HomeFeaturesThe Girl with the Jumping Arabs - The Light in the Dark

The Girl with the Jumping Arabs – The Light in the Dark

Despite the frustrating start to the new year, The Girl with the Jumping Arabs finds a new perspective on the situation and looks forward to a full recovery before the competition season fully begins.

The first time I cried after breaking my collarbone was in mum’s car while waiting for her and Lisa to give Penny, Annia Aurelia (Marcus Aurelius x Bint Zaehaebi), her dinner before taking me to A&E. We had just come back from minor injuries but their x-ray unit wasn’t open so we had to pay a visit to Royal Worcester. It was a few hours after the fall and a couple of tears rolled down my face when I realised I probably wouldn’t be able to ride for a couple of weeks. Now, with a lot more reason to cry – such as five weeks with a broken collarbone and finally facing surgery – I frankly haven’t had the time. Being back for my final taught semester at university would be challenging enough without the physical impairment; between my dissertation, coursework, reading, and lecture notes, I have quite enough to keep me occupied. Add in the slight problem of not being able to write, type, or collect any dissertation data, and we have ourselves an ‘extenuating circumstance’. The welfare team at uni have been very supportive so far and I’m hopeful of a successful finish to my time at the University of Birmingham so my plan is definitely to still graduate with my friends this summer rather than taking a leave of absence.

Of course, while I’ve been injured I have had to find ways around completing tasks that I still hold myself to finishing at the highest possible standard in my circumstance. I am still attending every lecture that doesn’t clash with a hospital visit, I took on the raw data from my dissertation group to manually code, and I have been keeping up with my lecture notes to give me time to revise and study for my final exams. In the past week, I have been strong enough to hand-write notes provided I have plenty of elbow support, which has alleviated some of the stress of not doing enough. My friends have also been keeping me company on the evenings where I just want to do something, anything, and we’ve been to the cinema, restaurants, and all gathered in our tiny three-bedroom student house for a girls night in. I don’t doubt it’s been difficult for them – we are all in our final year and we all have a lot of pressure with deadlines, but I have been grateful for the support and understanding while I’m broken.

Hanging out at uni before the final year deadlines hit.

Prior to the injury, there was rarely need for anyone but me to school the competition horses – I like to do things myself. When you’re injured and can’t ride, however, you need a strong back up team which, thankfully, is something I have. Mum has been riding Penny and Odin, Avonbrook Odin (Marcus Aurelius x April), and properly schooling them at the slower paces, making them bend and think and react so that I can jump on when I’m better and pick up where we left off. My friend Jazz – who is the photographer of most of my favourite pictures – has also been riding for me and focusing on the two stallions when she’s here. Marcus, Marcus Aurelius (Aurelian x Fiesta Magica), has thoroughly enjoyed jumping again with Jazz in the saddle and is convincing me to keep putting the fences higher so he can show off to his new jockey! I think Sammy, Audace Encore (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Green Rose), is in love with his new rider and is always lining up with his ears pricked when she arrives with her hat and boots – and polos too! It’s very exciting to see his progression under saddle, even if it’s not me onboard, and I am finding my voice as a coach which is helping me to describe the communication that needs to happen between horse and rider for the desired schooling outcomes. Even Odin has benefited from some time with Jazz riding; he hadn’t jumped in over a month due to my injury so Jazz kindly jumped him for me at home and they finished with some lovely shapes over fences that were big enough to warrant them.

Marcus Aurelius having a jump with Jazz at home.

Princess Penny’s favourite ever person, Auntie Erica, has also been able to help with schooling and it’s proving to be priceless. Not only has it improved Odin’s way of going ten-fold, it has cheered Penny up immeasurably and it’s fair to say her confidence is once again sky high! So much so that her and other resident bad-girl Maddie, Avonbrook Winter Queen (Marcus Aurelius x Avonbrook Summer Breeze), have been regularly demolishing the electric fence and escaping onto the field. They are quite the scary alliance but, as I keep telling mum whenever it happens, “it’ll be worth it when Maddie goes to Badminton!”, provided we all survive that long! When Odin and Penny went to Erica’s together, Odin had a panic followed by a temper tantrum – we think Penny told him they were being left there and Odin would certainly not be as overjoyed as Penny if that was the case. Despite finding the whole day very stressful and ‘wrong’, Odin produced some fantastic work and learning counter-canter is making his working canter much more impressive. His trot is breathtaking and his free-walk already earns him 8s so I am really looking forward to riding him again when I’m strong enough. In the meantime however, it will be good for Odin to understand that being taken for lessons isn’t some sort of punishment and it will happen until I am strong enough to ride again. Penny, whom Auntie Erica loves, was on her best behaviour and gave Erica a ride that is forcing me to look at embryo transfer costs so we can all have Penny-babies while still being able to enjoy her as a competition mare. Penny looked overjoyed to have a ‘real’ rider that wouldn’t bust her silly old collarbone from a couple of measly rollings on – not that the Princess so much as caught a toe with her favourite rider on board. I suppose it would be possible to feel upset that Penny seemed to say “leave me with the real rider and go away”, but the joy that radiates around the arena when Penny gets to play with her best friend is very real and so utterly captivating to watch that I sort of get her point! I’m sure I’ll have to go back to Attington XC and jump the fence that we fell after again, and I’m sure it will be fine because things never happen the same way twice, but for now I am working on not making it a problem because, truthfully, it isn’t one. It is a tough mental challenge though, but that’s why I have such a strong team to support me when the time comes again.

