The eldest of four children, I was brought up on a farm in Northamptonshire and horses were always part of my life. My mother was an event rider and my father worked for Tattersalls, the bloodstock auctioneers. My parents had a hunter livery yard and a hunter dealing business, and my mother and I had a small pony dealing business. I graduated from riding Joey, a fiendish shetland to Smokey, a wonderful old grey pony who introduced the whole family to hunting and jumping. After that came the legendary Mrs Plum who was the most wonderful hunter and prolific show jumping winner, by which time I had started riding the young dealing ponies and the young hunters who my father bought in Ireland every summer while he was looking at yearlings for the Tattersalls’ sales.
This was how my love of producing young horses began. Whilst it is a huge privilege to start a young horse on its career, it is also an enormous responsibility. Horses are trusting and intelligent and the balance between teaching them discipline, respect and new skills, and maintaining that trust is a real intellectual challenge.
My mother had trained with the great Lars Sederholm at Waterstock and also with David Hunt, so although I was never aware of having lessons with her, I expect my grounding was very correct. Together with learning quick reactions and stickability by hunting a wide variety of young horses, I also helped produce working hunter ponies, and graduated through the ranks of Pony Club Eventing. The Grafton Pony Club was lucky enough to have Delia Cunningham, a very famous dressage rider and now one of the owners of William Fox-Pitt’s Oslo, as our chief instructor, her brilliance as an instructor saw the Grafton get to the Pony Club Championships 13 years running, culminating in winning both the Horse Trials and Dressage in 1980. I was lucky enough to be in teams with Judy Hancock, Anne Marie and Nigel Taylor, Philip Herbert and Douglas Weymouth – all more famous than me, but it gives an idea of what an amazing grounding we were given.
Sadly when I was 16 my mother died. As a result I owe a huge debt to our great family friend Peter Fenwick and my mother’s head girl Christine Jackson, who saw me to the end of my Pony Club Career and through my first year of what was then BHS eventing. After leaving school, and dropping out of university, I lived and worked in London for seven years, marrying Mark and moving to Sussex just before Anna was born in 1987. Riding took a real back seat during these years, although I did hack out with my sister-in-law, event rider Clare Lewis and my step sister, also an event rider – Jemima Johnson, whenever I could.
Sophie came along in 1989, and I decided to use the money Mummy had left me to buy a horse of my own. This was Spring Spartan, an anglo arab, and what a fantastic buy he was. I just two seasons we went from nothing to 7th at Osberton CCI**. Spartan was then sold to Fiona Chesterton (nee Ranson) who was placed on him at Braham twice and rode him in the Young Rider Europeans at Blenheim. Spartan lived a wonderful old age with Fiona and was only put down last winter.
I had less success with Spartan’s successors until I bought Mossfort (aka Hungry) from Michael Drea. At 15hh he might not have seemed to most obvious star, but what he lacked in height he made up for in courage and opinions. Hungry really rekindled my love of competing, and with help from Jo Marsh-Smith I learned so much about not only riding him, but producing young horses in general. Hungry was fairly competitive show jumping and helped me win the Intermediate section at Eridge Horse Trials. I completed four three-day events with him, two abroad and Windsor and Hartpury CCI**. Three of these were long format which given that he is very strong and rather hot made the steeplechase a real white-knuckle ride! Hungry was sold to a junior who found him a bit too exciting and then to Helen Dunning who completed Blenheim CCI*** and Bramham CIC*** double clear and was placed in the advanced at Weston Park on him. Aged 19 he is now with Hayley Wright who was placed at Aldon CCI* with him and has just completed her first few Intermediates with clear cross-country rounds.
Anna and Sophie were keen riders and and once they had progressed enough by riding good, old ponies, we started buying and producing young Connemara ponies, and later some nice 15hh horses. With the help of Jo Marsh-Smith they did working hunter ponies, all the Pony Club competitions and evented up to pre-novice. Selling these well-produced ponies and horses helped fund the purchase of the lovely horses I have now, and, as the girls got a percentage from the sales, has given Anna and Sophie an idea of how riding gets funded. Both the girls live and work in London now, but if they are home for the weekend they will usually ride, and their good grounding means they ride the young horses beautifully.
In 2005, having sold Hungry and sadly lost his replacement to an injury, I decided that I ought to have a back up plan as I was getting a bit old to ride young horses. Having dropped out of Exeter University in 1981, I did an Access to Higher Education Course at Mid-Sussex College in Haywards Heath and then embarked on a Psychology degree at UCL in London in September 2006. Although this was incredibly hard work, commuting to London every week day of the term for three years, I really enjoyed it, got my 2:1 and then worked as a Research Assistant at the Institute of Psychology for two years. Unfortunately the economic downturn has mean a severe lack of funding for Mental Health Research, resulting in my losing my job in March 2011. I was back doing the horses with a little part-time academic tutoring to help the finances, until the end of May this year when to my surprise I was offered the post of Equine Manager at Old Lodge Stud. This is a perfect job for me, running their show-jumping team with invaluable input from Malcolm Pyrah. It is early days yet but it is certainly a fantastic opportunity for me.
Having struggled with Hungry’s dressage I then bought Todd, the most elegant grey horse from Donal Barnwell. After a very successful pre-novice career and a good start in novice Todd made it quite clear that going fast cross-country was not for him and so I turned to show jumping. This was a real eureka moment: not only did Todd pay his own entry fees but usually the diesel too, added to which spending less time on dressage and fittening work meant that I had the time for two horses and therefore could get more practice. I then bought Castleview Bouncer, Buddy, from Brian Lear, who, when I finished my degree at the end of 2009, was joined by Wayfer.
Todd and Buddy have since been sold to give others the benefit of their experience, and I am currently competing three mares: Wayfer, Little Penny and Doonaveeragh Emma, and a gelding, The Auctioneer II. I train on a regular basis with Shane Breen, who I find absolutely brilliant, and who has competely changed my riding and given me huge confidence, which I can now give the my lovely young horses. We are lucky enough to live in a most beautiful part of England, with Ashdown Forest, Sheffield Forest and the South Downs within easy reach, and have lovely facilities at home, so producing young horses and a job in show jumping is the best of all worlds for me.