This pair’s journey is particularly special. Gracie’s mother, Julia, is a big fan of the breed and bought “Jeb” as a young horse 11 years ago.
“He was Mum’s horse and then I stole him a few years ago,” Gracie told H&H. “He’s come here three years running and got top three placings every time. He’s so consistent now. He’s grown up, knows what he’s doing and loves coming here.”
Julia adds: “I always says when Gracie got better than me, I would stop competitive riding, and that happened when she was 12!
“She used to sit on him when she was tiny. I did a lot of his basic work, but Gracie has a talent for intuitive riding. She taught him his changes and now he does ones twos, threes, fours… It’s been a joy for me to watch the horse I chose go on with her.”
The Tsjalke 397 son spent his younger years in harness before joining the Catling family. He had “seen a bit of the world” and was “great to hack”, but struggled to canter until he was six years old. Now, his canter is his highlight.
Gracie and the 17-year-old gelding claimed the runner-up spot in the Petplan Equine prix st georges silver Area Festival final on Wednesday (19 April) on 69.17%. He will be back on Sunday to contest the Nupafeed advanced medium freestyle gold championship class.
“I know what he’s going to do before he does, which definitely helps when it comes to test riding. As he’s got stronger, it’s easier for him as well,” says Gracie, who is planning a step up to inter I with Jeb.
The Loughborough University sport psychology student has three horses competing this week, including her warmblood Qwinton and the 14.1hh Connemara pony Dalyhill Rocker.
“One’s massive, one’s tiny, they move in completely different ways,” says Gracie, who has always ridden a mix of types.
“It’s definitely helped my riding a lot. I like riding different types, as it keeps you on your toes.”
As well as their differences in size and type, all three horses bring their own unique characters to the table.
“Rocker is such a diva. We wanted a quick turnaround on Thursday evening and I was out in the field for about an hour trying to catch him,” she says, with a laugh.
“I was standing there on my phone in the end as I thought, ‘I’m never going to catch you’. He came up behind me with his ears pricked and as soon as I turned around, he would gallop off! It’s nice to have that pony sense of humour on the yard.”
She spoke of how important it is to understand the physiological differences between these types and to tailor her training and warm-up accordingly. Jeb, for example, tires faster than a warmblood. She also credited farrier Jason Evans for managing previous issues with Qwuinton’s feet.
“It’s about understanding their physical abilities and how to work around those and play to their strengths, rather than just trying to push through something if they find it hard,” she says.
“It’s really satisfying when it clicks. It takes a while sometimes to work out what is working and what isn’t? Why do they struggle doing something, such as lateral work? The moment it suddenly all falls into place, is where I think the satisfaction is with dressage.”
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