Over this festive season, we are shining a light on up-and-coming talent across the equestrian disciplines. These are riders you really need to keep an eye out for during the 2021 season...
For Mollie Summerland, 2020 went from an incredible high to a desperate low in just days, when she returned from finishing 10th in her first five-star at Pau Horse Trials to find she had to move from the yard where she had been based.
“I really struggled and didn’t know what to do,” says the 22-year-old. “I don’t have any stables or land at home and the last thing I wanted to let go was my horses because it’s taken me a long time to build my own mini string of three horses I really rate. I wanted to exhaust every option first because to sell any of them would be a real shame.”
Mollie says she spent “a month on the phone, 12 hours a day” exploring options, including ringing many professional riders.
“Financially I’m not in a position where I can pay to be with a professional, but it was difficult for someone to take me with three horses,” she says. “It was really nice to realise how much support is out there. You don’t realise how many other riders have been in that situation, struggling financially, and having to move yards.
“So many riders who didn’t know me gave up their time to speak to me and give me advice. It made me realise that while it’s such a competitive sport, it’s like a big family in that everyone does want to try to support you.
“After speaking to a lot of riders I realised they had all had to sell top horses along the way to keep going and I knew it was something I might have to do. At one point I came to the realisation I might have to sell my top horse, Charly Van Ter Heiden – a couple of people did ring after Pau wanting to buy him and I just thought, ‘Please don’t ask me that when I’m in my most vulnerable position.’
“There was one day when I thought I cannot do it, I cannot find a way to make this work. I couldn’t see a way through.”
Mollie started to look into renting stables and rang Milton Stud, who were advertising stables to rent, even though they were beyond her budget. She was able to come to an arrangement with the stud owner, Sarah Ensor – whose daughter Jemima was a junior team silver medallist in 2000 on Lake Placid – involving Mollie moving her two older horses to the Wiltshire property in return for helping Sarah with some of her horses.
“Sarah is away and not back until March and I haven’t met her, but she’s been amazing – people can be so generous and supportive. She said the impression she got was that I needed a bit of a leg up,” says Mollie.
Mollie has been living in her lorry since September but Sarah has also sorted her some accommodation.
Mollie says: “It’s been fine in my lorry – it’s one of those things you’ve got to do when you have to spend money on horses, but it doesn’t have a shower or washing machine so I’ve felt like such a burden on people. It will be so nice to have my own little flat and I’m quite excited to have my own space.”
Mollie Summerland: ‘I haven’t made 2021 plans yet’
Charly had a break after Pau, just hacking out, and started to return to schooling work in mid-December. Mollie feels Badminton Horse Trials would be too big an ask for him next year, although the likely lack of spectators did tempt her as he’s a horse who does notice crowds – but he is is more likely to tackle another spring event such as the German five-star at Luhmühlen Horse Trials.
“I haven’t made any plans as all my time has been spent trying to sort myself and my horses out,” she admits.
Mollie also bought a six-year-old called Flow, by For Romance out of a De Niro mare, from Germany and he arrived just before Pau. She has recently sold some shares in him to Paula Cloke, who saw Mollie advertising the opportunity on social media.
“I bought him unseen off videos I found off the internet, which was risky, but I loved him – he was my type, black with four white socks and dressage bred,” she says. “I spoke to the people a lot, saw lots of videos and good friends in Belgium – who I bought Charly from – recommended a good vet hospital in Germany where he went for a full vetting.
“I am really excited about him – he’s probably one of the most talented horses I’ve sat on and has so much presence. He’s 17hh or 17.1hh, but really narrow so I don’t find him too big to ride.”
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Mollie Summerland also has a two-year-old stallion out of Charly’s full sister by Chacoon Blue and is hoping to come to an arrangement with a stud where he can live for now.
“Even renting a field for him is a big overhead when you don’t have much money so I’m talking to a couple of studs about him and trying to find a win-win situation as I really want to keep the ride,” she says.
Looking back, Mollie says event riders’ lives can be quite different to the outward appearances on social media: “People say you must still be on cloud nine after Pau, but I never really had a chance to appreciate Pau and the past month has been horrendous thinking I’d have to give up everything I’ve worked for. You need so much financial backing to last in this sport. People can look through rose-tinted glasses and think ‘Everything must be brilliant for her’, but behind the scenes it can be really tough.”
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