Pictures: Helen Yates – 07790 805960
Copy: Bill Mouland – 07720 414239

This time last year, Lola the duck laid her eggs in a corner of an open-sided barn only for a marauding fox to destroy the lot.This year she was taking no chances.Eyeing the options at the barn in Milland, West Sussex, which is part of eventer Nici Wilson’s yard, the young mallard flew over a stable door and made her nest in the straw normally occupied by Topper, a half ton champion horse.Far from being put off by this intrusion into his privacy, the 11 year old horse – full name Portersize Top Dollar – formed an extraordinary bond with the bird – allowing her to return day after day to lay another egg. Then he stood guard for 28 days as Lola sat on the eggs until they hatched.“We thought Topper would chase Lola out of his stable” said Nici, 23, who has just ridden the horse to victory in a British Open Indoor Cross Country competition, “but instead, he started to defend it, fending off the yard dogs if they came too close, protecting Lola. The fox has met his match this year with Topper on guard.’To stop the horse from lying down and accidentally crushing the eggs, grooms at the yard gently moved the nest to a corner of the stables.Yard manager Kim Stevens, 32, said: ‘Far from being upset, Topper really likes his little duck family. He’s in an out of the stable all the time but every time he came back in, the first thing he did was look round to make sure they were still there. When the eggs hatched and there were 12 ducklings in the nest he looked down on them with great pride.‘We have a couple of yard dogs called Milo and Frodo who were desperate to get in to see what was going on but Topper just put his ears back and shooed them away.‘The duck made her nest in the corner of the barn last year but it got raided by a fox and she lost the lot. This year the fox never got a look in.’Within a day of hatching the eggs Lola decided it was time to move on from her stable family and she led them out of the barn to a nearby pond where life is now going swimmingly.Topper, meanwhile, has gone back to the serious business of competition – against horses rather than ducks.endsPictured: Lola and the ducklings leave the stables.

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