Although the year may have ended with a fizzle rather than a bang for The Girl with the Jumping Arabs, there was still news to report from Avonbrook Stud.
Some eagle-eyed readers may have realised that there was no November blog, my first month in three years without one, and this was for one very boring reason. In November 2020, there was only one piece of news from Avonbrook Stud and it didn’t even involve any Arabians. Instead, I was subjected to self-isolation at my hall of residence in Coventry which would have been more enjoyable if I hadn’t driven my flatmates to the coach station to travel home for Christmas the previous week. I spent the time completing an immense pile of Masters coursework – hardly a thrilling read. Meanwhile, a very special guest arrived at Avonbrook Stud and will hopefully pave the way for the next generation of our performance Arabians. Tilana S – or Tara as she permits us to call her – is a warmblood by Wolfgang (Farn x Jolanda), sire of Michael Whittaker’s grand prix winner Handel II, and out of Dilana (Ramiro Z x Rilana), who produced multiple 1.60 showjumpers. Tara is beautifully bred with plenty of classic showjumping names close up in her pedigree, and she competed successfully to 1.40 herself before becoming a mother. I am delighted to announce that she is now in foal to our senior Arabian performance stallion Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) and we are very excited to meet the resulting foal. Tara is a delight in every way and has settled in perfectly with the mare herd. We are very lucky to host her and we have all of our fingers crossed for a healthy and happy foal in 2021.
Tilana S a couple of days after arriving at Avonbrook Stud (c) Rowena Bertram
Although restrictions and the newly reintroduced lockdown – not my favourite trilogy – have somewhat scuppered training and competition plans, we made use of a brief window of time to take the two stallions showjumping at Solihull Riding Club. I partnered Marcus and gave him his first jump away from home since winning the 95cm at Rectory Farm, this time schooling him around 100-105cm. It was almost a shame it was only an arena hire as Marcus was positively flying and only his lack of current jumping fitness stopped us from putting the fences up again and again. My friend and often-time photographer Jazz stepped in to ride five-year old stallion Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose) around one of his first indoor arenas, complete with an enormous Christmas tree in the corner! Sammy was completely unfazed by the tree but did become rather enamoured with a handsome young chap in the reflection from a window pane… Apparently, some stallions become aggressive when they see their own reflections, our vain boys just snog theirs. After we were able to pull Sammy away from his window-licking, he worked beautifully in the sizeable indoor school and jumped all the planks, fillers, and brightly-coloured poles the course had to offer. Judging by his scope, fence heights won’t be an issue for Sammy, but it is always nice to let the youngsters see lots of different jumps at a small height to build their confidence before taking them up the levels.
Marcus Aurelius (left) and Audace Ecore at Solihull (c) Rowena Bertram
Keeping in the theme of our younger horses and their escapades, we found ourselves at a milestone with Avonbrook Winter Queen (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze). Maddie has always been ahead of the curve – I don’t think I’ve ever had to chase a three-week old foal away from an electrified fence with a lunge whip before – and last Christmas, I forgot her age and rashly promised I would sit on her ‘next Christmas’. I rather hoped Maddie would forget my promise but, ever since she came home from the summer grazing, she has been lining herself up next to gates, mounting blocks, and fences while looking pointedly at any saddle or bridle in my arms. After an autumn of getting her used to tack and wandering around the barn, it was time to keep my promise and sit on her before putting her away again for another year. Maddie will turn three in March 2021 and, although we never sit on our two-year olds, an exception was made for Madam. She was incredibly easy to back and was completely unfazed by any of my attempts to rattle her so I wouldn’t be allowed to get on. Eventually, after a bit of being legged up and laying across her, I swung my leg over and gently sat up. Maddie was delighted and lived up to her unflappable reputation by bringing her head round to chew on my stirrup in approval. Although I hoped my little ‘sit on’ would keep her satisfied for a few months, the very next day she followed me around the barn with her best “now can we go hacking?” face on. Not yet Maddie, not yet.
Avonbrook Winter Queen having a rider on for the first time (c) Rowena Bertram
2020 has been a universally strange year and I am pleasantly surprised with all we have managed to achieve at Avonbrook Stud. Although I was cleared to ride by my surgeon immediately before the first lockdown, I was still able to crack on with my first season of British Eventing with Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April). Despite a few false starts while I was still processing my fall and trying to move past it, we finished the season with 4th at Broadway BE90 and I am really looking forward to whatever comes of next season with him. Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) completed her first event and is now schooling beautifully at home. Due to the latest lockdown, any plans to get her out cross-county have been put on hold, but I’m sure I can create a suitable alternative at home. Indeed, when it next rains and our massive arena puddle returns, I am sure we can practice water complexes! Even young Sammy has been finding the positives from the constant bad news and is schooling happily at home. He has the most incredible freedom from the shoulder and, combined with a powerful hind end, sitting on his movement is truly something to behold. If he had stayed under 14.2hh (he’s certainly 15hh now), he would be a prospect for the pony market in dressage and probably eventing too. My hope for Sammy is that he appeals to the sports pony market as crossing him with a Welsh B could create the ultimate sports pony. If only we had more space!
Audace Encore schooling at home (c) Rowena Bertram
From injury, to surgery, to varying degrees of lockdown, 2020 has certainly been a memorable year. After finishing my studies at the University of Birmingham, I jumped straight into a Masters at Coventry University and spent a period of self-isolation climbing the walls in my accommodation. Competing, I have withdrawn out of fear, been eliminated at far away venues, and galloped through finish flags after heart-thumping clear rounds. I have been at the top of the leaderboard, and also at the bottom, I have received awards and I have started courses to better my performance. I have cried from pain and embarrassment in front of world-class trainers and they have praised my riding and called me a competitor. I have followed the guidance and I have hosted zoom calls with my friends who I miss dearly. For every time I have felt knocked down, I have dragged myself back to my feet and kept pushing ever forward. If I had known what was in store for me this time last year, I wouldn’t have thought I would be able to cope and end the year where I have. I wouldn’t have believed the effort it took just to walk a cross-country course again without crying or trying to withdraw. But, as they say, hindsight is 2020.
Avonbrook Odin having a jump at home (c) Rowena Bertram
Cover image: Avonbrook Odin and Katherine in 2020 (c) JHemming 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.