Throughout July, the Girl with the Jumping Arabs faced extreme academic pressure as she entered the final stages of her Masters degree, but she found solace in the chaos of competitions with the horses of Avonbrook Stud.
This year, I celebrated my birthday the only way I know how – out competing! I had entered Offchurch Bury BE90 for Saturday 3 July but a schedule change meant that everyone in my class was required to compete on Sunday 4 July, the day of my 22nd birthday. Although this made the early alarm even more unwelcome, it did mean that I got to celebrate even more of my birthday as I was awake for far longer than I originally planned! Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April) felt fantastic and sat near the top of the leaderboard after a dressage of 29.8, but swiftly moved to the middle of the pack with a fence down in the showjumping. Three out of three of his events at this point saw us add penalties to his dressage score in this phase. I can only assume he finds 90cm far too small to even look at so he should jump more carefully as the jumps go up! On to the cross country and Odin set off like a rocket and kept the pace up around a well-designed track to post another clear round and finish on his two-phase score. There were some trappy combinations on the course that caught more than a few out, but Odin and I are starting to enjoy these questions now, and they will crop up more often at the higher levels. It was quite hot by the time Odin went cross country so mum and I used our endurance knowledge to cool him down, helped enormously by Gaynor and Lily Rose who came to help. Overall, Odin finished in the top 10 and I celebrated with some chocolate-covered doughnuts from the food wagon. Not a bad way to spend a birthday, and this was rounded off by dinner at granny’s, my favourite weekly tradition.
Avonbrook Odin at Offchurch Bury (c) 1st Class Images
So as not to feel left out, we took the resident Princess Penny – Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi) – to a combined training competition at our local venue, Allens Hill. Having not been ridden in a week or jumped in a fortnight – I blame the hard ground and the dissertation! – Penny came off the lorry with a vengeance. I knew I was in trouble when I had no brakes nor steering in the warm-up ring and any control I had was purely at the mercy of the Princess. With a couple of deep breaths and crossed fingers, I trotted around the white boards and waited for the start bell to ring. I knew I really was in trouble when we trotted down the centre line and I realised I might not be able to turn at the end! Luckily, Penny had clearly learned the test because she allowed me to guide through the movements accurately. Accuracy was probably the only element on my side as Penny performed the test in an interesting style that included a couple of head tosses and a buck or two in our canter circles. Amazingly, we still scored 68% t which, although her worst test to date, still put us in a good position going into the showjumping. Having experienced the wrath of not riding Penny for a week, it was clear not having jumped her in a fortnight was not going to increase my chances of a clear round. It took Penny a couple of fences to get her eye in at 90cm but she was then very scopey and careful over the remainder of the course. Although we were out of the running for the top places, I was delighted with how she jumped, especially in a showing saddle. Next on the shopping list is a jumping saddle for Penny, but I need to pay my university tuition fees first!
Annia Aurelia jumping 90cm (c) Jasmine Hemming
Before long, it was Odin’s turn to go eventing again, much to the disgust of the rest of the barn. This time it was the Cotswold Cup qualifier at Barbury Castle which, only a week previously, had hosted the renowned Barbury International Horse Trials. When I walked the course the day before the event, I was bowled over by the spectacle of the venue. There were flags, huge marquees, and a course so well-presented I thought it was a prestigious championship, not an unaffiliated event. I said to mum before I set off that I wanted a tough, technical course to prepare us for the British Riding Club Championships and our step back up to BE100. My wish was duly granted, and I had to grit my teeth when walking down to a giant looking hedge that eventually looked underwhelming on film, but the course was big, technical, and the optimum time was tight. Mum very kindly plaited Odin up for me and we once again set our early alarms for another day of eventing. This was during the record-breaking heatwave of mid-July so the early times were a blessing in disguise as Odin didn’t have to jump in the hottest part of the day.
