Lead Photograph: Marcus Aurelius at the Solihull ODE Credit 1st Class Images
This last month has been one brimming with excitement and opportunity. From the Horse of the Year Show to the National Schools Equestrian Association Championships, I haven’t been short of something new to get excited over. This month also saw the welcoming of the latest Bertram family member: my new CWD 2GS saddle kindly sponsored by Natalie and Mark Tindall of Moonlight Arabians.
October is the one month of the year that I never fail to look forward to, almost entirely due to the world famous Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), held each year from 2002 at the NEC Birmingham – a mere one hour drive from my childhood home in South Worcestershire. Although I’ve technically never competed there, our resident overlord stallion Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) came 4th in the ridden Arab stallions on his debut, and only, appearance back in 2010 with Kirsty Brown. So I have been behind the scenes and, at 11-years old, I had one of the most magical experiences of my entire life.
|Marcus Aurelius jumping clear at the Solihull ODE. ©1st Class Images
Despite disillusioning me from the almost theatrical schedule of the five-day production that is HOYS, I found solace in being surrounded by my heroes, from walking past the formidable scurry driving duo Bow and Arrow along *that* walkway from the stables to the showing ring, to catching a glimpse of one of the Whittaker family’s domineering horse lorries. This year, I was fortunate to attend on both the opening day, Wednesday, and the traditional skive off school day on Friday. It struck me, in that odd emotional way that only HOYS can provoke, that this was the first year when I hadn’t listened to mum explain that I was ‘sick’ to the school office or, when I was a bit older, doing the obligatory fake cough and nasally voice myself. I have learnt far more about event management, sales promotion and ring craft from watching the unfolding’s at HOYS than one day of school could have ever taught me, but it was odd nonetheless to have no one to explain my absence to; well, no one who cared anyway…
I felt like such a lucky girl on Wednesday when I had the honour of being ‘official’ and sending the results and pictures from the Arab and Part-bred Championship classes to The Arabian Magazine for quick publication. I was also able to spend time with my friends and sponsors Natalie and Mark Tindall, who I led to the CWD Sellier stand where my friend Alice was able to show them the design of saddle that they had sponsored for me. I listened gleefully as Alice explained that CWD takes care of everything, right from the cows used for the leather where the saddles are made in France, to how the saddles are not only a giant leap in technology but their physicality allows the horse to really use themselves without misguided pressure or inflexibility. I may have seemed a little reminiscent of 11-year old me – who was first permitted to rampage around the shopping village without mum that year – as I physically shook with excitement and ran around spending money that, for the first time, I hadn’t been maniacally storing throughout the year. With a brief respite on Thursday, my sister Becky and I, and later mum, returned to watch the working hunter ponies – next year Odin! – and the leading pony showjumper of the year, the Champion of which we met the next day at Solihull Riding Club. They had set up camp there instead of in the carpark stables of HOYS and happily coincided with the first running of the BD Arab Dressage Championships, where we played cheerleader for Natalie with her two stunning Crabbet mares; Darees (Spearmint x Dallua) and PS Aurora Silk (Marcus Aurelius x Imperial Silk). I would be rather partial to Aurora, wouldn’t I?
|Marcus Aurelius at the Solihull ODE ©1st Class Images
It would turn out to be very fortunate for me that I went to Solihull that day and decided to get some exercise by walking around the cross-country course, as little did we know that I was going to make an entry for their final one-day event of the season and have no time to go and officially walk the course! Before this spur of the moment entry fee splurge, we took Marcus and his pony mares – Poppy the wonder-Irish, an unregistered Connemara called Autumn’s Child due to her birthday being on 10 October, and Burwell Bride to Be (Rotherwood State Occasion x Desarbre Folk Song), my Welsh B mare and first competition pony who lets me call her ‘Alice’ when she’s feeling friendly. Marcus behaved so well and even put on his brave boy pants over the ditch when I suggested that I could enter him for the 80cm event the following weekend at Solihull. He was clearly keen to go so I promptly entered him however evidently forgot that he hadn’t seen a full cross-country course in nine years, and I had never taken him around Solihull’s full course.
