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Tales from the H&H Festival of Eventing: ‘I had a sudden urge to jump at 50’

A former Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) rider who returned to the saddle after a 15-year break ticked off a wish from her bucket list when she took up jumping at the age of 50. The rider who describes herself as “competitive” is now taking part in her first three-day-event, riding in the Ariat 90cm class at the H&H Festival of Eventing.

Karen Owens, 51, from Stratford-upon-Avon, grew up riding show ponies for the likes of Nigel and Stuart Holland, having begun riding at just 18 months old. She had a taste of early success winning twice at HOYS in 1981, and 1982 with show pony, Gunnerby Aalborge Elegant.

“It was a way of life,” Karen told H&H, whose father Russ Owens judges show ponies at HOYS.

“I competed show ponies until I was 16, and later I did show lead-rein ponies with my own children and niece.”

Karen took a 15-year break from horses while she raised her family, and after missing the world she had been brought up in, she bought 14-year-old mare, Wanda.

“I had a sudden urge to jump at the age of 50. It was on my bucket list and I thought ‘I need to do this’,” said Karen.

“I bought Wanda from Simon Green, who imported her from Ireland and did some eventing with her. I needed a horse that could teach me to jump.”

Karen joined Solihull Riding Club taking part on their showjumping team, before joining their eventing team.

“I started taking lessons with James McCulloch, an international event rider. I was petrified to start with but I loved it – I became addicted.

“I did my first one-day-event last year and was nearly sick.”

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Karen lay in eight position after the first day of the H&H Festival of Eventing (25 May) on a dressage score of 31.5, but a clear cross-country round inside the time means she now lies in sixth ahead of the showjumping.

“The dressage was a good day – I was really pleased. The cross-country was incredible, the optimum time was 5 minute 29 seconds and I came in at 5 minute 28 seconds,” said Karen.

“I’m competitive – it would be nice to stay where I am and keep the poles up. It’s been such a challenge and achievement to be here anyway, but to be in the top six after the second day – I keep pinching myself. It’s down to the hard work, tuition and help I’ve had with Wanda. She’s my horse of a lifetime, she tries her heart out and doesn’t give in.”

Don’t miss the full report from the H&H Festival of Eventing in Horse & Hound magazine — on sale Thursday, 6 June.

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