During the busiest month of the competition season for Avonbrook Stud, Katherine makes time for a quick trip to New York City in order to appease her other passion, musical theatre.
August was the final ‘full on’ month for the horses of Avonbrook Stud and we started as we meant to continue at the British Riding Club National Eventing Championships held at Swalcliffe Park. Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) – Odin – and I had qualified the previous month to compete in the 100cm team for Worcester and District Riding Club, where we faced stiff competition from over 20 other teams. The championships were run as a long format event, so ran over three days and had roads and tracks and steeplechase as well as the cross country on the second day. To keep the welfare of the horses’ paramount, we also had two vet checks and ‘trot ups’ – one at the start of the competition and the other before the showjumping on the final day. This proved influential as some well-placed horses were failed before the final phase, although luckily all I had to worry about was saving 10 horse-lorry spaces on the front parking row and getting Odin settled into his stable all on my own; mum had to go back to work so needed to leave us to it, although she did watch us compete all three days.
Avonbrook Odin breezing through the first vet inspection (c) Action Replay Photography
Odin’s dressage was a little wild and swiftly dropped from 8’s to 4’s, although we did stagger back up to 7’s and 8’s by the end! Sadly for me, Odin decided that the entire middle section needed to be executed in canter which was slightly tragic as that was when he should have been doing medium trot. With an individual penalty of 38, the team sat in 14th position overnight – a long way off the top three required for mounted presentation! After walking the cross country course and hacking around the roads and tracks, Team WDRC settled in for the night ready for the challenging phases ahead. The next morning, we set off on our roads and tracks, where my endurance background gave me a competitive edge in balancing speed and endurance whilst riding against the clock. Odin flew around both sections well inside the optimum times and only tried to buck me off once in the steeplechase, but we finished inside the time again without any problems. The 10-minute box sped by after Odin was accepted by the vets immediately upon entry, and it felt like I had only blinked before I was being legged back on board for my Championship level 100cm cross country round. We set off quickly and breezed through the early combinations, including an influential water complex where the four riders before me had each picked up 20 penalties for disobediences at the various elements. My team-mates watched anxiously as we approached – completely unaware of the carnage this fence had caused – but we popped over the hanging log, cantered three strides to a log drop into the water, and then successfully negotiated the curving 11 strides to a skinny arrowhead just out of the water. It was an incredible feeling to land over the final element and hear my team-mates cheer us on as we pushed on to the next fence. As the questions rewarded accurate riding, I wasted time by setting up for fences sooner than necessary, but having heard that one of my team members was eliminated after falling off at one of the combinations, I rode to the order to come home without any refusals and finished with a steady clear instead. My one major time-wasting moment was when I elected to take a long route after Odin dived sideways when some cows in the next door field spooked him, but I felt that I left myself open to a run-out at the direct route if I had attempted it so opted for the safer, slower option. Odin finished the course with fuel still left in the tank and only a few time faults to add on to his dressage, so I was pleased and very happy to see the team ranking rise from 14th to 7th going into showjumping the next day.
Avonbrook Odin jumping around the steeplechase inside the optimum time (c) Action Replay Photography
After passing the final vet inspection easily, we warmed up and prepared for our showjumping round, which was held in reverse order to add pressure to the top performing combinations of the week. A clear round was essential for a good team placing so the pressure was on Odin and I to keep the dream alive for the Worcester 100 team. We agreed that we were aiming for a top five finish, so needed two teams to slip below us in the order. Poles were flying and refusals were plentiful as Odin and I warmed up, but I kept reminding myself to ride my own horse and not worry about what other competitors were doing. As we trotted into the championship arena, I surveyed the arena and quickly showed Odin a very odd looking double while the fallen poles were being picked up from the previous rider. Once the bell was rung, I moved up into a canter and started the course, taking each fence as it came and praying that all the poles stayed up. Odin, who was somehow still fresh and keen, tackled the course with panache and – much to my team’s delight – jumped clear!
