Based at a small stable block in the middle of a field opposite a derelict factory in Avon, Jo supports her horses by working 12-hour shifts at a retirement home.
How it started
“When my daughter Carly was little we bought her a pony and I needed something suitable to hack out with her. I ended up at a dealer’s yard and there was Oliver. He was only 18 months old, but I knew I just had to have him. I couldn’t really afford another horse, but he was a bargain at £275.”
Jo had become interested in endurance riding after meeting top rider Yvonne Tyson at her local riding school and crewing for her at several international competitions. After returning from the World Equestrian Games at Stockholm with Yvonne, Jo decided it was time for Olly to tackle his first endurance ride.
Olly went from bronze level to gold status in just a year and Jo realised that endurance was the sport for her.
“I liked how a horse was produced to be the ultimate athlete and ride 100 miles a day – it’s a challenge and a real test of you and the horse and you’ve got to get it right.”
In 1992 Jo achieved her dream of riding in the Golden Horseshoe Ride on Exmoor, where the pair gained acoveted gold award.
From that moment on, Jo and Olly were on a roll. They won a 50-mile ride on Exmoor and gained another gold award at the Golden Horseshoe the following year.
By 1994 Jo had gained her first place on a British team and rode for her country at an international competition in Belgium.
The team finished second in the novice section. To top the year, Jo and Olly also came second in the first 100-mile ride at the British National Championships in Cirencester.
But 1995 turned out to be Jo’s greatest year yet. Winning a gold award at the Golden Horseshoe was becoming a habit by now, but the best was yet to come. Jo was selected as a member of the British team en route to the European Endurance Championships in France.
The all-girl squad struck gold with a win in the team event.
She also took part in the Qatar Desert Marathon that year, where she was the only British rider to be placed – finishing eighth.
In 1996 Jo and Olly won yet another golden award at the Golden Horseshoe and rode into second place at an international competition in Lucerne, Switzerland.
If times are always hard for Jo, then 1997 was probably rock bottom in the financial stakes.
“I cashed in all my insurance policies that I’d saved for a rainy day. It’s not so much going abroad that costs money, it’s the everyday things that cost. If Baileys didn’t support me with feed, I don’t know what I’d do.”
But Jo doesn’t look like someone who lets disappointment keep her down for too long.
“We have a good time in endurance. Everybody gels. When Olly and I were going through a rough patch, the amount of phone calls and cards I received was unbelievable,” she says.
Endurance riding is surely one of the greatest tests that riders and horses can face and Jo has savoured every one of Olly’s achievements.
“Because of all that’s happened with Olly, I sometimes feel like I need to pinch myself to make sure it’s all true. It’s because of him that I’ve been able to ride my own Arab across the desert – it’s a dream that most people could never fulfil,” she says.
“I can say from my heart, every mile I do with him now is a bonus.”