There was a big ‘surprise, surprise’ moment awaiting Debs Harris when she opened up at her well-known Trumor Feeds business in Newport, for a normal work day in January.
A big secret had been harboured for weeks by her husband Martin and shop staff Jo and Carly – but Debs was blissfully unaware that she was going to receive the British Horse Society’s Isle of Wight Equestrian Hero Award for 2021.
That was until Isle of Wight BHS committee members Jane Watson, Andrea Durham, Claire Underwood and Trish Merrifield sprang out to present her award.
“I was literally pounced on when I arrived at the shop” laughs Debs. “It was a massive shock and I couldn’t believe how they’d all kept the secret – but it was such an honour to be recognised”.
Debs is only the second Islander to receive the award since it was instituted by the BHS – the first person being a long-time friend of hers, David Corney, who sadly passed away only last October.
Born to the saddle
Debs’ life with horses goes back to early childhood, and while still at primary school, she and her twin sister Christine were bought a pony – Chota – to share. As members of a Shorwell farming family that can trace its Island roots back to the 1500s, they also grew up around lots of working horses.
Over the years, Debs says she “always had something to ride” – although she never envisaged that horses would become such a big part of her working life.
She married milkman Martin, a keen carriage driver, and their children Julie and Sean were always encouraged to ride, and had ponies. For a while Debs helped Martin out on the milk round, although she jokes: “It wasn’t exactly my forte, so that didn’t go very well!”
For some years, she worked at the gardens at The Old Smithy in Godshill – but life took a different turn in 1994, when she decided to take on a weekend feed round that had been started by a friend of hers. Trading in her car for a van, she began going door-to-door delivering horse food – and the business developed to the point where after a couple of years she was able to quit her job at The Old Smithy and do the round full-time.
That involved collecting the food from Trumor, where she discovered that the owner, Mr Morris, had been trying to sell for some time, with no takers.
Taking a risk
“After two years I thought Iabout buying it” recalls Debs, “but I didn’t have the money so we came to an arrangement and in 1997 I was given the opportunity to lease it for three years and then got a mortgage after two and bought it”.
Subsequently, she and Martin also bought a field at the rear of the shop from the Attrill family, where they set up a sand school, allowing the Trumor business to go from strength to strength, and ultimately with the space for an arena where they ran their own jumping and dressage events.
“It was amazing how it all developed, but I could never have done it without that help from Mr Morris right at the start” she says.
The business gave Debs the chance to work full-time in a world that she’d always been passionate about, and the contacts she made led to a period of travelling to Denmark – often with twin sister Christine – to buy foals.
Not surprisingly, her knowledge, and expertise all fed into the business and made it the go-to equestrian specialist on the Island.
Around 10 years ago, Debs and Martin had a bungalow built at Trumor’s Forest Road site in Newport, making it the perfect home-based business.
Now retired from the milk round, Martin does deliveries from the shop instead, while sister Christine still handles the company accounts.
Debs says she still loves the business as much as she ever did – mainly because she deals with a whole community of people she’s come to know so well.
“It’s the sort of business you’ve got to have a passion for and it’s given us a lovely life really. Everyone who comes into the shop, we know.”
During lockdown, Trumor was one of a handful of businesses on the Island that was working pretty much as normal because, as Deb observes, animals will always need to be fed! The opening times were slightly changed to 10am to 2pm, but Carly and Jo were still working there throughout the lockdown.
The constant demands of the business, plus the fact that she underwent a hip replacement three years ago, means that Deb has had to curtail her own riding somewhat. These days, she aims for a couple of ride-outs a week in the forest with Ben, her Connemara pony.
Meanwhile the huge, engraved glass trophy she received from the BHA now takes pride of place at home and Debs reflects: “When you go along in life, just enjoying what you’re doing, you never expect to be recognised for it – but it is something I can definitely feel proud of.”
A spokesperson for The British Horse Society South Region said of her: “With her quick wit, ready laugh and generosity with her time, advice and arena, Debs has always made a hugely valuable contribution to the Island’s equestrian community. As she says ‘We’ve had lots of fun!’”