With lockdown measures just beginning to ease, The Girl with the Jumping Arabs begins to seriously prepare for the upcoming season with the horses of Avonbrook Stud.
With the end of the month marking our first small taste of freedom for a while, the lead up became a scramble to get everything ready to go in time. The beginning of this was getting one of our young guns properly backed and ridden away before going away to grass for the summer. Blue Delphinium (Shadow Blue x Bey Drachma), Delphi, turns four this year and although we hope to put her in foal to our senior stallion Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) in due course, we feel it’s important to let our future broodmares be ridden horses too. Delphi, who was bred by Libby Whittome, has been almost exemplary to start under saddle, if a little impatient. She is exceptionally brave and quick-thinking, so she fits in well with the homebred horses, although she is the smallest in the barn at a little over 145cm. Her breeding suggests that she’ll continue to grow for a few more years but, for now, I have handed over the reins to my friend and often-times photographer Jazz to be Delphi’s first jockey. Not only do I require a few eventing runs to feel properly fit again but sitting at my desk all day working on my Masters (MSc) coursework is hardly doing wonders for my physique. It won’t be long until I steal Delphi back; she could make a fantastic little eventer or even a race pony if she stays small enough!
Blue Delphinium being ridden (c) Rowena Bertram
March marks the first birthdays in the barn. We don’t often like early foals but sometimes nature runs its course and gives us delightful memories such as Avonbrook Winter Queen (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze), Maddie, being born in a snowstorm. The weather couldn’t have been more different for the madam’s third birthday, and she revelled in having Happy Birthday sung to her while being fed carrots. She was, however, a little put out that she is no longer the earliest born in the barn. That honour now belongs to Tilana S (Wolfgang x Dilana S), Tara, who is in foal to Marcus and turned 21 this year! We simply had to celebrate the occasion, so we bought her some ‘stud muffins’ that we fed to her on a bed of carrots in the middle of the barn in front of all the others. Tara, who has probably never had a birthday party before, was highly amused at our antics and nicked a few carrots before the celebration was over. It isn’t every year that we have a 1.40 bred-in-the-purple showjumper turn 21 while in our care, so we definitely made a celebration of it – lockdown madness anyone?
Celebrating Tara’s 21st birthday (c) Becky Bertram
Near the end of the month, Twemlows Stud offered a dummy training course for first time visiting stallions, so we took the plunge and booked a space for our junior stallion Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose), Sammy, who turns six this year. A slight catch in proceedings was needing to teach Sammy to load into my little 3.5 tonne lorry to take to and from the stud, which is over two hours away from our Worcestershire base. My lorry is forward facing with a very steep ramp and a quite claustrophobic horse area, so we gave Sammy a couple of practice sessions to make sure he was confident with having the ramps lifted and closed behind him. When the big day came, he casually waltzed up the ramp and chilled in the back all the way up the motorway to Twemlows. According to the staff, he was a delight all week and behaved himself beautifully, even on the horse walker which was a completely new experience for him. We briefly saw him on one of their Facebook Live events, where he looked very happy with his huge shavings bed and luxury stable. I only hope he didn’t expect us to buy him any solariums or horse walkers to match his luxury holiday.
Audace Encore settling in at Twemlows (c) Katherine Bertram
Sadly, the only problem with Sammy’s holiday was that, despite being a gentleman on the dummy as well as off, young Sam was not quite producing the desired goods. Although there was plenty of semen produced in each collection, it simply wasn’t alive. The small percentage of swimmers were swimming very well, but none was viable for collection. I was initially distraught at the possibility of having to geld and sell such a smart stallion prospect, but both Twemlows and multiple influential breeders told us to hold fire and adopt a wait-and-see approach. We refuse to be ashamed of Sammy’s current status – after all, the highly influential Crabbet sire Raffles (Skowronek x Rifala) was infertile until his later life before producing over 100 foals in America. After some consideration, we concluded that keeping Sam stabled next to his sire and keeping him very much under the thumb might have contributed to him not realising that he probably ought to kick start sperm production. Our hope for Sammy this year is to kick him out with some mares away from his father’s kingdom so he doesn’t feel or act like a subordinate stallion. Please do keep your fingers crossed for Sammy; he could be such an exciting sire of both purebred and part-bred sport ponies and horses if he can just wake his swimmers up!
Sammy telling his dad all about it
The start of stud season can only mean one thing at Avonbrook Stud, the start of competition season. Although we are once again limited by what we can do, the resumption of arena hire at the end of the month was an opportunity I was eager to jump on. Typically, Marcus bagged the first spot, a last-minute hire at our local venue that required me to get dressed at the speed of light after my online lecture finished and quite literally trot the poor boy up the ramp before speeding off. He had a marvellous time but was soon reshelved – sorry Marcus! – for an arena XC hire with the demanding brat-princess Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi), aka Penny. Technically, it was Penny who had the first outing, a lesson at Erica’s almost immediately after becoming legal again, but jumping at an arena hire is the barn currency so Penny was disgusted to have to wait for her turn. She was, typically, perfect when learning about shoulder-brushes, skinny brushes, corners, and everything else the arena XC had to offer. She is very keen to be on par with my top horse Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April), so she’s developing herself nicely into a little event horse and convincing me that I only have to sit there and not cry. I have already entered her for an unaffiliated one day event, but she will have to wait until the week after Odin’s British Eventing 2021 debut which has not gone down well with the Princess. I only hope, for my own sake, that the Princess’ parties are not cancelled this season.
Annia Aurelia cooling down after a strenuous session (c) JH Photography
Lead photo: Annia Aurelia at her first party of the year (c) JH Photography
You can read more from The Girl with the Jumping Arabs here.
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.