Katherine, The Girl with the Jumping Arabs, is used to juggling her ‘double life’ as a university student and young rider at Avonbrook Stud. When second year exams are added into the mix, the going gets tough during a busy month for the stud.
As predicted, life became rather hectic during May at Avonbrook Stud. As the competition season hit full swing, so did exam season, and juggling the two proved quite problematic. Despite a bit of drama, it turned out to be a successful month and certainly an unforgettable series of experiences.
Taking centre stage was Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – Penny – who started the month contesting her second 2019 Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifier at The Showing Register Spring Show. Despite looking and feeling fantastic, and going incredibly well for the ride judge, we were once again at the wrong end of the line, which was disappointing but all part of the experience. We received very encouraging feedback from the ride judge who Penny behaved for, even through the random bursts of cheering from the next-door ring – I think she thought it was for her! – but she clearly wasn’t the conformation judge’s cup of tea. I couldn’t have been happier with Penny though, and we brushed it off ready for the next party. In preparation for Penny’s big party of the month, the British Riding Club (BRC) Combined Training Championships, I made sure Penny’s work was dominated by jumping and hacking to keep her brain right in between shows. I honestly believe that most horses become very bored when they’re only allowed to ‘play one game’, which is why all of ours have varied lives throughout their careers. Showing her appreciation for my efforts, Penny decided to over-jump every fence I put in front of her and made 90cm appear very small indeed. There was nothing wrong with her and she was merely proving a point that I needed to step her up the heights, but I’m working on getting her jumping forwards as well as upwards before she takes on Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) at Senior Newcomers (110-120cm) level!
Annia Aurelia making 90cm look very small. Credit Rowena Bertram.
Later in the month came what was possibly Penny’s favourite ever weekend. I really don’t enjoy taking the same horse to two different and tiring competitions on both days of a weekend, but Penny made it abundantly clear that only doing one competition was not an option. So, on the Saturday, we travelled to Weston Lawns for the Midland Arab Group Show for the ridden mares and young rider class. I rode Penny pretty badly on the go-around for the open mares and was fairly pulled in last – we didn’t make any mistakes but I had her in the perfect frame for a dressage horse rather than a show horse so she didn’t dance around the ring like a couple of the others. After producing what looked to be a good show for the ride judge and actually making a decent job of the conformation phase, I was delighted to be moved up to second place! I then performed my usual trick of riding the championship 100 times better than the class itself and were called forward as Reserve Reserve Champion, for which I received a handshake from the President of the Arab Horse Society! Now I just need to ride the classes like I do the championships and maybe I’ll get into them more! Later in the young rider class, Penny put me firmly back into my place with an ill-timed buck in her extension that rather ruined a decent individual show; she isn’t exactly what I’d call a typical young rider’s horse… She is not a charming plod who would look after a toddler, nor an exceptionally behaved schoolmistress showing her child the ropes. She has, however, taught me how to sit most Spanish Riding School movements, how to negotiate with a dragon, and how to smile and laugh when she ‘accidently’ slams my leg into a fence post or picks up the wrong canter lead in front of the judge. All my fault, of course, but Penny is such a talented and professional mare who really has a heart of gold and is setting me up for a future of chestnut mares that most mothers wouldn’t let their children near.
Annia Aurelia in the Young Riders at Midland Arab Group. Credit Sweet Photography.
After a pleasant night relaxing in the field, we set off bright and early for Aston-Le-Walls, the hosts of the BRC Combined Training Championships. Having not done a dressage test since Penny’s 27.5 (72.5%) qualifying score, I spent more time frantically remembering where I was going than thinking about making her sit up and dance between the boards. From the moment she stepped off the lorry that was parked in a sea of hundreds and heard the tannoys and saw the commotion of a championship event, Penny was home. She swaggered along the horse-walks that weaved through woodland and past arenas lined with spectators and strutted into the large dressage warm up ready for her tack check. After being assessed and updated with the running orders, Penny and I worked in ready for her dressage test – narrowly avoiding several collisions when other competitors reckoned that she was a suitable target for circling into or riding up the back of. Showing is teaching her tolerance in that respect and she was more forgiving than me, I couldn’t help but get slightly cross when I was hit on the bum by someone else’s schooling whip! If looks could kill…
Annia Aurelia in the dressage at the BRC Champs. Credit JH Photography.
Penny put in a decent performance in the test itself for a championship level 33.8 (66.2%) penalties, that put us in the top third of competitors in my final. After sauntering back to the lorry to put her martingale and boots on, we journeyed back to the showjumping warm up where we watched competitor after competitor fall foul of the course. Although it was 75cm which is ‘so beneath’ the Princess, it was a twisty course with very bright fences put on awkward lines and distances. With the previous course-walk having taken place during my dressage test and the next a few competitors after me, I went into the ring essentially blind but that tends to suit me better as I don’t anticipate how many strides I should be putting in. The commentator, a volunteer who worked tirelessly for two days, pronounced “Annia Aurelia” perfectly and proudly exclaimed her as the “first Arab of the day”. No pressure to jump a clear then Penny! As I jumped around, I could hear him read the commentators notes I provided and became quite distracted sometime around the “I used to attend the same university when I was younger” part. Luckily for me, Penny forgave my inattentive moments and jumped a cracking clear round to stay on her dressage score and move up the leaderboard to 11th place. Although sad to sit just outside of the top 10, it did mean we could escape back home instead of waiting around for the prizegiving, and Penny really couldn’t have given me any more than what I asked for!
