Despite being the penultimate month of the year, November proved that 2019 was far from finished with a number of experiences and activities to keep the residents of Avonbrook Stud on their toes.
For the past couple of months, our four-year old purebred Arabian stallion Sammy – Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose) – has been away from home to be started under saddle. Recently, he has returned home to his exasperated family who really couldn’t care less about his adventures and some even employed the “I didn’t even realise you were gone” technique. Sammy has now decided that he ‘invented’ being ridden and takes great joy in the praise he gets for being ridden at home. We are now happily trotting around the arena in a pleasing self-carriage that seems to come so naturally to him. I was initially a little hesitant to get on him – the height of his bucks and the speed of his gallop in the field assured me that I didn’t stand a chance should he wish to employ them with a rider on. I needn’t have worried – so far, he has been a true gentleman to ride and he is reminiscent of his sire as a youngster under saddle, so comfortable and balanced! I have a feeling we shall all be fighting over who has the privilege of taking young Sammy on his first fun rides and to his first competitions. He has also settled back in with his turn-out mates, the ‘big boys’ – Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) and Avonbrook Silver Eagle (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) – who are having a marvellous time keeping him in his place. Sammy, much like his dad, is already proving to be ‘anyone’s ride’, having been ridden by five different people to date, and seemingly begun his jumping career when an experienced riding friend from Cornwall came to visit and went from trotting poles to cantering away from little fences! We’re hoping to find Sammy an experienced mare for 2020 as he is behaving ever so well despite the wind-ups from our flirty girls and we’re excited to see what he will produce.
Audace Encore being ridden at home (c) Rowena Bertram.
The super-sire himself Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) added a new string to his bow this month when he took part in my riding club’s ‘friendly’ mounted games competition. He was accompanied by son Robbie, Avonbrook Silver Eagle (ex Caveland Calypso) who has competed in endurance, affiliated dressage, showjumping, and even qualified for a Jumping with Style Championships when I was competing for my high school. Now adding a new discipline to their repertoires, these versatile boys showed their class by finishing second against some very tough competition! Mum had a marvellous time riding Robbie in the first session, but slightly overdid it in the ride-and-run and slightly damaged her knee which she has been nursing back to health for quite some time. Luckily, my friend and skilled photographer Jasmine Hemming had come with us for a laugh and to take some photos, so we squished a hat on her head, put her in mum’s riding boots and gave her the leg up onto Robbie for the second heat. Jazz had only ridden 16.2hh Robbie once before for around 10 minutes so it was always going to be an ambitious experiment, especially when so many of the games seemed to involve accuracy and precision while leaning halfway down the horses’ legs! Thankfully, Jazz is very skilled and Robbie, for all he is a clown, is ‘rocking horse’ comfortable and easy to sit to when he inevitably attempts to bronc to the finish line, so we put in some very competitive performances. I was incredibly grateful to have Marcus as my ride: he is lightning fast, super agile, and took all the games with his usual good humour – even those involving rattly bottles and flags. After two sets of several races, three pairs shared the top score so a ride-off was devised to split us into the top three places. Each pair nominated a member – in our case it was myself and Marcus – and we individually completed ‘the tower race’ against a timer before our finishing times were compared. For those who aren’t familiar with this particular race, it involves leaning right down to a low table and transferring boxes from one table to another. Although I had speed on my side, Marcus was by far the biggest horse from the three nominated individuals, so some time was wasted as I used an 18-year old stallion as a set of monkey bars to hang from and grab the boxes. He, as ever, grinned and laughed through the entire race and we were just quick enough for second place, only a small margin behind the eventual and very well-deserved winners. I was thrilled with both horses and both went home very happy and excited to tell everyone else about their rather marvellous day!
Marcus Aurelius galloping home in the flag race (c) JH Photography.
