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Julia’s Weekly Column For The Middy – The Shepherdess, The Lady & The Escapees – Part 1

As a teenager I dreamt of owning my own horse, and later that dream evolved into becoming a horse vet.

To this end I spent as much of my free time as I could around stables when I was growing up, even though I never did acquire a pony of my own. I think back then I might have given my right arm for the chance to own a pony. My problem was that my parents had committed me to a boarding school and had no interest in caring for a pony during the months that I was away. It really was an impossible dream.

I understood that, but it still made me sad. It was also a real inconvenience for getting holiday work. No sooner would I have landed a job and acquired a good reputation for my reliability, hard work and skill than it would be time to go back to school and some other kid would get the gig.

On one occasion I had managed to land the perfect summer job. I was to exercise a pair of hunters and a pony, bringing them back from their spring break into fitness ready for the hunting season. The job was a live-in role in Wales on the estate of a local Lord.

My duties were not exacting. I looked after the stable yard, kept the tack clean, and hacked out every day, riding one horse and leading the other, then the next day swapping over. It was delightful to explore the local countryside from horseback.

And I enjoyed meeting the other staff on the estate too. I shared a block of flats over the stables with the cook and the shepherdess, Nicky. She was about my age, and I really enjoyed admiring her skill with the sheep and her working companion, Fly.

Her hours were much more arduous than mine, and so quite often I accompanied her and assisted her to move the flock, mend fences and retrieve strays – the usual summer role of the shepherd. I even attended some local sheep dog trials with her and Fly in the evenings.

But one evening Nicky had gone out without me for a drink with friends. I happened to look out the window and I noticed that there was a large group of sheep all over the lawn in front of the great house, where they had no right to be.

The Lady of the house was a dreadful battle-axe, and truly terrifying. She seemed to delight in scolding staff for even the most minor mistake. I knew that Nicky would really be in trouble for such a major disaster. Sheep poo all over the lawn! What would the Right Honourables say?

But what could I do?


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