Meet Karen Dixon’s niece, who juggles a full-time job and top-level eventing

Over this festive season, we are shining a light on up-and-coming talent across the equestrian disciplines. These are people you really need to keep an eye out for during the 2024 season…

  • Storm Straker is among that rare cohort of competitors who manage to juggle a full-time job with riding at the top level.

    The 25-year-old piloted Fever Pitch clear across country in the eight- and nine-year-old class at Blenheim Horse Trials in the autumn of 2023 and clear in the time in the horse’s first CCI4*-L, at Boekelo. They were also eighth in the CCI4*-S at Blair last season.

    Storm works in the rural insurance sector for Howden Insurance, putting in three days a week in the office and two days from home.

    “It’s absolutely fine in summer, but when it comes to winter, it’s hard to balance when there’s no floodlights. It either means getting up very early and riding in the dark or nipping home at lunch – I’m lucky I’m only 10 minutes away from my office, but I need someone at home to tack up so I can just change and get on or I only get 10 minutes riding,” she says.

    The rider pays tribute to Mark Holmes, who works for her and is her “lifeline”.

    “You certainly can’t do it without the team and he always has a smile on his face,” she says. 

    She is also frank about the sacrifices she has to make to fit everything in.

    “Friends say, ‘Do you want to go on holiday?’ and I have no holiday left to take because I use it all for events –  I don’t actually have enough holiday to do all the events I want to do in 2024,” she says. “So that side of it slightly sucks because obviously I’m young, I want to socialise and be with my mates, but it’s a decision you’ve got to make and it’s something you love. You’ve got to take the highs and lows, so the highs are the good days of eventing and the lows are not being able to go partying with friends.”

    Storm bought her top horse, Fever Pitch, as a four-year-old.

    She says: “It took a little while for me to adjust to him because I hadn’t been on anything that’s quite so big and rangy – I had a 15.2hh before that and he’s about 17 hands. I wouldn’t say it was love at first ride, but now it’s like slipping on an old glove.”

    More recently, Storm Straker has had to find a solution to some bitting issues, explaining: “I’ve had a lot of help from Chris Bartle with that and Lucinda Green was the one who suggested the bit that’s now working – I just happened to see her at Badminton and she suggested trying a Waterford gag with cheeks. I tried it with two reins with Chris and he said to take away the second rein.

    “In 2022, ‘Pitchy’ was really strong and I found it hard to get him back and I was taking ages to set up for fences. I found a bit that was working, but it was quite a strong bit and then last season it was too much for him as he’s become a lot softer. So then I was trying to find a happy medium, but we’ve managed to find it now, which is great.”

    A first five-star is on the cards for the pair in 2024.

    Storm Straker also has Abydos in her string. He competed in the Burghley young event horse final as a four-year-old in 2023 and is an exciting prospect for the future. In addition, she has recently purchased another youngster to bring on and sell to help fund her eventing.

    She will also be taking up the pure dressage challenge with the stallion Vsplesk, who had eight wins eventing before a fall calcified some ligaments and meant he had to have an operation and change track.

    “I bought him at the same time as Pitchy – he was love at first ride because he’s super naughty and I just love horses like that, who’ve got a bit of character,” she says.

    One thing’s for sure – Storm isn’t short of eventing inspiration in her family. Her aunt is Olympic team silver medallist Karen Dixon (née Straker), who is best known for her partnership with Get Smart, and her father Nick was the first winner of Bramham Horse Trials.

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