My darling Princess Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – could have had the most awful month if it wasn’t for her beloved Auntie Erica. Between Sammy, her ‘truly embarrassing’ brother/nephew – read: horse relations are ridiculous when phrased in human terms – returning home and her sire competing in a ‘pointless and uncouth’ sport, things were not looking good for Avonbrook Stud’s most ‘proper’ resident. After an exhausting year that involved gold and silver medals from the Pony Europeans in Poland, I was finally back having regular lessons with my incredible trainer Erica Watson. Odin sees lessons as a punishment and if he hears me talking about going for one when the lorry comes to the yard, he will actively hide and evade capture, so great is his desire to not be schooled properly under Erica’s expert eye. Penny, on the other hand, adores Erica and basks in the praise she receives from her most favourite person. We have been working on Penny’s jump or, more specifically, working on keeping my hands lighter than air in order to allow Penny to develop a true bascule and unleash her full and frightening potential on an unsuspecting world. This, as I’m sure you can imagine, is making Penny a very happy Princess. Not only are we jumping complex grids of raised poles and fences, I am not allowed to touch her mouth and I have to keep my leg strong and my seat quiet. This was particularly frightening in the first lesson where Penny showed us just how fast she could jump through a grid while still putting her legs in all the right places. Thankfully, after a few goes through, she decided I didn’t scare so easily anymore and found that slowing her jump and taking her time not only meant that the jumps got bigger and better sooner, but also that Erica’s feedback was much more complementary and focused on the Princess’ emerging talent.
Annia Aurelia being put through her paces (c) Rowena Bertram.
Odin – Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) – has sadly had another quiet month and he has informed me that I’m no fun when I bring his dressage saddle to the yard and ask for quality flatwork. As he is becoming more able to hold himself in all paces, he is inevitably getting stronger and the occasional bucks are inevitably getting bigger and harder to sit on. Working properly makes him quite cross when he thinks he should be jumping, and now I know the quality of work that he can produce, he is rather annoyed that he can’t get away with minimal effort schooling. He also isn’t a fan of my soft hands when jumping; he loves something to pull against and finds it difficult when I’m not constantly ‘taking a pull’ coming into fences. However, he is getting more confident now and his jumping technique is certainly reaping the rewards of proper riding. I really cannot blame him for his annoyance with me; we have grown up together and learned together, and now I’m changing the rules on him. Currently I am finding the balance between not upsetting him and ensuring that my riding is responsive and non-interfering for Penny, whose wrath would undoubtedly be stronger were I to start fiddling with my hands again! I have promised Odin that I will join British Eventing for the 2020 season so I hope he can forgive my current ‘boringness’ and look forward to galloping around some cross-country courses next year!
Avonbrook Odin behaving badly at home (c) Rowena Bertram.
With Sammy coming home, Penny stealing the spotlight, and Marcus trying new games, I could be mistaken for a full-time rider at the stud who has given up on her final year of university. That, as it stands, couldn’t be further from the truth and I continue to spend my weeks in Birmingham and my weekends at home. Weekends are filled with riding, mucking out, training, and tutoring, while my weekdays are currently overflowing with coursework projects more demanding, time consuming, and important than anything I have faced so far! Yet ridiculously, I am loving it. Yes, sometimes work seems to build up from nowhere; yes, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer importance of the coursework I am doing in terms of its contribution to my overall grade; and yes, my dissertation project is proving to be a challenge. But my friends are fantastic, the support is ever-present, and my current survival rate is 100%, so I am keeping faith in myself to produce the work I know I am capable of within the set deadlines. Goodness knows some of my better work has been written at the most unsociable hours of the day! I am, however, looking forward to my Christmas break – although I cannot pretend that it will be as quiet as perhaps one might expect. My sister Becky is coming home from Canada for Christmas so we are going to London for a theatre trip, and there are some interesting plans in the pipeline for the horses this winter break, where I can make full use of my four uninterrupted weeks to crack on with winning those 2020 rosettes!
A fun moment with the main man (c) JH Photography.
Lead photo: Marcus Aurelius adding mounted games to his extensive CV (c) JH Photography.