Ex-Royal Marine Colin Bunting on his long haul to set up dream equine operation in West Berkshire
PUBLISHED: 16:55 24 November 2014 | UPDATED: 16:56 24 November 2014
Shocks, bumps, twists and turns - and not just from being sent flying by some of the British Army's naughtiest horses - Colin Bunting has led an extraordinary if sometimes scary life to date.
Watch him today calmly leading a curious four-legged customer into Newbury Equine’s two horse lorry and he looks… well every inch a former Commissioned Officer who passed the Commando Course to join the Royal Marines. However, as he happily admits: “I was raised in a mining village in the grim north, surrounded by dark satanic mills. As a child the closest I was ever likely to get to a horse would be if I bumped into a pit pony at the bottom of a coal shaft. In fact my dad’s words of encouragement of ‘If you don’t work hard at school you’ll end up down the pit’ spurred me on to gain grades good enough to get into university.”
We’ll get back to that in a minute, because this is one of those tales where it’s hard to know where to begin, or finish. The chap bouncing around in the yard is as fit as a flea, into his fifties with a vigour and spring many younger men would envy. But just over three years ago Colin was told ‘out of the blue’ that he had advanced stage cancer. He’s here today after choosing a life-or-death gamble to undergo radical surgery, and was back in the saddle within a year.
But let’s return to those university days. Colin studied Agriculture and Applied Zoology (lots of ‘ologies’ relating to hoofed creatures, he says) at Bangor University in North Wales. Recreational time was spent playing rugby, karate, climbing mountains and shooting. So rather than follow his academic qualifications after graduation Colin joined the Royal Marines, where he was to learn to ride at the age of 25.
“In those days, sadly no longer, the Royal Marines had a saddle club which was populated by horses that had failed to pass muster in the cavalry due to ‘character defects’. Thus the stables were populated with a motley equine crew of biters, kickers, bolters, spinners, stoppers and general all-round malingerers. And boy, did they know how to deal with first time jockeys!” he says.
“They had every trick in the book, from opening their own stable door to sticking their head first into the rafters and then into the bottom left hand corner of the box whenever a bridle appeared. Much baring of teeth and flashing of hooves accompanied every confidence-sapping encounter.”
A week long course starting with ‘this is the end that bites and this is the end that kicks’ saw Colin having his first experience of jumping: “I found myself sitting on the horse’s neck, facing the wrong direction, holding onto its ears, which were just beneath my buttocks. I realised the laws of physics were unlikely to be kind to me at this point and, sure enough, the ground came up to meet me.”
As a ‘numpty novice’ rider he spent many years happily hacking around Devon and Dorset. But a compressed disk in his lower spine, a result of “jumping out of airplanes and all that”, was starting to limit sporting activities… and then he found polo at Cowdrey Park. Lessons would lead to 10 years of hacking, followed by three seasons playing polo.
Colin was a founder member of the Hurtwood Park Polo Club, (proprietor Kenny Jones, ex-Faces, New Faces and The Who, drummer) earning a reputation as a ‘great team player’ (no shortage of egos in polo!) and a ‘bit of a ringer’, having managed to keep his handicap down for two of the three seasons.
When family life rightly gained centre stage Colin stopped riding until daughter Emma, now 12, took it up four years ago, and joined lessons which saw him learn to jump properly for the first time.
“Some weeks later I was invited to ride out one Saturday morning on National Hunt horses just coming back into training after their summer break, walk and trot only. I was mounted on ‘Harold’ - Herald Angel, and despite Harold and I having our differences of opinion (mine to follow the others, his to return to the yard or dump me - he didn’t care which) I survived and was invited back.
“Just as I was starting to enjoy riding out on the yard on a Saturday morning I rode someone else’s sports horse (may also be referred to as ‘bonkers’), for the first time on a cross country course and was spatchcocked as he jumped a warm-up line of tyres as if it was the last round of the puissance. I dislocated my pubic joint, tore an adductor tendon and suffered a hairline fracture of my pelvis.”
After a year out of the saddle, and having just turned 50 while holding down a high-pressure job in the IT industry, Colin decided to have a routine medical examination.
He recalls: “A weird coincidence of the combination of tests on my repairing fractured pelvis and routine medical tests identified that, despite having no symptoms, I was suffering from an advanced-stage, aggressive prostate cancer. I have been down the cancer road with other people, but it sure feels different when the doctor is looking into your eyes when he tells you the diagnosis.”
Colin chose major surgery (nerve preserving radical prostatectomy) as a ‘roll-the-dice, you may or may not survive’, emerged from the anaesthetic alive, and began convalescence. Within a year he was back riding both racehorses and hunters but at the end of 2012 went through the trauma of losing his own father to cancer.
Commuting from Newbury to London no longer appealed: “I decided to bring my passion for horses together with my business experience and establish a horse transportation business.”
He qualified as a DEFRA WATO certified horse transporter and attended courses in both natural horsemanship and lorry driving. Based in Berkshire but branching into neighbouring counties, Newbury Equine offers horse and pony transportation for competition and livery yards, professional and amateur riders and horseracing stables. Furthermore, the custom built two-horse lorry has been designed specifically by Colin with equine welfare and safety at the fore, providing a clean, modern, safe and secure environment to transport horses and ponies.
Colin says: “We all lead busy lives, particularly those involved with horses. At Newbury Equine we aim to remove the burden that riders and yard managers often experience when transporting horses. Whether it’s that essential trip to the vet, taking a mare to stud or to a competition or the races, Newbury Equine ensures their horse or horses get from A to B with the utmost care and safety, whilst our client is able to get on with their work day.”
For further information visit www.newburyequine.co.uk or contact Colin Bunting, 07827 968061, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colin to the rescue
When a horsebox suffered a tyre blow out, potentially rupturing a propane gas cylinder beneath it in September, the M4 ended up closed in both directions between Theale and Chieveley. Nothing could be done until the horse was safely removed and taken home to Cirencester. Later its groom, Carole Whittam, said: “The situation which resulted in Colin being called out was absolutely horrendous, dangerous and extremely stressful for the horse’s driver and myself. I can’t praise Colin enough for his part in the incident. For sheer professionalism he is second to none - calm, reassuring, confident and very, very safety conscious. I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending his service to anyone.”
Having had his own share of medical issues, Colin is a keen supporter of charities. These include directing a Macmillan Cancer charity horse race campaign, where he competed as one of the jockey, raising over £3,000. As well as The Brain Tumour Charity, he also supports Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) and is delighted to have moved a horse to Andover for them. The large, donated horse has been renamed Soldier as he will be working with injured service personnel, a cause close to Colin’s heart.