I met and rode my first horse on a farm in Ireland when I was just four years old. It was my first holiday romance and one that blossomed into a life-long love affair.
Luckily for me, home was just around the corner from the internationally renowned Radnage House Riding School and it was to provide me with the foundations on which I have built my riding career. At the time the school’s proprietor was Pat Smallwood FBHS and the head girl was Gill Watson FBHS who went on to train the Young Riders Eventing Team. I was far too young at the time to understand my good fortune.
I can vividly recall my first lesson at the age of five and also the time it took to master the rising trot. I absolutely loved it and with every minute in the saddle, my passion grew.
Every possible moment was spent at Radnage House. There was many a time when I should have been elsewhere (Brownies and Sunday School for instance; my absences resulting in a bit of a ticking off!) but my parents soon accepted that if I wasn’t at home or at school, I would be ‘down the road’.
In the late 60s and early 70s there was no talk of Health and Safety and we thought nothing of riding ponies bareback flat out along the road, sometimes leading another four, as we took them back to their fields. We also never complained about being used as cannon fodder to back the home bred ponies. We would line up, get on, probably get bucked-off and then the next one would be legged up and so it went on.
I rode anything I could lay my hands on, some good and some not so but it was all educational. I got to compete a number of the liveries. Notably I spent a year competing with Working Hunter Ponies and I got to ride a lovely Welsh cob called Paddington Bear that I took to all things Pony Club and the local shows.
A Career in Riding
I took A levels and further education took the form of Equestrian exams. I achieved my BHSAI in 1982 and took my BHSII 6 months later. At the tender age of 18 it made me one of the youngest to have passed the exam at the time.
In 1983 I was entered for the Lloyds Bank Young Instructor of the Year where I won the qualifying round and was third at the final.
A year later it was time to get some competition experience. I went to work in a competition yard in Wiltshire where I helped produce the young horses for eventing, hunting and team chasing. I hunted with the Bucks and Berks Draghounds, the Tedworth Foxhounds and occasionally competed with the Greasy Truckers Open Team Chasers. It was a busy year with less than a week’s holiday but I’d proven myself to be a hard worker and a competent jockey and so the following year I was allowed to event.
One of the horses I was given to ride was a talented jumper but considered ‘impossible’ on the flat. With no arena, schooling took place in the Savernake Forest. The hard work and persistence paid off and within a year he upgraded to Advanced level. There were others, one of the most notable being a horse that I jumped for the first time in an Intermediate section at Tidworth Horse Trials. I was first to go on the day. I had no idea how the horse or the course jumped so just kicked on and took all the direct routes.
Onwards and Upwards
My time in Wiltshire was filled with learning – from hunting and eventing to buying and selling youngsters, but it was time for a change. I returned to Radnage House, now under the ownership of Bob and Stella Pitt. I was employed as Chief Instructor and was responsible for all the staff and horse training as well as client teaching. I also spent a lot of time preparing students for their BHS exams.
In 1990 I went to work in America where I taught ‘English’ riding for 6 months. I tagged on a bit of travelling and on my return to England I began freelancing and continue to do so to the present day.
My freelance work has been diverse. I have continued to train horses and riders of all levels. From basic training to pony club, riding club and all things affiliated with a particular interest in eventing and an increasing interest in dressage.
I have competed at British Dressage, British Showjumping and British Eventing competitions and have choreographed and ridden in the Quadrille final at Olympia on 2 occasions.
In 1999 I achieved my BHSI and in 2011 I became a Neuro Linguistic Programming Practitioner