What do the neigh-bours think! From tea in the kitchen to watching racing on TV, meet the horses who make themselves at home
- Ali Stearn, 38, says her kid’s favourite thing to do is have tea parties in their kitchen or garden room with their teddies and their titchy Shetland pony
- Caroline Wilde says her pony is a diva who licks prosecco drops from her hand
- Eleanor Martin, 34, says her pony cosies up to her while she’s eating lunch
We all know that if you give a pet an inch, it will take a mile. But if you’re reading this squidged into the corner of your sofa while your dog relaxes over the rest of it, spare a thought for the people who have to share their home with a horse.
There are an estimated 15,000 Shetland ponies in Britain, but forget muddy fields and draughty stables, for these pampered ponies only the warmth and luxury of their owners’ country homes will do . . .
A SPECIAL SHETLAND GUEST AT TEA PARTIES
Ali Stern, 38, is a children’s author and illustrator and is married to Rupert, a farmer. They live in Norfolk with their children Bunny, four, and Bertie, two. She says:
My children’s favourite thing to do is to have tea parties in our kitchen or garden room with their teddies and our titchy Shetland pony, Jack — yes, really!
Jack, who will do anything for a biscuit or a fairy cake, clatters into the furniture with his big, wide tummy and likes to scratch his bottom on the kitchen table. He’s an adorable blunderbuss and a food thief, and if he were human we’d have to send him to boarding school to learn some manners.
He’s now 17, but I’ve had him since he was three, after spotting him and his younger brother Joe in a field near my then home in the Cotswolds. It was love at first sight, so I contacted the owner, a lovely chap who’d rescued them, to see if he’d sell them to me.
One of the family: Ali Stearn with her children Bunny and Bertie and their pony, Jack. Ali, 38, is a children’s author and illustrator and is married to Rupert, a farmer. They live in Norfolk
He warned: ‘They’re naughty and always escaping!’ But it only endeared them to me more.
Jack’s the only one who’s allowed inside our house. He’s a year older than Joe but is only 28 in tall (or seven hands in horse speak), just a few inches taller than a male Labrador. A horse’s height is taken by measuring from the ground up to the highest point on the withers, or the ridge between the horse’s shoulder blades.
He has tiny hooves that fit into the palm of my hand and don’t require shoes — Shetlands rarely do enough walking or work to need them. Meanwhile, Joe’s big at 44.8 in tall, much jumpier and does have shoes on his much bigger feet that would make our tiled floors treacherous for him.
Jack, though, is very much a house-horse by day and has been since I got him, albeit by accident. I was taking him for a walk on his lead one day, realised I’d left my mobile phone in the house so nipped in to get it and he followed me in, did a lap of the kitchen and looked very much at home.
It really tickled me so I kept letting him in after that. He’s even been known to sit and watch the horse racing on TV with my husband (who rolls his eyes at the madness of it all) and once joined us for a dinner party when all our guests were a bit squiffy.
But behind the cheeky glint in his eye, Jack is the gentlest pony. I visit care homes with him in his guise as a therapy pony in return for a donation to Dementia UK, and we have raised £24,000 so far.
It’s magical to witness the effect he has on elderly people, some of whom sit for hours alone every day. They may not have spoken for months owing to dementia, but they spot Jack and their faces light up.
He’s been known to scratch his bottom on their wheelchairs and Zimmer frames too, which always makes them chuckle, and he once swiped an entire Victoria sponge from a cake sale at a care home.
My greatest delight, though, is that my children now ride and play with Jack and take him to local country shows with me.
They absolutely adore him and would love him to live in the house permanently.
But come bedtime we take him back outside across the courtyard to snuggle down on his huge straw bed in the cosy barn he shares with Joe.
SASSY PONY WHO POSES FOR SELFIES
Caroline Wilde is a saddle fitter and lives near Goole, Yorkshire, with her partner Andy, a marine engineer. She says:
Mini MO is a diva pony who flicks her mane, licks drops of prosecco from my hand if we’re throwing a party, poses for selfies with guests and wanders in and out of our house like she owns the place.
Woe betide me if I don’t look up from my laptop when she swaggers into my office — she soon gives me a nip or even a little headbutt to grab my attention.
Caroline Wilde is a saddle fitter and lives near Goole, Yorkshire, with her partner Andy, a marine engineer. She says: ‘Mini MO is a diva pony who flicks her mane, licks drops of prosecco from my hand if we’re throwing a party, poses for selfies with guests and wanders in and out of our house like she owns the place.’
When I got her eight years ago from a racehorse trainer, she’d never been handled and it took two men to catch her and put her into the trailer for me to bring her home.
I wanted her as a companion to my two showjumping horses and also to keep the grass down.
Since then she’s been the resident lawnmower on our seven-acre smallholding — hence the name ‘Mo’ — although she’d rather be raiding my cupboards for carrots or fruit than grazing on grass.
She even empties the contents of the bin all over the floor in search of food and I once found her having a snooze at the top of the stairs.
