To Fair Isle & France

On January 3rd I received an email from Cecile Courtois, a French lady who had seen my pages on the Westside Ponybreeders website. She was interested in a yearling colt, Schiehallion Sceptre, that I had for sale. She also enquired if I had any older colts or stallions for sale. She was looking for a chestnut, 40” or more. I replied that I had a newly licensed colt, Schiehallion Jubilant, rising three, out of Claylands Sugar, but although his parents were both big he was a first foal and I couldn’t see him making the height she wanted. However I emailed up to date photos of the wet muddy ponies, apologising for the state of them. Imagine my astonishment when I received a reply from Cecile, assuring me that they had mud in France as well, and wanting to buy both ponies.

When I picked myself off the floor we got down to important details like when she wanted them, transport, price etc over the next few days. I admit to being “totally gob smacked” having imagined it was an either or situation, never thinking for a moment that she’d want both ponies, especially as I’d planned to show them both at the Breed Show. Actually half of me thought this was a “ Wind Up” by some friends living in the south of France.

Cecile asked me to organise the transport after I told her that haulier Gordon Hamilton from Fraserburgh went back and forth to France. Gordon agreed to take them in February, advised me of what paperwork I needed and we agreed on who was going to do what. He also told me that Auzebosc, Cecile’s home town, was in northern Normandy, so it wasn’t that far once they were over the Channel. Gordon also suggested that Cecile might like to consider buying another youngster to travel with Sceptre, pointing out that they would travel better together and that the transport would cost her very little more for the extra pony. So after a few enquiries I bought, on Cecile’s behalf, a chestnut filly from Helen Thompson, HRE Melle, and she joined the gang at Schiehallion.

What you have to realise is that all the business between Cecile and myself was conducted by email. Neither of us really speak the others language. I did pass O level French, but that was 38 years ago, and I’ve never actually spoken French to a French person. Cecile’s English is about the same level as my French but there does seem to be a way of getting your emails translated into another language. We’ve managed very nicely apart from the odd highly amusing misunderstanding, and I’ve even tried out a few words of French dredged up from the dark recesses of my memory. Fortunately Gordon speaks French so I relied on him to make sure we were all singing from the same hymn sheet!

In the middle of all this I had an email from a lady called Hollie in Fair Isle wanting a companion pony for the Highland pony that she had just bought, as there were no other equines in Fair Isle. The Highland was arriving from Aberdeen on the 17th Feb and there was a special boat going to Fair Isle from West Burrafirth that morning. Could I, or someone else pick up her Highland from Lerwick and get it on the Fair Isle boat complete with Shetland pony. AAAgh!!!!!! After more trips up the hill to photograph wet muddy ponies, I sold her Bijoux, a 2 year old filly, and managed to persuade Hollie to bring the Highland up a day earlier so that he could rest before being put on a boat again. I was going to be at work that day so Norman Leask agreed to pick up the highland from Lerwick and keep it for 24 hours. I persuaded Hollie to come out and oversee the loading of her ponies herself as I felt it was a lot to ask of anyone, not used to bigger breeds, to load a strange pony into one of those crates.

And then it snowed, lots!! It was taking me nearly two hours to get to work in the Landrover. Norman was panicking that he’d not be able to get to Lerwick to pick up the highland pony, and that it would be marooned in Lerwick. The ponies going to France were delayed by a week because Gordon had such a backlog after being snowed in and had extra horses coming out of his ears. That was not to mention the fact that I wasn’t brave (or stupid) enough to try and tow the trailer in those conditions. The snow went but left a very hectic revised schedule.

Sunday: Take Schiehallion Bijoux to West Burrafirth

Monday: At work but keep in touch with Norman to make sure Highland pony arrived ok

Tuesday: At work but keep in touch with both Norman and Hollie in case of any problems with ponies going to Fair Isle

Wednesday: Take Cecile’s ponies to pier before going to work

Hectic, but achievable!

Then I got an email at work on Monday. Hollie, who had intended to fly out of Fair Isle and travel to West Burrafirth to see to her ponies, was completely fog bound, which was unusual for the time of year. Norman had picked up the Highland pony, Storm, and transported him to West Burrafirth. After having seen how docile he was he assured me that he and Evelyn would manage to get Storm and Bijoux onto the ferry the next day. I relayed this information to a relieved Hollie.

Tuesday evening I heard that the ponies had arrived safely in Fair Isle and although Bijoux had travelled well, Storm was a bit shaken, both have since settled in well and Storm is totally besotted with his small companion.

Wednesday went like clockwork, the only shame was that the ponies were so dirty as my land was so wet after the thaw. The ponies had been looking so lovely in the snow! I would have loved to have washed them, but that is a total no-no at this time of year. Anyway I left them at the pier and then I had a wait of a week until they arrived in their new home. This was an anxious time for me, not only that the ponies should travel well but that Cecile should like them when they got there. However I need not have worried, the email came that made it all worth while. Cecile was delighted with them, her 12 year old son Ludovic had adopted yearling Sceptre, and her husband, Eric , the young stallion Jubilant.

suspect that I have acquired a few more grey hairs dealing with all this, but I like to think that I have made some new friends along the way which to my mind is an important part of why I do it. I’m told it is possibly as much as forty years since Shetland breeding stock was exported to France from Shetland and one of “My” ponies is now the only Shetland Pony in Fair Isle.

Jackie Syme (Schiehallion Stud)