Lead photo: Avonbrook Odin eventing at 100cm. Credit TopShots
The month started with a well-earned family holiday at the Centre Parcs in Elveden Forest, which was only possible as there was a last minute drop out for a 3-bedroom, dog-friendly lodge and mum was half-joking about the idea when it came online. Combined with the locality to Newmarket, which was housing the Arab Horse Society exhibition at the time, mum, granny, Becky and I packed our bags and had an almost horse-free week. Admittedly, I really dislike spending time away from the horses, although I did get my ‘fix’ on a racing simulator and getting a snog from Sire de Grugy at Palace House, which was more than enough to satisfy my heartache. During our week-long break, I actually managed to lose weight after cycling around the perimeter a few times which I thought was quite a good result!
Once home, Princess Penny went back to her preferred home with Auntie Erica while I prepared Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) for his second ever one-day event, a 100cm around the British Eventing course at Solihull Riding Club. Walking the course proved to be a slightly scary affair, purely due to the sheer size, length, and old-fashioned boldness of the track. Needless to say, Odin flew around it for double clear, only adding some time penalties onto our dressage score to finish 8th. We had gloriously late times that meant I could plait him up in the morning and not stress about missing my dressage time. After a fantastic bucking display in the warm up, he contained himself for only one buck in the test to score 32.3 penalties in a tough section. After a clear – if a little speedy – show jumping round, not even the water, trakehner, ditch, or tricky final combination could stop him out across the country. I was especially pleased as he cantered straight through the water, a near impossibility for him a year ago, and Meadow Productions caught the whole round on camera so I have the memory to treasure forever!
We then had quite a quick turnaround to head up to my Godmother Jo’s yard near Stafford with Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – in order to stay the night before the Royal Cheshire Show for the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) ridden Arabs. Although Penny felt great on the ‘go-round’ of her class, we were initially called in near the end of the line. After the judge made a point of telling me how good a ride Penny gave her, we moved up to a credible 4th place, where the winner went to stand Champion and collect the HOYS ticket. I received some very helpful feedback from the judge and came away knowing that Penny was a top-quality mare and I just needed to make her ‘pop’ on the initial go-around.
Avonbrook Odin eventing at 100cm. Credit TopShots.
One thing I have noticed is that the sign posting ‘up North’ is much better than ‘down South’. I still haven’t forgiven the Royal Bath and West show for Somerset’s excuse of an A road and the near mental breakdown I had trying to direct us there safely and then hiking west to get onto the M5 or anywhere near some sort of civilisation on the way back. I don’t wish to be misunderstood – I really love the south west of the UK; I would just much rather tackle its roads in my little car than in the passenger seat, let alone the driver seat, of a big horse lorry! In sheer contrast to the show signs to Bath and West, there were signs both in and out of Cheshire County Show so we barely even needed Google maps to fall back onto the M6.
Marcus Aurelius eventing in June. Credit Jasmine Punter Photography.
Despite travelling for two competitions in only four days, we weren’t even halfway done… Next up was an 80cm event around the BE course at Broadway with Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), who was on fine form. His lordship had a fantastic time warming up for the dressage test, but pulled it out where it counted for 34 penalties going into show jumping. This was also an entertaining experience that turned a few heads as Marcus jumped all of the imaginary poles above the real height of the fences. After a very convincing clear round in the show jumping, we were sitting comfortably in 4th place heading to the cross-country. After setting off like a Badminton horse, Marcus stormed over the first fence and powered up the steep hill towards the second. Heading away from his doting fans, the old fusspot took against the steep incline and planted his pretty little toes in front of both the second and third fences before resuming the rest of his round. After his breather at the top of the hill, he was more than happy to gallop back down it for the next few fences, although a little insulted at being chased over any fence he dared to ‘peep’ at. He gave me a really fantastic ride around the rest of the course and finished well, so I was pleased with the old man overall.
Annia Aurelia walking out in hand at Aintree. Credit Katherine Bertram.
