Despite ringing in the new year, the problems of 2020 are still very much present in everyday life and the reality of a new way of thinking has firmly nestled itself into the human experience. With the first few major events already falling by the wayside once more, the prospect of another patchy season becomes ever more likely. However, Avonbrook Stud’s Girl with the Jumping Arabs remains positive with her studies and ample preparation time for the competition season.
It would have been daft to assume that all of the troubles plaguing the world and, more personally, the UK, would have ceased to exist at the end of 2020, yet I and many others woke up disappointed on the first day of January to see the same story continue to rule our lives. Although the situation oftentimes appears bleak, the ability to escape normality and disappear to the barn all day has proved my saving grace this winter. The youngsters and broodmares are completely unbothered by the lack of ‘parties’ to winter training and competitions so, for them at least, life is good. The competition horses, however, are far less impressed and I have taken a very individual approach with each of them to get them through the lockdown without boring them, while also keeping them fit enough to go out again when competitions resume. For example, Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – thrives on regular work so she is probably the fittest horse in the barn right now. We have worked on relaxation, especially when jumping which can otherwise prove rather exciting, and the consistent work is certainly paying off. I am very excited to let her go competing this year. She is stronger than ever and is channelling her power productively instead of trying to fire me into the air at random moments. I think she wishes she was a professional’s horse so she could constantly work or be put on a horse walker, and grooms could towel her legs and stand her under a solarium. Sadly for Penny, we don’t own a horse walker or a solarium and she’s lucky that I pull the burrs out of her mane whenever she models a new hairdo. However, she is bravely coping with my promise to ride her most days so that she can pretend I’m someone else and live her dream as a top rider’s favourite horse. She is a quirky mare, and I love her for it.
Annia Aurelia staying relaxed during various jumping exercises (c) Rowena Bertram
Odin – Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) – turns 15 this year. Although he only started any semblance of real work as an eight-year old, the thought of Odie becoming a veteran has shaken me to my core and I have told him that I would appreciate it if he could please continue working for many years to come. Having caught wind that he’s no longer one of the youngsters and that we might be facing another late start to the season, Odin appears to have no intention of overworking himself and peaking too soon. More often than not, I take his tack back to the house, unused, as I hadn’t the heart to drag him out of bed just to trot round in circles. I think he knows when I bring his dressage saddle up as, if he’s not in bed by the time I get up to the barn, he certainly is by the time I am ready to tack up! Unsurprisingly, this phenomenon does not occur when he sees the iconic red saddle cover of his CWD jumping saddle as this means we’re either going on a hack or having a jump. It really is all about fun with Odin, and I think he’s missing his usual pre-season outings, so I don’t mind scaling back the work I do with him right now. He’s fit, he’s schooling beautifully, and he’s not going to forget how to jump any time soon, so I’m taking a not very professional approach and letting him lead the way with how he wishes to exist this winter. I will probably start riding him most days again in March, however.
Avonbrook Odin having a nap upon seeing his dressage saddle (c) Katherine Bertram
The two resident stallions, Marcus – Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica) – and his son Sammy, Audace Ecore (ex Avonbrook Green Rose), are also enjoying their start into the new year. Marcus thrives on an exercise programme of jumping and hacking – flat schooling a rising 20-year old stallion is apparently ‘pointless, boring, and cruel’. So be it, even if he jumps one cross pole at the end of a session, he is content. My aim is to keep him fit enough so that he can continue to make sporadic appearances throughout the season in between events with his progeny. I suspect he is also looking forward to going on the gallops again; even as a high mileage 20-year old, I still wouldn’t bet against him with his unsurpassable turn of foot. Sammy continues to develop in leaps and bounds and is enjoying tough jumping exercises to get him really thinking. Sammy loves to be clever and being told he’s a good boy, which is easy to do when a horse is such a genuine pleasure to work with as he is. He is learning about bounces, skinnies, curving lines, and grids that we are keeping small for now, but I suspect the jumps can go up a few holes without him even noticing, such is his scope. He’s so neat over a jump that I might dig out an old stud guard so he doesn’t catch himself when jumping, it would be a shame for him to get a negative response when he puts so much effort into being a good boy. The aim with Sammy is to see if we can give him enough mileage in his six-year old year to be aimed at grading in the autumn, so his 2021 plan is sadly quite COVID-19 dependent.
Audace Encore having his first ever loose school in the arena (c) JHemming Photography
Meanwhile, semester two at Coventry University has begun. Although all learning is currently online, I am enjoying my new modules immensely and I am adapting to working at the desk in my room, which requires a lot of will-power to not just go to bed after a long day or when it all becomes too much. My dissertation, despite being due in August, is already proving a handful. That doesn’t bode well, but I have a strong team backing my project so all I can do now is remain calm and get my ethics approved. The only downside of my course is having to do a systematic literature review for my dissertation – which is exactly as dull as it sounds, but some of my smaller courseworks are much more fun and easier to tailor to one of my special interests, be it theatre or the horses. I have a feeling my module leaders might be able to tell which bit of ‘anonymous’ coursework is mine; marketing analysis of frozen semen, anyone?
My bedroom desk at the time of writing
Lead photo: Marcus Aurelius posing for the camera (c) JHemming Photography
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.