Lead Photograph: 3rd PlaceAvonbrook Odin consistently in the places at the Winter League Finals ©Showground Photography
Once again, my month was somewhat grounded by the wait for Avonbrook Stud’s second and final foal of the year, although we did manage to have a few important outings to kick the season off in style.
During the first of no fewer than four weekends where we were watching our veteran broodmare, Coca – Caveland Calypso (Winter Words x Cassie) – with an eagle eye, I followed mum and the lorry up to our local competition centre in my car where, upon arrival, she jumped out of the lorry and dashed home in my car! This left me and Marcus at our first ever ‘solo’ competition while she watched Coca. At this stage, Coca had just entered ‘normal’ parameters for foaling and, after a slight scare where we thought she might go into labour, we were taking no chances. Marcus was, as ever, a true saint, even when we had jump bigger than I had originally intended due to the entries being capped. I was optimistic about taking him to the Cricklands Winter League Finals a fortnight later and had planned to give him a practice run at Lincomb the week before, when Marcus developed a slight foot abscess due to the ever-changing ground conditions, ruling him out of both.
|Autumn’s Child coming 3rd in the arena eventing ©Steve Wall|
The next weekend, our freelance groom Lisa drove me in the lorry with three horses on board for the 80cm Lincomb arena eventing class while mum stayed at home, slowly spiralling into the ‘foaling realm’ that so many horse breeders know well. First up was Poppy – Autumn’s Child – my sister’s unregistered Connemara mare who is back in action after her latest self-inflicted leg injury that saw my final year in 143cm working hunter classes go unused. Having not seen anything that resembled a cross-country course in three-and-a-half years, and having not had time to walk the course, I was pleasantly surprised that she cruised round with one of only five clear rounds and into 3rd place, the highest placed of those gaining penalties for being too fast for the optimum time. According to Lisa, my other two rides, Prince – Avonbrook Silver Augury (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) and his full brother Robbie, Avonbrook Silver Eagle – stood quietly on the lorry when Poppy was off doing what she does best, and after a quick turn-around, Prince and I disappeared back up to the warm-up. Due to an unexpected wait – someone had a nasty fall at the rider-frightening final fence – I practised a bit of dressage with Prince where we tackled counter-canter as well as other lateral moves he knows well, mainly to keep our minds away from the carnage that the course was creating. The problem with riding Poppy first was that I didn’t notice any potential problems for the boys because she just didn’t care, as I found out when Prince ‘put his specs on’ at a fence where the surface changed from take-off to landing. Despite our one mistake, Prince still finished 8th and was a fantastic ride overall. My original plan was to take Marcus as my third and final horse but, as he was temporarily out of action, Robbie filled in and went really well considering it began to rain very heavily just as we entered the ring… Poor Robbie hasn’t really done anything like what I asked him to do at Lincomb, but still finished in the top 15 which was nothing short of impressive! None of the horses had a problem with the final fence that caught so many out, and all three behaved beautifully throughout the day.
|Avonbrook Silver Augury (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) arena eventing ©Steve Wall|
|Avonbrook Silver Eagle (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) arena eventing ©Steve Wall|
The following Thursday, Marcus was still not quite right and, because it was too close to the date of Cricklands to withdraw and receive show credit, I took Odin – Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) – to fill in for his father in the largest classes on offer, the 3ft and 3’3ft championships. Again, Lisa drove the lorry all the way down to sunny Wales, and I followed her in my car, completing my longest drive yet. After a bit of chaos sorting the ‘hookup’ out, Lisa left in my car and I was completely alone with Odin in one of UK’s largest equine showgrounds. Despite not having had much time to prepare for the three days of competition, Odin could not have been better if he had tried and I became fully competent in the art of warming a horse up without tiring him by Sunday. Among some very stiff competition, Odin was exemplary and earned a 3rd third place, a 6th place, two 7th places and an 8th place in the six classes I jumped. Even better, two of his laps of honour were accompanied by the Horse of the Year Show lap of honour music where, like his father back in 2010 at the show itself, he executed a series of flying changes, albeit after an incredible charge around the international arena to keep up with the full gallop of his fellow placed horses. Although large portions of the four-day show were spent with only Odin for company, my sister Becky travelled up from her university in Cardiff to help out and film the show-jumping rounds she was there for. I was thankful for her help, as was Odin when she brought up a bag of apples and carrots to tempt him into jumping clear rounds, which clearly worked! Odin is now extremely fit as a result of his weekend away and I am anxiously awaiting having the time and the right ground conditions to take him cross-country schooling, not least because he feels like he really needs a run! The only negative I took away from my weekend at ‘Broomies’ was getting lost in my car on the way home, where I ended up driving through Cheltenham and arriving home, tired and starving, well after 9pm, only to have to write an essay that I had stupidly left until the last minute to start because I naively believed that I could write it in Wales… Now that I know the horrors of trying to extract any meaningful information out of myself when I should be sleeping, I am determined not to procrastinate again, certainly not when I know that I never work well at competitions!
|Avonbrook Odin jumping into 3rd place at the Winter League Finals ©Showground Photography|
|Quietly Excited…. Annia Aurelia at ‘Princess School’ ©Rowena Bertram|
During a quiet week for the stud where Coca was certainly gearing up to foal, I occupied myself by continuing to work for my trainer Erica Watson, who is also currently housing Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – at ‘princess school’ before her showing season this year. In two short weeks, Penny’s whole way of going has completely changed and she rides like a different, much improved, horse. As a result, she has changed shape and is even more impressive to look at and I cannot wait to get her out and about this year! She has become very cosy with her neighbour, Erica’s young show-jumping superstar Ace – Aristoteles SZ (Arko III x Damira S d.s Heartbreaker) – and also seems to get along with her other neighbour, Disney, who is currently competing at Pony Trials with Erica’s daughter, and won her BE100Open at Solihull while I was at Cricklands. During my time at Erica’s, my experience has grown astronomically and I’m becoming much better positioned to, in time, become a ‘mini Erica’ myself. I hope Erica will be able to come to a couple of Penny’s shows this year and I hope I can do her work with Penny justice!
|Avonbrook Odin in the 3’3 at the Winter League Finals ©Showground Photography|
|Avonbrook Winter Queen (Maddie) meets Avonbrook Beltane Silver (Archie) ©Katherine Bertram|
At the tail-end of April, I disappeared off to university for my third term which, in the apparent absence of revision lectures, is primarily an exam season. Throughout May, I shall be travelling to and from university for my exams, while enjoying the ever-increasing momentum of the 2018 competition season. Coca, who had kept us waiting for the majority of April, finally gave birth two weeks overdue at dawn on 1 May to a strong and healthy chestnut colt by Marcus Aurelius. Provisionally named Avonbrook Beltane Silver, ‘Archie’ is already looking like an exciting prospect, although he is more ‘foal-like’ than Maddie, who was in our faces in her first days. It was highly typical of Coca to wait until I was gone to have the foal, as I had left for my first exam the night before she foaled. It was probably for the best and there was a pleasant ‘book-end’ as we hope this will be 21-year old Coca’s last foal and she finished how she started her foalings over 15 years ago – just her, mum, and a new arrival.
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.