Diane’s legacy will be the charity she founded

Diane Cooper with one of Heartbeat Home for Horses' residents

Diane Cooper with one of Heartbeat Home for Horses' residents

Diane Cooper, June 7, 1959 to Aug 26, 2014

Diane Cooper’s legacy will be the continuation of the charity she founded to give a permanent home to unwanted and retired horses, says her husband, Colin.

Diane, who died aged 55 after a short illness, was totally dedicated to horses and their welfare.

She and Colin founded Heartbeat Home for Horses a decade or so ago, taking in ex-racehorses and other unwanted equines to give them a home for life on their 30-acre farm at Heveningham.

As the charity grew, they set up a shop in nearby Saxmundham to raise vital funds and a few years later a second shop was opened in the town.

Running the charity was a full time job for Diane, from caring for the horses on a daily basis to fielding calls from people with horses they wanted Heartbeat to take in, helping out in the shops and dealing with finances.

Her husband, Colin, who is a director of the charity, says he will continue to run it as Diane would have wished.

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Diane, an only child, grew up in Norwich and was involved with horses from childhood.

When she first moved to the Halesworth area she continued travelling back to Norfolk to look after her horses which were still in stables there.

“She was always totally dedicated to horses,” says Colin. “That’s why she started the charity. She would never have a horse put down unless the vet said it was suffering.”

When she was younger, Diane worked for Lloyds Bank in Norwich and Southwold before leaving to raise her son and two daughters. She was also step-mother to Colin’s two daughters and had a step-grandson.

Before founding Heartbeat Home for Horses the couple were involved with the racing industry as owners and breeders of racehorses.

“We used to go to the races all over the country,” says Colin. “One of our most successful horses was Guestimation, who had 12 or 13 wins. Another was one called Woodyates.”

But gradually the couple fell out of love with the racing industry.

“We just felt there were more and more horses discarded because they were unsuccessful on the track,” says Colin. “There were lots of horses in need of sanctuary. That was how the charity started initially but since then we have taken in all kinds of horses, not just ex-racehorses. The people of Saxmundham have been very supportive, donating things to the two shops we have there to help fund the charity.”

One of the charity shop volunteers is Diane’s 80-year-old mum, Sheila Murdoch.

Diane’s commitment to horses and their welfare was illustrated by her relationship with one of her much-loved privately-owned animals.

In an interview two years ago about her charity work Diane said she couldn’t understand the mentality that drove people to get rid of horses that were difficult or no longer of use to them.

“When I first rode the horse I ended up owning for 32 years we went in reverse for three months,” she said. “She wasn’t easy but I never thought about off-loading her.”

She added: “I think what we’re doing is pretty unusual. There are a lot of rehabilitation centres for horses but not many retirement homes. The horses we take are old or are never going to be fit enough to ride again.”

Among the most touching of the equine residents’ stories was that of two horses taken in together in 2011 – Icy and Rosie.

Their owner was terminally ill and was desperately worried about what would happen to her elderly and inseparable horses when she was gone. The fact that they had a permanent home together at Heartbeat was a source of huge comfort to her.

“I know for sure that all the horses we care for would be dead without us,” said Diane in 2012. That’s what really motivates us. We are literally saving lives.”

It’s that ethos and determination Colin hopes to carry forward in Diane’s memory.

“The charity will continue. Things will just go on and be done in Diane’s way. It is her legacy,” he says.

Diane died on August 26, just six weeks after becoming ill. A total of £1,000 was raised for Cancer Research UK after the family asked for donations instead of funeral flowers.

“I’d like to thank everyone who sent cards and letters of condolence,” says Colin. “It was comforting to realise just how much she meant to others.”

Diane is survived by her husband, Colin, children Chris, Nicola and Katy, step daughters Helen and Emma and her mother Sheila Murdoch.