Audrey Buckingham was special.
, About 5 years ago I made my first set of Buckingham Fox Standards. But what a lot of people might not know is the spark of those foxes was ignited about 40 years before, at Tic Toc Stables in Alymer. I was a young teenager who had been showing small and large ponies for several years. I'd outgrown the pony divisions, but I didn't have a horse of my own to show. That's where Audrey Buckingham came in. She saw me at the barn, she knew I loved the horses, she watched me share my mother's ginger snap cookies to the ponies and horses I rode at the barn. Audrey was an avid member of the Ottawa Valley Hunt. She and her husband Col. Buckingham , Bucky rode to the hounds every week. When they weren't hunting they were hacking out over miles and miles of roads and trails in West Quebec. I honestly can't remember ever seeing Mrs. Buckingham enter a sand ring on a horse.
She told me she couldn't imagine anything more boring. She was always happy to tell me about where she'd been and what she'd had seen from horseback. She would ask me about the shows, fairs and various pony club events I'd competed in, I felt very grown up talking to her. She didn't seem to mind that I was a rather rolypoly ordinary kid. When she realised I had outgrown ponies and without a horse to ride at shows she kindly offered up her hunt mare Rum. Rum was a 15h bay quarterhorse who was honest as the day is long and would jump in form anything you pointed her at. This 3' plywood wall was on the grass outside the show ring, at 14 years old I didn't think twice about jumping it as my warmup fence. I wasn't a brave rider by any means. Rum was just that good and that honest.
The same summer I got to take Rum to a few local shows, Mrs. Buckingham felt she needed another horse to take over from Rum in the Hunt field. She bought a young unraced Thoroughbred from John Allan. He was an un-named bay just over 16 hh. She came home and annouced to her family at the dinner table, that she'd make a hunt horse out of him Come What May....and Kumquat had his name. Again the next year I was given the privilege of showing Kumquat in junior Equitation Classes, at the Ormstown, the Ottawa Exhibition and the Ottawa Winter Fair. I was just a kid in the lesson school and not a very talented rider but Mrs. Buckingham thought I deserved to have an opportunity to go to these events and offered me her very precious new horse to ride.
At the end of that year I turned 16 years old and my parents gave me a horse for my birthday. Col. and Mrs. Buckingham moved their three horses Rum and Kumquat and Bucky's Gideon to a stable closer to the Ottawa Valley Hunt. I got busy with my own horse but I never forgot Mrs. Buckingham's kindness. I was in high school and not a very good student. I would day dream and doodle and if it was a Wednesday and I was in class I would think of the Buckinghams Hunting and I started drawing funny little foxes in Hunt attire. I thought of them as the Buckinghams. I often thought it would be a fun to have a set of jump standards featuring these Foxes dressed in top hat and tails.
Then like many people I walked away from horses in my 20's. I focused on my career, buying a house etc. Well at least that was until my 47th birthday when I decided to get a retired Thoroughbred off the track. That lead to another Thoroughbred off the track, and that lead to the purchase of a small hobby farm outside of Carleton Place.
A very good friend and neighbour came over one day to help us put air into the bladder of our water pump. Jack Hinton knows how do do things. John and I do not know how to do anything. I started thinking about the Buckingham Fox idea from decades ago. As the guys were busy I got several large sheets of news print and started drawing. By the time the bladder for the pump was filled with air I had a 5 foot tall fox drawn on newsprint. So Jack Hinton who as mentioned knows how to do everything was having a root beer with John and admiring my work. I told him what had been my dream for a set of jump standards, and I wanted a fox like this one cut out of wood. Jack of course said he could do it if I traced the foxes out onto wood.
So now the daydream was going to become a reality. Jack Hinton was in for cutting out the foxes. I was going to paint them and build the standard form to put them on. I was still working for CBC Radio at the time and taking the commuter bus into Ottawa. Carolyn Cairns was my travel partner on the way home those days. She and her husband Pete lived in the Millfall condos in Almonte. She had told me that they had met Audrey Buckingham at the condo meetings and parties. So on the bus home from work the idea to make the Buckingham Standards and have a party to reveal them to Audrey was born. It took an entire communty to make it happen. Jack cut the foxes out of plywood, I painted like mad and Carolyn and Pete were in charge of bringing Audrey from The Perch to Morning Breeze farm.
I called Audrey with the date for an afternoon party at the farm. I said that the Cairns would bring her and take her home. There would be a few people from the neighbourhood and we'd have an afternoon of fun. She later told me she thought the invitation was very odd. It was for 2pm in the afternoon which was too late for lunch and too early really for cocktails. I laugh thinking about this because I of course have no idea about how to do things properly.
So the day arrives. I have the Buckingham Foxes painted and covered with two very large table cloths. We make sure everyone has their drinks and then I give my little speech about how this idea for a jump was inspired by Audrey and Bucky some 40 years before.
I am telling this very long story for one reason. Audrey Buckingham lived her life large. She inspired me the way she lived and the way she had fun and loved horses. Audrey Buckingham left a lasting impression on me. Our time together over my 60 years was not long but her brief brush into my life inspired me. She inspired me by the way she lived, laughed and loved horses. That impression stayed with me. From that meeting, I made my first set of Buckingham Foxes. The following Hunt Ball Audrey invited John and I to be her guest, as she wouldn't let us pay for our tickets I thought a donation in her name to the Silent Auction would be appropriate. So I created a panel of running foxhounds on one side and stylised greyhounds on the other, again inspired by Audrey. Foxhounds because of Audrey's love of the dogs and the Ottawa Valley Hunt and the greyhounds because during WWII when she was living in England she would hack out on her horse with her retired racing greyhound. That panel was bought by Wendy Doyle and her husband as a gift for Tim McMullen. The OVH then later bought a set of Buckingham Foxes to go with the hound panel. Audrey told me she would be very cross if I ever sold the original Buckingham Foxes. To this day they stand on either side of our front door. They have been to jumping competitions at the Popiels, the Pakenham Fair and countless other family events. They will never be sold. I wish when my time has come and gone I could say that my kindness towards another young person could inspire them to be creative and brave. I am part of a group of privileged group of people who got to know Audrey Buckingham even for a brief period.
I am now making all sorts of horse jump decorations and garden art. All of these projects came out of the idea of a set of Buckingham Fox Standards. Thank you Audrey. I'll miss you.
I've been a journalist and producer with CBC Radio for over 27 years. I now focus my time on my horses, my art, my fitness and my garden.