In The Saddle with Anita Marsh: Shedding a tear at her horse-loving Majesty's funeral

I’d like to start this month’s column by saying how hugely sad we’ve been over the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
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Watching the Queen’s funeral procession on her last journey was deeply moving. She’s been our stability and rock throughout uncertain times and has always been steadfast in her reign of Great Britain and the Commonwealth.

Her Majesty’s favourite Fell pony, Emma, and her corgis at the side of the road saw many of us shed a tear as her coffin passed by.

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It was beautiful that Her Majesty’s love for horses was honoured in this way.

Anita Marsh with her trainer Harriette Rushton.Anita Marsh with her trainer Harriette Rushton.
Anita Marsh with her trainer Harriette Rushton.

I know, I for one, felt broken at this scene. Thank you Ma’am for your unwavering service to the nation and being an inspiration to many horse riders across the world.

Being an equestrian is something I’ve always found is akin to an addiction, in a healthy but expensive way.

It’s just something that I feel I’ve been born with and cannot shake.

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Some people find this passion early in life, some later in life but all will tell you once it’s awakened there is no going back. You will love horses throughout your whole life.

If you’re lucky enough to own one you will never have any money; you will at some point suffer falls and broken bones and no doubt you will own a vast array of coats, wellies and hats. That’s not even including the amount you will spend on your horse’s wardrobe.

My horses literally have a wardrobe in the bootroom. They have a better selection of coats than I have. You will find my horses better dressed than me.

Are they worth it? By goodness yes. Do they make me happy? In ways I cannot begin to tell you. Horses are simply good for the soul. It’s no wonder it was Her Majesty’s favourite pastime. It’s most certainly mine.

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As many of you know we have three horses at home. I say three; technically one is actually my daughter’s pony. But you know where I’m coming from.

If you’ve been following our horsey shenanigans you will know April is my older, steadfast mare. I’ve been writing about her since I first bought her. Indeed she kickstarted my column off many years ago.

Sully is my young foal. OK. He’s now 6 years old and is a young horse but I still see him as my foal. Just like I see my teenage daughter as a baby. Both will forever be my babies.

Mara is my daughter’s second pony. She’s not an easy pony; definitely not a first pony but is an excellent ride for a confident child. My daughter, Alyssia, has an incredible relationship with her and despite Mara being a veteran now they have a lot of fun blasting round the countryside together.

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April has just come back into work after an injury in the field. Trying to contain her has been a nightmare. She’s been busting through temporary ‘hospital’ paddocks and not taking well to being constrained. In the end we chose to turn her out with Sully and Mara which enabled her to settle much better.

During this time my weekly lessons have continued with my fabulous riding instructor, young and upcoming showjumper Harriette Rushton (Harry).

She’s absolutely fantastic for me, however, she’s pretty clever getting me to jump fences. I usually arrive nervous and saying I’d like to just walk and trot. Harry is sneaky. Before I know it she’s got me cantering into a cross pole.

I often have Harry’s child watching us train. Little cute baby James with his lovely grandma, Justine, in addition to my daughter and husband by the arena so it’s a real family affair. We always feel welcome and Harry is so knowledgeable; she pushes me in all the right ways.

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I’ve had a few falls from Sully, but I keep getting up and back on. It’s made me nervous and it takes awhile to restore confidence. I’m 49 and don’t bounce as well as these younger riders.

Harry’s been training young Sully and me to jump fences. As you will know, we recently jumped 55cm clear and I wanted to increase that to 60cm.

Harry spotted a competition perfect for us and said she would come with me as support. I’ve had a fall in the warm up ring and she promised to warm him up over fences for me as he’s pretty sharp when he first goes in.

We met Harry there and I was feeling quite calm, unusual for me, but knowing she would take Sully in first and get any excitement off him was great for my confidence.

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However, Harry had other plans. On tacking up she told me to get on him. I politely explained that I was scared and that she was riding him (I had text her 50,000 times the night before to remind her!) but she shook her head.

I begged her to get on him. Again she told me no. She said I was more than capable and she would come in the warm up with me. She literally gave me no choice. It was the best thing she ever did. Although I didn’t know it at the time.

In the warm up I’m not going to lie, I thought I’d vomit over every fence. My nerves had kicked in and I was riding Sully tight.

He was wound up with horses cantering by him and in the distance all I could hear was Harry saying ‘canter him now,’ and my voice in my head shouting negative thoughts.

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I think after a few times of her saying to canter I might have swore (sorry Harry!).

Well, I took Sully round in a few strides of canter. He didn’t do anything wrong. He was excited and strong, but nothing major happened.

Harry continued to shout instructions to now do the cross pole which I ignored. There was no way I was jumping that.

When I saw her striding into the warm up ring I knew I needed to do it. Actually with her standing by the fence I felt a whole lot better. She’s a mix between my comfort blanket and the pusher of dreams. But I’m also a little bit scared of disappointing her which makes me just do exactly what she’s says in the end.

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After doing the warm up fences (and living to tell the tale) I was straight in as the first to ride the 60cm. There were ten of us in the class. I didn’t want to be first but I had no choice.

I’m seriously short sighted. My optician says I shouldn’t compete in showjumping without my glasses, but if I wear my glasses the fences look super scary so I jump blind as a bat. I can’t see numbers. I have to learn the fence colours in order. Honestly, it’s crazy. I do wish I was into shoes and handbags at that point instead of horses.

Once I’m in the ring I’m completely battling with nerves. Sully knows this. Some horses will take you to fences. Sully is young and needs guidance.

If I don’t tell him it’s OK or at any point hesitate then he knows it. He will refuse. I can’t afford to leave him to it. I have to focus on the fences no matter what I feel.

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Heading into the first fence I was scared, he dithered but I got him over it. He’s super in tune to me and knew I wasn’t feeling confident so he reacts too.

The second fence was taken in trot with me holding him back. However the third fence was riding by Harry and I heard her shout ‘get him into canter!’ and I knew she was right.

I asked for canter and Sully was off. He knew what to do. He just needed me to say ‘let’s go’ into each jump. We weren’t the fastest round the course as we can’t yet cut corners or do sharp turns, but he jumped his heart out and his attitude was spot on (forgive the pun).

Sully cleared everything and I was so pleased. The crowd whooped when I shouted ‘I stayed on’ especially as there is no style in my riding. I’m highly aware I embarrass my daughter, but I don’t care. I’m peri menopausal so worrying what others think of me left me a long time ago.

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We came away with a smashing rosette of 6th place and I could not be happier. The whole venue was brilliant, kind and helpful. Highly recommend Willow Banks.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to Harry for helping smash my dreams. They might be small to others but they are huge to me.

To conquer fear at every competition is no mean feat. With a good trainer, a supportive family and good bunch of equestrian friends behind me I feel Sully and I can take on anything.

I’m not a great rider. I’m not brave. I squeal into fences like a nutter. I’m just a horse-mad school mum with the ridiculous notion to compete at my age. But if Her Majesty was anything to go by-age is just a number.

You can see more on my Facebook page ‘In The Saddle - Anita Marsh’. Thank you so much for following. Have a great week.