‘The horse who taught me anything is possible’

‘The horse who taught me anything is possible’

As someone whohad dedicated her life to caring for horses in need, Lynne Mabbitt thought she’d seen it all. A semi-retired vet, Lynne took pride in her paddocks and loved her own horses very much. But nothing could have prepared her for the day when Jigsaw, a three-year-old crossbreed filly, came into her life.

“It was almost 12 years ago now, in early springtime, and I was called to look at a trio of horses who had been taken into the RSPCA’s care,” says Lynne. All three horses were malnourished and in desperate need of help.

“Jigsaw was extremely thin,” Lynne continues, “and still supporting a suckling foal, who was suffering terribly due to her mother’s predicament. In addition to these two there was a third horse in tow, who was certainly the worst off.”

Of the three horses taken in, only Jigsaw survived. And even as someone who had looked after horses her whole life, Lynne couldn’t quite believe someone could treat these beautiful creatures in such a way. “I wouldn’t say that every vet has seen quite what I saw back then,” she says.

But far from wasting her energy in frustration and rage, Lynne was determined to put her skills to the best possible use at that moment. “It’s sad that some horses end up in situations like that,” she comments, stoically. “ But my role is to examine and address the issues at hand.”

Yet beneath her professional exterior, there’s a true horse lover in Lynne.

“I’ve always worked with horses, and started riding when I was about seven or eight. I just got plonked on one, and off I went,” she enthuses. Lynne clearly lights up the minute she’s asked about her own healthy and happy horses.

“I’ve always had three or four, even when I was working full time. But as an equine surgeon, that’s a real struggle. You have to be on call as well as doing your day job and taking care of your own animals. I’m semi-retired now, mainly so I can keep up with looking after my own horses, and spend more time riding them.

“My current horses are Wilma, a shire cross named after Fred Flintstone’s wife, and Raf, a younger Welsh cobb gelding. And then there’s Jigsaw, who is now the grand age of 14,” she smiles.

Because a year after meeting the underfed Jigsaw, Lynne was on the lookout for another horse – and guess who fit the bill?

“It was the January following Jigsaw’s admission to Bransby, the local rescue centre,” Lynne remembers, “and I was looking for a horse that was the right type and size and age to cope with off road trekking. Bransby had two suitable matches, one of whom was Jigsaw! She had come on marvelously in those few months and it was such a chance meeting that we simply had to reunite.”

Little did Lynne know that the resilient mare would become a star, competing in overseas competitions and fitting seamlessly into a professional team. Luckily her temperament made her the ideal candidate for TREC, an orienteering-style riding competition, which is Lynne’s passion and hobby.

“Jigsaw is fairly chilled out most of the time,” explains Lynne. “She’s quiet when you ride on the road, but you can take her anywhere, led or ridden. And that’s very important for TREC because we go off-road a lot of the time. We can be thrown just about anything to cope with, in terms of riding conditions.”

It’s heartwarming to see such a strong bond and trusting nature between them, borne out of their years working their way up the ranks, and now competing overseas as part of the GB TREC equestrian team.

“We started out with UK events when Jigsaw turned five,” says Lynne, “reaching top level competitions about six years ago.” And so, in September last year, Lynne and Jigsaw travelled out with the British representatives for the European TREC Championships in Scandiano, Italy.

“It was a beautiful place to ride,” Lynne says, “and even more special because it was the first time Jigsaw and I had competed abroad together. We are absolutely a team now, which is one of the big things you learn from TREC. It’s a test of the relationship that you have built with your horse.

“One of the reasons I enjoy it so much is the mix of orienteering with obstacles, jumps, gates… all sorts of bits and pieces. It’s a very different sport, and great fun.”
And Lynne won’t be giving up on her adventures with Jigsaw anytime soon.

“The beauty is that horses can compete in TREC for quite a long time because it is such a mix of activities. They can compete well into their teens and some horses still take part at a high level in the UK when they are in their twenties, even.”

The pair’s next competition will be in spring when the new season begins, but for the meantime Jigsaw is taking a well-earned rest with Wilma and Raf at Lynne’s digs.

“I don’t know what I’d do without horses in my life,” says Lynne. “I really enjoy my time with them. Though it still surprises me that they allow us to get on their backs and go off and do strange things, contrary to their natural instincts!”

Jigsaw has come such a long way, and must be very fond of Lynne, to follow her lead like she does.

  • Do contact the RSPCA if you’re concerned about a horse’s welfare. “Though, it can be difficult to judge what the correct weight is for a horse,” explains Lynne. “Most people don’t realise that an overweight horse is often in as much danger as one that’s extremely underweight.” So if in doubt, call your local branch or visit www.rspca.org.uk