Owner Karen Bartlett: “Eventing brings me such joy”
Eventing has opened so many doors for me; it’s been the most incredible addition to my life.
I accidentally fell into being an owner and I’m so grateful. Back in the 1980s, I was based at Waterstock and had a difficult horse, which Richard Walker began riding for me. He ended up taking that horse to Osberton and as an owner I was hooked.
I’ve known Yogi Breisner for 40 years and he introduced me to Laura Collett, who has ridden five horses for me including London 52, who was part of Team GB’s Olympic gold-medal-winning team.
I’ve also owned Calmaro, who I adored but sold to Joseph Murphy [one of Ireland’s leading event riders]. Joseph’s laidback style suits Calmaro so wonderfully and if I ever get to see him compete, it feels strange but lovely to know his new home suits him so well.
Laura rode Controe for me at 2* but the gelding’s heart just wasn’t in eventing. He was a beautiful jumper, so we made the decision to sell him on. He’s now with Harry Charles [British show jumper] and is doing incredibly well and has a home for life, which is so important to me.
Any owner will tell you the same thing: communication is key. Everyone wants the best thing for the horse, but there are different ways to get there and you need to be clear about what you’re looking for from your rider.
I’m lucky – Laura is wonderfully honest and will tell me exactly what she believes a horse is capable of. Sometimes things don’t go to plan. Both rider and owner need to be clear about their expectations and then you can’t go wrong.
For someone wanting to become an owner, you really do need to do your homework so there are no surprises, particularly around the cost. There is no doubt that eventing is an expensive sport to get involved in.
It’s wonderful to see more and more syndicates owning horses. Owning a horse with others means you’re all in it together and it brings a new dimension to the sport and your enjoyment of it. In a yard like Laura’s, all of the owners have become really good friends. At an event, there may only be two horses competing but there’s a cheering squad of 12.
I had always owned horses on my own until London 52 (Dan), who I own with Keith Scott and Laura. I can honestly say that owning a horse with someone you get on with is a joy. Not only does it make it much more affordable, especially if things go wrong, but it adds to the fun and enjoyment.
Keith and I didn’t really know each other before co-owning Dan. Laura introduced us when she was looking for owners. Keith already owned Mr Bass, which Laura rides, and I had Controe and Calmaro, but Laura knew us both and sensed that it could be a good partnership.
Dan is my only horse with Laura at present and he has gone from strength to strength. It’s never a straight line though, there are ups and downs and once a horse starts making a name for himself, every time you compete it’s very public. We went to the Europeans at Luhmühlen and Dan fell at one of the final cross country fences, catapulting Laura over his ears. It was her 30th birthday too, which was rotten. But the beauty of this sport is that you are always Team GB and everyone has good and bad rounds and shares their experience, uniting the team.
Laura went on to win 2020’s only 5* event in Pau on Dan, then, of course, they were selected for Tokyo’s Olympic Games.
When it came to the discussion about Tokyo and whether we should go, Keith and I had mixed feelings. Given the pandemic and how rife Covid seemed to be in Japan, we had misgivings, but when I spoke to Tracey, Laura’s mum who has become a good friend, she told me to seize the moment and go. After all, you never know if this opportunity would come around again. So, Keith and I agreed we would go and we spurred each other on if either of us had doubts.
We’d been to the Europeans together before, but with Covid restrictions, travelling to Tokyo was very different. It meant living in each others’ pockets for an intense week, but it really couldn’t have been a better experience.
The whole thing felt completely disconnected from real life – it was magical. Dan is my first horse to go 5* and while Pau was incredible, the Olympics took it to the next level. There is no bigger sporting event, after all.
Each to their own
Every owner is different. For some, they’re delighted to play a small role and step back, leaving the rider and their team to get on with it. However, I absolutely love being involved. I’m really hands-on and happy to do anything that will help, from washing the horse down to putting up poles and watching lessons taking place. The key is to be clear from the outset how involved you want to be.
Both Keith and I enjoy going to the big events to watch Dan perform and Laura always factors that into her plans for the season. Our plans include elements that matter to us all, including Laura, and this is what works for us.