My Life with The

WHITBREAD SHIRES

by John Sparks

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  UPON A WHITE HORSE

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The Story of Alison Payne who rode sixteen hundred miles around England on one of the Whitbread shires

On May 31st 1988 Alison Payne set out on a lone adventure, to cover a distance of over 1600 miles through

  every region of England, on one of the Whitbread Shires. This is John Sparks part of that adventure. 

In February of 1988 I was asked by John Lawless our stable manager to take out one of our shire horses, not on a dray, but ride him with a saddle and open bridle, around the streets of the Ciy of London. As our horses were not used to open bridles I ask why, he said there was a young lady going to ride him around England and we would know more about it at a later date.

So every day I would saddle Mighty up ( George was his stable name ) and ride around the City and Islington, through heavy traffic passing St Paul;s Cathedral and the Bank of England having a wonderful time sight seeing. This went on for a couple of Months including weekends then one day in April a young lady by the name of Alison Payne, who was going to ride him, arrived with another lady called Betty Skelton who was from the Side Saddle Association and on her arm was a side saddle which we tried on Mighty.

They started to tell me about the great journey that Alison was going to do, it would start on Tuesday 31st May from Hyde Park with the Household Cavalry sending her off, she was going to ride him around England and make the same journey that Celia Fiennes had taken 300 years earlier and finish in October at the Horse of the Year Show. It was for a charity called START ( Skin Treatment And Research Trust ) and all I had to do was get Mighty used to traffiic in a open bridle. By this time Mighty was not worried about traffic he had been out delivering Whitbread beer to the pubs all over the City of London and surrounding areas with his companion High and driver John Doe for the past seven years. He was also the postillion horse in the Lord Mayors Show, so he was used to heavy traffic and lots of noise. He took to the open bridle at once and nothing worried him, Alison would come to the Garrett Street Stable at weekends and ride Mighty and I would ride the back up horse ( Musketeer ) in case Mighty was lame or sick and could not do it. After a few weeks John Lawless told me that Ray Charlesworth and I were going to take Mighty to Knightsbridge Barracks and look after him until Alison started her journey on May 31st .

Whitbread was going to supply a horsebox and most of the expenses for her to use it. A lady called Catherine Bullens would drive it and travel with her to provide back up for her, meeting her and Mighty at their overnight stays
 
When we arrived at Knightsbridge Barracks it was a Saturday morning, they had arranged for us to be in the Vetinary section. We got Mighty settled in watered and fed, then in the arfternoon I saddled him up and had my first ride in Rotten Row. The next day I was there on my own, I got there nice and early so that I could go out with the household cavalry. It was an experience that I could only dream of and never thought I would do

 Ray and I said that it would need just one of us to be there at a time, so we would do alternative weekends and have a couple of days off in the week so we would only do five days with just one day when both of us were there in the week.

Alison came on the Monday morning and we soon got Mighty saddled up for her, she rode him out to Rotten Row with me walking by their side. On the days that she could not come and ride him either Ray or me would exercise him. After the early morning exercise I would feed and settle Mighty in the stable and go and have breakfast with the soldiers in their canteen, it was one of the high lights of the day for me, talking to the soldiers and watching the horses and men getting ready to ride down to Horse Guards parade in Whitehall. In the afternoon Mighty would have a good groom and the saddle and bridle would be stripped and cleaned ready for the next day.

Ray and I were at Knightsbridge Barracks for about five weeks while Alison got him used to a side saddle and both got to know each other.

The 31st of May came round quickly. The Household Cavalry were resplendent in their uniforms and horses in all their finery , the press and all dignitaries were there. With the drums and trumpets soundiing and a escort from Rotten Row and Hyde Park, Alison and George were on their way, their first night stop over woluld be Trent Park stables in Enfield north of London, I had arranged to meet her there that evening just to make sure George was OK, so that evening as I drove into the stable Alison and George were already there. She said that George had behaved himself and the ride had gone well.

The next morning I was at the Trent park stable to see Alison and George go on their way
acroos the Hertfordshire country side on their way to Broxbourne and Hoddesdon and the
 next stop of their journey up the East side of England riding till six each evening. By the time
 October came the evenings were drawing in that at to be curtailed to five each evening, on
average riding about twenty miles aday.

Alison sent me post cards letting me know how they were getting on. They were riding up as
far as Carlisle and Gretna then across to Longtown Cumbria, then down the west coast to
Land's End then back to London, a journey that would take them 1600 miles and take four
and half months.

The next time I would see them would be when she returned to London.
Ray Charlesworth, Peter Bundock and I would take a pair of George's friends Pikeman and
Musketeer to meet them on Putney Bridge, George was pleased to see them. We had some
photos and a catch up on her journey then Alison was on her way again,the next time I would
see them would be at the Horse of the Year Show at Wembley.

 

 

Allison KB

Above : Alison and George ready to leave Trent Park Stable

Allison leaving Knightsbridge Barracks May 31st 1988 riding George
  Click HERE to enlarge photo

You can read Alison's story in her book

    Please click Here