Completely from a non-horsey family, I first discovered horses after moving to Cornwall as a 7 year old Yorkshire lass. Most of my friends in Cornwall were from farming families and had their own ponies so my first invite to a friend’s house was to a party and I wore my best party dress. My friend heaved me up onto her pony bareback and sent me off, trotting around the garden: I lasted 5 minutes before landing in a heap in a muddy patch – I was hooked, I reckoned I could stay on for longer next time!
Following that introduction, I bullied my parents into letting me have riding lessons and eventually my own pony – a rather manic Arab x Welsh. I did everything I could with my pony: gymkhana, jumping, showing, hunting and very long rides exploring the remoter places both where I was allowed to go and where I wasn’t!
As time went by I bought various horses to do show jumping then on to eventing which I absolutely loved and managed to get up to Intermediate level but time, money and talent constraints, as well as the birth of my son, put a stop to that! What to do now? Endurance, the obvious choice: fun, relatively inexpensive (at least at the lower levels) and a clear path to the top with a little luck and a lot of hard work.
My first ‘endurance horse’ was a TB ex racehorse that I bought at Ascot sales, primarily to go eventing. After my son was born there was no question of eventing so I used the horse I had to start off my career in endurance. Although good at dressage and jumping, when out hacking he only had three paces; walk, trot and gallop and also the disadvantage of the typical TB flat feet. Again, I got to Intermediate level (endurance) before it became apparent that this horse’s feet would not allow him to go further.
Arabs – yes, they were the answer! OK, it is not necessary to have an Arab to do endurance, but at the top level they are nearly all Arabs, Anglos or part breds. My first Arab, bought for me by my husband, was a leggy 15.2 but he was only three when I bought him so far too young to do much. I then had a stroke of luck and discovered a lady not too far away who wanted to loan out her much older Arab. This was Safren.
Safren took me to the top and my first 100 mile race. He was awesome – kind but aloof and determined to just go and go. (I have some rather horrifying memories of being tanked off with over Exmoor downhill towards a deep river). After he retired, I spent the next few years looking for a good horse to bring through the levels to compete internationally. It was so hard to find a horse with the right attitude and conformation but then I found Dilmun.
I first saw Dilmun when I came to try him as a just-backed 5 year old. I tried him, liked him and said I would have him on a short trial. Well, when we came back to collect him it took hours to load him and just when we started to say we wouldn’t bother, he jumped straight over the ramp and into the lorry. We took him home and I spent some time trying to get him to go back into the lorry again but he was so traumatised that I decided I didn’t need all that hassle and asked the vendors to come and collect him which they did only taking about two hours to force him into a trailer.
A year or so later I was talking to a friend who happened to mention that she had a six year old for sale and, guess what? It turned out to be Dilmun! He was still difficult to load but just about possible so I bought him. Natural Horsemanship was the key to loading and we cracked it, he’s now perfect. Dilmun shot through the grades without a backward glance. We did the required FEI rides and our 3* qualifier for the 2009 European Championships. We were selected and travelled to Assisi in Italy to compete for our country (dream almost coming true!) However, it was not meant to be and the team didn’t complete the race, in fact only two countries got full teams round so the bronze medal wasn’t even awarded.
The following year was WEG (Kentucky 2010) and Dilmun developed a persistent cough, completely scuppering our chances of competing here. Maybe he didn't fancy air travel!? The following year we were non-travelling reserves for the European Championships in France and last year we withdrew from selection to avoid putting extra miles on Dilmun’s legs to save him for WEG in 2014.
I’ve also got an extremely exciting 2* horse in the shape of Fantom who won every race we entered last year. However neither of the ‘boys’ are yet qualified for WEG so there is still hard work ahead.
As a child I always had a dream to run the London marathon and to compete at the Olympics. I achieved the first several years ago and, although endurance isn’t an Olympic discipline, WEG would be the next best goal.