Avonbrook Odin jumping clear on the final day of the 100cm championship (c) Action Replay Photography
With many more competitors still to come, we unplaited Odin and let him have a well-earned sleep in his stable to watch the rest of the team jump. I was delighted when the rest of the team also posted clear rounds, and shocked to hear that the team had finished 3rd overall so were required for mounted prizegiving! After running back to the stables with armfuls of tack in tow, we quickly saddled up and met the team in the collecting ring ready for the presentation. I was ecstatic to receive my first ever sash for eventing, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my homebred, home-produced part-bred Arabian legend!
The third placed Worcester and District Riding Club 100cm team (c) Action Replay Photography
After one day of recovery, and riding the horses who hadn’t been at the Eventing Championships, my sister and I set off for London in order to catch a flight to New York – my first time visiting the USA. The purpose of the trip? We had booked no fewer than six Broadway shows to go and see, all because we both wanted to see The Prom, my sister’s favourite show, before it ended its run. To make cost of flights and hotels worth it, I compiled a list of shows I wanted to see, and Becky and I negotiated and whittled it down to six shows: To Kill A Mockingbird, Beetlejuice, The Prom, Mean Girls, Hadestown, and one wild card decided by Broadway Roulette that turned out to be King Kong. All of the shows were amazing in their own way, but the one that I have been thinking about – and planning my trip back to see – ever since was Beetlejuice which had me crying, laughing, and crying with laughter all the way through. So, if you’re ever lucky enough to be in the city with a free evening, that would be my suggested show. Of course, we didn’t go the whole week without partaking in the more typical New York tourist traditions; we visited the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, and Applebees, where The Prom cast and crew happened to be having their afterparty as we and 20 other fans dined together. We had an emotional chat with one of the cast members outside and it was a real reminder that the actors we see on stage are real people who feel just as strongly about the show and the fans as the fans do about the show and the actors. Those who know me know my love for live theatre, so that week in New York was one of the most incredible non-horse related weeks of my life! Soon however, it was back to reality and back to home where there was a barn of impatient horses who were not pleased with my digressions.
With the disappointing lack of NYC selfies, here’s a photo of Broadway in Bryant Park (c) Katherine Bertram
That weekend, I made the difficult choice to miss out on watching my friend Ibble Watson compete at the Pony European Championships on the Team GB Eventing squad to instead take Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – Penny – to the South East Arab Horse Group Summer show for the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifier. This decision, although tough, meant that I could spend time at home with the horses as it wasn’t fair on them for me to be gone for two weeks when it only needed to be one. I also felt I needed to give the last few HOYS qualifiers my best possible shot as I would otherwise regret it – just in case. It was not, however, to be that day as Princess Penny woke up on the wrong side of bed and was pretty foul for both myself and the judge to stand at the wrong end of the line. That day marked my first ‘tactfully ridden’ in a show-ring and the weather also left a lot to be desired, although my day instantly became a lot better when I heard the news from Poland…. Our Pony riders had not only won team gold, but Ibble and her young Welsh D mare had picked up individual silver with a fantastic double clear, beaten only by one of their teammates, who went home with two European gold medals! Emotions were running even higher than usual in the Team GB camp as the riders, parents, and managers mourned the loss of one of their friends, 15-year old Iona Sclater who tragically died in a riding accident at home during the week. Showing their grit and heart, each of the young riders carried Iona around with them on their cross-country rounds, proudly wearing tags saying Flying the Flag for Iona – ad they certainly did. I couldn’t be prouder of the future of British Eventing.
Annia Aurelia waiting for the HOYS Mares class (c) Rowena Bertram
The next big competition for Avonbrook Stud was the Ridden Arabian Star Series (RASS) final, held as part of the UK International Arab Horse Show. This was Penny’s second last show of the season and, after warming up beautifully, I was excited to see how we would get on in a ring full of beautiful horses. I need not have worried. Penny was going to do it her way no matter what, sadly her way involved lots of lead changes and less civil moments during the go around. Oh, deep joy. After being on such good form at the AHS National Championships, I could only resign myself to make the best of the situation and keep a lid on her rather brattish behaviour. Although her individual show started excellently, Penny demonstrated a remarkable gallop to halt in her extension, and then stood in some obscure ballet position for the conformation judging. After the unsurprising news that we would not be required for the top 10, I gave myself five minutes of self-pitying before remembering that it’s all a part of showing, and I was a very lucky girl – not only for the experience Penny is giving me, but for having topped the league standings for several high points categories with some very generous sponsors! I went home with two beautiful rugs, and £150 in Premier Equine vouchers so thank you sponsors and thank you RASS! I think I’ll spend my vouchers on some cross-country boots for Penny….
