As the competition season draws to a close and winter training begins, The Girl with the Jumping Arabs documents her month with the performance Arabians of Avonbrook Stud, enjoys the arrival of the Horse of the Year Show and a new Australian member of the family.
October truly is one of my favourite months of the year. The competition season wraps up and gives way to winter training, Halloween finishes the month with a celebration and a few scary films, but most important for me is the – almost – annual visit to the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) at the start of the month. Ever since Marcus – Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) – qualified for HOYS in 2010 and placed 4th, I have been obsessed with the weeklong show and remain determined to qualify one day so I can ride there myself. I was only 11 when Marcus made our dreams come true, and it kick-started my love of showing and events management. After a devastating year away, HOYS returned in glorious fashion to the NEC in Birmingham, and I went for three of the five days. It was magical to be back, even more so when watching the Arabs, and I am determined to peek ‘behind the curtain’ again one year. Congratulations must go to all of the finalists in the Ridden Arabian of the Year championship, especially the double champion Kimberley Bates and Rafeekah (Designed x Kaamelia), who represented the breed so well in the Supreme Championship too.
Where the dream began with Marcus Aurelius at HOYS in 2010 (c) Rowena Bertram
After the disappointment of being unceremoniously dumped at one of the final fences at Cirencester Horse Trials, I quickly entered Broadway BE90 with Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) in an attempt to finish the eventing season on a better note. Having walked off the last three courses with Odin, I was determined to at least finish the final event of the year. It has been an odd season; we had a promising start that developed into our old ‘well-oiled’ partnership, then I finished my MSc and the wheels fell off! I ran off adrenaline for months, riding all day and writing all night and, once it was over, the taut wire holding me together relaxed and I collapsed like a push-up animal toy. Odin, who is very sensitive to changes in my energy and emotion, was rather concerned with the latest developments and took a fair amount of convincing that I did in fact want to finish every cross-country course!
Although, on paper, our day at Broadway did not look particularly successful, it was a good event to end the season without too much to spend the winter obsessing over. The dressage felt good but was perhaps harshly marked for a surprising 35.5, and we had the usual 4 faults in the showjumping. Sadly, the 90cm just isn’t big enough to capture Odin’s attention but, until I can get back into my cross-country groove, I won’t go up the heights so he will just have to put up with the smaller show jumps. We were one of the last combinations to start the cross-country and, after some unfortunate delays, the light was disappearing, and the low sun was making some of the fences very hard to see. After a long wait, we were counted down and set off at a good speed towards the first fences. Odin was flying and we tackled the steep hill at the start of the course, flying over every fence in our path. As we reached the mid-point of the course, I asked Odin back into a shorter, bouncier canter ready to angle down the steep hill over a deceptively tricky brush to skinny line straight down the hill. Unfortunately, Odin declined my request and said he wanted to gallop it. As this was the problem that saw me plop off him at Cirencester, I tried to ask more firmly that we slow down a little, which he misinterpreted and halted in front of the fence. I wasn’t concerned when the fence judge called in our refusal, in fact I was almost relieved he didn’t jump into the combination with so much pace. So much for being a competitor! I instantly realised my mistake of not telling him firmly enough to slow down and circled round in a much better canter to pop through the combination and continue down the hill. Having moved swiftly on from our mistake, Odin continued to pull my arms out around the rest of the course although luckily, I was firmer about meeting the fences with the correct pace. Although our finishing score was nothing to brag about, I was so grateful to canter through the finish flags home safe with a horse who makes me a better rider every day. Onwards and upwards to next season.
Avonbrook Odin in the BE90 at Broadway (c) Matt Nuttall Photography
Winter training started almost immediately with Odin this year. During October, I returned to Banfield Equestrian a couple of times, firstly with Odin for a camp with double Olympic medallist Tom McEwen. I really enjoyed camp with Tom in spring, so I decided to take Odin again, this time for the 100/Novice group. Odin was a star, and he really likes Tom; I think the feeling’s mutual which is lovely. Tom pushed us and we cruised around courses of 110cm like they were nothing, jumped technical lines with arena cross-country jumps, and made the most of our one-on-one dressage session where we developed Odin’s medium paces through shoulder-in. Camps at Banfield Equestrian are always worth going to, the stables are immaculate, the arena is foot-perfect, and the food is divine. I was lucky enough to once again stay in a room which meant I got a good amount of sleep – except for the night where we all stayed up and Odin could probably smell the prosecco on our breath for the late-night checks. Tom is incredibly insightful and a very positive trainer, he seems to ‘get’ horses in an increasingly rare way and, fortunately for me and Odin, did not have any adverse reaction to Odin’s 50% Arabian blood. Despite the prevalence of Arabian blood in top level event horses, many eventers do not value the breed so there are always some converts who finish camp idly stroking Odin’s face with nothing but praise for what they’ve seen.
Avonbrook Odin with Olympic double medallist Tom McEwen
If I thought there were plenty of Arabian-converts to develop with Odin, there were plenty more when I finally relented and let Princess Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – go to camp. To protect her confidence and let us both just have some fun, I restricted us to the 80/90cm group on a camp with Caroline Moore at the end of the month. Penny has never been to anything similar to camp before and her last stay-away was for showing in 2019 so I was delighted when she settled into her stable straight away. During the late-night check, Penny appeared to be the ruler of the barn and was very content supervising her new subjects. Attitudes quickly shifted after the first couple of sessions with Caroline, especially when my campmates watched the Arab jump. And wow, did she jump. During dinner, I was approached several times by different people who almost whispered their connections to the breed, one had ridden an Arab as a teenager, one evented an Anglo-Arab, and all referenced eventing legends such as Tamarillo and Vermiculus to defend the usefulness of the breed in top event horses. Caroline herself seemed to lead the Penny-praising charge, saying that Penny gave the showjumping round of the day and was also quick to praise my riding which was a huge compliment from the coach who takes the juniors and young riders to the Europeans. Penny certainly has her father’s ability to gather followers and was delighted with all the love and attention, not in spite of being an Arab but actually because she was an Arab, a performance Arab.
Annia Aurelia soaking up the sun at camp with Caroline Moore
October also saw the very exciting beginning of another Marcy-baby story, this time on the other side of the world in Australia. Named ‘Mort’ after the Terry Pratchett character, Arreton Safeer (Marcus Aurelius x Ralvon Gift) is a hugely exciting colt with one of the most iconic dam-line pedigrees in Australia. His breeder Jessie Preece is rightfully delighted with him, as are we, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for this plucky character who already embodies so much of his father’s charm! Back in the UK, we are drawing up plans for the present and future competition horses and solving logic puzzles to prepare for the youngsters to return home for winter. As the competitions begin to phase out and training begins to intensify, I am excited to train and develop with a string of fantastic horses, my favourite ‘things’.
Introducing Arreton Safeer (Marcus Aurelius x Ralvon Gift) (c) Arreton Photography
Avonbrook Odin at the top of the hill at Broadway (c) Matt Nuttall Photography
Just for the memories, my peek behind the curtain at HOYS 2010 with the horse who made our dreams come true
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.