The South African horseracing industry, and the world at large, was deeply saddened to learn of the passing at the age of 93 of the Honourable Patricia Cavendish O’Neill in Somerset West on Tuesday.
Pat O’Neill was a rare lady and champion of all things bright and beautiful. Nobody is bigger than the game, but this is one case where an exception could probably be warranted.
An extraordinary animal lover, published author, racehorse trainer and breeder associated with the champion producer Broadlands Stud, Pat would have reached the grand age of 94 on 30 June.
In tributes that poured in to the Sporting Post’s offices immediately after the sad news broke, Ridgemont Highlands’ Amanda Carey, who rode work at Broadlands in her matric year and worked for Pat for over a decade, said that her family were devastated to learn of the passing of a lady who had played a huge part in their lives.
“Aunty Pat was a remarkable lady – a woman of the world – an inspiration – she was like family” added Amanda – whose son Justin said he was proud to call the grand lady his Godmother.
Former champion jockey Garth Puller, who rode many winners for the O’Neill stable, remembered a great horsewoman, lover of animals, and a person who made a huge contribution to our industry with influential stallions and imports from Australia of high class broodmares.
Avontuur’s Pippa Mickleburgh said that Pat was a dear friend and the news of her passing was heartbreaking.
Pat trained from the world-famous Broadlands Stud in Somerset West and had good horses – the likes of Swan River, Rose Bay, Miss Lindeman and Mexican Summer, to name but a few. At the time of her passing, she was still married to Frank O ‘Neill, who lives in Australia these days.
A charismatic, warm and unique person, animals were Pat’s life.
The sign outside the old Cape Dutch house on Broadlands Stud says it all.
‘Danger. Giant apes, fierce dogs, wild agapanthus. All these and other species may be loose on the estate. Enter at your own risk. Close all windows.’
Broadlands was home to baboons, vervet moneys, a multitude of dogs of varying shapes and sizes, hundreds of feral cats, and giant flocks of ducks and geese.
The Honourable Patricia Cavendish O’Neill grew up surrounded by animals of all species and sizes.
She was the daughter of the late Brigadier General Frederick ‘Caviar’ Cavendish and Enid, Countess of Kenmare, who loved animals just as much as her daughter did.
Pat’s Mom, Enid Lindeman – hence the name of the brilliant filly Miss Lindeman who she trained – hailed from the famous Australian wine family, and was an internationally renowned beauty who married four times.
Pat’s father died when she was six, but she shared her mother’s belief about fearlessness.
‘I could ride before I could walk. When I was six, my father let me go on a steeplechase. My legs were too short to fit into the stirrups, so I had my feet in the leathers, and it was absolutely wonderful, going over all these jumps at top speed. He was quite cuckoo, but it was fantastic. And this is why I could live with wild animals; they can pick up on your feelings, and if you’re afraid they know about it. I was never afraid.’
Pat always said that her parents taught her three things. ‘Never be afraid, never be jealous, and never complain when you are ill.’
She lived for years in Kenya, at the height of the beautiful country’s political turmoil.
She said she never felt threatened. “I was totally safe, because, according to the local Masai, I was supposed to be the biggest witch doctor in Kenya. I was the only person in the area with Western medicine and I was able to help people when they were ill. And I had a tame lion that slept in my bed – they all thought it was magic. When people had a curse on them, they used to bring them to me, and I would get Tana to walk around them while I mumbled words and then I’d say, “Now you’re fine” and they would get up and walk away. So we used to “undo” the curses, Tana and I,” she once said said.
Pat’s Mum was persuaded by her doctors that the altitude in Cape Town was better for her heart, and Pat followed her in 1968, leaving her beloved lioness behind – a decision she regretted all her life.
Fifty one years ago they moved to Broadlands, the internationally renowned Somerset West farm where she still resided on Tuesday.
Pat trained horses for her Mum and husband Frank. Old racegoers will recall the likes of Swan River, Rose Bay, Miss Lindeman and Mexican Summer, to name but a few. She is still married to Frank, who lives in Australia.
A conversationalist of extreme intellect and creativity, Pat could talk for a week on any subject – from the genius of Terrance Millard to sexist discriminatory practices by the Jockey Club that almost saw her banished to obscurity before she had even started.
Pat published her first book in 2004, entitled ‘A Lion In The Bedroom’ and visited Kenilworth Racecourse in 2013 signing copies of her next – called ‘A Chimpanzee In The Wine Cellar’.
The world is a very poorer place for having lost a lady who always followed her heart and the sun.
They just don’t make Pat O’Neills anymore.