Popular coloured horse Oaklawn Gypsy, known for his results as a side-saddle ride, has died aged 22.
Oaklawn Gypsy, who was known as Bertie at home and as ‘The Cow Pony’ to his fan club on the circuit, was owned, home-produced and ridden by Chloe Marsh for the duration of his career.
Chloe owned Bertie for 16 years. She bought him in 2007.
“He was my first ever horse and neither of us had any experience; even the lady who sold him to me thought it wasn’t a great idea for me to buy him,” explained Chloe, of the gelding who was bred in Ireland. “Many of the riders on my yard rode at our local show, Leicestershire County, and it was my ambition to follow in their footsteps and join them at the show one day. Exactly a year after I bought him, Bertie went to the show and took supreme. It was a dream come true and he’d introduced me to a completely different world.”
After various successes on the Pony Club and county show circuit, including appearances at the British Riding Clubs national championships, Bertie was started in a side-saddle.
“Someone said that he’d look good as a ladies’ horse, in passing comment, so I went to see Emma Brown, now one of my closest friends, to try him in a side-saddle,” Chloe said. “It felt like everything in his life had been leading up to his side-saddle career. He had an arrogance about him; as he was a coloured, people would look at him differently, and he loved that element of it. When you looked at Bertie, you always noticed that the others didn’t look like him at all!”
Chloe and Bertie, a former H&H hunter of a lifetime, hunted side-saddle alongside showing and representing the Side Saddle Association (SSA) in their display team. In 2015, they represented the British team at Aachen CHIO.
“He was only 15hh, which was very tiny compared to other side-saddle horses,” said Chloe, who was also second at Royal Windsor and won at the NCPA pony of the year show aboard Bertie. “My highlight with him was winning the rider of the year title at the SSA championships. We’d been reserve before, and I knew he felt like he had to prove everyone wrong and go one better. That was his motto his whole life.
“Bertie has been with me on every journey; he came to university with me and he was even at my wedding.”
Bertie bowed out from competition two years ago at the SSA championships, after a performance to Grease in the Carro Cripps dressage to music competition. He won with 89%.
“It was a completely unplanned retirement,” Chloe reflected. “But the audience were going crazy and he was in his absolute element that I decided that if it wasn’t to be now, then when? The commentator made a lovely speech about all his achievements, from memory. He still did displays and he loved going to game shows as it combined his two favourite things, following the hounds and being a showman.
“He always had a look in his eye and while he was so quiet at home, he had a sense of humour and bags of personality. He was larger than life and he was simply the best.
“I have been overwhelmed by the amount of messages and comments from his fan club.”
When asked how Bertie’s stage name ‘The Cow Pony’ came to be, Chloe explained: “A dear friend who has now sadly passed away gave him the name. She used to refer to him as the dairy cow, and so when I decided to set up a Facebook page for him I named it The Cow Pony. And it’s just stuck. I’m now married to a dairy farmer and on the odd occasion when Bertie got in with the cows it always took us a while to find him!”
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Credit: Trevor Meeks
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