|Marcus Aurelius over the final fence at the Solihull ODE © Rowena Bertram
The night before the event, two of mum’s closest friends came over for drinks and we chatted a large proportion of the night away talking about my university, which was once the university of mum and her cohorts, so there was a lot of comparing and “back in my day…” going on. It is something that I find reassuring about the unfamiliarity of the University of Birmingham, knowing that I tread the same tracks that my parents and their friends used to. And that there are still similarities from our separate generations such as Old Joe, the tallest free-standing clock tower in the world and the pride of the University of Birmingham.
|Marcus Aurelius acting as a nap post for a tired Katherine © Rowena Bertram
After eventually going to bed in the early hours, it was a very short sleep until waking up for the event. Marcus produced a fantastically cheeky dressage test that I was too busy grinning through to care, and then pulled a clear jumping round out of the bag, much to my delight. I was a bit worried that the fences would prove too small for him, but ever the gentleman, he merrily skipped round without feeling the need to lower the poles any more. His message was awfully clear: “I’ve done flatwork, I’m bored of flatwork. Jump me!” However, I do think he was a little taken aback when we threw him into the start box and seemingly just expected him to jump a whole cross-country course without any say in the matter. He’s always liked to understand what he’s jumping rather than just take off without thinking; he’s not silly enough to jump into wire or become lodged on a fence post, which will be a great blessing if I ever take him to a mock hunt. Since he’s not doing the roadwork he used to do when preparing for endurance, we took his shoes off him. Rather unfortunately we forgot about the stone chip take-off and landing strips for each fence, that probably didn’t improve his reasoning for ‘taking my word for it’ and, as a stallion of a certain age, I definitely couldn’t blame him. We made it around the course though and completed the event with only a couple of miscommunications so I was delighted, especially as he finished with energy to spare and accrued only a handful of time faults despite the refusals, so he was really flying!
As is the way at Avonbrook Stud, there is never much time to rest on one’s laurels. Proving that he is only as good as his last round, Marcus put in a stellar performance around a 90cm-100cm version of a truly evil course I designed at Lincomb equestrian, where we had hired the show jumping arena as a last practice for Odin before the NSEA Championships the next day. Among the tricky fences was a St Andrew’s Cross or Swedish Cross’, which is essentially a raised cross pole oxer which keeps the horse straight and using their shoulders. It has an oxer with a plank on flat cups as a front rail to catch out horses that don’t pick up their shoulders quick enough, and a wide oxer followed by a single plank after five short or four long strides. As Marcus has been known to be a little idle with his shoulders, it was a good workout for him and he really showed me up by not falling into my traps. Perhaps he wanted to show off to his son, Avonbrook Odin (ex April) who was supposedly the main focus of the day?
|Credit Hoof Prints Ltd
Odin was a superstar and really showed us how much potential he’s been hiding away simply because of a misjudgement on mum’s part. Believing her shoulders to be 1.20 (3’9) or thereabouts, she raised the fences to shoulder height – partially due to Marcus complaining that he didn’t want to traipse around the arena putting up fences for his son while she was holding him. So to appease him, mum just made everything big enough for her to consider suitable.
While jumping around the various courses that I was designing to test Odin’s different skills, I noticed that I was collapsing slightly on landing. Putting it down to a loss of core strength, I brushed it off and told myself that I really must work harder on my own fitness when away at uni. Meanwhile Odin was feeling like a new horse, chalking up the first serious jumps of his life – and by serious, I mean real efforts like grand prix show jumpers who ‘bascule’ and exert great muscular athleticism over fences taller than me! It was only later on when I actually measured mum’s shoulder height, which she used to build the fences, I found to my shock that I had been expecting – and receiving – 1.30m fences from the horse that I thought would find 1.20 classes a struggle! I did feel a little surprised with myself for not realising that his Arabian blood improved his agility and flexibility rather than hindered his Warmblood jump. When I went up the barn to tell Odin the height he’d jumped, he looked at me almost in equal measure both impressed with himself and insulted that I had ever questioned his ability. Firmly pinning his little sister Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – back in place as secondary in jumping talent, Odin was physically and mentally ready for the National Schools Equestrian Association Championships (NSEA) Championships that we worked so hard to qualify for the next day.
