Avonbrook Stud went from ‘0 to 100’ very quickly this April. From the arrival of a new team member to the first major ‘parties’ of the season, Katherine Bertram and her Arabians have started as they mean to continue as Summer qualifiers begin to dominate the year.
For the past few months, I have been setting money aside for a 3.5 tonne horsebox should the perfect one appear. Now that I am a confident car driver and my demand for far afield competitions increases, I decided that the logical step forward would be to drive myself and the horses to ‘parties’ when mum is unable to – either due to stud commitments, work, or sheer exhaustion from a combination of the two. When the perfect lorry appeared in Cornwall, I asked a close friend to check it out and, after listening to advice from those infinitely wiser than myself, I took the leap and bought it. Just a couple of days later, mum and I drove down to Cornwall in my car and stayed with the Tindall’s of Moonlight Arabians before driving the 4.5 hours back in the car and lorry separately. I have since taken my lorry on a number of excursions to build my confidence in it and the horses all load onto it so I shouldn’t have a problem when I come to try and take them to shows.
Layered up and picking up the new lorry from Moonlight Arabians. Credit Rowena Bertram.
This month, Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) went to his first event of the year, and only the third in his entire life. We decided to run him in the 90cm at Swalcliffe to give him a confidence boosting run, although we clearly didn’t account for the weather as we completed the event in the high winds of Storm Hannah. The dressage, which was on top of a hill, could have gone a lot better but we started on the wrong foot when the judge beeped his horn just as we trotted past his car. Unfortunately, both Odin and myself leapt about three feet in the air and my automatic reaction was to turn around in my saddle and give the judge a hard stare that clearly didn’t improve my first impression! The test, although slightly tense, wasn’t one of my worst and I was disappointed with a penalty mark of just over 40. As the dressage was also running over an hour late, I had around 45 minutes to run around the hilly cross country-course before my show jumping time. I managed to see most of the course but resolved to just ‘follow the numbers’ and retreat when all competitors were held due to a serious rider injury. The combination that caused the injury was deceptively tricky: a downhill double of offset logs on a forward two stride distance, then a sharp curve to skinny hedge with a horse head attached to one end that just begged to be stopped at.
After an uncharacteristic four faults in the show jumping, Odin was feeling very fit and very fresh for the cross-country. With a vague idea of where we were going, I was just about able to contain him during the countdown until we were released onto the course. After popping the first two fences, we approached a brightly decorated house at fence three that Odin really thought he ought to stop and look at. Sadly for Odin, he had already used up his one permitted stop of the season so, after much wiggling, we eventually crawled over it and found a nice rhythm over the next few fences. We then found ourselves galloping towards an influential combination that involved jumping a rail, down a step, up a step, and curving right over a narrow arrowhead. After collecting him a little too much, we added a stride before the step up which resulted in me slipping my reins and guiding him with just my seat, legs, and sheer willpower to the arrowhead. Being half-Arabian, Odin is brave, honest and, above all, clever. This meant that he just popped over the arrowhead and galloped back up the hill and over hedges, open ditches, and through two sets of water. After flying over a trakehner, we were finally at the combination that I had been unable to walk due to competitor injury. My plan while walking was to jump the two parts of the double and circle around the separately numbered ‘horse hedge’ that, although wasting time, wouldn’t incur any penalties and would give me a straight approach to the influential hedge. After Odin proved his honesty at the steps combination, I decided to ride this straight through without the circle; a quicker but riskier strategy. I stuck to my plan through the logs, I kept steady for three strides, there was no point in pushing for the forward two and inviting a run-out at the hedge. I then stayed on my line to hedge and he showed his class by jumping confidently through and over the last fences before the finish. Despite the disappointing dressage mark, Odin’s clear across the country proved most useful and moved us right up the board into 8th place. Odin has made such a promising start to the season and I can’t wait to event him more this year!
Avonbrook Odin jumping through the influential log combination. Credit Jasmine Punter.
Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) also started her season off in a strong way with a 4th place in a competitive Horse Of the Year Show (HOYS) mare class at the BSPS Winter Championships. She went beautifully for both myself and the ride judge as well as standing up well for the conformation section, so we’re already improving from last year! The only moment that let us down was on the go-around where, due to overtaking a horse who was having a naughty moment in the corner during the change of rein, I had a lapse in concentration that meant we wrong legged the canter transition. As gutting as it was, we corrected it quickly and Penny was kind enough not to explode me into a million pieces for my sins. The winner of the mares then went on to take the first HOYS ticket of the year ahead of last year’s HOYS champion in reserve. The ‘big guns’ were well and truly out in force and it was wonderful to see everyone back out on the circuit again. My showing heroes are now becoming my fellow competitors, and everyone has been so kind outside of the ring; it really is almost like a showing family that meet up all around the country to show off our beautiful animals. Mine and Penny’s eyes might have been wandering to the working hunter rings, but I thoroughly enjoyed being a part of the first HOYS qualifier of the season and showing the BSPS audience that the Arabian is not only the foundation of their show ponies’ breeding, but also a competitive breed in its own right.
Annia Aurelia competing at the BSPS Winter Championships. Credit Lisa LaPorta.
It wouldn’t be a typical month at Avonbrook Stud without a bit of drama. Our gorgeous part bred Avonbrook Silver Eagle (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) – Robbie – was found on the ground one morning with suspected colic and, after a vet’s visit didn’t resolve the issue, we took him in for inspection. After examination, it was found that he had twisted his large intestine and his condition worsened to a point where it became surgical and mum authorised the vets to do what they needed to in order to save him. After a tense hour of waiting in the late hours the evening, we received the call that the surgery had gone well and Robbie was awake and on his feet. For the next week, we made sure that either me or mum could drive to the vets twice a day and visit him as his rotating support team. The vets were fantastic and even handled grumpy Robbie when he was still on ‘nil by mouth’. Eventually, Robbie was well enough to come home and is now on a long recovery programme that involves box rest, hand grazing, and soaked hay. This marks Robbie’s third near death experience – he degloved a pastern and stuck himself with a fence post in two separate occasions as a youngster – and hopefully he pushed it close enough to the edge to satisfy him for many years to come. I acknowledge that we’re not out of the woods with him yet and my fingers are still firmly crossed, but he’s back to being the same demanding, cheeky, pixie-infested Robbie that we all know and love. Typically, this all kicked off a week or so after I spent a lot of money on a British Dressage membership for him, but that’s water under the bridge now and I’m just glad he’s here.
Avonbrook Silver Eagle and Becky Bertram, both post-surgery. Credit Rowena Bertram.
Due to Robbie’s absence, he was unable to represent Worcester and District Riding Club in the BRC Combined Training qualifier alongside his father during April. Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) was still keen and ready to go and compete and, not wanting to let the team down, we substituted Penny in Robbie’s place. Marcus’ dressage felt incredible – I could have been riding Valegro, he felt so powerful and graceful. However, watching the video made me realise something: Marcus is a con-artist and may have felt like Valegro, but he looked like a donkey! A rather expected penalty in the mid-30s was about what I had predicted, but he did provide a valuable score to help his team into 6th place.
Marcus Aurelius helping his team to 6th. Credit TopShots.
Penny’s dressage felt awful. There were moments I was convinced she was going to get bored, jump the white boards, and rip the judge’s throat out for good measure. I spent the majority of the test looking terrified and refusing to touch my reins, lest my hellish chestnut mare unleash her fury upon me. When we finally finished the test and left the arena, I looked over to Lisa who was filming, and commented about how awful it was and I would be surprised if we scored 50%. What we did score surprised me even more. I was convinced it was a mistake – next to Penny’s name was the penalty score of 29.5%! Penny then went and jumped an exuberant round of jumping but left all the poles up to finish on her dressage, which I correctly guessed to be incorrect. There had been some moderation in marks and, instead of 29.5%, Penny’s final penalty was a mind-blowing 27.5%! She finished as the only sub-30 score in her arena and, as the arena winner, qualified for the BRC Festival of the Horse for the Combined Training Championships. After just missing qualification on three occasions at the Winter Showjumping qualifier, I was beyond delighted and I cannot wait to represent Worcester and District Riding Club at the Championships in May!
Annia Aurelia felt like hell on legs but finished on a penalty of 27.5 to qualify. Credit TopShots.
With semester two at university now over, I have been lulled into a false sense of freedom that I have to overcome in order to actually revise for my summer exams. It’s proving to be an interesting balance of work and play, and although May will likely stretch us all to our limits, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Marcus Aurelius leaping around the showjumping. Credit TopShots.
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.