Mo, who is 27 in tall, became the lady of the house not long after we got her. At the time, my mum was living with us, as she was very ill with cancer, and whenever she went outside for air, Mini Mo would follow her when she returned.
I’ll never forget the first time I came home from work to find them snuggled up together in the living room watching TV.
Sadly, Mum died two years ago, by which point Mo had well and truly got her hooves under the table.
After all the comfort she gave to Mum there’s no way I’d ever shoo her out now.
One of my two dogs — who are only a fraction smaller than Mo — isn’t so happy about her being in the house. She barks crossly at her as if to say, ‘Oi, get out of here!’ Ever the princess, Mo ignores her. In fact, she’s set quite a precedent as my seven sheep have started following her.
Thankfully, Mo has only ever had one little toilet accident indoors, which is pretty good considering she’s always in there. Given the chance, she’d live in the house because she loves being around people.
So much so she once escaped from my old house in Herefordshire, and made her way to the playground at the local primary school, which the children loved as much as she did!
STAIRGATE TO STOP SPARKIE SNOOZING UPSTAIRS
Lara Maskell , 38, is a photographer and animal handler for TV and film. She lives in Surrey with her partner and their children Archie, 10, and Arabella, four. She says:
Strictly speaking, our Shetland pony Sparkie is supposed to live in our private 33-acre woodland. Not that you’d know it given the amount of time he spends inside our house.
In fact, but for the stair gate we’ve installed to block his path, he’d be upstairs in a flash to make himself at home in one of the bedrooms.
Lara Maskell, 38, is a photographer and animal handler for TV and film. She lives in Surrey with her partner and their children Archie, 10, and Arabella, four
We got him two years ago as a companion for my ex-polo pony and for my children to ride. I was tidying the house one morning when Sparkie suddenly appeared in the kitchen. Arabella giggled and squealed, ‘Get out, Sparkie!’ but we thought it was adorable that he’d joined us indoors.
Since then he’s been in the house constantly, stealing food, snoozing in the living room and generally looking to be made a fuss of, much to the disgust of our four dogs — he’s 24 in high, only an inch taller than our wolfdog, whose bed he likes to trample all over.
At 11 years old, he’s middle aged in Shetland pony years — they typically live up to 25 years — but he’s not short on party tricks, including climbing up onto stools and sofas, saying ‘please’ for a treat by offering his front leg, and lying down to indicate that he wants a cuddle.
Our back door is open a lot, as the dogs and children are in and out all the time, and Sparkie never misses an opportunity to sneak in. If there’s the slightest sniff of food he appears in the kitchen in a flash, quite often while we’re eating lunch.
He can’t get enough of carrots, raids the fruit bowl, and would devour digestive biscuits every day if we let him.
But he’s short and tubby and we have to watch his waistline, so they’re his once-a-year treat at Christmas.
Even if there’s no food on offer in the house he’s never in any hurry to go back outdoors and will settle down in the kitchen or living room instead.
MR FUDDLES DRIES HIS MANE BY OUR LOG FIRE
Eleanor Martin, 34, lives in Burford, Oxfordshire. She owns a company that offers event management and bookkeeping to rural and equestrian businesses. She says:
Few people will have experienced the joy of having a pony cosy up to them while they’re eating lunch in the kitchen, but my miniature Shetland stallion Mr Fuddles does it regularly, always with one eye on whatever I’m eating in the hope he’ll be able to pinch some.
Technically, he’s supposed to live with my two Cotswold rams in the field that neighbours my cottage, but prefers to be in the house with snacks, fuss and room service on tap.
I bought Mr Fuddles, who’s 30 in tall, eight years ago for the grand sum of £30 after seeing him advertised for sale on Facebook. At the time he was 18 months old and seemed like the perfect companion for my dressage horse, who was lonely away from other animals.
Eleanor Martin, 34, lives in Burford, Oxfordshire. She owns a company that offers event management and bookkeeping to rural and equestrian businesses
That was until he started leaving her in the field and making a daily beeline for the house whenever he spotted the door was ajar.
I often take Mr Fuddles to visit patients in care homes and hospices and while they stroke him, he stands patiently and quietly, which is very different to the extremely noisy pony he is at home, neighing loudly to make his presence known.
Because I take him out and about, he has regular showers under the hosepipe in the garden with shampoo and a good scrub to make sure he’s fragrant and well groomed, but he’s not up for drying off in the fresh air.
Oh no. Only the warmth of the open fire in the living room or the Everhot oven in the kitchen is good enough for my pampered house pony.
Everyone in the village knows who Mr Fuddles is as he’s often seen out on walks with me and the dog, or attending local events.
He’s also escaped from his field a couple of times and been found four miles down the road.
But despite his mischief, he’s pretty well behaved, doesn’t bite or kick, is great with children and — touch wood — has never pooped in the house.
He’s a tiny pony with the biggest personality and I’m pretty sure he’s convinced he’s a dog, which might explain why he ate my cocker spaniel’s food the other day.
My house wouldn’t be the same without him.
In fact, I am going to teach him how to climb up onto the sofa so we can have proper cuddles while we watch TV together.
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