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Brian Higham: Badminton's long-serving stud groom

PUBLISHED: 10:55 06 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2013

Brian Higham: Badminton's long-serving stud groom

Brian Higham: Badminton's long-serving stud groom

Debbie Graham meets up with the Duke of Beaufort's stable manager

It is the end of an era at the Duke of Beauforts Badminton Estate. For after half a century of work, the stable manager Brian Higham is hanging up his boots and retiring at the age of 77.

Yet although he landed up working in the stable yard of one of Britains most iconic estates and a place immortalised forever in the adrenalin-filled sport of Eventing he had to learn his trade the hard way.

For his family was not a wealthy one and although he grew up in the countryside around the beautiful Yorkshire village of Snainton a horse of his own was not possible. His father was talented sculptor and artist who spent time in the services and it was just through working on the farms Brian learnt his trade.

As a boy I was always keen to get a ride, and when they were getting the sugar beet out of the fields I would ride a carthorse, he says, and I used to beg rides to go hunting.

But working with horses is what he always wanted to do and Badminton was his first proper horse job. He arrived here in 1959 as second man or in modern terms deputy and remained as such until 1966 when he took over the reins as stud groom or yard manager as it is known today.

And during this time he as seen some changes. He spent 25 years working with the 10th Duke, which I was very proud of, he says, as he was a very famous man, and then 26 working for the present.

Today would not compare with the grandeur of that era, he says, manners have changed worldwide, there is a casualness now. You could set your clock by the old Duke if he said he was going to ride at 10 he did not five past or ten to. He would apologise if he were early. Whereas a lot of people now do not care if they are late, they should care, but they dont.

It is a life that his brought him the experience of mixing with people from all walks of life. He lists the Eventing greats, such as Sheila Wilcox, Mary King and Richard Walker as personal friends and admits to receiving Christmas cards and conversing regularly with Prince Charles, who he says: Likes my homemade sloe gin which I give him every Christmas.

And it has taken him all around the country and the world too as he has become a well-respected judge, judging at all the top shows. On the day after I met him he was jetting over to America to do some judging there. Not bad for a man in his eighth decade.

But when I suggest that he perhaps should consider himself a southerner as he has lived in the Cotswolds for over 50 years he is emphatic in his response.

No, he says, I am Yorkshire born and bred and very proud of that.

But that said he does love the area saying: I have lived like a millionaire here, and when he does have a free evening there is nothing he likes more than a quiet meal at The George in Nailsworth with his wife, Sherry.

So does he have any regrets on the path he has taken?

I dont think you can have regrets, I mean I have a great life, so many dont have that, he says. But I would have liked to have trained. I have had a bit of success with the ones I did and I think I would have been able to do that.

For despite being heavily involved in the Eventing and showing world he remains a national hunt man and over the years owned several successful pointers.

But the last few years have not been easy. Two years ago he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma and chemo and radiation followed. Thankfully he has now been given the all clear but this made him re-evaluate his life.

It would have been easy just to carry on but the health thing made my mind up really, he says, If things cant be done at the standards you would like then...

Leaving the obvious unspoken. He is without doubt a perfectionist and one that likes to do a job properly.

So with retirement beckoning he can surely take things more easily - or maybe not as his plans reveal.

Well I walk every morning and I like to ride and I will probably go to Yorkshire more. There will also be more time to travel. My wife is American and has a house in South Carolina so who knows I may go out there for a couple of weeks or a month or two.

I have also got a couple of pointers in training, he adds and he does not rule out buying and selling the odd horse either.

And he will remain within sight of the stables at his estate cottage.

The duke says I have a home for life here, he says and I will still be able to keep the odd horse or two on the yard.

But the question then arises, will he actually be able to retire when he will still maintain such close links to the place? Will he not be tempted to give his opinion if he feels they need it? After all it was his life for 50 years.

I dont think that would be fair on my successor, he says, as she will want to do things her way, but my door will always be open if she needs advice.

And there is no doubt it will not only be her seeking him out, for his door will surely remain a beacon for his numerous friends wanting to visit.


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