How a wild grey became friendly neighbourhood Spiderman

Gillian McFadyen and son Duncan with their New Forest pont 'Spiderman'.
Gillian McFadyen and son Duncan with their New Forest pont 'Spiderman'.

A MOREBATTLE mum can boast past form in breaking in unruly ponies.

But Gillian McFadyen of Linton Downs really excelled herself this time.

Last year, the mum-of three felt her then nine-year-old son Duncan could really do with a bigger pony and noticed there were a couple of 14hh New Forest ponies on the schedule for a Carlisle sale.

“I googled the owner and rang him. He said: ‘Oh, I’ve got 19 of them’,” said Gillian.

In his 70s, Northumberland racehorse trainer Wilf Storey bought the ponies as a project for his granddaughter, who had been bringing on two at a time before getting a job down south – which was how he came to have 19 three- and four-year-old wild native ponies running on a 100-acre hill.

He’d gone to the New Forest and bought 25 foals and yearling colts, which were gelded and wormed when he bought them, but otherwise hadn’t been handled by humans since.

Gillian went to see them.

She told us: “Last year, we went to the Highland Show and Rory, who was four then, went into a toy shop – and started crying because there was so much. I felt like doing the same when I went out on that hill and saw the ponies.

“You couldn’t catch them or touch them, you clapped your hands to make them move. How do you pick one?”

She had her eye on a grey, but asked her husband Ian to come back with her to look. He liked the same one.

“I had to give Mr Storey two weeks to herd them off the hill and get a head collar on him. Ian had to reverse the lorry up to the shed, Mr Storey had tractors on either side of it and pallets to stop him escaping, but the wee darling went straight into the lorry and stood the whole way home.

“He was supposed to be a two-year project, but he was just incredibly easy.”

Duncan was on him within seven weeks.

“I did the lunging, long-reining and playing with him, and by February he was being ridden. He was very inquisitive and was keen to come and speak to me. We started by just catching him every day and grooming the bits you could touch.

“When we first put a bridle on I had to almost take it completely to bits then build it back round his head as he wasn’t keen on getting his ears touched.”

Spiderman, a generous 13.2hh and now aged five, recently jumped clear at a showcross (show jumping and cross-country) and did the three-hour Yetholm Shepherds Show fundraising ride.

“My daughter Katy who is eight is hacking him out now, he’s just lovely,” said Gillian. “I don’t want to sound like I’m blowing my own horn – he was easy – and lots of people do this type of thing.”

Gillian works for Borders Training Group organising training for farmers and, with Ian, has a rosette-making business, G&I Rosettes.

“I like bringing on young ones. Before I was married I used to buy three-year-olds and bring them on and sell them.”

“We can’t afford to spend four or five grand on a ‘made’ pony so from when the kids were tiny we’ve bought unbroken ponies and broken them in,” she explained.

She recalled how the family came to have Ruby, a Welsh section B pony: “We were going to a 40th birthday party in Annan and went via the Carlisle horse sale, and bought an unhandled three-year-old.

She was dreadful at first. I couldn’t lead her, she would break free and gallop to Morebattle – she did that three times. She’s now just six and has been selected for show jumping and eventing for the local pony club.”

The family brought on another pony, Wendy, a Welsh type, now aged five, who belongs to a friend and cost £180.

Gillian said: “She ran into a metal gate with Katy aged six, but went on to take the reserve championship in games at Duns Show.

“We like bringing them on. It’s good fun, but we do put a lot of time into them. The children ride every night, it’s all we do, they’re all just keen as mustard.”

New Forest ponies can sell for just £20 for meat, so Spiderman had a lucky escape.

“He’s a registered New Forest,” said Gillian.

“When I got his passport I looked up the man who bred him and rang him and he was just so excited. He’s in his 80s and he was just lovely. He said Spiderman was his favourite mare.”

Spiderman will next be competing at Glendale Show in August.