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'Farewell Spot' Alastair Stewart on the extraordinary bond between man and horse

Alastair Stewart at a riding school in Spain Credit: Alastair Stewart

"Nobility without pride, friendship without envy, beauty without vanity." - The Horse, by Ronald Duncan

Horses have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.

My mother loved them; my maternal grandfather was a mounted policeman and an extra in Charge of the Light Brigade.

Both my wife Sally, and I, were keen riders as children.

Alastair Stewart's wife Sally as a child Credit: Alastair Stewart

They were my sanity at boarding school and her pleasure as a child on the Isle of Wight.

When we married, I recall her saying, "If we are blessed with children, I hope one of them wants to ride."

Alastair Stewart's son Freddie Credit: Alastair Stewart

As my bank manager and accountant will attest, her wish came true in spades. Three of our four children ride; the fourth writes, beautifully, about equestrianism.

Over the years, we have bought many horses for the children.

One, a stand-out, died this weekend: he had incurable, inoperable liver cancer.

Alastair Stewart's son Oscar as a child on the family's horse, Spot Credit: Alastair Stewart

His official show-jumping name was Hannington to the Point - a magnificent, gorgeous, characterful appaloosa.

He was known within the family, and among our wide circle of horsey friends, as Spot. He was a magnificent mount for a teenage Freddie, when he rode ponies.

When Freddie, now 22, progressed to horses, Oscar took up the mantle and achieved great success on this sweet, forgiving, fun pony.

Oscar on Spot Credit: Alastair Stewart

Errors, aplenty, they both made; Spot would put them right. He'd put in a forgotten stride; he'd accelerate when a little encouragement was forgotten; he'd ignore exuberant egging-on when it wasn't necessary.

Horses provide endless pleasure to so many of our people: millions enjoy a passive punt on the Grand National or the Derby; we celebrate the likes of show-jumper Scott Brash and dressage rider Charlotte Dujardin winning Gold at the London Olympics; and country-folk, wrapped-up against the cold, cherish the friendly buzz of Point to Point.

Charlotte Dujardin and Alastair Stewart Credit: Alastair Stewart

But we are of another army: the mums and dads who endure coffee in plastic cups and burgers, better not eaten, as we turn-up to watch our children do their "Thelwell" thing, weekend in, weekend out.

Through riding, children learn responsibility, take exercise and develop deep respect for some of God's most wonderful creatures. Many call it a day, as they canter out of their teens. For others, like our Freddie and our Oscar, it becomes a profession. For our daughter, now a successful headmistress, riding remains a vital, wind-down pleasure at weekends.

At its heart is the horse: the bond between a human and his or her horse is a cherished relationship, a joy to observe and an honour to be a part of.

Alastair Stewart's son Oscar on Phoebe Credit: Alastair Stewart

Horses, quite capable to reminding a rider of their own strengths, develop extraordinary bonds with their master or their mistress.

They also are patently capable of developing relationships with other horses.

Our daughter Clemmie's Harriet knows her friend Spot has gone: she mopes, she searches around, she mourns.

Spot and Harriet Credit: Alastair Stewart

It was a privilege to have owned and known Spot. It is shattering to have lost him.

These words may leave some confused, even sceptical; others will know exactly what I mean.

Farewell Spot and thank you for a lifetime of happy memories, of loyalty and of love.