‘Even a cross pole makes me nervous’: meet 8 inspirational Wobbleberries

  • We recently went along to Olympian and top eventer Andrew Hoy’s yard, where he was offering eight lucky Wobbleberries the chance to brush up on their dressage and jumping skills under his watchful eye. This gave us the chance to meet these brave and inspiring riders to find out a bit more about them.

    The Wobbleberry challenge is for riders who want to compete at a British Eventing BE80(T) event by the autumn of 2017, all in the name of charity for Hannah’s Willberry the Wonder Pony.

    The Wobbleberry website states that the key characteristics of a Wobbleberry are the following:

    • not currently fit enough to get round a cross-country course
    • not currently brave enough to get round a cross-country course
    • old enough to know better, and know that this will hurt!
    • dedicated to raising money, to training, and conquering the fear
    • supportive of each other — aiming to be weeble-esque: “We wobble, but we don’t fall down”.

    So let’s meet eight of the 1,500 accepted Wobbleberries…

    Jo Theze

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? Having a daughter the same age as Hannah Francis. A friend’s nine-year-old daughter in our Pony Club has just been diagnosed with bone cancer in her thigh.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? Remembering the dressage test and everything really!

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I rode competitively up until the mid 80s and then I had a bad fall. I never really got my nerve back after that, and didn’t ride again until two years ago when my daughter started university and left me her horse, who I plod around the block to keep him ticking over.

    Phillipa Mitchell

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? I had been thinking about going back to riding for a while. I haven’t owned a horse or jumped for 20 years so the idea of committing again was scary but this challenge has given me the push I needed to start regaining fitness and having a few lessons to build my nerve up to look for a horse of my own.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? Losing weight and getting fitter will be the first challenge and then regaining my nerve to be able to jump. I can’t even imagine it at the moment but once I find my noble steed and build some trust I am hoping it will become a little more realistic.

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I grew up riding and always loved the partnership doing Pony Club and riding club one-day events. I then had a bad fall while I was at university and damaged my back. Since then I have only had the odd sit on friends’ horses and one or two polo ponies (not to play, just to hack).

    Jules Godbold

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? After following Hannah Francis’ story and then seeing Sally Barr’s Facebook status, I felt I had to do it for Hannah and everything she achieved in her short life.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? Everything! I have been a happy hacker since I got my first horse when I was 18. I did a couple of little jumping shows then and a failed cross-country round which landed me in hospital with a dislocated shoulder.

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I look after our horses at home and take my daughter Aimee to BE events.

    Amanda Keech

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? I haven’t evented since having children (who are now 15 and 16). I used to struggle at the lowest level which was 1.10m — I was always happier at 80-90cm so have wanted to have a go at an 80cm. My old event mare died a few years ago at the age of 27 after 22 years of ownership so I now have a new partner who was predominantly bought to do a little of everything (basically following my daughter round on her pony!), but he’s actually fab at everything and so he’s helping me build my confidence up having started with cross poles. I’m sure with a confident rider he’d fly round BE80s and BE90s.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? The height and my confidence. If I say “go” Minty will jump — I just need to say “go” and believe it!

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I have ridden since the age of five. Pre-kids, I competed at local level in showjumping, cross-country and BE100 but never completed one (far too big and scary!). Post-kids I’ve had fun doing local showjumping at 60cm, the odd farm ride, but mainly BD prelim. I had planned to compete in a BE80 in the autumn of 2016 but fell off in March while having a showjumping lesson and suffered with slight dizziness for several months. I’m hoping to get back into showjumping and possibly do some arena eventing to prepare me for 2017.

    Philippa Thornton

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? I have been riding since 2002, and it has always been my dream to compete at BE. Unfortunately, aged 16 my first horse reared up, knocked me unconscious and from then on I have gone from fall to fall. I previously jumped up to 80cm with my last horse, whom I lost before Christmas. Unfortunately due to the amount of falls, most of them jumping, I lost all of my confidence and have just started to regain my it slowly, jumping 50cm confidently — 60cm makes my teeth chatter! I am determined to claw my way back, and even stronger than before. I can do it, I will do it… Even if it breaks me.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? Tanzin and I are not very strong in our dressage phase, however my main phobia is jumping cross-country…

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I started riding aged 14, by which time I had already realised falling off hurts and has consequences. I have owned four horses over the years, and I had a wonderful but very complex mare called Gem for almost 10 years. Unfortunately I lost her just days before Christmas. Two years ago I bought a rising three-year-old filly, who is my world. I am not doing this challenge on her, as although I would love to event her, she is currently injured after falling over on the road spooking at a lorry. We bought Tanzin in January 2016, and she has started to give me the strength and motivation to carry on after suddenly losing Gem. Last summer has been one of the hardest summers, learning how to carry on without my best friend. Tanzin is an eight-year-old Connemara mare. She may only be 14.2hh, but believes she is the next Teddy O’Connor. She has very limited experience out of a school, but showjumped with her previous owner.

    Paula Evans

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? I have supported this charity from the start. It is inspiring and current and it should remain that way.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? I’m a dressage rider and have only ridden as an adult so the jumping phases are going to be my nemesis.

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? We do dressage and hacking and I keep my daughters’ eventers fit while they are at school.

