Gemma Abram is still beaming when we sit down together in the press office at the national championships.
She can’t wait to show us the photos of her horse Spitfire (Winston), who finished fifth in the advanced medium silver championship this morning. But a decade ago, the future of Gemma’s dressage career looked bleak.
During her time on ponies, her family had acquired Debonnaire, a part-Friesian mare formerly competed to advanced by Steph Croxford, intended to take Gemma up the levels. Two weeks before their first Premier League, disaster struck.
“She did both her hind suspensories,” Gemma explains. “The vet recommended putting her in foal, and I remember sitting there and point blank saying ‘no, I don’t want to put her in foal, I only want Rosie’.
“But in the end, it was about what was best for her. It was hard seeing everyone else go on to juniors, but in a way I didn’t mind watching — I learnt so much,” she says.
There’s no bitterness in Gemma’s voice when she continues the story.
“The money-pot was empty, so although I wanted another horse, I had to wait. We eventually decided to put Rosie in foal. We liked the stallion Sandro Hit, but we couldn’t afford to use him. Then mum opened a copy of Horse & Hound onto Santana’s advert. He was by Sandro Hit and standing at stud. Mum said, ‘that’s the one for us’.”
The family originally intended to keep Winston entire, but after a failed attempt to collect semen from him — “he was too excited to even make it to the dummy” — he was cut for everyone’s safety.
“He’s like a big dog now, but back then he was a little bastard,” giggles Gemma.
They also have Winston’s full sister, but the two are “absolute opposites; Winston can’t do enough for you, and Ruby doesn’t want to do anything for you.”
Six-year-old Ruby, (Santa Rose), competed at the regionals for the first time this season, but Gemma “wasn’t bothered” that she didn’t qualify through to nationals as she just went for the experience.
Today, she is gushing over Winston.
“He’s better than his mum, and he’s my horse of a lifetime, my soulmate. I would do anything on him, I trust him and he’s the same for me – I’m his person, he’s so naughty no one else can do anything with him.”
“I backed him myself and he was an angel — the first time I sat on him, mum led me a few strides, then said ‘he’s not going to do anything’ and she let go. It wasn’t until a month down the line that he decided ditching me was the best way forward, and I ended up in hospital.”
Both siblings have a varied lifestyle at home, including hacking, jumping and farm rides around Bolesworth Castle. I joke that perhaps Winston would like to be an eventer, but Gemma laughs that although the two siblings enjoy jumping they’re “useless at it!”
It’s not all dressage in Gemma’s life at the moment; two weeks ago she got engaged to long-term boyfriend Alex.
“I mucked it all up for him,” she admits. “He lent me his coat during a dog walk, and I put my hands in the pockets and felt the ring. I had to play it cool.”
“After he proposed, I said, ‘Did you ask the most important man in my life?’ and he assumed I meant my dad. But I still made him ask Winston!“