It all started with a summer fair in the English countryside where a family friend was giving pony rides on her large bay mare, named Jilly. That marked the commencement of the addiction, obsession, dream and all things in between that are “horse.”
My mother had signed me up on a waiting list for a program called “Horse Rangers,” a charity in the United Kingdom that helps young people who are unlikely to have any contact with horses learn about riding, stable management techniques and general horse care. The then 7-year-old me just couldn’t get enough of all things equine. I started supplementing the weekend sessions with bi-weekly lessons at a relatively local riding school. This is where I really started to become a beginner rider. I learned basic flat work, show jumping and cross-country eventing. School holidays were heavenly, even in the damp and cold English winters, where I got chilblains on my legs due to the exposure to the cold. This routine carried on at various stables until I hit my mid-teens, when I had an accident with an irrational mare, my knee and an outdoor arena four-bar fence. A long recovery with two surgeries and lots of physiotherapy followed.
Sixth Form College, an undergraduate Engineering degree at University and first jobs then got in the way and the focus shifted when I began my professional life. Ten years later, I started riding again. I would hack out a lovely little feisty dapple grey mare called Breeze around the bridle paths, along the winding, narrow country roads, across railway tracks with horn-tooting trains, and off into forest after forest, all on our own. I then had the pleasure to lease a treasure of a Thoroughbred, called Red Sea Harry. He was a very special horse with a severe dislike of donkeys, especially white ones.
Life moved on and next came the big move to Ottawa, Canada, with the then boyfriend and now husband. I found it incredibly tough having no equine involvement, no job, no transport and no funds. Struggling to establish my identity in a new land, I answered an advertisement to lease a horse and have stayed at the very same barn ever since. It’s about 15 years that I have been there now. It’s a stunningly beautiful, rustic spot in the shadow of the Gatineau Hills, just outside of Ottawa. Finding this place was like finding Neverland. I was lucky enough to ride a few horses thanks to the generosity of others and then took the plunge and bought a plucky chestnut filly, Disaranno ( “Dee Dee” or “Dee”) The first few years of horse ownership were tough. It’s a good job the drive home is long, as it always gave me enough time to talk myself back into trying whatever had been a struggle, another day. Dee Dee took no prisoners, but after four years she felt she had finally trained me enough to be sufficient for her needs. I had my own horse…finally. I was starting to ride her. She had her first showing season and did rather well with our coach. The dream was finally being realized.
In a lot of dreams, you get bumped down to reality with an almighty thump. I hit the ground at high speed. Within days of each other, I was in a car accident, had a nasty concussion and DeeDee needed colic surgery on the other side of Montreal. She didn’t heal well and eventually two weeks later, I sat on the floor one night crying over our precious girl who was no more, bundled up in white fleece wrap like a parcel and made to look cozy and loved by the veterinary team. She was so loved and adored. She still is.
I was sinking fast and furiously after losing Dee as there was nothing left for me to mother. Through very dear friends, Gemini—a little red chestnut bundle of hope in colt form, just five months old—came into my life. With “Gem,” there seemed to be some possibility of hope and light in the world again. A copper-colored light at that.
He has slowly helped heal the wounds and made me whole again over time. Gem is now a 10-year-old, trained dressage horse and is working on his Prix St. Georges movements with our coach.
I, as his mother, play catch up with my dressage education, as he’s more than overtaken me. I’ve been learning the changes for the first time ever and the other weekend we got three across the long diagonal—at last! They were rough, but they were there! The pretty part can come later! Gem competes with our coach and I just enjoy being his show mum. The showing thing isn’t for me, but I do love to learn in clinics and can also be found scribing at dressage shows! We’ve been lucky enough to ride once a year for the last four years with the marvellous Stephen Clarke and he’s a hoot and an absolute treasure! Each time he tells me it’s like talking to Charlotte Dujardin with my accent. I have to let him down gently, as that is where the similarity ends and doesn’t extend to my riding! I do have the most wonderful learning experiences and I have cherished these exceptional opportunities.
Gem and I forge on. Gem is getting stronger in his Prix St. Georges work. I’m trying to get better at everything; through dressage training sessions, exercise with weights and cross-training, sports psychology work, lots of reading and watching training videos of rides and a rather extensive saddle pad collection. My initial dream may have hit the rocks and been well and truly scuppered, but the dream lives on through an amazing copper-red little bear called Gemini. We really to try to seize each day with zest, as you just never know when everything will change in an instant. There is a reason he is the most photographed and videoed horse ever, as I only have one blurry photo of me riding Dee.