MY PER­FECT LIT­TLE HERD

DAVID MED­CALF PULLED ON HIS JODPHURS TO TALK TO RENOWNED WICK­LOW HORSE BREEDER SUZANNE ACRES – ONLY TO FIND THAT THERE WAS NO CHANCE WHAT­EVER OF SADDLING UP ANY OF THE SPE­CIAL HORSES AT BALLYKEPPOGUE STUD

Wicklow People (Arklow) - - INTERVIEW -

ON THE WALL in the hall­way of the Acres home near Wick­low Town is a large, framed pho­to­graph of a fine black horse. The pic­ture was taken from the side, with noth­ing in the back­ground to dis­tract the viewer from this mag­nif­i­centt an­i­mal with its glossy coat. Here, surely, is a steed fit for a king, or at least fit for the rigours of the hunt, or maybe a clear round in the ring at the RDS.

But no, the horse in the pic­ture is ac­tu­ally far too small to carry any­one but a very small child on its well-bred back. He is scarcely bigger than a Saint Bernard dog, though his con­for­ma­tion mayy be equine per­fec­tion.

The sub­ject of the photo is one of 30 minia­ture horses in the fields and sta­bles at Ballykeppogue.

The shoul­ders of most of these Lil­liputian equines scarcely reach the belly but­ton of the av­er­age hu­man. In charge of the breed­ing and show­ing these re­mark­able spec­i­mens is Suzanne Acres, who is ded­i­cated to the task.

‘They are com­pletely dif­fer­ent to Shet­lands, which are minia­ture ponies,’ she ex­plains. ‘These are proper scaled down horses.’

Wel­come to the world of minia­ture horses, a world with its own pedi­gree lines and its own net­work of shows.

The Ballykeppogue Stud is well known through­out this spe­cialised, pint-sized uni­verse, with count­less rosettes and tro­phies to prove it.

The mem­bers of Suzanne’s string come in many colours, from many back­grounds, with noth­ing ob­vi­ous in com­mon but their small scale.

‘We are all about qual­ity,’ claims the young woman in charge, giv­ing her mis­sion state­ment. ‘Our ob­jec­tive is to make the most per­fect minia­ture horse, re­gard­less of regis­tra­tion.’

The bland for­mal words can­not dis­guise her sheer whole-hearted en­thu­si­asm she brings to the task she has set her­self.

She loves her minia­tures, all of which have names and all of which come to greet her as she walks through the fields and the sta­ble yard.

On a tour of the premises, she in­tro­duces some of them to the vis­i­tor from the news­pa­per.

Here, for ex­am­ple is Rocky, his beau­ti­ful golden hide fringed with black mane and tail to cre­ate an eye-catch­ing sight.

The stal­lion’s cor­rect full name is Lucky Legends Coura­gio Rock­star, blessed with Ar­gen­tinian genes and United States breed­ing.

The South Amer­i­cans ha­have a par­tic­u­lar strain of minia­tures called Fal­la­bel­lala and Rocky is one of the fe­few ex­am­ples im­ported to ththis part of the world.

He looks en­tirely at home in his Ir­ish pad­dock, as well he might cor­ralled wwith his harem of four mmares.

Suzanne in­sists that she is not ob­sessed with pedigi­gree as she pur­sues her holy grail of per­fec­tion in size and shape.

Her con­ver­sa­tion is pep­pered with ref­er­ences­ref­er­ence to Shet­land Amer­i­can (al­to­gether dif­fer­ent from the ponies, ap­par­ently), Welsh stock and hack­neys from which she seeks to pro­duce the per­fect cross. She is happy sur­rounded by an­i­mals. As well as the horses, she and her fa­ther Ge­orge have room for a cou­ple of don­keys and a small col­lec­tion of Lleyn sheep.

Then there are the dogs – JJ and fluffy puppy Penny – as well as the hens which pro­vide eggs for sale to passers-by.

Un­for­tu­nately, the sup­ply of duck eggs dried up re­cently when a pass­ing fox decimated the flock.

Twenty-five-year-old Suzanne Acres says her own breed­ing is very much Wick­low. Her love of fresh air may be traced back to spend­ing much of her girl­hood on The Mur­rough, that great stretch of sea­side stones which runs north from the town. She grad­u­ated from the Do­mini­can se­condary school to take a place on an ac­coun­tancy course at col­lege in Bray.

The no­tion of spend­ing the days balanc­ing fig­ures rather than mix­ing blood lines now seems slightly sur­real and she al­most shud­ders at the thought. She moved the few miles in­land with her fa­ther to Ballykeppogue ten years ago to what was sup­posed to be his re­tire­ment place.

As it has turned out, Ge­orge is not re­ally the re­tir­ing kind and he has taken a full and en­cour­ag­ing part in the stud enterprise on the 11 acres of the Acres small­hold­ing.

He has also turned out to be a dab hand at driv­ing, with a seat on board a gig be­hind a small horse.

‘We started out with two pet don­keys,’ re­calls his daugh­ter. ‘I had al­ways loved horses but we never had room for them be­fore and I never got around to rid­ing horses.’

The first of the minia­tures were a pair called Molly and Char­lie, who com­bined to pro­duce a beau­ti­ful bay foal called Dodger in 2009.

His own­ers were so de­lighted with him that, when they heard there was a show for minia­ture horses in Gorey, they drove down to the County Wex­ford.

She con­fesses that they had no real idea what they were doing but Dodger nev­er­the­less col­lected the run­ner’s up rosette in his class while a pas­sion was born in his own­ers.

They im­proved their pre­sen­ta­tion skills and their prized pet won count­less championships the fol­low­ing year as they hit the road for venues such as Athlone, Clon­mel and Tul­lam­ore, as well

Suzanne with Archie.

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