My father rode and hunted when I was very young and before I knew it, I was the proud owner of a miniature Shetland called Pegasus. He needed a companion so we were lent a larger Shetland called Emir and it was on him that I really learnt to ride. I started out bareback and eventually a felt saddle was found. When I got a pair of stirrups for my fourth birthday I didn’t even know what they were!
I was bought my first ‘proper’ pony after coming home from school one afternoon and begging my parents to buy me a pony my friend had told me about ( that I had already arranged to go and see). After much persuading, Tilly arrived. She was super and had done the rounds with several local families. We did everything together before I finally outgrew her!
My next pony came from a riding school. He was six years old and the result of a dalliance between an Arab stallion which jumped a hedge to get to a show pony mare in the field next door. I rode him from the age of nine until I was 16. We won a lot of money BSJA, and went to regional and finals successfully. He also won Working Hunter Pony classes and went to the Royal International.
Daniel’s Town also did F.E.I Pony Eventing, and was reserve for the British Team and went to Ireland for the FEI Championships. When I was finally too old to compete on him he was one of the only ones I couldn’t bear to sell, so he went out on loan until he came back home for his retirement.
At the same time we were also lent another eventing pony called Criffel Capulet. He and Daniel’s Town were both only 13.2hh and looked identical. At the Pony Club Championships I got mistaken for a runner as we were both so small! Both ponies were fabulous jumpers. Criffel Capulet went to the Royal International at Hickstead, came 2nd in the 14hh Working Hunter Pony class and 3rd in the Foxhunter Championships on the same day.
I also had a beautiful 13hh, dark grey mare to show – but she was very sharp and bucked like stink! She was beautiful and we qualified for all the major showing Championships. She would nearly always get pulled in first in a line up, but as soon as the judge came anywhere near her she’d put her ears back or try and kick the opposition and would be put back down the order! She taught me how to ride something sharp, which may be why I prefer those types today. She had a fantastic jump and having sold her into a show jumping home, she went on to win a jumping class at HOYS.
When I moved from ponies to horses I decided to focus on eventing. We were loaned a schoolmistress, Welton Airborne, a 14 year old mare who was in the twilight of her career and I competed her for a year to gain experience. We won the Junior final trial and we went to Bialy Bor in Poland to the Junior European Championships where we won team gold.
I also started a pre novice gelding, Witches Bay, to compete alongside her. He was a character and hated dressage; the only way you could get him to do a test was to get on him as the person in front was leaving the arena, then go straight in – slightly unconventional but he behaved better that way!
Staks came along after after Welton Airbourne retired. I seemed to manage to have one experienced horse as well as a few youngsters during the early part of my career, which kept me positive when the youngsters were being unpredictable. I was placed on him almost every time out, but it was not all plain sailing at the beginning of our relationship. At our first event, Brightling, he dumped me in the Show Jumping warm up arena and trotted in to the ring whilst someone else was jumping. I was so mortified that I hid whilst he was retrieved, looking smug – needless to say, but we jumped double clear that day!
After getting seriously bitten by the eventing bug my next horse was Welton Sparkle. She had done a few Intermediates but didn’t have a great track record show jumping, which meant she was affordable. Her cross country record was immaculate so we bought her in the hope that we could improve the show jumping. She was only 15.3hh and by the same sire as Welton Airbourne.
I never expected to get as far as I did with her but she ended up doing Badminton and Burghley! Her show jumping did improve, some days it was great and some it wasn’t, but she gave me my first taste of Eventing at top level and she never had a run out or stop cross country.
My first advanced run was on Peace of Gold, owned by Jackie and David Hurst- Brown. He was a lovely thoroughbred who gave me a feel for how a steeplechase should be when he cruised around Windsor so effortlessly. Sadly he injured himself and had to retire, so I never got the chance to fulfil his potential. However, his owners kindly offered me the ride on their daughter’s horse when she went to university. Standing only 15hh and looking like an overgrown pony, a lot of people laughed at me but we had so much fun. Ironically, Nothing to Lose won two bronze medals at the Beijing Olympics with his para rider Laurentia Tan – so he had the last laugh after all !
Peace of Gold
At the same time as Welton Sparkle, I was offered another Welton mare, Welton Vivat. She had been produced by Linda Barr and ridden by Blyth Tait at the start of her career. She was a fantastic jumper but was rather challenging in the dressage! I took her to Advanced level and jumped a double clear at Bramham CCI***. She was a fantastic show jumping horse and won our very competitive local Eventer’s Challenge at Golden Cross twice! She also jumped in the main arena at Hickstead. Sadly she sustained an injury, so was eventually sold as a broodmare.
I was due to go to university after studying A-levels but was undecided on which path to take. There was nothing that I really wanted to do apart from art, and that meant doing an extra foundation year. I didn’t want to spend four years away from the horses so I got a place at Kent to study theology but two weeks before I was meant to go I decided that I wanted to make the horses a full time profession. My parents were very supportive and I had made good contacts so I decided to give it a shot.
I got my biggest break so far when I started riding for Lord and Lady Harris, who bought Drivetime for me to ride. He was originally a show jumper and was then evented by Terry Boon. We bought him when he was nine years old having just got to advanced level. On his record he was very competitive on the flat and a consistant show jumper but had made a few mistakes cross country.
Drivetime has been my most successful horse: highlights include winning Hartpury CIC*** and coming second at Blenheim CCI*** in 2009, and jumping double clear at Pau CCI**** in 2007. He can be very sharp, especially in the winter; he is very arrogant and loves attention. The mares I had before him were very different – they were a lot more aloof and they didn’t enjoy the atmosphere at big competitions as much. Drivetime is the complete opposite. The bigger the atmosphere and the more people watching the more he rises to the occasion. Over the past few years he has developed into quite a personality and he is everyone’s favourite.
Another horse I ride for Lord and Lady Harris is Pepper Anne. We bought her as a six year old and last year we did the 8/9 Year Old 3* class at Blenheim. Hopefully she will do a CCI*** and get some mileage at advanced level this year. I also have some talented young horses coming through and am on the lookout for more rides to compete this season.
I have ridden a number of other horses but the above have all had the greatest impact on my career to date. Some are more talented and more generous than others, however the challenge has been to get them to work with me. Being small in stature means that you have to finely tune what you ride to get the very best from them.