Despite being a quiet month for competitions, the excitement continued for Avonbrook Stud as the family welcomed a new arrival.
For me, March is always one of the most difficult months of the year, but this year in particular has been emotionally tough for many. The ‘Beast from the East’ created carnage and its aftermath is continuing to cancel equestrian fixtures as well as prolong the seemingly endless winter. The deaths of many legends within the equine community were deeply felt this month, most notably the passing of Mike Tucker, the voice of show jumping and eventing for many years. Mum always told me that the worst things often happen between Christmas and Easter and, just a day before the 14th anniversary of my father’s death, the extraordinary theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking passed away aged 76. March also saw the 2nd anniversary of the death of my maternal grandfather, Taid, who was a talented physicist, mathematician and musician as well as one of mine and my sister’s greatest cheerleaders. The remembrance of three of my biggest scientific role models – dad himself had a PhD in Astrophysics – undeniably put a strain on my University work, but my determination to meet the deadlines of the month pushed me through, spurred on by my surroundings that once inspired my parents to keep working away.
|Avonbrook Winter Queen © Karen Grant
I was, therefore, beyond delighted to return home for the Easter holidays and back into cuddling distance of the Avonbrook Arabians and the rest of the family. After such an emotionally draining few weeks, the horses kindly allowed me a day or two to gather myself together before they demanded to be ridden and jumped and taken out to parties. The resident Princess Penny, Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi), went to her first ever showing clinic during March, expertly run by The Showing Register, and we came away with a positive outlook for the season as well as some homework involving the Princess’ attitude to judge riders and her canter transitions in particular. Since the clinic, I have roped in multiple riding friends and thrown them on to Penny with the instruction to ride her through her misbehaviour, that consists of sticking her head in the air with an indignant “just who do you think you are?” head-toss… Mum agreed that Charlotte Dujardin herself would likely face the same unflattering question from Avonbrook Stud’s biggest diva that, as we have reminded Penny, is not the attitude of a prize-winning show horse! However, Penny is packing her bags ready for a stay at Auntie Erica’s for Finishing School to polish up her way of going and, hopefully, convince her that she needs to show the judges why she’s the best rather than just assuming that they already know…
|A helping hand © Katherine Bertram
|Avonbrook Odin jumping at home just hours before Maddie’s birth © Katherine Bertram
Throughout the month, mum had been gearing up for the Ride with your Mind Mary Wanless demo day at Hartpury College, with one of her chiropractor friends coming up from Cornwall to go as well. As per usual, things didn’t go according to plan and Emma, our guest, ended up playing a large role in the foaling of our brand new little bay filly, Maddie (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze). Short for ‘Madam’, Maddie’s show name will likely be Avonbrook Winter Queen, as a reference to her maternal great grandsire Winter Words – a hugely successful national hunt thoroughbred – as well as the unfortunate connection with the end of Greenwich Mean Time and the hour change, meaning we had one less hour of sleep in an already short night. Poor Maddie became rather cold when she was born so we had to intervene to help her and Breeze out, rather than remain at a distance, which would have been more natural but in this case was not a viable option. I’ve never enjoyed being present at foalings, so many things can go wrong for both the mare and the foal, things that we have occasionally been on the receiving end of, things that couldn’t have been predicted or prevented at the time. Breeze, the mare, was the first filly Avonbrook Stud ever bred; a buckskin by the Connemara Arrow Javelin and out of our stalwart thoroughbred x pony broodmare Caveland Calypso (Winter Words x Cassie), so she is very dear to me and much loved by her owner and family friend, Karen. Thankfully she is naturally a very good mother although she doesn’t cope well with the after-pains of birth, so can initially be a little clumsy. In light of this, my job was to hold Breeze to let mum tie up the membranes and call a vet, and to let Emma feed and care for Maddie without being trodden on, all while still letting her have contact with her baby. When she warmed up, Maddie started to become the little Madam that we know and love today. She is exceptionally people-focused, likely because we unintentionally imprinted on her during her shaky first hours, and she is now showing us her incredible turn of foot when turned out.
|A proud father; Marcus Aurelius catches up on the smells of his newborn daughter ©Katherine Bertram
Maddie was not the first foaling I attended; I had been allowed to talk to the newborns since I was six years old, when Robbie, Rosie, and my superstar Odin were all born. In 2015, I glanced over the stable boards in disdain at Sammy, Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose), as he had arrived at the end of a very long day. My important job was keeping the barn cat off the burgers that we had brought with us as we were halfway through our BBQ when the foaling alarm had sounded. Last year, I left Mickey, Michelangelo d’Aurelius (Marcus Aurelius x Sabheeha Bint Krayaan), in the capable hands of my sister and mum while I begged to be taken into school for my last ever A-Level English lesson with one of my favourite teachers. I smelled like a foaling pen and had straw in my hair, and my friends knew me well enough to either understand why I was a few minutes late, or not to ask questions when the answer would likely involve a detailed explanation of birth and the smells that come with it. Maddie was, however, the first foaling where I was brave enough to make myself useful rather than standing outside and calling a vet while staying far, far away from the placenta, membranes or anything to do with the new life coming into the world.
After just a few hours of sleep, mum decided it would be best for her to stay at home with Breeze and Maddie, so I took her ticket and Emma and I went to the Mary Wanless demo where I learnt a lot, mainly about my hunched showjumper position and how to correct it. There was also some good sport psychology that tied into ideas which I have been playing around with as potential theories. One of Mary’s techniques for breathing and relaxation was sadly completely lost on me as it involved breathing into balloons, of which I am overwhelmingly afraid of, and 400 people blowing up balloons was enough to earn a hasty toilet break where, from my hazy recollection of an instinctive reaction, I seemingly vaulted over some chairs and skidded out of the gallery… The irony of the situation was laughable even to me at the time; a relaxation technique that rendered me catatonic with fear! As you can imagine, children’s parties, family restaurants, weddings, championship shows and almost all special occasions are dangerous grounds for someone who fears balloons, and yet the Prince Phillip Cup balloon race at the Horse of the Year Show is not a problem, nor is a balloon that I’m holding, so go figure…
|The remnants of the Beast from the East at the University of Birmingham ©Katherine Bertram
During March, I have been especially grateful for my fantastic performance horses that aren’t just fiercely competitive and recognised in open competition, but also have the temperament that allows them the flexibility of switching between the term-time and holiday routine, where they are ridden more often and I never leave them alone save for sleeping, eating, working on my final few reports and essays, and revising for my last four exams. As this month has been undeniably tough, their presence has shone all the more brightly and Marcus, the linchpin of the stud, the big man, has been helping us safely through to the other side. The master calendar, the one on which all the show dates, closing entry dates and my day to day appointments are listed on, is my Avonbrook Stud 2018 calendar, for which we received much more interest for than anticipated. Each month has a quote from Marcus’ namesake, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, and I have included this month’s quote below. It really helped me through March and all of the emotional baggage it brings. Now, as we move onwards and upwards through April and the excitement that it promises, my musings will very much return to a round-up of my adventures with the horses of Avonbrook Stud, the Girl with the Jumping Arabs indeed.
“When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love.”
|A future eventer; Maddie has a gallop in the field © Katherine Bertram