Despite the recent snow halting proceedings, Katherine and the performance Arabians of Avonbrook Stud have been gearing up for another busy season in 2018.
With February being the second month of the Arab Horse Society’s Centenary year, I have been busy planning the season of each competitive horse at Avonbrook Stud. This is no mean feat and most letters of the alphabet have been utilised to allow for many scenarios to play out over the year. As I write, I am snowed in at my university, so I can currently only imagine poor mum’s reaction when she sees the wall calendar completely filled up with competitions and training opportunities. I have, of course, given her complete power over my season by allowing her to ‘veto’ any show that would be too disruptive to home life or that would possibly be the death of her as the only lorry driver in the family. As soon as I’m confident on the motorways and have more experience in my own car, I will be on the lookout for a forward facing 3.5 tonne lorry so that I don’t have to coerce mum into driving up and down the country. I think I rather overdid this last year for the National Schools Equestrian Association (NSEA) qualifiers and championships: “come on mum, it’s only a 4 hour drive to Hickstead and who knows when we’re next going to go!” In hindsight, I really am very lucky that mum still agrees to drive me to the vast majority of shows that want to go to, although I have made the situation fairer by paying for my entry fees, leaving mum with the fuel and food to pay, as well as extra shifts on the yard for overnight shows… My contribution is a drop in the ocean compared to what mum still does for me; but what are kids for?
|Avonbrook Odin warms up for his first 115cm class © J Hemming Photography
The early months of the year often feel like a set-up for later competitions, after all; rosettes are won at home and long term horse and rider fitness are essential for busy summer months. Marcus Aurelius has been out flying the flag for Arabian performance in open competition once again, and qualified for the 95cm and 105cm championships for the Cricklands Senior Winter League Finals 2018 on his first and only attempt. Within a matter of hours, his entry for the finals was booked, his stable requested, and lorry hook-up paid for. My friend Jazz of J Hemming Photography was kind enough to agree to come along and take pictures and video, so we shall hopefully have our own little media centre set up in the lorry for editing ‘on the go’. Marcus truly adores Cricklands, hosted by the David Broome Event Centre in Wales, although we expect him to once again be the sole stallion and one of a handful of Arabians at the Championships. It would be truly fantastic to have a team of Arabians for the opening day’s ‘Team Jumping’ competition, especially given it’s the AHS Centenary year and Arabians are so much more capable than what the general public often give them credit for.
|Marcus Aurelius qualifying for the Senior Winter League Finals 2018 © J Hemming Photogrpahy
Marcus has not been the only one enjoying success while setting up for the year. His son, Avonbrook Odin, has been out and about competing in Senior Newcomers (110cm-120cm) classes and has been performing well, despite narrowly missing out on a few double clears. It would be amazing to get four double clears by 1 May but I’m not pushing it, we are both very much still learning and the courses are designed to catch us out rather than encourage us to get round. February also saw a landmark reached with Odin when we jumped our first ever British Showjumping 115cm class (with a 125cm jump off). Although the course at Addington for the NSEA Championships was billed as 115cm, the course builders were a little generous as I realised when walking into the ring about to start my round of actual 115cm-125cm fences a couple of weeks ago. Needless to say, Odin belied his height and comparative experience with the rest of the start list by flying around the imposing track with just a couple of rider errors that caused him to touch two poles. Standing at only 155cm (15.1hh), Odin was the smallest in the class by a good few inches, as was his rider, which made the jumps look even bigger and his scope even clearer.
|Scope compensating for his height Avonbrook Odin in the 115cm © JHemming Photography
|A steep landing Avonbrook Odin in the 115cm © JHemming Photography
The landing from some of these jumps was very steep and my stirrups were perhaps half a hole too long which created painful burns on the inside of my knees. I believe this was due to the swap back to Odin’s GP saddle, as the very posh CWD was having larger knee rolls put on it to compensate for my short thighs. I have nothing against the GP saddle, I’ve jumped a short course of 130cm (4’2) in it and it is a comfortable saddle that does its job perfectly. However, the CWD is a masterclass in saddlery and there is a reason why top riders such as Kent Farrington, William Whittaker, and Bertram Allen use their products. One of the best days I’ve ever had was when my saddle arrived in the post in a huge red box, and I often think of how lucky I am to have been given the opportunity to own such an incredible saddle thanks to Crabbet-Heritage.com.
|Michelangelo D’Aurelius being gelded as his sire Marcus Aurelius watches on © Katherine Bertram
As well as some excellent ‘setting up’ moments in training and competition, we have also been setting up for the future of Avonbrook Stud. We have two mares due to foal ‘Marcy babies’ at home this year. Caveland Calypso (Winter Words x Cassie), or Coca, who is Marcus’ main wife, and her daughter Avonbrook Summer Breeze, who is by the Connemara stallion Arrow Javelin. Breeze belongs to one of mum’s life-long friends and this will be her second foal by Marcus, the first being a stunning buckskin filly, Avonbrook Midsummer Dream, or Ellie. As Breeze began to creep closer to her due date, arrangements were made for her to come to us on maternity leave, and she is now settled back at Avonbrook Stud, where the other pony of Irish decent, Poppy, has been showing her incredible affection. With fingers firmly crossed, I hope that both foals will end up being future performance horses here at Avonbrook Stud, as I have decided that I want my future string of horses to have ancestry going back to Marcus. Be this through him directly, his daughter Penny – Annia Aurelia (ex Bint Zaehaebi), his son Sammy – Audace Encore (ex Avonbrook Green Rose) or any of his future progeny. In an event that was somewhat bittersweet, the 2017 colt Michelangelo d’Aurelius (Marcus Aurelius x Sabheeha Bint Krayaan), or Mickey, was gelded in February as we do not have the space for three stallions. His life will now have so much more potential as a ridden gelding. I suspect he will take rather a lot of prying away from us, but mum has conceded that she would sell him to someone very special if and when the time is right.
As we prepare for new arrivals over the next couple of months, we received some arrivals rather smaller than horses this last month. After the death of our ancient barn cat Poppy at the very end of last year, we realised that the rats were forming something of a stronghold in the feed room in her absence. We contacted Cramar Cats and, after a process of feline selection and home inspection, we welcomed two feral female cats into the barn. During an initial period, they are living in a beautifully constructed ‘run’ in one end of the tack room which consists of multiple levels and plenty of boxes with blankets to hide and stay warm in. They will be allowed access to Poppy’s expansive territory in due course. There are currently no pictures of the black and ginger girls we named “Arya” and “Sansa” as they have remained elusive during the day and the last thing I want to do is upset them by invading their privacy more than we have to for feeding, cleaning up, and providing water.
|Avonbrook Summer Breeze (Arrow Javelin x Caveland Calypso) bids farewell to her 3 year old daughter Avonbrook Midsummer Dream (by Marcus Aurelius) and owner Karen Grant © Rowena Bertram
|University of Birmingham in the snow
Although technically now March, February sadly ended on a sour note for me as I am snowed in at my University with no way of getting home thanks to ‘the Beast from the East’ and Storm Emma. I’m actually very lucky because I have heating, water, security, and an Aldi within a couple of minutes walking distance, but I can’t help but miss mum and the horses back home. I am very home-orientated so my first full weekend away at University seems rather unnatural and I wonder how many of my peers cope with being at University 24/7. I can only imagine it has something to do with the horses and the herd mentality that the Arabians are so generous to include us in. Feeling so ‘linked in’ with the Arabians back home has far more benefits than drawbacks, but feeling so far away from a group that has let me be part of their herd can seem very isolating and I look forward to my reunion with them well in advance of Mother’s Day!