In the beginning.....
Along with Sally, Georgie and Julia, I am a Founder of the Wobbleberry Challenge. When I volunteered to lead on the PR I had no intention of actually getting on a horse myself. An impulse purchase of a pocket rocket showjumper, more suited a competitive teenager than a middle-aged wimpy rider and a nasty fall a year or so before, shattered my confidence and soon I had a thousand and one excuses for not riding and if I did try to get on the physical symptoms of not being able to breathe, having “jelly legs”, and freezing up left me feeling frustrated and angry. I felt the weight of my responsibilities and was convinced that getting on a horse would go terribly wrong and my 7-year old son would be left Motherless and for what? my determination to regain my love of riding. It was too big a price to pay! A bit dramatic? Well, I did do Drama at university, so that’s my excuse!
And so, at the point I replied to Sally’s Facebook post, recognising the PR potential in her idea and wanting to maximise the sponsorship she might raise, I had all but decided to hang up my riding boots for good.....and that’s how I met Sally. I sold my pocket rocket to her for her niece, and we became friends on Facebook.
Oh, I should say that my background is in PR. I consider myself a lucky person and believe that lucky people create, notice and act upon the chance opportunities in their life, which is exactly what I did when I chanced upon the idea to raise the profile of a couple of unknown young architects who had devised a solution for the lack of affordable housing in London. All I had to do was persuade Selfridges to let them build a prototype in their Oxford Street window and run a Big Brother House style experiment inside and the BBC to make a documentary with the project at the centre and voila.... mass media hysteria, a Bafta, a string of awards, including PR Week’s Solo PR Practitioner of the Year and the credit for coming up with “a PR idea bordering on genius” for me! But all that was 14 years ago and a lot of water had flowed under the bridge and my creativity had been stifled by education, education, education and another innovation – Academy schools! Yes, that was me too!
I should also say that I had been following Hannah’s blog, which I came across quite by accident in December of 2015. My daughter Beth, an amateur eventer, had asked for a skin for Christmas and I was Googling ‘riding skins’ when I came across a company selling skins to raise money for a charity called Willberry Wonder Pony . I clicked the link and was introduced to Hannah and her Wonder Pony and with tears running down my face I ordered a skin and printed off Hannah’s story and her blogs to wrap up with the skin. I wanted Beth to know just how special the skin was. We both started to follow Hannah’s blog.
So, when Hannah sadly passed away on 1 August 2016 and Sally posted on Facebook that she wanted to challenge herself to get fit and compete in a BE80 to raise money for Hannah’s charity, I immediately volunteered to help.
Georgie and Julia came on board at the same time and it was Georgie, who came up with the name “Wobbleberry”. From the very start we were on a mission, organised, largely by Sally, who is meticulous in her planning and preparation. We all have complementary skills and by some miracle we not only get along, but we actually really like each other...and have become lifelong, firm friends.
Julia and Georgie were also up for the Challenge and I was under a lot of pressure from Beth to do it too. She kept telling me that I wasn’t setting a good example and I couldn’t promote something that I wasn’t prepared to do myself. I knew she was right, but I was terrified and I made a lot of excuses about how busy I would be with the PR, but she would not relent and after she wrote to Sally to ask her to persuade me I gave in. After all I had learnt how to deal with a fall, rear, losing my seat, bolting, bucking and horses falling or slipping over on the Rider Confidence Course at the Centre of Horseback Combat in Buckinghamshire, so in theory I was well prepared!
We had received a lot of requests from people wanting to join in and so sat around Sally and Ian's dining room table The Wobbleberry Challenge was born. The rest you know.
Now, I didn’t have a horse at this stage. I had considered borrowing my daughter’s dressage horse, Joey, but at 18 he had been gifted to her for a quieter life and he wasn’t adept at jumping as he proved one day when he tried to jump the gate and impaled himself on the gate closure, avoiding serious injury by millimetres.
I had started to have lessons with Jason Webb on a horse owned by one of his team. Blue was my perfect horse. He was completely unflappable, but responsive and would try his heart out for you. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was asked if I wanted Blue on loan for the Challenge. We got off to a great start and I continued having lessons at home with Tom, one of Jason’s team. I started to jump again; we went to Wobbleberry Camp in Milton Keynes and to a local show, where we came sixth in our first ever dressage test together. I was riding again and enjoying it. And then Blue went lame and was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis. Many horses are fine with arthritis and it can be managed, so armed with optimism and NFU insurance we started an intensive period of drugs and rehabilitation, which lasted for months and delivered erratic results. His age and his early life as a trotter had caught up with him. I had to face up to the fact that he wasn’t going to be capable of a BE80 and it wasn’t fair to ask it of him...and so he went home. I was devastated!
The thought of searching for another horse filled me with dread and advert after advert blurred into one, each one promising the ‘one in a million’ horse. It was all just noise! I was persuaded by a friend to go and look at a horse for sale at Martins’ Irish Horses. As a rule I avoid dealers, having been conned when we bought Beth’s first horse – but that’s a whole other story which resulted in a vet being struck off and a court case. I had also consciously made the decision not to look at anything younger than 9. So, what was I doing going to a dealer to look at a 5 year old? I certainly wasn’t going to buy this one that’s for sure! Well, reader...it is here I have to confess that I did buy that horse and I have had him for 6 months now and he has not put a hoof wrong! He is so relaxed, nothing phases him. He has not spooked at anything, he is game for anything you ask him to do and he loves hacking. He is what I would describe as “people-centric”, nosy, loves to be in the middle of whatever you are doing and would much rather stand with me than with the other horses. I have learnt a lesson about preconceptions!
The harsh winter has scuppered many of our plans but come the spring I will be putting on those brave pants and #kickingcancersbutt in memory of the very talented, very courageous and inspirational Hannah Francis, and when it all gets too much and I think I can’t do it, I just remember what she achieved, take a deep breath and kick on with the words of our Patron #hoyteam Andrew Hoy in my head; “What goes on in the brain, goes down the rein”.