Marilyn by Sophie Callahan

Marilyn by Sophie CallahanI feel that if you follow me on Instagram in particular, I’m doing you a disservice. You’re finding out little bits of information about Marilyn, my super cob, but not the full story about how I became her ‘keeper’. I say keeper because although she’s mine (in that I paid money for her and am her registered owner), you don’t really own a horse like Marilyn. She allows you to care for her. And I kind of love that…

How we met

I met Marilyn a while ago… 18 years ago to be precise. She used to come for schooling and holiday livery at an event yard I worked at. She belonged to a great friend of the owner of the yard, and although Marilyn wasn’t like the other horses you’d see on the yard, she clearly didn’t care. Everything else was mostly thoroughbred, most were well over 16hh, some over 17hh. Not Marilyn. Marilyn is a 15.1hh/15.2hh piebald cob. She was bought from somewhere in Shropshire, where she ended up after being brought over from Ireland. She was (and is!) very easy to do in some ways, stubborn as hell in others, but she was and continues to be a very sweet soul.

She has always been an interesting character… I think most mares are. If they’re on your side, you’re sorted. If they’re not, you’re screwed. And this still remains very true of Marilyn. We always got on well. But she wasn’t flashy. I’m tall and at the time had a very big ex-racehorse who, quite frankly, wasn’t meant for me. We didn’t get on. I tried hard with him but after a few pretty nasty incidences, he went back to his owner (as I had him on full loan) and last I heard he was happy hunting – which would have suited him down to the ground.

I wanted another horse and went to look at a lot. None were really ticking all the boxes. Then Marilyn was put up for sale. She’d done nothing wrong but her owner’s life had become more ‘full’ due to an ageing mother, running a big company and more. Marilyn, although a lovely person, had not been the most straightforward. Despite sailing through a vetting, a couple of months after arriving, she’d had a foal, the process of which had nearly killed her (and the foal was sadly stillborn). She was also much younger than people thought.

But I didn’t want her. I mean – she was too small and too chunky – she was a cob. I wanted to event. I had also really REALLY lost my nerve and Marilyn was about the only horse I actually felt safe on all the time and would jump over anything. I mean, I’d ride most horses, but very fit event horses are not that straightforward either. One would show you the inside of her shoes when you went to retrieve her from the field, one enjoyed terrorising you in the stable, one was an absolute swine to mount, one was incredibly cheeky jumping and would stop for kicks and so on. Marilyn wasn’t. She wouldn’t dream of using the energy required for most of these thing.

Anyway. After a while of getting to know her much better, there was only one option, and that was to buy her. The view was that I would learn a lot with her, but I would also breed from her and get my flashy, faster eventer in the future. And so that was that. I bought her. From my now mother in law.

Marilyn is responsible for my life now

Big statement, I know. I’m not going to tell you about her various health issues, trips to Bristol vets school and attempts to die on me… we’ve had them. But through her, I met my now husband. And if I hadn’t met him, I wouldn’t have the children, probably wouldn’t be living where I am, and wouldn’t have Gu, her son. And I also think she would have had a pretty challenging life given the issues she’s had. She’s responsible for a lot… but more than that she has taught me more than any book could. And for a book addict, that’s a big thing. She is the kindest, sweetest soul… but cross her and she remembers, and she’s not very pleasant to people who have treated her badly in the past (Ok- switch ‘not very pleasant’ to ‘will happily damage’). You can put a two year old or a 90 year old on her (I’ve done both) and she’ll look after them. She chats away to you if you go and pour your heart out to her and always makes you feel better. She is the kindest ‘person’ I know and I have never known a horse fight harder. We used to compete and she would always ALWAYS try her hardest. If she did something a bit special it would be because she hadn’t understood the question. When she knew what you were trying to do, she’d get on side very quickly.

So, to me, Marilyn isn’t really a horse

I know it sounds soppy. She might look like a bog standard horse – well – she looks like a gypsy cob. And technically she is. But she is far, far more than that to me. She’s a friend, a fighter, fiercely protective over those she cares about and spiky to those who have wronged her. She’s an incredible mother, even now, to her son. And she oozes personality. She’s also a constant reminder about how a single decision can change your life for the better. What if I hadn’t bought her? Well, I would have probably ended up buying something flashy and pretty, over-horsed myself and given up on anything horsey. My ex-racehorse experience really shook me… I was pretty brave until then (not as brave as I was before I compressed my spine in a jumping incident!), but wasn’t after a few nasty falls and a fair amount of concussion. That kind of thing does make you wonder why the hell you’re doing it. But Marilyn restored that and then some. In addition to being great to ride (for a cob she has very nice paces and is a hoot – a cross or excited Marilyn is one of the most amusing things in the world…), she’s just lovely to have around. She’s always pleased to see you but isn’t needy in any way. She’s the perfect pal.

Why am I telling you about Marilyn now?

Well, I had a photoshoot with Sophie Callahan in July and Marilyn has, obviously, featured a lot. I’ll tell you all about Gu soon too, but without Marilyn, there wouldn’t be a Gu. Actually, there might not be any of this! Weird, hey!

The gorgeous pic is by Sophie. If you want a shoot she has a few spaces left, so get ’em quick!