Charlotte Brew recalls her ride around the Grand National with Barony Fort who ground to a halt four fences from home

I had been point-to-pointing for some time when the Labour government brought in the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975, which meant that women could ride under rules. I quickly sent off my application for a licence.

I tried the 17.2hh Irish-bred Barony Fort at Newmarket and knew instantly that he was the horse for me. Once home, my vet spotted his deformed hind hoof, which I had completely failed to notice! I remained determined to keep him.

We finished fourth at Huntingdon, our first race under rules, where I was presented with a bottle of champagne for being the first woman ever to ride at the venue.

In 1976, Baron and I finished fourth in the Aintree Foxhunters’. We led over the last fence – one of the most thrilling moments of my life – only to be overpowered on the run-in.

It was only at a subsequent press conference when someone asked me if I would be riding in the National the following year, that I realised I had qualified. Of course I said yes!

As Baron wasn’t a brilliant traveller we arrived in Liverpool a few days before the National. On the morning of the race, I took him for a spin on the course. Then I plaited him up and got changed.

At the start I felt alittle nervous, but also excited, for I knew Baron was capable of negotiating the fences. I kept on the outside to steer clear of trouble. He went well and negotiated everything smoothly, including Bechers first time round.

By the time we approached the Chair we were well behind, but the words of the commentator – ‘And Charlotte Brew is still going, and going really well’ – gave me a real boost.

Baron soared over the Chair among a crowd of loose horses and we continued to lob along until the Canal Turn, which he banked. He was obviously getting tired and losing heart. Baron decided enough was enough four from home. I tried four times to get him over the next, a huge open ditch, but it was too much to ask and I gave up.

Afterwards, everyone told me how well I had done, but it all went over my head because I hadn’t achieved what I had set out to do. Even today I feel a little sad that I didn’t complete the race, but I suppose it just wasn’t meant to be.

Don’t miss this week’s Horse & Hound (30 January) where Anne Dunham talks about her ‘ride of a lifetime’ at the 1999 World Dressage Championships for disabled riders.

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