During July, Katherine Bertram – the Girl with the Jumping Arabs – celebrated her 20th birthday, the successes of the horses of Avonbrook Stud, and the life of a showman who left us too soon.
The rollercoaster of a month started with some spectacular highs, which began with the British Riding Club area qualifier for eventing. Representing Worcester and District Riding Club in a competitive 100cm class, the pressure was on PBA Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) to perform well and contribute a competitive score to my team’s effort. After a very respectable dressage test with a couple of minor blips, I was slightly concerned to see a very high penalty of 38.5 going into showjumping. As consolation, that was one of the better scores given by the judge, so I was still in a competitive position. After walking an impossibly tough showjumping course, I doubted my ability to post a clear round for the team, especially when more experienced combinations were having unlucky fences. Odin, however, thrived on the technical challenges posed by the course and flew around the beefy 100cm track without touching a single pole! Although there were a couple of tense moments, including Odin having a good buck and leap about in between the second and third fences, and having to jump three fences – including a double – on a 20m half-circle, we finished the round clear and as one of only two competitors in the team section to do so. Slightly controversially, the cross-country course was the same as it was two weeks prior, where I had the foresight to compete in order to iron out any potential problems. The knowledge of the course was a double-edged sword however as Odin, who knew where he was going and what was coming next, set off very quickly and tried to keep a strong gallop throughout. Although he only stands at 15.1hh, he has his father’s stamina and speed, and will be well suited for BE Novice courses where the required speed is faster than that of BE100. This does mean that he naturally runs too fast for 100cm speed, so there was a lot of wrestling him back into a jumping canter before fences that he would otherwise prefer to take out of his stride! He really is becoming quite the eventer and flew around the course just slowly enough to avoid penalties for going too fast. Having finished on our dressage score, I was delighted and the icing on the cake was the team winning and qualifying for the BRC National Horse Trials Championships. This is run at the start of August as a long format three-day event, including roads and tracks as well as steeplechase, so Odin spent the rest of July preparing for the added tests.
Avonbrook Odin storming around the 100cm area qualifier to qualify for the Championships. Credit JH Photography.
After Annia Aurelia, Penny (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi), qualified for the BRC Combined Training Championships earlier in the year, it was down to the super-sire himself to complete my BRC hat trick at the area qualifier for style-jumping. The premise is simple; a team is comprised of two competitors jumping a course of 75cm and two competing at 85cm, the course of fences is judged on style – split into individual marks for each fence and overall impression of the combination. Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) and I were in the 85cm and were in one of two WDRC teams forward. After the chaos of parking in a small area along with far too many lorries, we declared and warmed up for our round. I knew it would go one of two ways: either he would perform beautifully and jump a super clear, or he would spook at everything and have several fences down – in any case, he was going to have fun and make sure everyone was watching him! Luckily for me, he decided the former would be more appropriate and posted a very stylish clear round for his team. I didn’t realise just how stylish he was until the ring steward, who had found herself absent-mindedly patting him before our round, came up and tapped me on the shoulder and pointed me towards the regularly updated score-board. Not only was Marcus’ style score the highest of the class, it was the highest of the entire day with overwhelmingly positive comments from the judge! I’m really not the type of person to rest on my laurels but taking home individual first and a ticket to the BRC National Championships was pretty special. The team also finished second, only beaten by the other team from WDRC, so a very good day all around!
Before I knew it, one of the most magical weekends of the year was upon us: the Arab Horse Society National Championship Show. With three horses sharing eight classes over the three days, we were set for a very busy show and a very happy rider. Year after year as a child, I joyously informed anyone who would listen that “next year I would compete at the Nationals” and, for the past few years, I have been lucky enough to compete in the occasional class, even winning the first ever versatile Arabian class in a back ring with Marcus in 2015. This year, I was competing on multiple days, with multiple horses, and in some very exciting classes. The first day started with a bang as nine-year old Penny won the RASS (Ridden Arabian Star Series) Female class, and then went foot perfect in the Restricted Ridden Mares class. The result, although unexpected, was unimportant as she gave me an incredible ride and is really coming into her own as a show horse. There are many exciting things to come from Penny, and I can’t wait to make our British Eventing debut next year!
Annia Aurelia at the Arab Horse Society National Championships. Credit Becky Bertram.
