2019 started with a bang for Katherine Bertram and her Arabians, although not in the way she was hoping. Undeterred by some setbacks, the horses of Avonbrook Stud continue to work and perform to their very best.
The past two years have been incredibly busy at Avonbrook Stud. In 2017, I was in my first – and final – year of competing for my high school in national competition which took us all over the country with my team, and 2018 was split between jumping, eventing, and showing with a barn full of horses. Typically, each year starts quietly, builds up exponentially until mid-summer, and then quietens down when I return to Uni. So far, 2019 is no different in that we’ve started quietly but are already planning competitions well into the Summer. This January, we only planned one competition for the horses and, unfortunately, managed to contain ourselves to that one competition only. Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) and one of his sons Avonbrook Odin (ex April) were January’s lucky volunteers and we ventured to Hartpury College – initially just for the Blue Chip Championship qualifier with Odin.
Odin worked beautifully in a busy warm up and coped admirably with the hustle and bustle of such an electric venue that we rarely visit. When we do, we either have a really good or a really bad day – sadly for us, that day was going to be a bad day. Poor Odin, having not been in front of a large crowd in several months and having not stepped foot in that arena in a year, became nervous in the ring. Usually he bounds up to fences and carries me into a perfect take off spot, but on that day he was really struggling with the horse strides and was backing off the full up course. After a bit of an accident at the first part of the double where we didn’t quite make the distance and ended up almost underneath the front rail, we regrouped and reattempted the fence with far greater success and completed the course without further incident. A few days later, Odin really let mum ‘in’ for treatment and she was able to iron out some major kinks in the shoulder of his left fore which has massively increased his stride length again.
We had initially planned to only take Odin’s sire Marcus to Hartpury for their unaffiliated showjumping the next day but, given mine and Odin’s little confidence wobble the day before, we took him along for the ride and stepped him right down to the 90cm to compete alongside his father. Odin, who felt much more relaxed with his dad by his side, was much more confident in the arena and jumped a beautiful double clear to finish just outside of the placings in a large and impossibly quick class. Marcus quietly conserved his energy ready for his turn and trotted in the ring with his neck arched, tail up, and fire in his eyes. After seeing a pleasantly forward stride to the first fence, I had no chance of wrangling him back into any sort of choke hold that my competition nerves would otherwise attempt, and I let him jump his way carefully around the first half of the course. The placement of the start beam for the jump off allowed me to swing wide around a corner and line him up almost straight at a curving line to shave off some time. Marcus kept picking his knees up and we took some very exciting ‘flyers’, including to the last fence which he was very clever to sort his legs out for and we stormed through the finish markers. Incredibly, we finished 3rd out of over 40 combinations and, with our podium finish, we qualified for the South West Unaffiliated Showjumping Championships that take place in the spring with Hartpury playing host!
With this surprise qualification and successful day, we were chatting and laughing in the lorry on the way home. Not even halfway into journey back, we were laughing about Marcus’ sense of humour in his mid-to-late teens when we bore witness to a mighty bang from the back of the lorry, and then the scraping sound that metal makes when it comes into contact with the road. Hazards on and pulled over, mum broke the news that we had a tyre blowout and the horsebox rescue was called. As it got darker, the rescue company advised us to call the police to close the busy B road in order to safely switch the horses onto a different lorry. Over 90 minutes after the rescue was initially called, the police were closing the road and the replacement horsebox was in position to take the boys home. Typically, Marcus strolled off the lorry in to a barrage of flashing blue police lights and the headlights of the stopped traffic without any fuss and his son followed him tiredly into the new lorry. Leaving mum and the police with our horsebox, I travelled with the rescue team and helped direct them back home. The boys couldn’t have been any better and were quietly sleeping on the back of the lorry. Being too big to fit down our track, the rescue team helped me unload the horses at the top of the track in the pitch black where, luckily, my sister had come to meet us. After thanking and waving them off, we took the boys back to the barn and Odin broke my heart by refusing to move until his dad realised where they were and led him home. Poor Odin had experienced more than enough excitement for one day and Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – Penny – graciously gave up her stable and allowed herself to be tied up in the middle of the barn so Odin could eat in peace without having to share with his brothers. At night, Odin shares a large pen with access to the outside track and arena with Avonbrook Silver Eagle (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) – Robbie – and Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose) – Sammy – so it felt mightily unfair to shove him straight back in there, so Penny’s sacrifice was much appreciated. In true fashion, Marcus strolled back into his pen, had a very long wee, and let me change his rugs before rolling. Afterwards, he told me I had really ought to make his dinner – which I dutifully did as Becky had to drive back to Cardiff for an early shift the next day.
After putting the horses to bed, the clock struck 8pm and I received a text from mum to say that the horsebox rescue never arrived and the police got bored so took the lorry themselves with their own company. As their jurisdiction doesn’t cover Worcestershire, the lorry was taken to a secure compound which was fine, and mum was driven to granny’s house as she lives in the area. After a very long weekend, I drove up and back to collect mum and the armfuls of tack she had taken from the lorry – which was now subject to as many insults as we could hurl at it. Once home, we had a very late dinner and I begrudgingly drove back to Uni for an early lecture the next morning. I’ve decided that I need to buy a 3.5 tonne horsebox that I can drive on my car licence as well as chauffeur myself around the country when mum can’t, for example when Rosie’s due to foal in the middle of HOYS qualifier season. I’m not sure how Penny would feel if her season was halted for the attention to be put on her half sister and I would rather not find out – even if it does break my bank account!
During January we have been lacking one critical thing at Avonbrook Stud: heating. The boiler, for want of a better phrase, carked it early in the month and so began the saga of needing to replace it with one from this Century. In the meantime, our elderly dog went on holiday to grannys and we bought a car-full of electric heaters and hot water bottles. The old lounge and my bedroom – the two coldest rooms in the house – were sealed off and the cat, who resides by choice in the boiler room, was victim to a constant cycle of changing hot water bottles and being granted ‘forced’ access into the kitchen. When I was home at the weekends, I would sleep on a mattress in the new lounge as my room was cold enough to store meat, and showered at granny’s house when we went over to be fed on Saturday nights. I don’t know how mum kept the house, the yard, and her clinic running for those two and a half long weeks, but I sure was impressed! When the boiler was finally fitted, Tabby cat spent two days in hell having to be in the New Lounge with us while evil workmen plagued her domain. After a few hours of being most unamused, I plonked Tabby on the sofa and let her lie on my lap as I watched TV which mollified her considerably. I had to let her back into the kitchen at night however when she jumped onto my face from the arm of the sofa at 1am in the morning. She may be small and cute, but she almost got backhanded across the room as I awoke in terror and confusion.
My final act of bravery in January was organising and hosting an awards dinner for the Heart of England endurance region. It would not have been possible without the other members on the committee and it was a highly successful and enjoyable night. I had spent a couple of sleepless nights creating and painting an endurance quiz where each team’s horse moved along track of various terrains with each correct answer, presented on a wipeable dry erase board. My sister helped me to present it and did a fantastic job keeping track of which teams got the answer right, and 3 teams were eliminated for answering two questions incorrectly either in the middle vet gate or the final vetting. The venue, Bromsgrove Golf Club, was fantastic and helped me a lot with the organisation of the night itself, all the necessary trophies were returned after needing to seriously badger a couple of people, and the prizes given for the raffle were generous and greatly appreciated. When I was younger I wanted to be an event manager so this gave me my first taste of true power and responsibility. This year it’s a regional Awards Dinner, maybe I’ll be running Horse of the Year Show in a few years – it’s certainly the dream!
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.