Although February is the shortest month of the year, it is also one of the most influential ‘setting up’ months for the competition season. Thanks to another slow start to competitions, The Girl With The Jumping Arabs has a little more time than usual on her hands and she is trying to use it wisely.
With the provisional roadmap out of lockdown seared into the minds of the British public, the end appears to be in sight and initial plans are being drafted for another unconventional season. Last year, the focus of my season was to regain my confidence after the installation of my first bionic feature – a metal collarbone. This year, Avonbrook Stud is ready to roll with a lorry full of competition horses and a spectrum of disciplines to aim for. While we wait for arena hires and competitions to become legal again, we are making the most of lockdown to prepare the horses for the year ahead.
Avonbrook Winter Queen playing her way (c) JHemming Photography
I have particularly enjoyed trying out jumping exercises with the horses to help them develop a better technique and more consistent rhythm. This has gone down particularly well with Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – who has not only improved in leaps and bounds but has an impeccable work ethic so is always up for a challenge. We have tackled bounce grids, trot-in jumps – a jump with a take-off pole should they rush – and full courses with take-off and landing poles to improve our rhythm in between the fences as well as over them. While Penny had her breakthroughs with almost daily work, Odin – Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) – came back from some time off in January much fresher and happier for the break. Despite sharing a sire and an upbringing, my main two competition horses are polar opposites in many ways; Odin is jolly, laid-back, and opportunistic, while Penny is driven, a perfectionist, and supremely professional. However, they both have massive hearts, incredible intelligence, and personalities so loveable that there is no problem some time up the barn cannot fix. To say I am grateful for them would be an understatement, especially as my Masters degree appears to require continuous and strenuous work. Who knew?
Annia Aurelia taking on a grid
To give the youngsters a new experience, we set up a loose-jumping lane for them to have a canter around and a little jump. After checking our socially distanced system with the help of senior stallion Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), who popped over a 110cm oxer in the process, we moved onto junior stallion Sammy – Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose). Young Sammy had a marvellous time learning about loose-schooling and was very calm to be led down the jumping lane before being allowed to go on his own. We kept the jumps small for his first time and he swaggered back to the barn brimming with confidence. Individually, we then let the youngsters loose. Rising four-year old Delphi – Blue Delphinium (Shadow Blue x Bey Drachma), bred by Libby Whittome – was the highlight of the day after taking herself around and around the jumping lane, bucking with delight at being the centre of attention. She is a feisty little character and oh, too happy to show off her jumping skills; this could be interesting with a rider on. The hope is to build on the work we did at Christmas – where she was sat on for the first time – before hopefully putting her in foal to Marcus. I dare not suggest the aforementioned as a ‘plan’ as they never seem to pan out as stated.
Blue Delphinium having a gallop around the arena (c) JHemming Photography
Maddie – Avonbrook Winter Queen (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze) – was seemingly an event horse in a past life as she understood the game within seconds and became bored of the game in minutes. Instead of trotting over the pole six inches off the ground, she instead found increasingly more inventive ways of avoiding the jump before ambling over to the feed bucket and rolling her eyes when she was denied snacks. After being led over the pole a couple of times, she decided entertaining us would result in more food than entertaining herself, so she obligingly trudged over the small fence, possibly reminiscing of taking on the lake at Badminton. I am completely unperturbed by Maddie’s seeming lack of any talent, we know fully well it’s there – we have not forgotten all the fences and rails she has jumped – we might just have to wait until she can have a rider who she will undoubtedly find more appropriate. Finally, we took Archie – Avonbrook Beltane Silver (Marcus Aurelius x Caveland Calypso) – up to the arena with his much older full brother Robbie, Avonbrook Silver Eagle, as an emotional support companion for a walk around the arena. ‘Baby Arch’, as he is known in the barn, is the same age as Maddie, rising three, but we are taking him at his own pace and that is a bit slower than Maddie’s. After walking him around our very spooky arena with no problems, we did some trotting in-hand over a small jump and called it a day. Archie then went to bed!
Avonbrook Beltane Silver trotting in hand (c) JHemming Photography
Perhaps the most exciting news of this month was the arrival of my new 7.5 tonne horsebox, expertly built by Team Tristar in Llanwrda, Wales. Our old horsebox was nearing the end and becoming highly unreliable, so I took the plunge and consulted with Tristar for a new build. The team were exceptional throughout and the end result is gorgeous, functional, and entirely bespoke. I am exceptionally fortunate to have had access to this opportunity, and I’m sure my late father would have been proud of the choices I have made from investing in a Masters degree to investing in a horsebox. I cannot wait to be able to take the lorry to arena hires and competitions but, until then, I will continue to play with the lockers, the keypad entry to the living and the tack locker, and the living that is full of toys! Tristar really thought of everything; we have a wardrobe, a mirror, a whiteboard, blow air heating, a toilet, and so much more. It is fully DEFRA approved, so the horses have fans and temperature sensors, and the cab is also pretty swanky with cruise control, six gears, and bluetooth. In case it isn’t obvious, I am in love with this lorry already and I cannot wait to take it to see the world!
The outside of the new lorry
Between the possibility of the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel, loose jumping shenanigans, and a new lorry to play with, the upcoming season looks very exciting indeed.
The view of the living from the luton
Lead photo: Audace Encore having fun in the arena (c) JHemming Photography
Read other posts from Katherine 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.