Well it's been an age since I last wrote a blog - and I must say this is not one I ever expected to have to write. My good friend and mentor Mic Fryatt decided to depart this world on his own terms earlier this month. I was both shocked and saddened to learn that mental illness had suffocated him so badly in his last month or two that he could see only one way out. I write this blog as a tribute to the man we knew and loved, and as a lasting reminder to his gorgeous wife Sandy and two amazing children Max and Georgie. Most of the following was taken from the Eulogy that Quentin Haines and I were honoured to read at his funeral. Some of the words are Quentin's and some are mine. We both shared so much admiration for the man, the legend, Mic Fryatt.
Micheal Robert Patrick Fryatt. We knew him as Mic and often he was referred to as Mad Mic. So often in fact that he had the number plate. Mic was a controversial figure. He lived his life engaging in rigorous debate on almost every subject. He took great pleasure in being provocative and prided himself on being his own man. He relished being a living contradiction. Mic would often say that he was not a "God Botherer" but in the same breath would say that Jesus was his friend.
In New Zealand we have known Mic since he moved here in the 1980’s. Mic always allowed us in New Zealand to form the view that he was a modern day Heathcliff or some sort of Gypsy King from the UK. In fact the reality is far more normal. Mic was born on the 12th of May 1956 to Fred and Elsie at St Edmunds Hospital, Northampton, England. Mic and his sister Carole grew up in suburban Northampton along with his folks.
After finishing school Mic started training as a farrier - a skill he had enormous talent for and that he never lost his passion for throughout his life. He aced his farrier training apprenticeship winning the best apprentice at the local Royal show at Stoneleigh Warwickshire in 1974 the trophy still stands proud in Mum's front room. Building on this success he worked all around the country shoeing before going on holiday to New Zealand falling in love with the country and returning to settle there.
In his youth Mic was also keen rugby player - until ironically he claimed that he was too small to be competitive - we knew him as a larger than life man - both physically and metaphorically.
Mic’s biggest skill was undoubtedly his talent as a farrier. Ultimately he became a Master Farrier where he trained others in this craft. Mic discovered his greatest gift - his ability to train and motivate others. Mic’s first success came when he trained his finest prodigy the late Richard Ellis to be the winner of the British Blacksmith Championships. Later Richard was twice crowned Champion of the World. Mick was more than proud.
Over time Mic also developed his passion for horse trials. Mic being a man of limited means but unlimited animal cunning, discovered that he could buy good horses cheap from insurance companies. Mic claimed that these horses were written off for loss of use by their rich riders who purchased good horses that they could not ride. As always the conspiracy theorist Mic believed that there was nothing wrong with these horses and they just needed to be retrained. So Mic purchased these horses for a bargain and retrained them and thus was able to compete at horse trials in the UK to a high standard.
Horse trials opened Mic’s eyes to the world and it was not long before he made his first trip to New Zealand in 1984. To Mic New Zealand in the early days was a horseman’s paradise. Mic could buy quality New Zealand ex racehorses for as little as a couple of hundred dollars each. At this time these ex race horses were coveted internationally as the ideal type for the old fashioned three day event with its much longer endurance phase.
One of Mic’s first great equestrian breakthroughs was in the discovery of the horse Justin Thyme who went on to win numerous events and represented Great Britain at the World Games and Germany at the Olympics under two different riders.
Mic became a Kiwi gaining his NZ Citizenship in 1996. He first lived in Belmont in the Hutt Valley. That is why his horses all carried the famous "Belmont" prefix. Mic later purchased a property at Mt Cecil Road at Hayards Hill, Pauatahanui.
Mic’s skill as a blacksmith was quickly recognised by the New Zealand Horse Society as it used to be known. This was to lead to Mic being the New Zealand team farrier at the Seoul and Barcelona Olympics and the World Equestrian Games at The Hague in the Netherlands.
Former World Eventing Champion Blyth Tait remembers Mic’s total loyalty and dedication to the team during his days as official farrier. “Nothing was ever too much to ask of him and he was the first to muck in and help with everything around the stables if required. He was a massive contributor to my early successes on the team”
Mic got even more inspired after being part of the New Zealand team. This lead to Mic himself becoming an international event rider. One great moment was captured forever with the famous cover of the Horse and Pony magazine where Mic and Belmont Spot were completely submerged in water and splash as they jumped off the pier at QE2 Park.
Mic and Belmont Warendorf became a very successful combination. Mic rode with the winning New Zealand team in the Trans-Tasman competition in Gawler in 1993. One of the things that equestrian community will remember Mic for was that all his horses were fed was bread. It’s supposed to kill them, according to the Pony Club Manuel but for the Belmont team it only made them stronger.
