I was always a buyer, a seller, a trader of just about anything and everything. When we were living at Great Habton I'd go out and walk the lanes and hedgerows collecting crab apples. I'd collect what must have been tons of them. I'd bag the fruit til the bags were about three quarters full then top them up with locally scrumped apples to hide what was beneath. On a Saturday morning I'd load them onto a pony and trap and take them to market at Pickering. It was about six miles, I could do it in five with the odd short cut or two across a farmer's field. They'd sell for 1/6d a stone. When I'd sold them all I'd make myself scarce. I didn't want to be around when anyone rummaged about and found out the sack of apples wasn't all it was meant to be, then I'd go buy a big bar of Mackintosh's toffee from the sweet stall and enjoy the ride home, contented in the clear autumn air.
It might be that weakness for toffee that helped put paid to me teeth. I remember around that same time an altercation with the school dentist. I was in the chair, held down as usual with what seemed like more and more force every time, when I caught sight of a huge pair of pincers. They were big 'uns, far too big for the job in hand. I think he was going to get me back for the years of battles that we'd had in that chair. I didn't like the look of them so I ducked under his arm when he wasn't looking and I ran home. I wasn't taking any chances so I scaled the big tree at the end of the garden, right to the top. I could climb quick in them days. If you lived in the countryside then you knew how to climb a tree. I must have looked like a crow's nest, dangling on the end of one of the flimsiest branches but I knew nobody could get me. I stayed there until it was dark and when it was supper time I came back down, grabbed hold of some bread and dripping and I locked me bedroom door. I've never got along with dentists. Nowadays I don't have much need for them.
The first horse I ever bought was a pony at Malton Fair in 1943. I was 12 at the time. He was a rough and ready sort, and with a bit of haggling I got him for twelve pounds. I took him home and I broke him in and clipped him out and he looked grand. I sold him for twenty pounds to a local chap. Eight pounds profit which I could invest in more horses. That's how it all started. There were bargains to be had and there were folk that'd pay for a nice horse that was well behaved and looked just the job. I was the middle man. From as young an age as I can remember I could spot a bargain. I knew where to find a buyer too, so a bit of buying and selling and some work in the middle and I'd never be without cash in me pocket. And that cash would buy something else to sell. And so on it went.
I'd always liked horses, everyone was brought up with them in the countryside back then. Now its tractors and combine harvesters and every which sort of machine to do this and that but back in the day the horse was the power for many. A horse could work the land and earn you a crust if you couldn't afford a tractor. But horses also had another talent. They were quick, they could run fast. You could race them. And if they ran fast enough they'd win you money.
It was inevitable in the end. A love of horses, an eye for a bargain, a talent for buying and selling, and a plot of land. I was going to set up as a racehorse trainer.
I remember my first horse. He was called 'Great Rock'. I trained him for Mrs Straker. She said to me 'I'm going to give you your first winner, but he needs to run fresh'. He was a grand old horse. I got him straight and I got him fit. Very fit. Back in the day that's what you did, you got the horses fit and you got them to run as fast as they could. There were no blood tests and fancy foods and treadmills. Nobody had thought of computers. If you were well off you had a telephone. You just got your horses to run for their lives.
Great Rock was my first ever winner when he won at Edinburgh over a mile and half. Mrs Straker had kept her word. Jimmy Etherington rode him, I remember that day as clear as a bell. I was on cloud nine, on top of the world. I'd trained me first winner. And I'd beaten me Uncle Walter's horse that had finished second. That made it even better. From that day there was no looking back. I wanted more horses and I wanted more winners. Winners brought in money and money bought more land. When you're a farmer that's what you need, land. I've always farmed alongside the training. Trading cattle, trading sheep, trading wheat and trading horses.
But I never thought I'd be doing the same thing when I was 86, and with about a hundred horses right now. I hoped it but I never thought it. I don't know how many winners I've trained because I never kept count. I know some trainers who could tell you to the exact number, like notches on a wooden bed head. I couldn't even tell you to the nearest hundred. But it's a lot. Someone told me a while back it's about 3,000 but I'm buggered if I know. Everyone knows their numbers these days, it's so and so's hundredth winner for so and so. Don't worry about the counting, just get the horses fit and winning races. That's what the owners want, that's what the jockeys want and that's what the staff want.