Grandmother scores first BE win aged 69

  • A rider who won her first British Eventing (BE) competition at the age of 69 says she feels privileged she can still compete.

    Somerset-based Denise West and her 11-year-old gelding Emo finished on their dressage score of 25 penalties to top their section of the BE80 (T) at Millfield on 13 May.

    “I still can’t believe it,” the grandmother of three told H&H. “It’s like a dream come true.”

    Denise rode as a child but when her family moved away from the New Forest area, she “lost contact with the sport”, only picking it up again after her marriage.

    She and husband John shared a horse for some time, then once her daughters left home, Denise bought a horse of her own.

    “But I was still just hunting and doing low-level riding club events,” she said.

    “I had a horse called Oliver, who I fell off so many times, as he’d take off and then put down again, and I’d be the other side of the jump. He was ruining my confidence – and then I got Emo.

    “My daughter found him, said we’d buy him and we found out he’d belonged to some people who used to live just up the road. They were chuffed to bits he was with us and we knew he’d had a good start in life – it was meant to be.”

    About a year after Denise started riding Emo, and encouraged by the fact BE had introduced the 80 level of competition, the combination took part in their first event, finishing in third place.

    Millfield was the combination’s first event of this season, having been placed sixth, seventh and 13th last year, and their first win.

    “I couldn’t believe my dressage score; he’s not really a dressage horse,” she said. “But I went clear showjumping and cross-country, and we got the win.

    “I wouldn’t mind going up to 90 but my daughters have refused to let me! And having walked the [Mitsubishi Motors Cup] 90 course at Badminton, I’m happy to stick to 80.”

    Denise and Emo are next due to contest Pontispool (28-30 May).

    “I just want to keep on going, enjoying it, getting round – and not forgetting the course!” she said.

    “I just enjoy competing him. It’s not about winning or getting placed, it’s about going out and competing on him because he’s such a friend.

    “I feel so privileged I can still do it; other people my age suffer from bad backs and things and although I’ve got arthritis in my hands and feet, and can’t completely close my fingers round the reins, apart from that there’s no other signs of it.

    “When Emo goes, that’ll be it; I’ll hang my boots up. They say everyone has a horse of a lifetime and I think he’s it; he’s absolutely amazing.”

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