September saw a change of pace for Katherine Bertram and the horses of Avonbrook Stud, although the competition season proved far from over.
Near the beginning of last month, we started our preparations for my final show of the season, the British Arabian Championships (BACS), being held for the first time at Rodbaston College. Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – Penny – was fresh from a cross-country schooling session the week prior after a slightly explosive Ridden Arabian Star Series (RASS) final at the end of August and was back on good form ready for her final party. We were entered in three classes that required a chilly overnight stay as the final Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifier of the year entered the arena at 8am sharp. After working in still while still in my pyjamas, we applied the finishing touches to Penny and milled around the warm-up waiting for the class to start. The indoor arena at Rodbaston, although admittedly larger than the arena at Kings Equestrian – the previous hosts of BACS – was rammed full, with 13 mares forward and one final golden HOYS ticket on offer. Both Penny and I thoroughly earned our breakfast avoiding the ‘games’ that were being played on the go-round and managed to successfully stay in our own space without impeding anyone else or allowing ourselves to be impeded by others. The tensions seemed to be running high in the class due to the added pressure of being the last qualifier and the brisk morning air seemed to affect some of the horses adversely during judging. Penny herself was perhaps a little strong with the ride judge- we think she wanted to take him hunting! We were rightfully just out of the top six in a very competitive line up, but the ticket very deservedly went to Carolyn Kokta’s 10-year old mare Maya Johaara (Azteq x Jumainah) produced by Stephanie Zebedee and ridden by her daughter Amelia. I was thrilled for them, and even more so when Steph later picked up her golden ticket with Michelle Segre’s impressive eight-year old stallion Alonzo (Abha Qatar x Cassablanca Bint Djammal)!
Thanking Penny for her performance in an interesting go-round (c) Sweet Photography.
After a suitable break, Penny and I ventured back into the ring for the BACS mare class which, although less full than the HOYS qualifier, still had more than its fair share of entertainment. Penny coped very well when another competitor rode up her backside – sadly red tail ribbons denoting horses that may kick if provoked aren’t particularly suitable for the show ring – and she was a little bit cross as she was slightly sore across her back from the previous class. I, therefore, earned my lunch with tactful riding that involved distracting her with shoulder-in, leg yielding, and a little bit of renvers when the judge wasn’t looking to prevent a small princess tantrum that I bore witness to at RASS. The judge picked up on Penny’s stiffness on the ride but had some very constructive feedback that was gladly welcomed. I couldn’t help being a little frustrated as she would have really liked the ride judge if it wasn’t for her discomfort, but nonetheless, I was pleased with how she held it together. Before our final class, mum gave her a thorough chiropractic treatment and I warmed her up in long and low outline to give her back a good stretch before being picked up in a more rounded frame.
Annia Aurelia in the Young Rider Championship (c) Sweet Photography.
Disappointingly, there were only two forward for the Midland Young Rider final, reorganised from the last day of the AHS British National Championships, but the standard was incredibly high. Our competition was the freshly HOYS qualified combination and we both battled it out in front of a pleasingly full and interested crowd. Penny gave me an incredible ride on the go-around, clearly enjoying the space with which she could show off her paces. I was the first to come out of line and deliver my individual show and, as I approached the judge, we were given a very interesting brief: no more than two changes of rein and you must include a walk-to-canter. Ah. With my usual individual show nulled, I had to think on my feet and I remembered a conversation I had with my mum about what I would do if I could only change the rein once. With no time to think, I calmly walked Penny away, trotted a half circle on the left rein, and picked up left canter over the centre line. After finishing our circle, we cantered across the centre of the arena and I wound Penny down to a halt, where she did a very obedient rein back and calmly walked forwards again. This would be the point where, if Penny was going to hand the sash to Amelia and Maya, she would jog forwards and jump into right canter. Clearly feeling the expectant eyes on her, Penny swaggered forwards in an active but good walk, and melted back up into canter. Determined not to let myself get complacent, I waited for the next long side and opened her up in a smooth extension before trotting down the final longside and circling to halt and salute to give the judges a side profile of Penny. The other individual show in the class was equally well executed and it was a tense wait to see who would take the spoils on this occasion. I was delighted to be called forward as the Young Rider Champion 2019, a title I had been dreaming of since Penny was too young to be ridden and I wasn’t able to compete with Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) because stallions aren’t allowed. Sadly the champion rosette and garland didn’t make it to Rodbaston for the presentation, but I did spend the journey home admiring the champions shield and studying the names of horses and riders on the plates from previous years. What a fantastic end to Penny’s showing season to have her name engraved on such a hard-won trophy!
