Is it possible to go from not having ridden for 30 years to competing at BE90 in just 10 weeks?

Iona Legge-Bourke, 42, whose family owns the Welsh estate where the Glanusk International Horse Trials is held, took up the challenge in aid of the Children’s Hospital for Wales and rode in the horse trials on 3 July.

“The most nerve-racking part was the cross-country,” said Iona, who is the sister-in-law of Tiggy Legge-Bourke, former nanny to Princes William and Harry. “I rode up to the age of 12, but my pony Ginger didn’t like jumping so I never competed or went hunting.”

Iona’s daughter Serena was born in 2008 and suffered from laryngomalacia, which affected her breathing. She needed three operations and had to be tube-fed for eight months at the children’s hospital in Cardiff.

“I want to give something back for the care they gave her,” said Iona, who was inspired to get back into the saddle by watching International Velvet.

She borrowed 15hh grey gelding Corgullion Fox — known as “Merlin” — from Milo, the 11-year-old son of friends Sarah and Ben Herbert, and started training with the Herberts’ groom, Shelley.

“She set me a new challenge every day, first of all just riding round the roads, then a bit of dressage and jumping,” said Iona.

The pair had had 43 dressage penalties, eight in the showjumping and a refusal across country, to finish 25th.

“It’s really moving how much people have supported me,” she added. “A 50-year-old friend has bought a horse and wants to compete next year — they say if I can do it so can they.”

Iona aims to raise £50,000 for the hospital’s Noah’s Ark Appeal and has £15,000 so far.

To donate, visit www.just giving.com/iona-legge-bourke

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (4 August, 2011)