Later that very same day, we turned the lorry around and the spotlight back on Penny for the Equi Trek Aintree National Show. Penny very much enjoyed sleeping in a Grand National stable and even managed to pick one that did not house a National winner – in order to be the most famous horse to sleep in that stable, obviously… Penny had a lovely walk around the racecourse the night before her class which brought some members of a private party out to admire her on the balcony of the Princess Royal Stand; how very fitting. Princess Penny was not impressed to be dragged away from her adoring public (daddy’s girl!) and was eager to get going in the morning when she felt it was show time. I really hoped I’d be able to do Penny justice on the go-around, but I think the long driving time, the money spent, and the riding at Aintree took its toll on my nerves and I started to shrink into my neck and try to fold up out of sight. Penny, obviously, was not impressed with my behaviour and picked up the wrong lead in canter changing the rein. Unsurprisingly, we were pulled in dead last but the Princess worked her magic and clearly impressed the judges to climb all the way up to 2nd place and into our first HOYS Championship. After plenty of time to think about my strategy during the gelding and stallion classes, I elected to ride like the professionals I was up against and adopt their way of riding that made the whole picture so effortless and elegant. I hope he doesn’t mind me adopting it as my mantra, but I kept reminding myself to ‘ride like Froggy’ – David Froggatt – and kept an eye on him and the other pros to help with my ‘not even having to concentrate’ face. Many people know that my resting face is rather stern, and my concentration face even more so, therefore I am trialling a ‘Mona Lisa smirk’ because my show-ring smile is just a bit cheesy! When I focused more on myself, Penny went noticeably better due to my improved position and the fact that I stopped fussing about every little thing she did. We really looked like part of the line-up against some incredible horses and riders, and it was incredible to be watched by over 1,000 people on the Aintree Facebook livestream.
Annia Aurelia in the HOYS Championship at Aintree. Credit Equinational.
To end a very full month, Odin managed to steal the limelight again in our last overnight stay for the foreseeable future, with a trip to the David Broome Event Centre in Wales for their Midsummer Festival. On the first day, Odin was on flying form and jumped the most incredible double clear on the hallowed turf of the Castle arena in the 110-120cm class. Although the rest of the weekend never quite matched up to our first round, I was just happy to take home my happy and fit partner in crime. I retired him in his second class when we ended up ‘wearing’ a 120cm oxer, although he cleared it confidently on the second time of asking. We were only two fences from the finish, but I decided it was for the best to keep his confidence and save him for another day. I had a slight drama that evening, as my name appeared on the drawn order for a much bigger class than I had entered so mum drove up early in the morning just in case I wasn’t able to swap back to my smaller class. Luckily, the office was able to put me 20th to go – out of over 100! – in the Bronze League HOYS semi-final qualifier, but after all the effort, poor Odin was clearly a bit sore after our mishap the previous day and was struggling to make the big horse strides in the treble combination. We decided to withdraw him from the final day of competition and take him home as there is always another day, and Odin’s well-being will always come before my ambitions.
Avonbrook Odin jumping a double clear (110cm-120cm) at the Midsummer Festival. Credit Showground Photography.
In among all of the competitions with the horses, I received my first year results from the University of Birmingham where I passed all of my exams with flying colours and have been accepted into the second year of the course. I also drove my car up to my first year ‘halls’ on the hottest day of the year – so far – in order to officially move out and return my keys, involving an interesting game of ‘car tetris’ to fit everything in!
At home, the two foals Maddie and Archie – Avonbrook Winter Queen and Avonbrook Beltane Silver respectively – are growing up beautifully. Both are by Marcus Aurelius and will be retained by the stud as future competition horses, so I am very excited about my future with them. Our barn cat Sansa is also becoming much friendlier and I can even stroke her – providing I have some Dreamies to hand!
Perhaps most excitingly, our purebred three-year old colt ‘Sammy’, Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose), received fantastic comments from the vet as part of his stallion licensing so, awaiting confirmation from the Arab Horse Society, he will likely follow in his father’s footsteps as a competition stallion at Avonbrook Stud. He is clear of SCID/CA/LFS and looks to be a quality future performance sire, so watch this space!
Katherine Bertram is an English young rider who competes in a variety of different disciplines on her mother’s homebred pure and part-bred Arabians. Having achieved advanced rider status in Endurance after her first season at age 14 on Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), Katherine turned her attention to showjumping with his progeny, at which she currently competes at Senior Newcomers (1.10). As well as also delving into showing, eventing and, occasionally, dressage, Katherine juggles her studies while attending the University of Birmingham.