Of course Mic was not only a skilled farrier and rider of some repute. He was also a loving husband to his darling wife Sandra and a very proud Dad to Max and Georgina. Sandy and Mick first met in 1988. Sandy told me it was not quite love at first sight – but ever the schemer, Mick left his horse Belmont Spot in Sandy’s care whilst he went away to the Seoul Olympics. Eventually Sandy came around to his charming ways and the pair got married in 1990. Together they farmed in Kaitoke and then on to the Hunter family farm at Otaki which is where I first met them.
After the birth of Max, Mick and Sandy upped sticks and moved with four event horses back to the Motherland to give Sandy a taste of the UK and European eventing circuits. Whilst shoeing for a living and lecturing in Farriery at Warrickshire College, Mick sudsidised the family income by leasing a farm to fatten bulls. Foot and Mouth disease put paid to that idea, but never one short on ideas, Mick imported Icecream machines from Otaki back to the UK and started selling NZ Real Fruit Icecreams in the UK. Then it was Spit Roasts and Burgers at horse shows and private functions.
After the birth of Georgina and the offer of a huntsmans job back in NZ, the Fryatts decided to move back home to New Zealand to settle in Marton where Mick spent three seasons persuing his love of hunting as the Huntsman for the Rangeitikei Hunt Club. After that job ended Mick resumed his shoeing run – much to the delight of many of his former Wellington and Kapiti clients.
Mic became a father later in life when he was about 40. Max was born just prior to the family move back to the UK. I remember many evenings based at Nobottle near Northampton where Mic would sit drinking beer at the end of the day whilst reading to baby Max, the favourite book was always Touch and Feel Fluffy Duck. In many ways fatherhood mellowed Mic.
Mic was a hands on father in the early days. The focus was on Sandy’s riding and often Mic was left in sole charge of Max. Mic was always attentive to Max’s needs and never got distracted from his duties as a parent. It was always important to Mic that Max came with the family to the horse events and Mic was highly skilled at locating nanny grooms to provide extra assistance on show day.
As Max started to grow into the young gentleman he is today, Mic had designs on Max being a horse rider. However as Max’s skills in rugby developed it became apparent that his sporting prowess was to be on the rugby field. Mic in the early years lived vicariously through Max’s rugby. However over the last few seasons Mic confessed that Max’s skills had vastly surpassed those of his own.
When Georgina was born the family were still living in the UK. Mic was initially unsure what to do with a daughter. He hoped that she was going to be more like Sandy then him.
As Georgina grew and started to develop her interests in dancing and performing Mic was constantly amazed how his daughter could be so graceful. Mic never imagined he could gain such pleasure from watching his daughter on stage. He was always so proud.
Mic always made time for his friends and listened to their problems. His advice was always brutally honest but normally spot on.
Mic always loved hunting. In the UK he took great pleasure going out with his team of lurchers to poach the Earl of Spencer’s deer.
Mic was not always an easy man to work for as a budding young rider. I was with him in both New Zealand and the UK where I worked for him and Sandy as a three day event groom. It was like he broke you down to build you back up again and mold you into who he wanted you to be. If ever there was a man who could run a cult-like community for young horse riders it was Mic - The Eventing Evangalist”. I remember the bollocking I got for leaving a solitary wood shaving from the stable floor in the tail of Belmont Cush de Gree as he went on the XC on a very wet Burghley XC day. He never ever let me forget that even some 15 years later. One bloody shaving! I will also never forget the horse Belmont Fattyumpkin – a noted napper and rearer who Mic told me he was going to shoot to stop his behaviours. And he did – I remember him yelling out “Stand Still Quentin” before he shot bb pellets at the horse from the far side of the arena. Quentin was too scared to do anything but what was instructed. And the horse seemingly was cured - he never pulled those tricks again.
Like it was said earlier Mic was a contradiction - he could be so tough and at times mean to us kids, but you knew underneath all the gruff and rough stuff there was a heart of gold. When my stallion Belmont Golden Boy was about to sent to Jesus (as Mick would say) he drove all the way from Marton to Raglan to say his goodbyes and bring him a final supper - a loaf of bread.
Without Mic and Sandy Fryatt my riding career would never have got off the ground. They lent me wonderful horses like the stallion Gruenhorn Du Trichon who I won the NZ Young Rider Title on. Then there was Belmont Warendorf who took me round Pony Club Eventing and Dressage Champs as well as helped me get my A Certificate. How many young riders get given a horse that has been on three NZ Teams and had done 12 CCI 3 Stars? And lets not forget Belmont Ballerina who was finally laid to rest just a week after Mic's passing - She was my lead broodmare for many years and was a successful horse in hand being Reserve Champion Sporthorse at the Horse of the Year Show. And last but not least the incredible Belmont Golden Boy who took me on an incredible journey to win the NZ National Champs and Horse of the Year titles.
Mic - for all you have done for me and the careers of riders like myself – I salute you. May you be running the hounds and shoeing the great horses in heaven.