. His owners included businessmen, American and Canadian billionaires, members of the aristocracy and the Queen, who gave us this Shetland pony, Valkyrie, as a present.
I started to ride before I could walk and was always very comfortable on horseback. This photograph was taken in 1975, when I was four, my brother Andrew was two, and Valkyrie, who lived in a field just below our house, was in her 20s.
I did slightly wish that she lived in the house with us, and I got into big trouble for taking her into the kitchen once. She was very well- mannered and demanded good manners from us, too. If I was behaving badly she would squeeze me up against the stable wall or tread on my toe.
I loved riding her and wanted to be on horseback pretty much all the time. Even falling off and breaking my collarbone when I was two and a half didn’t put me off. In fact, when my dad told Andrew and me that we had to fall off 100 times in order to be proper jockeys, we used to make ourselves fall, sometimes 10 times a day. Then, really upsettingly, he told us it didn’t count if we were doing it on purpose. It was particularly crushing as we’d reached about 90 falls by then.
When the horses weren’t around, Andrew and I would play in the fields and roll down the hill outside our house. Once I decided we should run away from home. We each packed a little suitcase and walked to the bottom of the hill but I didn’t know what to do next. I’d run out of ideas, so we just walked back home. I’d intended it to be a big statement so I was disappointed to find nobody had even noticed we’d gone.
When we got a bit older, Andrew started to play polo, whereas I was more into eventing and showjumping. He took over the training licence from my father in 2003 and promptly won The Oaks at Epsom with his first runner, Casual Look. To have a Classic winner in his first season was extraordinary.
Today, my two nephews and niece love riding and I occasionally go out with them, usually on a fat, slow, sensible horse that I share with my sister-in-law. While I’ve grown into a four-wheel-drive-type of horse, my father is still going for the Formula One version, riding ex-racehorses because he can’t do without a bit of speed.
Last year, just before his 78th birthday he had an awful fall and got crushed by the horse he was riding. He broke 14 ribs, punctured a lung, was concussed and needed a four-and-a-half-hour operation. One of the hospital staff told me he was lucky to have survived. But all he said afterwards was, ‘When can I ride again?’ He’s back on a horse now and is much happier for it.
As for Valkyrie, she lived until the ripe old age of 30, which is pretty good for a pony. She had a daughter and a son, who was particularly naughty, quite unlike Valkyrie, who was always so well behaved. It was awful when she died. Andrew and I had grown up with her so it was like losing a member of the family.