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Saffie Osborne is just 16, but she already boasts four eventing medals — she took team and individual silver at the pony Europeans in 2017 with the skewbald mare Little Indian Feather (Jojo) and the pair went one better in both categories in 2018, landing team and individual gold.
But Saffie certainly isn’t resting on her laurels. She’s already planning a junior campaign for next year, with the eight-year-old Levistano son Lakantus.
“I’ve had him about a year, but at the beginning of this season I was concentrating on Jojo and I didn’t want to complicate things by riding ponies and horses — I wanted to concentrate on one and do it well,” she says. “He’s been awesome towards the back end of the season, although I was an idiot and jumped the wrong fence at Bricky which cost me a win.”
The pair managed to finish the year on a good note with fifth in the novice at Calmsden.
“I haven’t found it difficult riding a horse, just very different — it’s like going from driving a speed boat to a cruise ship. He’s 16.2hh and Jo Jo is 14.1hh, so I found him pretty big to start with. I struggled with the stride length and timing across country. It was a bit overwhelming.”
Saffie has also had to contend with being injured this season, suffering a partial tear to the ACL ligament in her knee, which has meant she has struggled to get her qualifications in ahead of the junior trials, her main aim for next season.
“I fell off a racehorse at the beginning of the season and I ignored it to start with,” she admits. “But it got worse and I had to stop and have a little look at it. I’m on the mend now and getting my strength back.”
Racing runs in Saffie’s blood — her father is the successful Lambourn-based trainer Jamie Osborne and her one event horse is the odd man out in a yard of over 100 racehorses at home. Each day, she rides out “a lot of racehorses” before heading to Bradfield College in Reading to study for her A levels in economics, business and politics, then it’s back the yard to ride her event horse in the evening.
Ultimately, Saffie’s ambitions lie in racing.
“Hopefully I’ll get my amateur licence soon, ride as an amateur for a season or two and then get my apprenctice licence when I leave school,” she says. “One day I’d love to be champion jockey — it’s a huge aim but you have to aim high if want to achieve something.”
Saffie is the youngest of four children.
“None of my three older brothers showed any interest in horses, so I think my family got a bit of shock with me — they kept saying I’d give up by the time I was 12 and I kept saying that was never going to happen,” she says, adding that her horsey family are a huge help and she doesn’t let her heritage add pressure.
“I love the pressure and have grown up with it all my life,” she says. “It’s always helped that my parents understood what I wanted to do.”
As well as her parents, Saffie’s paternal grandparents Tony and Angela Osborne are a massive support.
“When I was showing and doing working hunter ponies, they took me to all the shows and they still come to all the events and barely miss one, so they are a huge part of it all,” says Saffie.
The rider credits Red Dandy, who she rode in 2016 and 2017 and who is now back with owners the Robinsons and ridden by Holly Clarke, with showing her the ropes when she moved from working hunter ponies into eventing.
“I wanted to event and we managed to lease him from the Robinsons. After four events he took me straight to novice, although I’d never evented before, and I won my second novice on him,” she says. “He gave me the bug. He was the most honest pony in the world and I couldn’t have had a better one to start me off in eventing. He and Jo Jo were both long-listed in my first year in pony trials. He was incredible and taught me everything.”
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Saffie plans to continue to combine eventing and racing, at least while she is at school.
“When get my apprentice licence that’s likely to take over, but I’ll take each season as it comes — I love it and I’m lucky to have two passions,” she concludes. “I’ve been so lucky with the horses and support I’ve had. I’m eternally grateful to Lord and Lady Blyth, who own Little Indian Feather and Lakantus — any sport, especially with horses, is hard, especially if you don’t have good owners like that.”
Did you know…
1. Saffie also played hockey and did athletics, but riding soon took over.
2. She used to play the piano “but I wasn’t very good, I’m sure my family are happy not have to hear that any more”.
3. She loves eating in the Asian food chain Wagamamas.
4. She is inspired by female jockeys such as Hayley Turner and Bryony Frost.
5. In eventing, she has always looked up to Pippa Funnell and says Piggy French is “an incredible rider — if I could ride half as well as her I’d feel like I’d achieved a lot”.
6. Her horse Lakantus competed at the 2017 junior Europeans for Ireland with Alex Power, finishing 10th individually and best of the fourth-placed Irish team. And her pony medallist Little Indian Feather also started her career with an Irish rider, contesting the 2012 Europeans with Kirstin Connell before joining Chelsea Pearce and then Saffie.
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