Remembering Tommy, the Old English Cob that inspired an equestrian school

Just outside Cambridge, at an equestrian school . . .

Life & Style

A shared love for an Old English Cob inspired this couple to create an equestrian school.

Ollie Parr and his partner Alice Griffiths were inspired by their shared love for an Old English Cob, Tommy.

Ollie Parr and his partner Alice Griffiths were inspired by their shared love for an Old English Cob, Tommy.

ABOUT 18 months ago, Ollie Parr and his partner Alice Griffiths had to make the heart rending decision to euthanise their beloved Old English Cob, Tommy.

Readers might remember Tommy's rags to riches story (The Land, June 9, 2017) after Ollie bought the stallion in a pub for just a few hundred quid and with a lot of tender loving care ended up with a magnificent animal for whom he was regularly receiving offers in the thousands of pounds.

A year and some months after the "adoption", Tommy was diagnosed with severe laminitis and had to be put down.

For both Ollie and Alice, a period of deep mourning followed, but as part of their determination to honour Tommy's memory, they set about developing Griffith Equestrian, just outside Cambridge in the UK.

"Obviously we both share a great love of horses," Alice explained, "and we want to help other people - especially kids - to fully realise their potential when it comes to owning, handling, riding and caring for such special creatures."

At the Heddenham property, the couple boards horses, school them if needed, offer riding lessons and carriage driving classes.

Ollie is also building a reputation as a commentator at horse shows around East Anglia

"Carriage driving has always been my big interest," he says, "and I love nothing more than to get young kids especially, building their confidence and becoming independent with the reins, but I also love telling people how it's done and making sure that on-lookers know just what's involved in getting horses to perform in the ring".

For Alice and Ollie though, the road that led them to owning their Scottish Highland mare was a bit like a fairy story and very different from their experience with Tommy.

"Look," says Ollie, "I've never been a shrinking violet, so when we decided that a Highland pony was the way we wanted to go, I thought, 'well, where do you get the best?'

Tommy inspired Ollie and Alice to create an institution in his memory. Photo: Alyson Hulley-Jeffries

Tommy inspired Ollie and Alice to create an institution in his memory. Photo: Alyson Hulley-Jeffries

"It wasn't like with Tommy where I felt an instant connection with a horse that was pretty hard done by, you know?

"This wasn't going to be about picking up a horse in a pub at all!"

In Australia Ollie might be described as having "more front than Parliament House", but his life philosophy is something very close to "ask and ye shall receive".

"The top breeder of Highland ponies is recognised to be the Queen's stud at Balmoral in the Scottish Highlands, so I just rang them up one day, told them that we were keen to find a mare to begin a breeding program of our own and asked if they had any mares to sell."

Sylvia Ormiston is the Queen's stud manager who quickly responded to the request with a "yes".

"This was last August," Ollie said, "and Sylvia suggested that we go up to the estate and have a look.

"Well, we just dropped everything and set off on what, for a Brit is a bloody long trip, eight hours on the road."

"Well the whole business of visiting Balmoral was spectacular," he said, smiling.

"We were made to feel totally at home, were fed and watered in the best of Highland tradition and came away having agreed to buy a six-year-old mare, Honour, who would be ready for us to bring back to Cambridge by September."

The whole experience carried with it a sense of unreality for Alice and Ollie.

"As we set off to come home after negotiations were completed, it was like 'wait a minute, did we just buy a horse from the Queen - did all of that really happen?'"

Unlike Tommy, Honour had a significantly greater price tag, but her bona fides are unquestionable.

"She's had a couple of shows as a led pony and has done very well," Alice says, "but our aim is to train her across a range of disciplines from leading to carriage and saddle work.

"Highland ponies are on the 'heavy' horse scale, which makes her very versatile and, honestly, riding her is like sitting in an old comfy chair, she's just so steady and calm."

Once her reputation is built, plans are to use her to extend the breed's presence in the "lowlands".

"It wasn't that long ago that the Scottish Highland breed was close to extinction," Ollie points out.

"The breeding program at Balmoral was established to stop that from happening and rebuild the national herd.

"It's been very successful and the opportunity to be part of that is very special for Alice and me - quite apart from the honour of having Honour in our stables."

  • Alyson Hulley Jeffries writes for The Land, she is currently in the United Kingdom.

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