Annia Aurelia and Katherine Bertram – Young Rider Champions (c) Sweet Photography.
September 2019 also marked the month where my older sister Becky moved to Toronto, Canada for two years. To celebrate the next chapter of her adventure, she and I went on an overnight excursion to London where we saw three shows, including the very emotional Come from Away on the anniversary of the 2001 New York terrorist attacks. The musical focuses on the real stories from Gander, Newfoundland, a small Canadian town that housed the passengers of 38 planes grounded by the attacks and being on the front row was one of the more emotional experiences I’ve had in a theatre. After our final theatre trip together for the foreseeable future, Becky and I quickly repacked our suitcases for a week down in Cornwall with mum, granny, and the dogs for a four-night stay in the luxury Old Lanwarnick holiday cottages near Looe. Owned by Moonlight Stud’s Natalie and Mark Tindall, we had an unforgettable stay and it was lovely to meet their Crabbet Arabians, a few of which were sired by our stallion Marcus.
The view from our private garden at Old Lanwarnick.
Before my third and final year at university began, I had time for one last competition of the month, this time with my superstar part-bred Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April). Having bravely coped with a holiday from competition after his highly successful three-day eventing championship at the start of August, Odin was delighted to have me back in the saddle for the 100cm at the brand new Cirencester Park event. Despite all the British Eventing fixtures being cancelled left and right, the old turf at Cirencester coped admirably with the downpours and ran with very few issues. Odin’s dressage felt very correct and I was pleased with his accuracy and obedience – something that didn’t reflect in the list five judge’s scores or comments which rewarded his overbent free walk with a seven. Knowing I was well out of contention, I put it down to a difference of opinion and made a mental note to take the test sheet with me to Erica’s for a lesson before our next event.
Avonbrook Odin in the dressage (c) JH Photography.
The showjumping was held in a beautifully situated arena, near the cross section of some of Cirencester Park’s beautiful avenues. The ground had become quite cut up around the jumps and the course builders were building big which meant clear rounds were few and far between. We made it to the penultimate fence without problem but just tapped the front rail of the oxer for four faults near the end of the course. I was, however, delighted with his round as he jumped enthusiastically but without any added movements like bucking or leaping about after fences. Not that I usually mind his antics, but most of the fences were on fixed strides so any leaping about would have changed my riding plan enormously and perhaps led me into making silly mistakes.
Avonbrook Odin showjumping around a tough 100cm showjumping course (c) JH Photography.
After a quick turnaround, it was time for Odin’s favourite phase, the cross country! I’m still undecided on my exact feelings towards this part of eventing, but walking the course filled me with dread and curious excitement to see how it would ride. There were some influential questions and combinations as well as an abundance of very, very large fixed obstacles. There was no water or ditches for this year’s event, so the course-builders built big, bold, and a little bit scary to catch combinations out. Odin, naturally, cruised his way through the toughest combinations, finishing clear and well inside the time with me still attached and grinning rather maniacally. Although we were unplaced, a lesson with Erica the next weekend gave me a lot of confidence in our dressage, as well as some expert advice on how to handle the warm-up and the expectations between the white boards.
Avonbrook Odin storming clear inside the time XC (c) JH Photography.
After arriving home from the event and putting the horses to bed, I drove back up to uni for the first day of my final year and so ended my unforgettable summer of fun. Now it’s October’s turn; from HOYS to Halloween, and the ultimate scare of my dissertation data collection; it’s going to be an interesting month!
Lead photo – Avonbrook Odin jumping one of the influential cross-country fences (c) Ultimate Images.