Annia Aurelia jumping a clear round and finishing 11th at the BRC Championships.
Credit JH Photography.
Although Penny was very happy with me for going against my instincts and letting her have a multiple-party weekend, I also managed to upset and offend her deeply during May. My second-year university exams started during the month, and the pressure of performing well – the results count towards my overall degree classification – meant that compromises had to be made. I had been looking forward to attending the HOYS qualifier at Devon County Show, which sadly took place the day after my neural basis of movement exam. After stressing over the logistics of getting to Exeter from Birmingham after a difficult exam, we called time on our grand plan a few days in advance. I was glad to see two friends enjoying the tickets we received in the entry pack, and relieved to enjoy a drink and relax with my friends after the exam rather than jumping in the car and speeding down the M5!
During exam season, Odin was put on the back burner and given some time to prepare for our upcoming BRC eventing qualifier in July. Slotting into reserve wasn’t the initial plan for the month; I had hoped to run him in the 100cm event at Solihull two weeks after his 90cm at Swalcliffe in April. In the middle of the two events, I travelled him to the local ACE cross-country for a tune up in my own little lorry! He coped brilliantly and I mostly drove very well, so I think he’s confident to travel when it’s me in the driver’s seat. After this successful outing, I was looking forward to Solihull and even walked the course the night before to get a good idea of what I was up against. With pleasantly late times, we turned Odin out with his four-year old purebred stallion friend Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose) – Sammy – to have some relaxation time before being fetched in to plait up and travel. When I came to get the boys in, Sammy was by the gate and Odin was by the arena. When Sammy came into the barn, I took my eye off Odin for two seconds, at which point he promptly fell over on the concrete and scraped his knees! In tears, I washed and treated the smallest little gouge over his kneecap, that had already become a little bit hot and raised, and called Solihull to let them know I wouldn’t be coming. It is just as well he wasn’t already plaited up! Typically, three days later, he was completely fine and fit as ever. Luckily, we were soon able to take him for a school around the cross-country course and he successfully negotiated the hedge, ditch, corners, owl-hole, water complex and all the other BE100 fences on the track. It was all good mileage for him, and I can’t wait for our next event together!
Avonbrook Odin schooling around ACE. Credit JH Photography.
The month finished with one of my most eagerly awaited competitions with the man himself Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica). After qualifying way back in January, we took Marcus to Hartpury for the South West Showjumping Championships for the 90-95cm class. It was a full up 95cm championship track and while warming up, Marcus acquired the usual comments: “he’s so quiet for a stallion”, “is he always this well behaved?”, and my personal favourite, “what do the stallion badges mean?”. He, naturally, adored the attention and batted his eyelids sweetly when I laughed and said: “he covered a mare this morning so he’s in a very good mood!” With a few more curious eyes than usual, I felt a bit of pressure to go in and jump a clear round. After hesitating at the second fence but leaving all the poles up, I kicked myself into gear and rode him properly around the rest of the course and jumped the last fence without any faults, gaining my place in the jump off. You can imagine my horror when all the fences were put up by 10cm and the oxers pulled out significantly wider, all the fences were now up to 105cm – quite an ask for a 17-year old ex-endurance, ex-show stallion! Nevertheless, we cantered into the international indoor arena and awaited the start bell. Being third in the draw, I had quite the gauntlet to throw down and I knew I had to really go for the time. The time was fast, but we just got a touch unlucky down a challenging line but held on to 7th place in some very fast competition. Marcus jumped out of his skin all day, making the tough jump off course feel very easy and made me feel like such a professional! My aim for the day was to get into the jump off, which we did, and to take on such a full up course and finish in the top 10 was just fantastic!
Marcus Aurelius jumping the last fence in the first round. Credit TopShots Photography.
My exams for the year are now over and I’m back home at Avonbrook Stud for the summer. The two yearlings, Avonbrook Winter Queen (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze), ‘Maddie’, and Avonbrook Beltane Silver (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso), ‘Archie’, are now out on the summer grazing with adult supervision that they are thoroughly enjoying. Both babies travelled for the first time to get there and Maddie showed us how wonderful she is by walking straight on to my lorry and unloading slowly and carefully. This is the yearling that spent her foal-hood being chased off the electric fence, rolling under said electric fence, jumping hanging bars into the barn, galloping over the top of bogs, standing to have her feet trimmed, mane pulled, legs brushed, and picked up and so on. It is safe to say she’s a special girl and I’m very glad she has a few months to try and learn what has so far eluded her; how to be a real horse. The future’s looking bright!
The summer grazing gang. Credit Rowena Bertram.
Lead photo shows Annia Aurelia at the BRC Combined Training Championships. Credit JH Photography.
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.