Avonbrook Odin at Barbury Castle (c) JHemming Photography
Odin danced around the dressage and posted another sub-30 score (28.8) to make it five sub-30 event tests in a row. Feeling confident, we strutted into the main ring at Barbury for the showjumping and started our round with confidence. Well, at least I did. Odin balked at the first fence and I had to keep his focus away from the banners and flags to stand a chance at the clear round that has eluded him so far this year. This worked until the last fence. Maybe he saw the finish beams, perhaps the tricky approach caught him out, possibly I overrode into the jump. Whatever happened, he slid to a stop in front of the upright and our clear round disappeared out of reach. He jumped it fine the second time of asking but I knew I was going to have to chase him around the cross country to stand a chance of going clear.
Avonbrook Odin in the showjumping (c) Ultimate Images
Apart from getting a little nervous in the start box, I was mostly very calm going into the cross country, which marks a huge improvement from last year. I wasn’t sure how Odin would feel about the technicality of the course but, luckily for me, he loves to use his brain and seemed to have a genuinely fun experience around a track that caused more than a few problems. There were so many amazing parts of the course, from the hedge that worried me when walking, to the famous ‘Woodhenge’ combination, and the mound a couple of fences from home that had a strategically placed arrowhead at the bottom. Odin cleared them all with no hesitation and gave me a super round around a tough track. I was thrilled with him, despite the faux-pas in the showjumping.
Avonbrook Odin storming through Woodhenge (c) Ultimate Images
Determined to show me why she is the far superior event horse, we took Penny to Solihull for an unaffiliated one-day event. After struggling with her concentration around the cross country, we entered her for the smallest class that was on offer: the 60cm. Penny was utterly disgusted with my underestimation of her talent, which was sort of the point to make sure she was confident around a height she could walk over. The dressage was a wild ride; a fly dared to land on Penny during the test and her logical response was to get extremely angry and tell the judge all about it. The judge saw Penny’s rage and we scored 35 (65%), a new low for the Princess. The showjumping was almost as wild as the dressage and, despite a couple of fleeting moments where my life flashed before my eyes, we left all the poles up for a clear round. With little time to get nervous for the cross country, it wasn’t long until we were warming up for the final phase. There was a short hold as a rider took a trip in the ambulance – there’s always an ambulance when Penny goes eventing – and Penny started to get excited over the warm up fences so I just kept her walking. Before long, we were cantering out of the start box and towards the first fence. Penny wanted to inspect the first fence for a little longer, but I politely asked her not to and we carried on around the course. We started to pick up speed down the first hill and I relied on the water to slow us down, which it did for a moment. Our dance consisted of me wrestling Penny to a safe speed and Penny pulling me into a gallop that a Badminton horse would be proud of. Eventually, we found our way to the finish line, clear, and not so fast that we were penalised. After such an eventful and entertaining day, it was surreal to hear that Penny had won her class. Congratulations Princess, you beat all the children, young horses, and nervous riders. Long may your reign continue, although I do hope it becomes less intense as you gain confidence and experience.
Annia Aurelia captured by the photographer (c) TopShots Photography
These events have kept me gloriously distracted from my ever-looming dissertation deadlines and there are now only a few more pushes left between me and the end of 18 long years of full-time education. Perhaps there’s a break on the cards, although it seems unlikely with the hijinks of the end-of-season eventing parties just around the corner. July has been an intense month for the family, although the sadness has been somewhat offset by a glorious new arrival at my granny’s house. Scampi is a rescue from Dog’s Trust and we are all besotted with him. He is so calm with granny and utterly crackers with me and Becky. Apparently, he’s nine years old but I don’t believe that for a minute; there is a lot of life in that little dog and he fits in perfectly with our mad little family. I’m in the home straight now with my academic career and I can’t wait to get it over with so I can move on with the next stage of my life.
Giving Scampi a fuss (c) Rowena Bertram
Lead photo: Kisses for Avonbrook Odin after another sub-30 dressage (c) JHemming Photography
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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.