Annia Aurelia and Avonbrook Winter Queen on the wrong side of the fence. (c) Rowena Bertram.

Although I haven’t been competing so far this year, I have been lucky enough to be recognised for the achievements of Avonbrook Stud in 2019. I attended two awards dinners in January and I came away with prizes from both which was both unexpected and slightly overwhelming to the girl whose mother had to cut their dinner up into edible-sized pieces! I organised the Endurance GB Heart of England awards dinner for the second year running and that proved to be another massive success. I had a lot of fun deciding the order of the trophies so those with multiple wins weren’t clustered together, and the most prestigious trophies were awarded at the end. I also delivered the second iteration of my interactive endurance themed quiz game where correct answers saw your horse progress along a race-ride, which once again unearthed the competitive spirit of some of the players! Without my knowledge, the rest of the committee decided to award me with the Helen Farrall Memorial Trophy for an unsung hero for my efforts in organising the evening and I was presented with a large silver salver that now has pride of place on my trophy shelf!

One week after ‘my’ awards dinner, we attended the Worcester and District Riding Club AGM and awards dinner, where we were treated with guest speaker Nicky Hill’s behind the scenes video at Badminton 5* 2019, where she finished as the highest placed first time competitor in 15th. I felt a bit emotional even talking to other riders, the itch to get back on was getting stronger and harder to ignore. I comforted myself with the thought that at least I didn’t have an entry for Badminton so, really, I suppose my timing could have been a bit worse. To my complete surprise, Penny and I won the trophy for achievements in showing. I had made an error and assumed the trophy list with names next to them were this years’ winners when they were actually last years’ winners so I was certain I was going home empty handed. When they started reading the description of the winning combination before announcing myself and Penny, the cogs in my brain slowly turned as I realised no-one else, to my knowledge, in the club had “competed in Horse of the Year Show qualifiers” or “won the Midland Young Rider final” in 2019. The last one should have been a real clue but I was still very surprised to be called up. I think you can gather that from the photo, although surprisingly no-one called me out on blatantly wearing a night-dress to the awards – I did at least have the decency to colour coordinate it with my sling! Just after I had finished reeling from the first trophy, I was called up as a joint winner for a Spirit Award for qualifying three horses for three different championships, and coming unbearingly close for another two! From the three national championship performances, Penny finished joint 11th in the combined training, Marcus finished 10th in the style jumping and 9th in the riding test, and Odin helped his team to a fantastic 3rd in the 100cm eventing. It was a very successful year with the riding club and my fingers are firmly crossed that I can ride in the Summer championship qualifiers. For now, I will be helping out and giving back to the riding club at the qualifiers I cannot ride at!

Receiving the Showing Trophy at the WDRC Awards. (c) WDRC.

There is no denying it, January has been a rough start to the year and indeed the decade. I firmly believe it is wrong to leave a 20-year old rider in her final year of uni with a badly broken bone for five weeks. I am therefore beyond grateful to announce that, all being well, I will not make it to six weeks with a broken collarbone – just. As I am late in writing this month’s entry – I have only recently been able to properly type again – I hope to already be back home after surgery by the time you read this. I realise I will be taking a backwards step in regards to use of my dominant arm as my body heals again but, in the long term, it’s a giant leap forwards. After exactly five weeks of not riding, even mum decided that I would be OK with proper supervision so, after he schooled with Jazz, I stuck a hat on and slowly clambered onto Marcus. I could have cried when I realised he still felt the same, riding still felt the same, and I was confident that one day I too would feel the same. We only walked up and down the track but he knew he had delicate cargo onboard. I wasn’t quite his electric-bottomed rider who galloped about and threw her arms around his neck, I was broken and fragile and in need of my calm and understanding Arabian stallion. With one ear permanently pinned forward with pride, and the other flitting back intermittently to check I was still OK, Marcus gave me the most emotional ‘pony ride’ I’ve ever had and when it was time to get off, he stood like a rock while I found a way to dismount onto a tall block without hurting myself – even when it involved accidentally kicking him on the bum! I’ve never met a horse like Marcus and we’re truly privileged to have him in our barn. There’s no other horse in the world I would want to ride in that condition and I don’t think there’s any other horse in the world that mum would trust enough with my safety when I am at his mercy. After surgery, I won’t be allowed back on – even for pony rides – until I am at a sufficient stage of healing so my walk-about on Marcus was strictly a one-time thing. I don’t think I can properly convey how important it was to me, though. If competing again is the finish line in the dark, it is Marcus who lights my way.

Lead photo: Marcus Aurelius giving me a ‘pony ride’ before surgery. (c) Rowena Bertram

Katherine Bertram
Katherine Bertram
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.


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