At the end of another disrupted year, The Girl with the Jumping Arabs embraces the ‘new normal’ and makes the most of the last few competitions of 2021.
I think it’s fair to say that I took 2021 by the horns. Between finishing my Masters degree and the resulting job hunt, I have found plenty of time for the horses. Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) has evented with varying degrees of success – winning or falling off! – and Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi), Penny, had her first couple of mini events, coming home with a first and a second. Even Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), who turns 21 in 2022, managed some showjumping outings at 100-110cm that he thoroughly enjoyed.
In the final month of the year, I decided to try the British Eventing ‘Jump Training’ series for the first time with Penny, competing in the 80cm qualifier at Hartpury College. In each qualifier, combinations jump two rounds under the expert eye of an accredited trainer who provides feedback after each round and awards a style mark. The top quarter of entrants qualify for the Jump Training Championships, where the champions win lessons with top event riders. I thought this sounded like a brilliant idea, although admittedly less so when I saw my pre-9am time for the competition. The day was worth the entry fee alone by being able to spend quality time in the International Arena at Hartpury, which was split into a small warm up area and the competition arena. We were permitted entry to the warm-up while the horse before was competing, giving me about six minutes to give Penny a jump and let her soak in the banners, the music, and the audience. She was delighted that we had finally provided her with an arena to match her rather grand personality and strutted into the competition area, eyeing the judge as possibly a rogue admirer or pole steward in her way. In our first round, Penny was almost caught out by an upright that came quickly off the corner – I suspect she was reading a banner – and just tapped it to knock it down. After some positive feedback and useful pointers, we jumped our second round. This time we were clear and received the best style mark of the class and joint best style mark of the day! Even with the fence down, we came third and qualified for the finals in February.
Annia Aurelia receiving feedback from the judge. Credit Rowena-Bertram
The other competition I went to in December was showjumping at our local competition centre with Odin. Luckily, I had entered two classes because Odin was very naughty in the 95cm and it took quite a lot of work to keep him pointing the right way between all of his shenanigans! I used the 105cm class as a schooling round which led to a technical elimination at the last fence through accumulated circles between fences, but I didn’t mind, it was more important to me to get Odin focused on his job. In his defence, he had last competed in October so was feeling a bit fresh and the cold foggy air meant I was a bit too cold and stiff to really chase him around the course. Hopefully I can get him out and about more regularly through the winter and re-establish ourselves at the bigger heights again.
Avonbrook Odin jumping around the 105cm. Credit Topshots Photography
December is usually a good month for training as we want to finish the year with a bang rather than a fizzle. I am lucky enough to be involved with the production of another super ‘Marcy baby’, Avonbrook Midsummer Dream (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze) – Ellie – who is becoming more established in canter and learning to jump. Her owner and I took the plunge and took her to her first ridden parties at Gracelands Equestrian Centre, a venue where my fond memories extend back to when I was very young and racing round on little ponies! Ellie took everything we asked of her in her stride and never batted an eyelid at the indoor arenas, brightly coloured jumps, or the decorative flowers that adorn the arena. Although I am in no hurry to keep putting the jumps up, I am delighted in her growing confidence over 60cm and she is now starting to really jump them rather than canter them in her stride. She is a full sister to my ‘in your face’ dreamboat Maddie – Avonbrook Winter Queen – and they both share an infectiously joyful personality and desire for connection with people. I am very excited for both of their futures, and hopefully Maddie will be just as lovely under saddle as Ellie.
Avonbrook Midsummer Dream at her first ridden party. Credit Karen Grant
Throughout 2021, we began to make a decision regarding Blue Delphinium (Shadow Blue x Bey Drachma) – Delphi – as she turned four-years old and still looked quite small and narrow. She needs time to fill out and grow into the beautiful young mare she so clearly is, and we doubted the notion of putting her in foal before we were certain she wouldn’t suffer any problems from it. Additionally, with so many to keep in work and a drove of youngsters coming through in the next few years, we decided to make someone’s Christmas wish come true instead. One of our close friends has a child who, ever since seeing photos of Delphi online, has fallen in love and adorned the house with paintings and cut-outs of her favourite horse. She even proclaimed to her mum that she had “thought about Delphi before bedtime every day for a year”, perhaps manifesting the growing feeling we all had at home that maybe Delphi would be more suited to life in Cornwall. After some secret conversations between the adults, it was decided that we would accompany Delphi down to Cornwall in the new year and her new child would be informed a couple of days before Christmas that she would be getting a very special present. In order to make this as special as we could, my talented photographer friend Jazz Hemming of JHemming Photography came over and took some stunning photos of Delphi. From these, we made the tough decision about which one to print out and send to the family. The filmed reaction of a young girl realising what the photo and accompanying note meant was a beautiful moment, it felt surreal to be making someone’s wish come true after a couple of very difficult years.
Blue Delphinium proving to be the perfect model for her photoshoot.
Credit JHemming Photography
It wasn’t just about the horses in December. Aside from Christmas, a quiet but lovely day at granny’s, we also celebrated mum’s birthday earlier in the month. As a birthday treat, my sister and I took her to London to watch a couple of shows and do a spot of shopping too. For the matinee, we all saw Back to the Future: The Musical together that quickly became my show this year. Mum loved it too and was every bit as impressed with the music, staging, and ‘magic’ as we hoped she would be. Afterwards, I bid adieu to my family and wandered off on my own for the first time in London to watch Heathers while mum and Becky saw Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of). Apparently, they had a brilliant time, as did I, making friends with the people sitting next to me in the theatre and enjoying some interval drinks together. Upon arriving at Victoria tube station, I promptly got on the wrong District Line train and began to travel helplessly in the wrong direction. Not being a London native, I couldn’t get my bearings of where the stations were and how close I came to where I needed to be so many times. I think I circled Marble Arch several times on several different trains! Eventually, I found myself at Holborn on the Central Line which was the line I needed to eventually take me back to Shepherds Bush where my family and the car were waiting. Luckily, I had been able to text Becky “having a mare, I’m okay” at a station that, although uninformative, did at least show I was safe, just a little late. Mum and Becky were glad to see me when I eventually rocked up and it provided granny suitable entertainment when we told her about it a couple of days later! I have since learnt my lesson and become a lot more acquainted with the geography of London… And I am much more careful which trains I get on.
At the theatre with mum.
Looking back on 2021 has been fascinating, seeing where we all started the year versus finishing it. During some of the tougher moments, I peered over the ledge into burnout, got dragged back by the horses, then realised I had been running on adrenaline for longer than perhaps I should have. I had to relearn how to get the most out of Odin when Eventing, a journey I am still on, and I am enjoying the possibilities with Penny who keeps reminding me just how special she is. Looking back in time, it’s clear how much the horses have provided me: support, structure, and release. All my fun, I owe it to them.
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.