Grabbing the mane chance

A holiday or a horse – quite a choice! But for Irish-born Mary Abrams – who taught herself to ride as a teenager and is a recent winner at the prestigious Horse of the Year Show, it was easy. She chose horse - and that decision 30 years ago has marked out her life ever since. Now in Longridge, she told her story to GILLIAN WHALLEY.

THERE is no great tradition of 'being horsey' in Mary Abrams family, although her mother did have a pony when she was a child, and Mary is the only one of three sisters who was ever interested.

"But," she says "when I was a teenager I met someone who had a pony they'd outgrown and taught myself to ride on it. I did some local jumping and gymkhana competitions with him before moving from Ireland to England – and then did nothing more until my late twenties."

Once settled in Keighley in Yorkshire, she answered an advert asking for someone to help with two young horses. She recalls "My husband was away singing that weekend (he used to be a folk singer) and I had stayed at home with the dogs. So when he returned I had a 'new' hobby, though he always knew I was 'horse mad'!"

More skills were learnt as she competed and showed working hunters. But the owner of the two horses died, then – and without Mary knowing - the animals were sold and again she found herself doing nothing for a while. That was until she and husband David, who always knew she wanted her own horse, decided to look for a place with land.

"Again," Mary remembers with a hint of mischief "he was away singing. When he returned I had our house up for sale! I'd found a nearly derelict place with five acres coming up for auction. We moved in to one room in October 1977 and then learned a lot of new skills whilst doing up the house! "

The following year saw the birth of son Nicholas, the family went with some friends to York Bloodstock Sales…and it was then that 'The Choice' was put to Mary when David said either they could go on holiday or she could buy a horse.

That's how they came to buy Emerald Echo (Emma), a very pretty two year old thoroughbred mare who had raced four times. Mary remembers "The auctioneer found someone to transport her home for me. We weren't set up for a horse but very quickly got a 'stable' sorted in the barn. So I had horse, baby, full time job and was doing an OU degree in my own time plus still renovating the house!. It was a case of book in one hand and horse in the other as I started competing again and joined the Haworth and Oxenhope Bridleways Group."

Life then took on quite a pace as Mary decided to breed from Emma with the stallion 'down the road', a Cleveland bay called Knaresborough Warlock. In 1982 a filly, Breeze, was born, then a few years later Emma went to a pony club home, Mary broke Breeze and joined Aire Valley Riding Club.

"When I could afford it, which wasn't very often, I would go to talks and demonstrations and have an occasional lesson - but Breeze turned out to be a star. She excelled at everything we did including when, in the 90's, I decided to try side saddle (to look elegant).

"She was brilliant at that too, every year qualifying for the national championships and always being placed.. Following this I took up dressage, again Breeze was brilliant qualifying to be placed in the national championships. Also at this time I was having side saddle and dressage lessons as often as I could."

The Abrams family had moved around buying and selling property landing eventually in Hebden Bridge until almost seven years ago when, as David and Mary worked in Bolton and Heysham respectively, they moved to be nearer their workplaces and settled in Longridge.

In that time, Mary had bred from Breeze who later brought Kipper into the world…the fine grandson of that first choice, Emerald Echo - 'Emma' – and destined to be a star qualifier for the Horse of the Year Show last month and eventual winner of the Riding Club Show Horse section.

Describing his route there, a delighted Mary explains "In the past Kipper has spent more time on the 'sick list' than the 'work list' due to a range of illnesses and injuries. When we've gone on holiday if he's been in work when we go, I've usually come back to him out of work.

"I decided to enter him in the Search For A Star qualifier at Osbaldeston in May – just to see how he did. However, we were away in April to early May for four weeks and the entry had to go in before I went, so I kept my fingers crossed he'd be sound when I returned. Kipper and his mum Breeze went on livery to Richard Barton who I have jumping lessons with at Osbaldeston.

"Thankfully,. Kipper was sound, we went to Search For A Star and Kipper was really good. In that class the horse has to be able to do everything. So I had to give an individual show (not dressage, a showing show), jump, lead him out in hand and the ride judge rode him. The judge commented 'well, someone's done a good job on this horse' - I was really proud!

"Then we went to a HOYS training day for Search For A Star winners at Arena UK and got a lot of help and advice from Richard Ramsey and David Bartram who were the judges of all the qualifiers throughout the country, but not the judges at HOYS.

"And then I was even prouder with our success at the Horse of the Year event, winning the Riding Club Show Horse for which we got a plaque, a sash and a rosette."

Now a regular competitor at Myerscough and Osbaldeston, Mary is also a member of the Northern Dressage Group, Blackpool and Fylde Horse Club and Longton Riding Club, and she has represented NDG and Blackpool at dressage and showing championships

Away from the world of horse, both Mary and David – who is a former folk singer - support the Longridge Folk Club at the Royal British Legion Club, while David is a governor at St Cecilia's Maths and Computing College in the town.

And what of the future? Mary has several choice routes to take as she contemplates this, and says thoughtfully – "Well, I've just bought a new saddle specifically for jumping and I hope to do more show jumping over the winter.

"Kipper shows a talent for working hunter so we'll do more of that. I intend to continue with jumping and flatwork plus dressage training sessions. Then next spring, I shall probably register Kipper and show him as a Riding Horse at county level…and, maybe we shall qualify for HOYS again!"