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Hickstead first-timers: army training corp who served in Afghanistan gets ready for a different kind of challenge

After serving the country in the armed forces for 17 years, one might consider that Phil Dodds would be ready to lessen the pressure. But not on his watch.

Wiltshire-based Phil has well and truly thrown himself into a showing career with his 11-year-old coloured horse Brooklyn Will (Apollo), who he qualified for the 2018 Royal International Horse Show in the non-native horse class at his first ever attempt.

Phil is a Royal Army Physical Training Corp (RAPTC) in the army and has been in the force for nearly two decades.

“RAPTCIs serve as detached personnel within most units across the army,” said Phil. “Tasked by their commanding officers, they have the responsibility of maintaining the physical fitness of their soldiers in preparation for military operations. It requires a high level of knowledge and experience in order to design and implement a physical training regime which complements the unit role and training cycle.”

While the show ring is a relatively new venture for Phil, he has been a keen horse rider for many years.

“I learnt to ride when I was eight at my local riding school and then had a pony when I was a child. After that I didn’t ride for while, until I was 31, when I returned from active duty.

“In 2012, I went to Afghanistan and after this I was posted to 29 Cdo Regt RA in Plymouth — which is my home town. This meant I was able to get back into horses.”

It was his wife Ruby who credits for infecting him with the showing bug, which led him to purchasing Apollo from coloured show specialist Andrew Collins. The pair have gone from strength to strength and now compete at top level, with the aim of qualifying for Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) next on the agenda.

In 2017, Phil and Ruby married and made the move to Wiltshire. It was at their local show, West Wilts, where Apollo earnt his first ticket to Hickstead.

“I have a very supportive wife who works part time so she can look after the horses,” added Phil. “I couldn’t do it without her. We are having weekly lessons from our instructor Penny Clarke in the run up to the RIHS.”

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When asked is the army has helped him deal with the pre-show nerves, Phil said: “Riding my horse is my release and escape from the military. Apollo is a great horse to ride and is always happy to please. I just try and sit quiet, smile and enjoy the ride. He’s a real showman in the ring and comes alive, especially when I’m in my full military uniform. I think he knows I’m wearing it and performs impeccably.”

The next outing for the on-form pair will be at the Newforest Show where they will be contending their first HOYS qualifier.

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