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Local pets: Albarden the horse

26th October 2020

Amander Meade meets Albarden, a former racehorse that found his forever home with local rider and business owner, Helen Smith, who runs Albar’s Den boutique in Oakham

The ancient folk saying ‘long in the tooth’ has its origins in the fact that horses’ gums recede, and their teeth appear longer, as they grow older – hence, one is getting on in years. On paper, thoroughbred gelding Albarden is a respectable 23 years old, but, like any good diva, he refuses to age gracefully and still ‘charges about the countryside’, according to his owner, Helen Smith.

Although she is a third-generation Rutland girl, Helen spent her childhood in Zambia, where she rode from an early age. ‘I remember my mother racing horses out there and always having horses around.’ The pair first met when Helen rode Albarden, or Al, as she calls him, on the gallops for a friend. ‘I had no intention of buying a horse at that time,’ Helen remembers, ‘I was quite happy occasionally riding other people’s mounts for fun.’ When Al was put up for sale at 7 years old, Helen was approached to buy him and, against her better judgment, couldn’t resist and so began the love story.

Albarden was a former racehorse that ‘hated racing’, and Helen soon realised that he had greater talent to be explored. She began to school him herself before drafting in four-star professional event rider, Lucy Kemplay, to help. ‘Lucy is a fantastic and highly experienced rider, so she rode Al in eventing competitions internationally – memorably in Fontainebleau, France, and improved his performance immensely. He definitely found his groove with eventing, although he has never been a very good showjumper! We did some ROR (retraining of racehorses) classes together and actually qualified for The Royal Windsor Horse Show, but sadly never appeared, as it was rained off that year.’

Over the next decade Helen and Al trained, competed and had a lot of fun together, although she nearly lost him to a fire when an arsonist set fire to his stabling. ‘Thankfully, I realised something was wrong when I heard him kicking against his stable door and rescued him and the other horses inside. That was a very scary moment and could have ended tragically. I’m glad to say the arsonist was apprehended and imprisoned.’

These days Helen runs Albar’s Den (albarsden.co.uk), a fashion and gift emporium in Rutland. ‘The name was inspired by Al, of course, with a bit of a twist. I think it suits the shop, which is a treasure trove of goodies.’ Retail’s long hours means that Helen has some help from a younger rider to keep Al exercised. ‘At 23 he’s fit and well and enjoys being ridden out as much as ever as he’s still a racehorse at heart and gallops like a maniac. He’s a bit of a legend and means so much to me. Horses are such good levellers, and, whatever your state of mind, riding will always leave you feeling better. Al is still a bit of a rascal but he’s incredible for his age and shows no sign of slowing down. He’s a demon for extra-strong mints and carrots and can be grumpy but he’ll be with me for life now. I would never, ever sell him, and, as he’s not the retiring type, as long as he keeps enjoying life, he’ll keep working. He’s the horse of a lifetime and definitely my best friend.’

View more on Helen’s boutique, Albar’s Den, here.