    Emma Busk

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? I am a Wobbleberry through and through! I’m 50 and I returned to riding after a 20 year break nearly five years ago. I have had some success in unaffiliated dressage but have lost my nerve when it comes to “leaving the ground on purpose” (it’s too scary to say jumping!). I bought a new horse, Harvey, recently and we’ve already popped 60cm. When I told my instructor I was aiming for a BE80 next year, she pointed me in the direction of Wobbleberries. I’m in 100% — let’s kick cancer’s butt for Hannah and Willberry.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? Fitness, skill and confidence… So not much to overcome then! I am hoping that my riding fitness will return as I am now actually riding every day, rather than just poo-picking every day. Skill — well, that takes work and dedication and more work, but that doesn’t scare me. And confidence — my new boy Harvey is doing a fabulous job, so despite the inevitable setbacks, I’m sure he can work wonders over the next few months.

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I rode from the age of five until my mid-20s, including a spot of eventing — in the days when entry level was novice. After a 20-year break, I’ve been back in the saddle for five years, owning two warmbloods on whom I’ve competed unaffiliated dressage to novice and showjumped up to 70cm. I haven’t ridden cross-country since the 1980s though. Harvey has competed to novice dressage, schooled cross-country to BE90 and showjumped to 90cm.

    Lianne Bidmead

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? I feel that I am one of many that have followed Hannah Francis’ story, shared her ups and downs, and been truly inspired by how much she achieved in such a short period of time and what an incredible young woman she was. I think that I have been taking things for granted and milling along for far too long. It’s time to get cracking – life is too short!

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? As I have got older, I have developed “the fear” and jumping really does scare me. This will be my biggest challenge to date, and what a worthwhile cause. I used to event as a child and have always dreamed of giving it another go, but have always been too much of a chicken. After a series of unfortunate events, I had pretty much given up on the idea of jumping, but then I thought, NO! Now is the time to pull up my big girl pants and get on with it, for Hannah. Confidence — it’s as simple as that, but I’m determined to overcome my fear of jumping, and hopefully, with the support of like-minded people, and the opportunity to support such a fantastic cause, we can raise some serious money to kick cancer’s butt!

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I’m 28 and live in Nottingham. I have been riding since I was a tiny tot, and used to be one of those fearless children that rode and jumped anything. While I was young, I did a lot of showing and cross-country. I used to event in unaffiliated competitions up to 90cm but, as I said, “the fear” has hit, and now even a cross pole makes me nervous. Dressage is my thing and I am currently bringing Marni on with the hope of affiliating him and taking him up the levels. We are schooling at prelim/novice level at the moment, and jumping about 60cm. I also love matchy-matchy and “all the gear, no idea” fits us perfectly. Marni is the most beautiful, kind and genuine horse ever. He does have a feisty side, but I adore him. He really is a stunner — even if I am biased! I have had him for about four or five months. Before coming to me, he had had some time off chilling out and being a horse, but as a youngster he’s been out jumping and eventing, so I know he is capable. As a duo, our competition record is zero. We have been out to Canter For A Cure at Burghley together (a sponsored ride), where he was an absolute superstar, and are attending an Active Rider camp in a few weeks to hopefully kick-start our jumping ‘career’.

    Ellen Smith

    Why do you want to take part in this challenge? For so many reasons. I followed Hannah’s Willberry Wonder Pony as he travelled around and watched as she started to raise money in the horsey world. She was so brave and determined to make her life meaningful, both when she thought she would recover and when she must have known she wouldn’t. Before I moved into my career in HR, I worked in medicine, in the field of bone research, so I spent around six years in a lab researching bone disorders, funded by charity, mainly North West Cancer and the MRC. The prognosis for osteosarcoma isn’t great and there’s so much more that could be done if the research was better funded. In the back of my head, I’ve wanted to event for a long time but I’ve never done anything about actually doing it. This is an opportunity to combine the main passions of my life, develop my own bravery and raise money for a cause I really care about.

    What do you think your biggest challenge will be? The fear of jumping. When I was a kid I was brave and I would have had a go at anything. Now I’m not! I’m overweight, middle-aged and much less fit. I need to lose weight, get fitter and get brave jumping. Those jumps that looked OK on the ground turn into the Puissance wall once I’m on horseback.

    Can you give us some background about you and your horse? I’ve been riding on and off for more than 30 years, with a long break in the middle for my career and kids who are now 10 and 12. It’s all been at riding schools, then I had a loan horse for a couple of years until six months ago when we bought Echo. We bought her with a glowing description from a sales livery dealer and she isn’t quite what it said on the tin! “Safe in open spaces” really meant “rears on the beach and dances sideways, leaping all the way home”. “Could affiliate in dressage” really means “hasn’t done any flatwork since she was five and is very opinionated”. “Competent jumper” means “absolutely, but does no less than 100mph”. I managed to get in touch with her previous owner after we bought her and she’s been doing nothing but jumping 1.20m+ unaffiliated for the past few years. However, her stable manners are to die for; she’s an angel on the ground, she’s very affectionate and she’s cool as a cucumber at a show. I started her flatwork when I got her and we competed in unaffiliated prelims last summer. The first time I faced a jump, my stomach flipped over and I realised that I was unexpectedly terrified. When I read about the Wobbleberry Challenge I thought: “If everyone else can do it, why can’t I?” With that, I managed to scrabble myself over 30cm a few times. She’s more than capable of it, it’s me that needs more bottle and as our partnership grows, I’m getting there.

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