Making the most

It’s been badminton horse trials this week. Every year since I was a teenager I have gone on XC day (with the exception of when it was cancelled due to the weather in 2012 and in 2007 when I was weeks away from having a baby).

When I was young I would dream of the day that I would get to go around. The beauty of being young is that dreams like these fuel your imagination and give you something to get up for every day. My two eldest sons dream of being successful footballers and I hate it when people try to curb their ambitions with the reality that the chance of this happening is very slim. Like my mother would say ‘someone becomes those competitors’ and she is right. Growing up I have competed against people who have gone on to stardom in all spheres of equestrian sports. For these people, their talent, hard work and ambition has been met with a dose of luck. Being in the right place at the right time is significant.

I grew up wanting to become a professional rider but a number of factors prevented that from being a reality. I like to think at one point I had the ability. I remember being selected to represent Hartpury College on their inter college riding team. Only 4 riders were picked and a lot of the people I trialled against went on to being successful in the industry. I also remember riding in a demo and having Jane Holderness Roddam say that I was an exceptional rider. In spite of this, my riding career amounted to nothing more than being able to have started some lovely horses that went on to do very well and teaching some excellent riders who have gone on to do very well.

I know where I missed out. The opportunity to progress to that next level when I was 18 didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen for a couple of reasons. Firstly I didn’t chase the dream. I probably should have gone to be a working pupil on a professional yard rather than doing my degree at Hartpury (although I would never have gone into teaching and now be in the position I am now to be doing it as a hobby). I possibly missed my opportunity to being a 41 year old burnt out ex rider with no money. I possibly missed out on much more but I always strongly leant towards needing to be able to get a job that would earn me sufficient money to have a good quality of life. I also didn’t have the guts to give myself even a couple of years to see how far I could go. Secondly, by the time I had done my degree my parents were in a position where they were going to sell up their rather large house to buy a farm where my mother and I could have run our own yard. Sadly after a couple of years of nearly buying some superb places, their ideas and my goals had changed and so did theirs. They bought a house with 5 acres on a steep hill, not suitable for running a yard from. I fell into being a school teacher at the end of my degree because I had not got onto the chiropractic course I had hoped to do. Instead in the meantime I accidentally got a job as a school Science technician for a year and then realised that actually teaching was something I should probably do. I could teach at school during term time and spend my free time competing and teaching at pony club etc.

Being a successful competition rider on my own horses didn’t entirely work out either. I was fortunate to have some superb horses, but because I never had a huge budget to buy horses, I always had to get by with cheap problem horses. My horse purchase fund came from money that was always meant to be spent on something else. Instead of using my grant for my degree on living expenses, I lived in what could only be described as a shack and worked probably 40 hours + a week on yards to fit in around my lectures. I bought a horse called Foxy with the money. She could have been top class but had been spoilt by someone who had loaned her from her breeder. She was very well bred and I took my chance even though I knew she was a bit of a run away. She was the best jumper I have ever sat on. Her dressage was terrible though. Her best ever score was a 25 but this was a one off and most of her BE record shows scores above 40. I would sing to her while warming up and that helped her. When I sold her she was evented by a multiple Olympic gold medalist whom, after a while, realised that in spite of her talent as a jumper, she was never going to be able to get scores that put her in a competitive position. I eventually bought her back and kept her until she died. If I could have had any horse again it would be her. I would have loved to have had her as an unbroken 4 year old.

While starting to event Foxy I accidentally bought a problem horse, called Harvey, very cheaply that I had been breaking in. He had been to several different yards and had had several different people give up on him. He was 4 and he was stunning. He was huge. At 17.3hh if a horse doesn’t want you to get on then you don’t have many options. I worked with him in an arena alone until he trusted me. He then progressed very quickly and having Ramiro Z bloodlines he showed a lot of promise in both SJ and dressage. Sadly I wanted to event and he wasn’t keen on XC. We never got passed this. He died in an accident (the accident) before he could really show his true potential.

Before Harvey died I accidentally (see a pattern here?) bought another horse called Paddy. I had a ‘golden hello’ having taught Science for a year burning a hole in my pocket. I was in Scotland at a wedding and my lack of geographical knowledge led me to view a horse in Newcastle on the way home. He had a very good BE record having 19 points. He was nearly graded intermediate but being half Clydesdale wasn’t fast enough to go intermediate. He also wasn’t too keen on SJ at that height. He was cheap. He was also in Newcastle so it took a bit of sorting to get him home.

Not long after I had him Harvey died. Things changed. I evented him for a season but my heart wasn’t in it and I got pregnant instead. Apart from a few events on Foxy (having bought her back) after the birth of my baby, that was the end of my competitive riding.

I always had horses that had 2/3rds of what it took. I did not have the finances. I did not have the facilities. Yet I did so much more back then, with so much less than I have now. Time and enthusiasm were key factors.

I now have the facilities, I potentially have a lovely horse (who at 9 has done virtually nothing). He is Harvey’s grandson and I bred him from Harvey’s daughter Willow. I just struggle now with time, motivation and I’m not the rider I was 20 years ago. I’m working on all of this.

So having been watching at Badminton this weekend I am being reflective about my riding and am looking at how to be able to get the best out of Beau. I am realistic. I would love to get to baby badminton but need to be able to get sub 30 dressage and clear SJ to go with his usual good XC. I need to improve him so that he is good at all 3 disciplines rather than excellent at 2 of the 3 as I had found with the horses who came before him. He doesn’t need to be a world beater. He just needs to be consistent and then maybe one day we will get to achieve our goal of competing at badminton (even if it’s just baby badminton ☺️).

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