That evening, we travelled back over to Malvern, luckily only 30 minutes by car from us, to dine with close friends at a local pub. I ate far too much and felt sorry for my horses who would have to carry me over the next two days, but the food and company were excellent and the memories of such a happy evening will hopefully last for a lifetime. Early the next morning, we arrived at Malvern with Fran Brown’s very exciting six-year old gelding PS Ibn Aurelius – Rory (Marcus Aurelius x PS Silvern Silk) – for his first ever ridden showing class, the junior pre-novice ridden geldings. Since Rory arrived at our barn last year, we have aimed to give him a well-rounded education without overdoing it for such a young horse. His attitude is infallible, he’s trusting and very kind-hearted so I was delighted when he walked into the scary ridden ring and asked me what to do when he walked past a flapping bin liner, then the stands, then the commentator’s box. All it took was positive thinking and keeping my leg on to give him the answer, and he held my hand all the way through the go-round, never showing his inexperience. His individual show was difficult and he performed it extremely well so I was thrilled with him and his bravery while alone in the middle of the ring. I think he’s another Marcy baby who rather likes the spotlight! Both his owner and I were delighted with second place against some stiff competition and his maturity when asked to re-enter the arena for the ride off for the pre-novice ridden geldings, where he duly stood third to the winners of both sections. The judge’s comments were not only inspiring for Rory’s future, but will also be held close to my heart as reassurance of my own abilities and judgement when choosing classes for inexperienced horses. Rory then competed in-hand for the Crabbet National Championships, where he trotted beautifully and behaved perfectly but wasn’t the judge’s cup of tea in a strong line up. It was a very long day for a young horse, but he was a testament to us, his owner, and, most importantly, his daddy!
PS Ibn Aurelius looking performing well under pressure at a busy National Show. Credit Di Volpe.
His Lordship, Marcus Aurelius, was bathed and beautiful in preparation for his classes on the final day of the Nationals, where he would make his ECAHO debut in the veteran stallions as he has now decided that the energy and noise of the in-hand scene would be rather entertaining! Penny was also raring to go, ready to contest the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) mare qualifier and the very exciting Midland Young Rider Final that culminated in the main arena. With the lorry packed and everything ready, we ordered a Domino’s pizza delivery and slept soundly in the comfort of our warm beds. Sadly, the climax of the 2019 Nationals was not to be.
Like so many others, we woke up to the tragic news that one of in-hand showings most loved handlers, Ryan Jones, had suffered a fatal heart attack and passed away during the night. Although we did not know Ryan very well, we were sorry to miss the rescheduled memorial service after the final day of the show was cancelled. It was difficult to see the transformation from the usually buzzing atmosphere of ‘Nationals Saturday’ to the sombre showground and the silence that had swept over it. The effect of Ryan’s untimely passing was palpable; he truly was one of the greatest showmen who could encourage the best from any horse and run to keep up with the biggest of trots. As we left, my heart sank again for the spectators who were being turned away at the gate and having the sorry situation explained to them, clearly having missed the Facebook announcement that morning. Once home, we were faced with a couple of expectant horses – how could we explain to them what had happened? With no National show to go to, we celebrated Ryan’s life and stellar career by taking our beautiful Arabians for a blast up the local gallops, in memory of a man who clearly loved letting his horses show off.
A happier memory of Annia Aurelia at the AHS Nationals. Credit Becky Bertram.
Somehow, I managed to celebrate my 20th birthday early in the month in between socials with university friends, high school friends, and horsey friends, all of which included vast quantities of caterpillar cake – my favourite! My trainer’s daughter also had the exciting news of being selected to represent Team GB for eventing at the Pony European Championships in Strzegom, Poland, during August. I was hoping to self-fund my way there in order to support her but sadly, due to mounting costs and the replacement HOYS qualifier taking place while I am at the BRC National Horse Trial Championships, I am travelling down to the South of England Showground to chase the elusive golden HOYS ticket instead. Rest assured, I will be watching the livestream and screaming at the TV during Great Britain’s efforts even though I cannot be there in person.
Although it ended in sadness, July has also provided me with some incredible moments. Both Marcus and Odin qualified for their respective BRC Championships, Penny had a breakthrough with her performance in the show-ring, and Rory made his unforgettable ridden debut at none other than the AHS Nationals! August looks to be a busy month and I’m looking forward to all it brings.
Annia Aurelia on her way to winning the Young Rider qualifier at the Classic Show 2019. Credit Sweet Photography.
Lead photo: Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose) at home. Credit Bob Langrish.