Saturday, 20 July 2019
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The Girl with the Jumping Arabs: When Luck Runs Out

The Girl with the Jumping Arabs: When Luck Runs Out

Words by Katherine Bertram

 (Marcus Aurelius – credit Becky Bertram)

My mum often tells me that things happen in threes. Good things, bad things, things we don’t notice until we look back and see the pattern. I’ve often found this to be the case in writing too; we learnt about the power of three early on in English class and I distinctly remember using lists of three in my English Language A-level exam. August was a list of three for me; and all of this month’s drama began on 17 August – A-level results day.

I had my heart set on the University of Birmingham (UoB) ever since my older sister Becky began looking for universities for her own studies, around three years ago. Both my parents studied at UoB and so did my great-aunt and uncle, so naturally I wanted to represent my family as this generation’s nominee. More importantly, however, the Psychology course suited my interests perfectly, the campus is beautiful and the Equestrian Team is hard to beat. As a well respected Russell Group university, the entry grades were high but so were my aspirations so for the past two years. I knuckled down hard and balanced my teenage life between studying and competing; and miraculously pulled it off! My first stroke of luck was waking up on results day to an email from UoB confirming my place in their Psychology course, despite just missing out on my English grade. Although I would rather call it the paid dues of the work I put in during my high school education, the new A level format that places all of the exams at the end of a two year course does require a bit of luck to remember everything we were taught in a short time frame. My grades also proved that with hard work, and a slightly restricted social life, horses and studies can be balanced, a concern that never came to fruition during my hectic May and June that mainly consisted of revising and competing.

Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica)  (credit Becky Bertram).

The excitement of being accepted into my dream University was quickly swept away by the stress and confusion of my second stroke of luck that I dramatically named ‘The Accommodation Crisis’. After having filled out my preference form of five options, I was placed in an independently owned halls a 40 minute walk away from campus rather than the five minute walk I was hoping for. The offered accommodation was beautiful, the staff were friendly and there was a free onsite gym: perfect! Except, it wasn’t. At over £15 more expensive per week than any of my accommodation choices, I formed a case – complete with statistics – that I presented to the accommodation team. After what mum described as a ‘CV worthy negotiation’, I was dealt with sympathetically and promptly, and moved into my first choice halls; result! I like to think that working with Arabians has developed my negotiation skills; the ‘tell a gelding, ask a mare, discuss with a stallion’ saying scrapped for a more discursive and negotiation based approach with an Arab. I won’t lie, I was very pleased with myself after that accommodation overturn and the horses were probably very fed up with my new found self belief that was quickly crushed when I looked back at pictures of my riding this month! I do believe that I’ll be going to see Erica for some more training in the coming weeks…

My one showjumping competition of the month was at our local venue, Allens Hill competition centre. We took all three of ‘my boys’: Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) and his sons Avonbrook Odin (ex April) and Avonbrook Silver Augury (ex Caveland Calypso) to compete in the British Showjumping classes. Marcus had the smallest fence down in the British Novice – 90-100cm – but cleared the bigger fences with feet to spare so I may have to step him up to the 95cm amateur and Discovery – 100-110cm – classes but we’ll see; he prefers having a wide variety of disciplines to choose from! Odin jumped an almost foot perfect Discovery round, but I really went for the win in the jump off and we met an oxer on a questionable stride; which would have been fine if I hadn’t gone to turn him in mid-air so he just clipped the back bar for a fast four fault round. Odin has the National Schools Equestrian Association Championships in October so I still have a bit of time to re-establish him in the bigger classes before ‘the big one’. While Odin was jumping, naughty brother Prince was being squirted with a makeshift water pistol for his constant screeching, which Odin dutifully ignored. Meanwhile, Marcus was tied up to the lorry, having a nap, and keeping his head firmly down and out of trouble. The list of reasons why I love this stallion grows longer by the day!

Avonbrook Odin  (credit Becky Bertram)
Avonbrook Odin (credit Becky Bertram)

My big competition of this month was the last running of the Ridden Arabian Star Series (RASS) Finals, held at the UK International Arabian Horse Show at Addington on 26 August. Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) had qualified at her only attempt at the North Staffs Summer Show and as Princess Penny loves parties, we let her go to the finals in her first show season. The stroke of luck to make up the three wasn’t in the day itself; I can credit the work that my trainer Erica put into schooling her some months ago and the work mum put into keeping her healthy and happy by sending us off into a successful novice endurance season last year as well as through the daily maintenance of a Princess. The luck came when Penny was created, the selected genes forming the blueprint for an all-round superstar and a crowd-loving, talented and – if slightly sociopathic – bold as brass mare. She certainly remembered Addington from the 2013 Crabbet Convention and belied her limited experience to perform against some of the best mares in the country. As RASS’ swansong, Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualified combinations were allowed to compete, and the HOYS Champion Shaarinah (Kais x Sherruka al Roban) lifted the title in fine style. It came as no surprise to us that Penny didn’t feature in the Top Five; she was a little tense in walk and isn’t quite strong enough yet to have the domineering uphill frame of an open horse such as her cheeky show-ring presence of a father. She did, however, complete the set show without any mistakes, unlike more experienced combinations, and stood like a rock through the applause and atmosphere, as well as the jelly legs that mum and I developed in the class! To me, she’s a definite HOYS horse in the making but as a performance horse, I am determined to harness her fantastic jump and fearlessness across the country into a mare capable of challenging my part-bred ‘big boys’!

Up close and personal Niagara Falls. (credit Katherine Bertram)

The day after RASS, mum, granny and I travelled to London in order for me to catch my flight to Toronto, Canada, and for them to visit mum’s childhood home in East Grimstead. My guardian angels must have been exhausted after my recent successes and neglected to mention to British Airways that overbooking flights can occasionally lead very upset 18-year olds who just wanted to visit their friend for her 18th birthday. Naturally, I was devastated when I found out that I wasn’t getting on my plane, but I watched the master at work when mum calmly negotiated with the ground staff and, because of our politeness and understanding, they booked another flight for the next morning – and reserved my seat – gave us two hotel rooms for the night with meals included, M&S gift vouchers which were spent on expensive chocolates, and compensation which I decided against telling them was more than I paid for my ticket! The staff were brilliant and the lady who had to eventually bear the bad news looked almost as upset as I felt. My flight with Air Canada was brilliant and I felt well looked after; one of the staff even gave me a tissue after crying when I had to part with my mum through security and on to the boarding terminal. It was my first time flying over the age of six, and my first time flying on my own. I had never been away from my family or the horses for over a week before, so this two week trip to half the world away was terrifying, even if it was to see a close friend for the first time in two years!

Niagara Falls (credit Katherine Bertram)
In Brockville with BFF!  (credit Katherine Bertram)

Eight hours, three films, and several games of chess later, I was reunited with my childhood best friend and our adventure began. We went straight to a giant fun fair in Toronto, then to Niagara Falls where we went on the Hornblower to get close and personal with the American, Bridal Veil and Horseshoe Falls. On our final day in Toronto, we went to the CN Tower and then back home to Brockville.

Before I flew back home on 10 September, I was looking forward to going on more Canadian adventures before returning back to my horses and some sense of normality until University festivities start during the next week. It has now been two weeks since I last rode a horse and I am suffering from withdrawal. At least the beauty of the Ontario landscape provides some distraction!

 

Katherine Bertram
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.

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