Annia Aurelia at RASS (c) Rowena Bertram
The final competition of the month was another championship, this time with the king himself Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica). Marcus and I had qualified for the British Riding Club National Championships, held at Lincoln Showground, for the 85cm style jumping championship, after qualifying last month with the highest mark of the day. We were also drafted onto the riding test team and I was the commander of the ‘Team of 4’ dressage team. It was therefore a slight disaster when my lorry failed its MOT and could only be booked in after the championships. Luckily, one of my team members offered to pick myself and Marcus up which was incredibly kind and confirmation to me that I definitely chose the right riding club! So, four people, three horses – including an 18-year old Arabian stallion – two travel sick hound puppies, and a Jack Russell terrier sitting on a front seat travelled all the way up to Lincoln and settled in for the night ready for the day of championship classes. First up for Marcus was the riding test, where the warm-up was held right next to a busy road. This meant Marcus spent a lot of time chasing lorries down the hedge line and high blowing with his tail over his back to put the rest of the competition off. I couldn’t have been embarrassed if I tried at the whispers of “stallion” and “Arab” because I was too busy containing my howls of laughter at his prancing and general cheekiness that said he was having a marvellous time. We mostly managed to hold it together between the white boards; his medium trot was powerful and correct, his walk to canter transition was smooth but energetic, his free walk was swinging and supple. His first medium canter, however, contained a rather large buck, head waggle, and change of leg that required quick correction – naughty old man! We so almost had a good test and I went back to the camp apologising to my team-mates and hoping I would be the drop score.
Marcus Aurelius settling in at the British Riding Club Championships (c) Katherine Bertram
That afternoon, I tacked up again for the style jumping final, the course for which was full of very forward distances and very sharp rollbacks and odd dog-legs to fences. It was a test of rhythm, accuracy, and fluency around difficult corners. I wasn’t feeling overly hopeful when Marcus took to leaping about in the warm-up and generally providing the audience with something more interesting to watch than the action in the arena. In fact, I am almost sure a few people were taking bets on whether or not I would fall off – a situation that the ring steward voiced her concern of due to the forms she would have to sign. I, however, wasn’t worried – Marcus is very good at keeping his rider in the saddle during his misdemeanours, and I just hoped he wouldn’t buck his way in between fences in the arena. In fairness to him, he actually produced a very stylish clear round, although it was far too fast for my liking. The judge, however, clearly liked him as we scored even higher than in the qualifier and finished individual 10th in a National Championship. I don’t know what Marcus had done to the judges because he scored no lower than a 7 all day – even in his riding test where the team finished 9th! I later commanded the team of 4 in the heavy rain which required my loudest ‘army general’ voice and, despite the weather being set against us, we also finished 10th. After a very long and successful day, we were dropped off back at home and Marcus swaggered into the barn to show off his rosettes to his kids.
Marcus Aurelius enjoying some hand-grazing the evening before the championships (c) Jo Elliot
So far this year, I have attended three British Riding Club Championships with three different horses: Penny in the combined training championships where she finished equal 11th, Odin in the eventing championships where his team came 3rd, and Marcus in the national championships where he came home with 9th and 10th places. I am thrilled with these results and very proud of Marcus and his progeny who have been flying the flag for performance Arabians at Championship level. August, in particular, has been a very busy month with no fewer than three championships and a New York theatre trip. Although September starts with a party at the British Arabian Championships, I am looking forward to going back to training and polishing and preparing for all of the Winter season qualifiers. Hopefully I’ll get to train with Erica more in the coming months now we’re both back in the country! I spent the majority of this last month far from home, but I wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world.
Avonbrook Odin hacking out around the roads and tracks route at the BRC Eventing Championships (c) Katherine Bertram
Lead photo: Avonbrook Odin flying around the BRC National Eventing Championships (c) Action Replay Photography