Wednesday, 23 September 2020
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The Girl with the Jumping Arabs – When I Grow Up

The road back to feeling confident galloping around a cross country again was always going to be a long and challenging one. After my progress was put in perspective at Dauntsey Horse Trials when I retired on course, we soon realised I would need more help than just telling myself to get on with it. After attending a fantastic virtual lecture hosted by Charlie Unwin and Caroline Moore, I signed up for a small group session with Charlie that involved receiving help on our individual problems. Luckily, I was in a group of eventers who compete at a much higher level than me, so they also had good advice for getting my cross country mojo back. I am still refining which particular techniques work the best for me when I’m actually on course, but most build on ideas and theories I learnt about at university! Perhaps I needed to hear someone else say the facts I learnt myself and put them in the context of competing? 

Listening and learning at every opportunity (c) Rowena Bertram
Listening and learning at every opportunity (c) Rowena Bertram

Apart from cross country, I decided that my dressage also needed improving before the next event. Poor Odin – Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) – was not amused by being plaited up for pure dressage with no showjumping or cross country afterwards! We went to a competition held at Kingsleigh’s Equestrian Centre, which doubles as Worcester Riding School – one of the places where my sister and I learnt to ride. After three dressage tests, Odin was sure that we had gone through every test in the book and was slightly concerned how many more times we would trot down a centre line between the white boards! We rode two preliminary tests and a novice test to finish, which mostly went very well except for the change of leg in his second counter canter. That’s not required at this level, Odin! Once we were home and the results went up online, we were delighted to have still won the novice despite Odin’s moment of rebellion and placed 2nd and 4th in our preliminary tests with a personal best of 75.22% riding Odin. Even better, we qualified for the National Pony Society (NPS) Dressage Championships for both finals! I was delighted to find out we were eligible thanks to Odin’s Arab Horse Society passport, although I will have to overstamp him as a riding pony with the NPS which I’m sure will horrify Odin, the not-a-show-pony. It was certainly a successful day out and well worth learning each test in the gaps between our times! 

Odin enjoyed watching me walk through my tests (c) Rowena Bertram
Odin enjoyed watching me walk through my tests (c) Rowena Bertram

With a bit more confidence under our belts, we took Odin to the British Eventing Solihull Horse Trials. After a very naughty warm up that involved lots of self-expression, we mostly held it together in the test to go showjumping on a penalty of 34, placing us middle of the pack at that early stage. It was still a long way off the sub-30 score I am aiming for, but each test is an improvement and it will take a lot to convince him to change his cheeky ways. We then put in another classy clear round in the showjumping and I geared myself up for the long-awaited cross country. After a good warm up, it was our time to head over to the start box and begin our round. Once we were counted down, we set off and immediately got in deep to the first fence, a mere few strides away from the start. After riding with too much hand and not enough leg to the next couple of fences, my luck ran out at fence 4; an unassuming wooden box with flowers at the base. Time froze when Odin, who was buried so deep into the fence that a front hoof was placed on top of the box, extricated himself and spun around to face the fence judge. A wave of shame and despair washed over me as my first refusal was announced and, after the flowers were rearranged, I circled back and tried it again. Determined not to have another stop and terrified of the prospect of retiring on course, I started to find myself riding more and more forwards until we started taking each jump almost in our gallop stride. I was still a bit tense for the first few fences after our unscheduled break, which is where the photographers were, but by the time we reached the heart of the course we were back in our rhythm – something that we hadn’t experienced since September last year. Although I was disappointed to have caused a refusal, I was proud that I had turned it around and finished the course well instead of getting more distressed and causing more problems. Odin was also massively relieved to not be confronted with his crying rider and is much happier with the experience of eventing again. 

Odin flew over the 5th at Solihull as we both gained confidence (c) 1st Class Images
Odin flew over the 5th at Solihull as we both gained confidence (c) 1st Class Images

To bring us on again and give us another confidence boost, we booked on to a cross country clinic with Olympic event rider Jonty Evans. After a life-altering fall in 2018 where he was in a coma for longer than I was waiting for surgery, Jonty is the ultimate authority on how to pick yourself up and win the mind game. I hope I never experience an injury half as bad as his, and I felt rather pathetic whining about how my broken collarbones had hurt my confidence. Jonty, however, did not hesitate to validate my worries and admitted that he had broken both of his collarbones twice so understood why I needed help to ‘let go’. True to form, we were already on a back-up plan for our clinic, kindly subsidised by the British Riding Club, when we discovered that Odin was still a bit sore after Solihull. It took a few sessions for my incredible chiropractor mum to fully unknot him and we decided that it would be rude to make him attend a clinic when what he really needed was a couple more days of rest, turnout, and gentle hacking. Therefore, it was my cautious pleasure to substitute Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – in Odin’s place. She was beyond smug. Despite being in a showing saddle and not having seen a cross country course since our little accident, she was unstoppable and clearly the time away from it had given her some thinking time. She was very confident and careful over everything we jumped, which was a lot more than I had initially anticipated as we were in a 90-100cm group and she hadn’t jumped courses of that height since Christmas! Interestingly, Jonty noticed that when she starts to tire, she jumps over her shoulder which we all agreed probably led to the fall. As her backend was moving quicker than her shoulders, one small trip would have been more than enough to cause her to flip over. Worried that this spelled the end of her eventing career before it had even begun, Jonty then suggested a way to keep her galloping uphill and jumping with her normal bascule. We only jumped a couple more fences so she didn’t tire completely – which is no fun for either horse or rider – then called it a day. Massive thanks must go to Jonty for giving up his time and experience, as welll as to the organiser and hosts of the clinic! 

Penny jumping a fence into water at Oxstalls (c) Photography by Shelley
Penny jumping a fence into water at Oxstalls (c) Photography by Shelley

To keep all the competition horses at Avonbrook Stud fit and happy, we have been to some local gallops every week, taking them in two lots. Penny and Odin alternate with their sire, Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), and Sammy – Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose). Two stallions on the gallops together would probably be a bad idea for any other pair, but Marcus and Sammy are stabled next to each other and sincerely like each other, so it works very well. At 19 years old, Marcus still has a breathtaking turn of foot and has perfected the technique of kicking up a clump of surface into his son’s face to maintain his advantage! Similarly, if Penny is allowed to lead, she turns her quarters into the middle of the gallops so Odin can’t overtake for fear of somehow being kicked. Sammy and Penny have only had a few runs on the gallops and they get faster each time, so it won’t be long until we find out just how fast they both are! Another of Marcus’ children doing him proud is five-year old Ellie – Avonbrook Midsummer Dream (ex Avonbrook Summer Breeze). Ellie returned back to her owner during August and I have since been going over once a week to continue her education. She is a fantastic young mare and I can’t wait to see how she grows up! 

Ellie going on her first hack at her owner's yard (c) Rowena Bertram
Ellie going on her first hack at her owner’s yard (c) Rowena Bertram

It has been another long and challenging month, but hopefully I am approaching some sort of normal again – I certainly feel on the right track. With consistent lessons and cross country schooling sessions planned to boost my confidence, I am hoping to finish the eventing season on a high before a winter of training with a very exciting string of horses. Hopefully I can come out fighting next year!

Lead photo: Penny splashing through the water under the watchful eye of Olympian Jonty Evans (c) Photography by Shelley
Penny splashing through the water under the watchful eye of Olympian Jonty Evans (c) Photography by Shelley

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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