Area Festival riders stories

Competing in Area Festivals is achievable for riders and horses from all backgrounds and experience.

2017 Adam Fanthorpe Photos DSC 7500

Read some of our inspiring riders' stories as they share with us their own personal journeys to competing in an Area Festival.

Wendy Garratt and Crystal

Before taking up the reins of her daughter, Sophie’s horse, Crystal, Wendy hadn’t ridden for over 20 years. Lacking confidence in her jumping ability, she decided to give dressage a go, competing in local competitions at Intro level. After being encouraged to give Team Quest a go, Wendy’s confidence grew and she decided to give The Petplan Equine Area Festivals a try.

Sadly, in November 2016, everything changed for Wendy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer which required surgery and radiotherapy.   To give her a focus and something to aim for, she decided to plan her competitions in-between treatments, to try and qualify for the Area Festivals and Qualify she did! Wendy took part in her first ever Area Festival at Moreton Morrell in 2017 competing at Prelim level. The pair were placed in the top ten and went on to compete in the then Area Festival Finals at Fieldhouse in September 2017, where Crystal produced a beautiful test qualifying them for the Championships at Hartpury. An incredible achievement.  

The family sadly lost Crystal a year later and Wendy chose that time to hang up her boots as she didn’t want to carry on without her companion. However, with support from her friends and family, Wendy found Thelma and after quite an emotional rollercoaster and a few false starts due to COVID, the pair now have their sights set on competing in their first Area Festival together in May this year. “We miss Crystal greatly, but Thelma has really helped me enjoy competing again and hopefully we will be able to step up to Elementary in the not-too-distant future.”

Elisabeth Leslie and Kiwi

Four years ago, British Dressage rider and trainer Elisabeth suffered a serious riding accident after falling from a client’s horse. Requiring a spinal fusion to help heal her broken back, Elisabeth said she would never ride again. With the help of her supportive friends and family and her particularly special horse, Kiwi, Elisabeth decided to get back on and make the Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships her aim. Elisabeth qualified for the 2020 Medium Bronze Championship.

Commenting that she owes her life to the NHS, Elisabeth was in surgery for eight hours and required a spinal fusion over five vertebrates. Considering herself lucky to be alive, it really made her re-evaluate life. After watching from the side-lines and plodding about around the lanes on her ex-racer, Elisabeth decided to get back on in an arena and try and combat the fear she had been left with. Knowing she needed the right horse to take her to the Championships, she found Kiwi through a good friend.

Since then, Kiwi and Elisabeth have risen through the levels and after taking part in the rescheduled Petplan Equine Area Festival Championships last year, the pair have qualified for the Advanced Medium Bronze and are keeping their fingers crossed they will be able to compete in May. “Never a day goes by without me realising how lucky I am that Kiwi has landed in my stable and is loved as a treasured member of our family!”

Emily Wallace and Brooke
“I purchased my little 14hh Irish chestnut mare Brooke at the end of June last year. Having known of her with her previous owner, I knew she had successfully competed in the Working Hunter classes at HOYS, Royal International and Royal Highland, however she had never been in a dressage area before I got her. I knew she was a particularly hot horse, so I took a gamble on her and bought her as a fun all-rounder, hoping I could have fun in some dressage competitions down the line.”

“After a few months of winding her down and concentrating on our flat work I took her to her first unaffiliated show with no expectations. What we achieved was beyond my wildest dreams and we came home with a win and a 2nd place with both scores over 70%. I took the plunge and decided to register her with British Dressage and she did a fab first outing and won her section!”

“We’ve managed to qualify for three Petplan Equine Area Festivals at Prelim. I literally can’t believe how she’s enjoying her new career and how much fun we have. She still can be spooky and not always the easiest of rides, but we can’t wait to strut down the centre line!”

Sheryl Buckley and Floyd

“I bought Floyd (Glantraeth Special Trooper) at only 21 months old. Unfortunately, being a little naive in relation to bringing on a young horse I quickly lost my confidence handling him on the ground - he was strong, bolshy and spooky. I was doing a PhD and was absolutely convinced I was going to break both my arms backing him, so, I left him until he was six (and I safely had the PhD and both arms!). He proved quite sharp under saddle, which meant we spent the first couple of years pottering about.

In the February of 2017, I decided to give dressage a go at unaffiliated level. It was a local competition, and I chose to start at Intro. As I trotted up the centre line, I just lost my nerve - not a nerve of falling off, but a nerve of not being good enough. I retired about two minutes in, much to the Judge’s dismay.”

A turbulent few years followed for Sheryl and Floyd, including a few more dressage outings at Intro level. They worked on Floyd’s confidence with loading and unfortunately a change of yards left them both feeling quite unsettled. In May 2018, Sheryl took Floyd to a camp where he suffered with colic and was hospitalised. Shortly after, Sheryl was in hospital herself with severe stomach issues, fibromyalgia and ME.

However, things changed and in 2020 Sheryl decided to start having regular lessons and began competing once again. “We cracked Floyd’s erratic canter and started doing Novice unaffiliated. In the back of my mind, I had always wanted to try British Dressage, but that same inferiority complex crept in again. Encouraged by my friend, I decided to join. My first test was in October 2020 where we achieved 67% in my Prelim test - I cried and I realised I might have a shot of qualifying for the Area Festivals.”

“By the end of December 2020, with yet another lockdown looming and no qualification periods left, I entered two competitions - one on 27 Dec 20 miles away in a venue we’d never been to. Floyd was so spooky on the day but apart from a buck right at the judges box, we scored 69%, meaning we’d qualified. I cannot wait to take part.”