We meet a four-star debutante with the horse who was 'nothing special' and bought out of a hunting yard for just £4,000
“It’s been a long struggle,” says Tetbury-based Becky Woolven of her road to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials (1-4 September).
“My parents have always been very supportive but they are completely non-horsey. They love sport and they always wondered what was wrong with a tennis racquet and why it had to be horses!’ laughs 27-year-old Becky.
Growing up Becky bought and sold ponies to fund her passion, and at the age of 14 she had her first taste of eventing on ‘Bluey’, a 14.2hh pony who she had produced herself from a five-year-old.
Becky went to the Royal Agricultural College (now the Royal Agricultural University) and through this she seized the opportunity to compete in student riding competitions. This culminated in her taking individual gold and team silver at the prestigious World University Equestrian Games in South Korea in 2010.
During the same year, Julie Record, who owns Charlton Down House the location of Becky’s yard, gave the young rider some money to buy a young horse.
“We found ‘Socks’, a four-year-old Irish horse who cost £4,000 out of a hunting yard in England,” explains Becky. “He was nothing special — quite chunky and moved like a sewing machine.”
Becky says that Socks (or Charlton Down Riverdance as he is known in competition) was “useless” for the first few years of his eventing career.
“He always had multiple showjumps down,” says Becky who credits a vast improvement in this phase to Roland Fernyhough with whom she started training two years ago.
“Socks was born to go cross-country though,” she admits. “He has a long stride and isn’t strong at all.”
Becky says that Socks is somewhat of a local celebrity at home.
“He gave pony rides to my non-horsey friends up until about six months ago when I thought I had better put a stop to it and start thinking of him as a promising event horse!” Becky laughs.
“You look over his stable door and laugh at the thought of him as a four-star event horse — his feathers are so full that I have to use proper sized clippers to remove them!”
Becky says that two years ago people started to sit up and pay attention to the eventing career Socks was carving out.
“He jumped double clear in his first CCI2* and then jumped another double clear in his first CIC3* at Bramham in 2015,” explains Becky.
Since then, the pair have jumped another five clears across country at various three-star events. Their best result to date was jumping double clear and finishing 12th in the hotly contested CCI3* at Bramham in June.
“We finished 10 seconds inside the optimum time at Bramham,” says Becky. “Socks has a huge heart and would do anything for me.”
Ten-year-old Socks will be the joint youngest horse at Burghley this year.
“Burghley is a childhood dream and I just can’t believe it’s happening with Socks!” exclaims Becky.
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“Julie, his owner, is the nicest lady — she adores Socks and brings him apples almost every day.”
Becky says she usually wouldn’t watch a course preview video but confesses that she “couldn’t resist” taking a look at the Burghley track.
“There’s no pressure on us,” says Becky. “We’re going there to have a good crack at it. No one thought we could do it and I’m looking forward to spending time with my best friend; Socks.”