8 months ago



EXTRAORDINARY AMATEURS ‘It’s all planned minute by minute’ Andrea Oakes meets the extraordinary amateur riders who flit seamlessly between their wildly different lives, to find out how they juggle their high-powered careers with riding and competing like I lead two different lives,” says Sharon Polding, referring to her frankly aweinspiring double identity. “IT’S There’s corporate Sharon, travelling worldwide as a global client director for Vodafone. Then there’s competitor Sharon, who last year earned a Union flag with a place on the British team at the amateur European Eventing Championships in Belgium. Only her husband Robert and six-year-old daughter Poppy, at home in Kent, see this real-world superhero switch seamlessly between characters. Like many extraordinary amateur riders, her approach is nothing short of professional. She manages her schedule with military precision — starting with a crack-of-dawn alarm call and finishing late each night on the yard. “I’m lucky to have a job with some flexibility,” admits Sharon, who frequently flies to Germany, Paris and New York. “If I’m working from home, I might call Australia at 6am, making more calls in the evening. Another day I’ll spend an hour on the train to the London office, or three hours on the road to headquarters in Newbury.” Work commitments mean that Sharon competes just one horse at high level, Findonfirecracker. She was there when “Dizzy” was born and they’ve since climbed the international ladder together. “I’d had other good horses at two-star, but Dizzy has taken me that extra step,” says Sharon of the mare she calls “a quirky old cow”. “We did Bramham CIC3* last year and were one of only seven combinations to produce a double clear at Blenheim CCI3*,” she adds. Sharon regularly questions her hectic lifestyle. Times are particularly tough at the moment, since the family’s house burnt down while they were at Olympia Horse Show in December. “I’m knackered most of the time,” she says. “I don’t go out much and I had to buy an extra week’s annual leave for a family holiday, as I’d used all mine up competing. But horses are how I de-stress — while I love being in London and taking clients out, I’m happiest at the yard, playing with the horses.” Sharon lacked the finances to follow her dreams of being a professional event rider, so at 19 she started working in the City to fund her hobby. Over nearly three decades she has honed the art of combining a career with competition. “I’m a big one for core fitness, especially now that Dizzy is at this level, and couldn’t be without my horse walker,” she says. “I also have a girl who hacks her out a couple of times a week. “Otherwise, it’s about making do with the Picture by Alamy Stock Photo 32 Horse & Hound 8 February 2018

time I have — and being incredibly organised,” adds Sharon, who has received “invaluable” training and support from the Mark Todd Bridging The Gap initiative. “I plan the season in advance, as most of our competitions now involve weekdays, and I particularly enjoy residential camps as I can totally immerse myself in horses. “My current boss went to the World Championships to do kickboxing, so he understands the pressures of training.” THESE early-morning activities are not unusual. By 5.30am, Emily Green is on a horse at a Surrey livery yard — and she’s not alone. “There’ll be a few of us riding at that time, so there’s always someone to hack out with or to cast an eye over me in the school,” she says. “I’m lucky to have super-flexible trainers who are willing to get up early to teach.” Emily’s day gathers pace as she drives through rush-hour traffic back home to Parsons Green in west London, before commuting by tube for a further hour. After four years as a corporate lawyer in the city, finishing somewhere between 10pm and midnight every night, she soon starts a new job as a legal counsel with HSBC in Canary Wharf — with the prospect of slightly more sensible hours. Why does she put herself through this punishing regime? “Horses are my therapy before sitting in an office all day,” she says. “I didn’t start riding until I was at law school then bought my first horse shortly before taking on my first job as a solicitor. It’s what motivates me and keeps me sane, paying for the horses and planning the next competition.” Emily evented her Irish gelding Beg To Differ up to BE90. While he steps down to do some unaffiliated dressage, she has just taken a share in Sarah Gledhill’s thoroughbred mare, Queen B. The mind boggles at how she will fit another horse into her day. “It’s all planned minute by minute,” she explains. “The challenge is never the getting out of bed, because I want to do it, but balancing each horse’s exercise routine. It’s in the diary that they’ll hack and school so many times each week, otherwise it’s too easy to say, ‘I’ll just lunge today’. “It’s all about efficiency,” she adds. “I know, for example, that I need 12 minutes between arriving at the yard and getting on a horse, and I have my warm-up time programmed on my phone. I don’t particularly love the fact that there’s no fussing, but fitting things in is a fine art.” Emily’s secret weapon is a “buddy system” (see box, p34), a network of contacts she can text in times of need. “Every couple of months, you panic and realise you can’t do it all,” she says. “But having a hobby is important, otherwise it can become all about work.” CORA KWIATKOWSKI, a divisional director at Bristol-based architectural practice Stride Treglown, rides mornings or evenings — sometimes both. “I plan a week ahead to make time, treating each riding session like a meeting,” says Cora, who has a retired showjumper, a mini Shetland and the loan of dressage horse Cool Customer III (Troy). “It can be tempting not to bother after a 12-hour day but I commit to ride, whatever the weather.” Cora makes work calls as she drives to the office after morning stables, using the shower facilities there to freshen up. “It’s important not to go in smelling of horses,” she says, recommending a good pair of gloves for every yard job. “My time-saving advice is not to chat — people at the yard know that I’m running about in the mornings. “I’m not usually home before 9pm, when I have something to eat and the day is over,” adds Cora. “I’ll occasionally go out and meet friends, or visit an art exhibition or the theatre. It’s like a normal life, but scaled down.” This relentless routine is a choice, she says, and benefits both work and performance. “You want to be at the top of your game when you go out and compete, so I schedule shows early and they serve as a target,” explains Cora, who recently rode her first prix st georges test. “My job doesn’t suffer, as I put in long hours to get it done, and I’m more focused on

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