Apart from the odd pony-trek whilst on family holidays, I didn’t really learn to ride until I was at University in Bristol. I went for lessons at the Riding for the Disabled Centre, and remember being very proud of getting my first red gymkhana rosette at the age of 19!
I studied Veterinary Medicine at University and the students were allowed to ride the two vet school horses (Bouncer and Robin). These were two old-timers, who knew all the tricks of dumping unsuspecting students on the top of the Mendip hills before trotting home. Once qualified, my riding took a back seat as I got into clinical practice, doing mainly dairy work, some small animal work, and the odd horse vaccination. My career as a vet has stayed away from equine practice, as I really enjoy my horses as my hobby and want to keep them separate from my work life.
I bought my first horse, Bailey, when I was 28. Bailey was a 12 year old 15.2h bay Welsh cob x Hackney, who was show-jumping at the time. He taught me lots of things – including how to deal with a bolting horse! He had lovely stable manners (apart from when he was on box rest for 6 weeks, when he turned into a raging demon!) and never bucked or reared. He wasn’t a great fan of loading though and regularly towed me off to the nearest patch of grass when he was supposed to be going into the trailer.
I did my first TREC competition on him in September 2004, and was immediately hooked by this fabulous sport. I quickly progressed up the levels, and took part in my first top level (Level 4) competition in May 2008. Sadly, Bailey’s arthritis was affecting his fitness by then, and so I bought another pony Ruby from a TREC friend. Ruby is a 14.1h Welsh cob x Arab and a typical chestnut mare. She can be very sharp, but is very stoical and would take me across all types of terrain with seemingly very little effort.
In 2010, I had my first attempt at GB team selection for the European TREC Championships in Austria. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2010 and with the combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy, I didn’t quite make the team, although I was asked to be a non-travelling reserve. My horses and TREC really helped me through my illness, as I had so much to look forward to – I could see a long TREC career ahead.
I worked hard at my riding and got selected to be a GB team member for the World Championships in Portugal in 2012. I did really well on the orienteering, and was lying in 13th place overnight, top of the GB riders and only 30 points off the lead. Sadly, I got vetted out on the Sunday morning and spent the rest of the day cheering on our other remaining team members.
My current competition horse is Bianca – a 14.3h blanket spot Appaloosa mare. She is a dream ride on the orienteering but does struggle to concentrate on the PTV obstacles – she is normally too busy looking for her friends! We have worked hard on getting our slow canter and now regularly score full marks on this. She is still a work in progress but over the last 4 years we have formed a pretty strong relationship, as your horse really has to trust you in this sport.