|Credit Hoof Prints Ltd
Before I could work myself up too much about the Championships, I took my little X-registered Toyota Yaris to Broadway to visit my trainer Erica Watson and to borrow Alice’s CWD 2GS Saddle while mine was still being made. Erica was equally impressed with Odin’s evident scope and potential, and it was then I realised how lucky I am to be able to learn from her. As Lisa who grooms for us said, my jump building at Lincomb was “pure Erica” when I described it to her and I don’t think I’ve jumped an ascending, as opposed to a square, oxer since I started having lessons with her almost two years ago. Hopefully doing some holiday work for her will continue to develop my arsenal of skills on the flat and over fences. After Alice handed me the saddle and I took it back to my car, I strapped it in and drove like it was made of glass, such are the pressures of handling a saddle worth five times more than the vehicle transporting it!
I don’t know whether it was the saddle or Odin’s new-found confidence in his abilities, but he was on fine form at Addington the next afternoon despite a rather scary journey where the exhaust on the lorry split in two and the air brake pressure dropped unhealthily low.
|Avonbrook Odin at the NSEA Championships ©Rowena Bertram
|Avonbrook Odin at the NSEA Championships.
In the show jumping round itself, Odin was making nothing of the testing 1.15 course and had never jumped better. Despite being the 1.10 championship, it was built higher as the championship round, which of course made little difference in the calibre of entrants in Odin’s section. After googling them back at home, mum found that the majority of entrants had show jumping records that included 1.30 classes, some were HOYS finalists and a surprising amount had FEI show jumping or eventing records, therefore Odin was likely one of the least experienced horses there! Despite this, he jumped a super round and finished in the top 20 in the country despite annoyingly having one fence down. On the video, it was clear why he had it down; it was the first part of a double I was pushing him at because of the fillers underneath had stopped more experienced horses in their tracks. Also it was heading directly away from the arena gate. One could pinpoint the exact moment it was certain to happen as I didn’t put my inside leg on enough around the corner for his inside hind leg to come underneath him, resulting in a ‘flat’ jump. It did also provide some relief when we found out that if had he jumped clear, he would have placed 9th – one place away from the eight horse jump off that evening in the international indoor arena, which would have been galling to sit around and wait to hear. Instead, a kindly lorry mechanic wiggled the air brake valve until it seemed happier. He told us it was fine to drive home, which thankfully it was and the air pressure only dropped again when we were safely at home and mum was turning the lorry around. Sadly, the lorry’s in the shop at the moment which has forced me into a hiatus before I can make a repeat of the unreal string of competitions that lasted three months while I was revising for, and taking, my A levels.
|The new CWD 2GS Saddle. ©Katherine Bertram
Soon after the Championships, a great big red box arrived with the unmistakable logo of CWD Sellier and thus, the newest Bertram member was welcomed into the family. I would honestly keep it in my room if there was enough space but it lives under lock and key in the house to keep it’s temperature regulated as well as to ward off thieves! Alice warned that it might feel uncomfortable at first as it needs ‘working in’ for the memory foam to shape to the horses and to me. Needless to say, I’m having a great time under Alice’s instruction riding all of the horses in it as well as massaging it with conditioner and sunflower oil. I probably look like an obsessive Gollum-type figure hunched over my precious, but I really am just so in awe of it.
Meanwhile, I am over halfway through my first semester of my first year at university and have dived headfirst into learning a new sport, Polo, as part of the University’s Polo Club. We’re lucky to train at Rugby Polo Club at Onley Grounds Equestrian Centre, where I have been a handful of times, mainly for showing. Although I am still unconvinced by using horses in a contact sport, I’m having a great time learning how to play the sport of kings, undeterred by my baffling lack of any form of hand-eye coordination and my inability to distinguish between the back and front of my hand. After learning ‘riding off’ and the full swing shot, I am so very glad that mum’s a chiropractor and can put me back together at weekends. Which is essential after weeks of pulling myself around playing polo and being hunched over various desks trying to keep my head above the water when it comes to my work!
|Avonbrook Silver Eagle (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) testing out the new saddle. ©Becky Bertram
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.