Norwich solicitor and event rider, Jane Anderson, juggles career, family and affiliated eventing, and is enjoying an excellent start to the season on her striking coloured, Jim’s Patch. With two wins under her belt so far, she tells EQ Life how she got to this point.
am Norfolk born and bred – I am the youngest of four, my father John Hirst farmed at Ormesby and my mother loved horses, but did not compete herself. My first pony was a naughty palomino called Cream Cracker and he spent a lot of time bucking. I spent a lot of my childhood falling off, but then again we did a lot of riding bareback, often with just a headcollar for steering. Things improved a bit once I got my second pony, Cockle. I used to charge up and down the tracks around the farm, pretending I was a famous jockey, jumping any ditches and farm implements I could find. Cockle was a lovely pony on whom I had my first taste of Pony Club tuition and competition.
My first horse was Happy, a striking chestnut who had an incredibly athletic jump. We bought him from Mautby Marshes, swapping him for my sister’s horse. Around the time I left school, I persuaded my mother to let me start jumping in affiliated competitions. He was fast and careful and we had quite a bit of fun locally. He was not designed for dressage, though, and I was keen to event. My first big influence was Pauline Norton, now Tann. She lived close by, running a successful jumping yard and she took Happy in for schooling, something which I did not know too much about. He came back a changed horse, but eventing was not something he was going to excel in. Nevertheless, he showjumped and won at Foxhunter level, and perhaps our best achievement was jumping a double clear for the South Norfolk Pony Club team at the championships held at Stoneleigh.
We looked around for a horse to event and found another chestnut, a five-year-old called Red Rambler, who we bought from Ian Thirtle in East Wretham. At last I had a horse who was able to perform well enough to event, but it did not start too well: at my first affiliated event – at Cockley Cley, near Swaffham – my dressage judge was the late Major Allhusen. I nearly got eliminated as I went wrong three times, and then did get eliminated in the showjumping. The turning point for me was at
Wramplingham Horse Trials. It was a prestigious competition, attracting many top riders (rather like Burnham Market now) and was also the HQ for our Pony Club. Here, I won my first Novice event, which in those days was the lowest level of competition. I was in my first year at university, studying law, and not enjoying it, and I remember standing by the scoreboard asking my father if I could give up and ride instead. He gave me short shrift and that was that! I was bitten by the bug, though, and managed to keep riding whilst studying. I upgraded Rambler to Intermediate level, did a few competitions with him at that level and then sold him.
Looking back, there is no possibility that I would have been a successful event rider – I was not good enough and it is a very expensive pastime. However, I have enjoyed competing, in one of the few sports where men and women compete on equal terms, and where, even at the lower levels, it is possible to ride against professionals.
Debra White has had a massive influence on my riding career. Before husband Fergus and I got married, Debra and I lived close by and were both eventing together with similar results. She has always had a great eye for a horse and is renowned for her careful production of young horses. She told me about a horse locally, who was proving rather troublesome. Needless to say, I ended up buying him: he was the best I have owned. We named him Blue Admiral. He was very well bred – his great grandsire was the Derby winner, Crepello – and he took me to a double clear at Somerleyton Horse Trials in the Intermediate and then upgraded to Advanced with Terry Boon.
Once I had had the children, I carried on working, but on a part-time basis at Cozens-Hardy. I had some ups and downs with horses at this time, notably with my home bred horse, Its Typical, who became ill after starting eventing successfully. Then Debra told me of an untried, lovely coloured horse she had seen at Sue Cox’s yard – Sue had brought him over from Ireland. This was Patchy. He was an impulse buy. He was nearly five, but green, and he was quite grumpy when I tried him. I suppose I was in the mood for some retail therapy and trusted Debra’s judgement.
I thought I had made a mistake at first – he was a handful. As soon as we got him home, he burst through our post and rail. One day, our postman found him in the front drive and, after about 20 minutes, managed to put him back in the field.
After a year, I thought that I needed to start eventing him, but did not feel terribly enthusiastic about it. By now, he was going well on the flat, but I had not taken him cross country and he was very spooky showjumping. Josh Ross Millar
was recommended to me. He took him straight out and had no fear – he was a very effective stunt pilot. His first event at Great Witchingham was entertaining – Patchy was particularly naughty in the showjumping – but it did not take long for Josh to have his first win. I decided to brave it, starting at BE80, and Patchy and I had our first win together the following year.
Patchy will be the last horse I event. I am proud of the fact that I have won a horse trial with all of my horses, but I’m too old to start again and do not want the pressure! I have no wish now to ride at Novice level. In my old age, I find it hard to be quick across country too, so I hope Esther will crack on with him once I have had enough.
Despite his cheekiness when I am on board, he is easy to look after – a gentleman in the stable and perfect to handle. I enjoy schooling him, which is just as well as I work every day – I am a lawyer specialising in financial provision on divorce, at Cozens-Hardy in Norwich – and, although I work part-time, I am lucky to get home by 4pm on week days. During the winter months, most of my riding is done after dark under floodlights in our arena.
Finishing on a high
I do have one more ambition as my family and friends are well aware. I would love to qualify for the Grassroots Championships at Badminton. I missed out on qualifying by the smallest margin last year, but I
feel that, if I don’t manage to qualify this autumn, I will probably accept it is not going to happen. I have carried on recently, competing in BE90 level to get regional final qualifications. This autumn, I have three chances, and will carry on at BE100s now. Patchy has won seven BE90 events, so I do feel he is a top Grassroots horse and has earned a shot at it.