Love it or not, ITV’s hit reality series Love Island is back on our screens this summer with dressage rider Gemma Owen, eldest daughter of former England striker Michael Owen, proving to be one of the stand-out stars since entering the villa.
Eagle-eyed viewers will have spotted that the intro to Love Island 2022 featured teenage Gemma cantering along a track on a stunning black horse – ending with a trademark toss of the hair for the camera after her elegant dismount.
The segment was actually filmed on Wimbledon Common in London and, while resembling Gemma’s top dressage horse Sirius Black, the horse she’s riding is actually 14-year-old gelding Onyx, who is owned by Deborah Tarrant and is kept on working livery at Wimbledon Village Stables (WVS).
The Love Island crew filmed Gemma, who has become a tabloid sensation since entering the villa, riding Onyx at the nearby rangers’ stables under the discreet guidance of staff from WVS. But with everything being kept top secret, it wasn’t until the run-up to this year’s series that Deborah and the WVS team realised who had been riding her beloved gelding.
“The week before, when they started releasing snippets about who was going into Love Island, we realised it was Gemma Owen, Michael Owen’s daughter,” Deborah told H&H.
“I’d told a few people to look out for Onyx, especially after we knew who it was riding him – but there was always a risk it was going to end up on the cutting room floor. So I was thrilled when it was there and I had quite a few people text me saying ‘We saw Onyx on TV!’ My husband said you can watch Love Island for the introduction, but you’re not watching it for the next few months!”
Gemma Owen takes the reins
Onyx was selected by Carol Andrews, proprietor of WVS, for Gemma Owen to ride and she seemed to hit it off with the Irish Sports Horse during filming.
“He’s reliable, but fun,” says Deborah. “He’s lovely to ride and he did look splendid on TV, didn’t he?”
While horses are a frequent sight round the many tracks on Wimbledon Common, Gemma would have stood out in her Love Island attire – in fact, Deborah relays that one of the WVS members of staff took Gemma aside during filming to have a quiet word in her ear: “You do know the buttons are undone on your blouse?” she pointed out.
“Because that’s not how you usually ride, is it, with your bra showing!” laughs Deborah. “But apparently Gemma replied ‘The film crew told me to undo my top buttons!’
“It was so Love Island.”
Deborah continues: “But I think Onyx was a star. He’s a really funny horse because he’s brave and bold, but he’s really quite sensitive to noise, which is crazy because we ride down Wimbledon High Street, and on the Common we have golfers, dogs and children – the horses have to be bombproof almost.
“But he’ll still do the most ridiculous cartoon jump if he sees a bird in the bush or he hears something. He’s calmed down a bit, but he used to do a twist and then bolt off – I parted company with him quite a few times in the early days, until I got used to what he was doing. We have an understanding now. He’s also the kind of horse that knows when he needs to behave and perform.”
Love Island’s equine star: a real all-rounder
Deborah has ridden all her life but has had Onyx (pictured above), her first horse, for four years.
“It’s always been my dream to have a horse, but I’ve always been working so I’ve always said I don’t have time,” she says, having fallen in love with a video of the gelding after WVS owner Carol sourced him from Ireland.
The pair now enjoy plenty of lessons and hacking while Onyx is used by clients at Wimbledon Village Stables the rest of the time.
“We do a bit of dressage and tiny showjumps at home and just before Covid I did say that maybe I’d like to compete him, but it only feels like this year we’re finally getting back into a routine,” says Deborah. “So maybe one day.”
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