Eleni Murphy: Nurturing Britain’s future stars *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I first rode as a child at a riding school in Athens.

    My instructor must have thought I showed some talent, as he persuaded my parents to buy me a pony. But, because there was no pony jumping in Greece, my 138cm pony and I competed against other children riding horses. When I was 13, I got my first horse.

    From the start, I had very good trainers, which taught me the value of coaching. From the age of 14, I spent every summer in Britain training with Cheryl Grimes and moved here full-time when I was 21.

    My husband Peter was one of the first group of 10 accredited coaches who trained with Lars Sederholm. Because I was there, I too learnt from Lars. I couldn’t be accredited as the training was Lottery-funded and only for British coaches, but once the restriction was lifted, I went through the system to become a level three trainer.

    I never set out to be become a pony trainer. My children — Michael and Robert — were at the Pony Club lead-rein and handy pony stage and I was still competing, but when I realised I couldn’t do both, I took a step back. Michael decided riding wasn’t for him, but Robert carried on and he got to a point where, although I was always there for him, I could leave him to
    his own devices.

    Once they’re old enough, it’s an important part of a child’s riding education to be able to work things out for themselves from the stable to the warm-up and the ring. Then people started asking me if I could help their children, and I’ve now been part of the pony jumping scene for 10 years.

    As a coach, the number one thing is to be able to put things across in a simple way, so that pupils can understand.

    You need to know when to be tough and when to be soft, how to cope when a stroppy teenager answers back and how to manage different personalities.

    There’s only so much kids can take in before they go into “information overload”, so we walk the course as a group and I then go through the whole thing with them again. I also have some private time with each pupil before their round.

    Don’t knock ‘pony parents’

    Then there are parents’ expectations. It’s an expensive sport and it’s sometimes hard to put the brakes on when the rider isn’t quite ready. I’ve walked in their shoes with eight ponies and two kids at shows and it is frustrating when things don’t go well.

    There’s lot of pressure when it comes to qualifications. Getting to the big shows is what we do it for and everyone tries their best. No one goes into the ring wanting to mess things up.

    Ours is a sport for everyone at every level and we must always enjoy it. And if anyone feels likes knocking “pony parents”, they should remember that they are making sacrifices on behalf of Britain’s top riders of the future.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 15 March 2018