‘Calamity Sal’ shares eventing ambition on TV

  • A rookie eventer is to feature on the ITV series This Time Next Year where she will share a pledge to win a rosette competing at British Eventing (BE).

    Essex-based Sally Thornley, who only took up the reins a few years ago, had owned her first horse for just four months when she committed to the challenge in front of programme host Davina McCall.

    The show, now in its third series, features people from across the UK who pledge to making a change in their life, and return 12 months later to show off their achievements.

    “Shortly after I bought my horse, the production company had put up a post asking if there was anyone new to horse trials wanting to have success in the sport and my friends tagged me in it,” Sally explained. “I had a few calls over Skype with them and then went to the studio in May almost two years ago.

    “You go through the doors like it’s Stars in Their Eyes and I met Davina on stage — she was lovely. Her daughter had a horse, so she knew all the right questions to ask and I told them I wanted to win a rosette affiliated eventing.”

    Sally was tasked with keeping a video diary of her progress throughout the next 12 months — something that also led her to launch her own Facebook page, Calamity Sal Attempts Eventing.

    “They sent me a prompt list of things they wanted my friends to capture when I was competing,” she said. “It was quite a lot to juggle when I’m already trying to remember my dressage test and half the time the horse has still got its tail bandage on!

    “It was things like that which made us come up with the ‘Calamity Sal’ page — my friend said: ‘you are a bit of a calamity aren’t you!’

    “I thought even if the footage never got shown, it would be good to document it on Facebook as a funny journey,” she added. “I can’t believe the interest I’ve had, I’ve met so many people through it who come up to me at events and recognise me, and I’ve even secured a couple of sponsors.”

    Sally had moved to Chelmsford following a break-up and was making some “life changes” when she spotted an advert from eventer Julie Horton asking for someone to help with her horses.

    Sally, who works as a project manager for Costa, had only ridden a handful of times since childhood but “just wanted to be around them”.

    “I fell in love with them but owning my own horse was just a dream at that point,” she said. “Julie would say to me when we were at events that one day I’d be there too with my own horse, but I thought I had such a busy job that it would never happen.”

    Julie trusted Sally to ride her horses, which allowed her to gain experience.

    “To begin with I was riding a horse Julie had bought for her other half and he used to drop his shoulder and dump me off in the middle of the field! I got to ride five or six of Julie’s for three years before I got my own. I don’t know how she trusted me as they used to come back on their own a lot!” Sally said.

    Two-and-a-half years ago, Sally saved up enough money to buy then-seven-year-old Russell from a local showjumping yard.

    “He can be quite sharp and he was a bit of a high-maintenance diva when I first got him, but he’s grown up with me now. Because he’d only showjumped before, trot work was a bit of a learning curve and me trying to teach him dressage was like the blind leading the blind but we’ve gone out and done some decent tests now,” she added.

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    Sally revealed that she had managed to fulfill her pledge to Davina – despite being under quite a lot of pressure as the season drew on last year.

    “It was awful at the beginning of [last] year with the weather and a lot of events being cancelled,” she said. “Then Russell managed to get an abscess and then bruised his sole. I really wanted to go out there and excel.”

    With some good results at BE90 under her belt, Sally now hopes to step up to BE100 this year.

    “We had a bit of a knock to our confidence this month so we’re not rushing into it, but that’s my aim. I’d love to get to Badminton grassroots one day,” she said.

    Sally’s episode of This Time Next Year is the sixth of the series and is set to broadcast on Tuesday, 12 March at 8pm.

    For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

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