As a student vet I needed to work in lots of different types of animal environments.
I rather fancied myself as an experienced rider. So I didn’t imagine working on a stud farm would be tricky.
I was used to mucking out, and grooming all kinds of horses. The pregnant mares were generally slow moving, heavy in foal, and I kept well away from the dangerous stallions.
There were a couple of yearlings in the yard, which I had so far had very little to do with. So it was a surprise to be asked to take one for a walk.
His stable name was Sonny, and he was only part-grown, standing just a little above my eyeline at the shoulders. I was not concerned, it seemed like a fairly boring task. Walk to the end of the drive and back with a horse. Easy.
I put on a halter, clicked my tongue and set off, expecting Sonny to walk quietly beside me on command. That’s what most adult horses are trained to do. Sometimes a gentle tug on the lead rope might be required, but, in my experience, rarely anything more.
Sonny set off for about 20 yards, then came to a halt.
I tugged repeatedly, talked to him and eventually begged him, but he simply would not move forwards. Weighing at least half a ton, there was nothing I could do to budge him.
Eventually, I turned around and headed back.
The boss, Alison, saw us coming and hit the roof! Apparently I was supposed to be training Sonny about good manners and obeying commands. All I had succeeded in teaching him was that he could get his own way by digging his heels in!
Suddenly Alison was wielding a long whip.
She yelled at me to turn around and walk, or else!
The whip cracked, and I’m not sure if either Sonny or I knew which of us was going to feel its sting first.
Talk about a walk of shame!
That humiliation stung me for many weeks afterwards, but I did learn some much needed humility.