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Charlotte is family’s next generation of equestrian success

20 Oct 2016

FROM first being put on a pony as a toddler, Charlotte Martin was perhaps destined for success in the saddle, benefiting from the expertise of two great teachers – her mum Clare, and a skewbald Shetland called Hercules.
“He was my first pony and he taught me how to ride. Through him I learned to be strong, doing gymkhanas, show-jumping, showing and falling off. I got him when I was three and he taught me everything,” says Charlotte, now 15.
Since then the Barnard Castle School pupil has gone on to make regular appearances at some of the most prestigious competitions in the country, winning three National Championship titles on the family’s 13.2hh pony Brookfarm Heaven Scent and has just achieved one of her biggest successes to date at the Horse of the Year Show on her own pony Solaris Dwenqua.
Charlotte not only came joint third out of 72 competitors across four classes for non-native coloured ponies despite being one of the youngest riders, but was also the highest placed junior and the highest placed amateur in her section. Skewbald Dwenqua received the highest confirmation title based on a physical assessment by the judges and, together, they were the highest placed home-produced combination.
Charlotte has had seven-year-old Dwenqua for three years. Her arrival in Stainton, near Barnard Castle, was a generous surprise for the teenager. Bred in Scotland, the 15hh pony was with owners near London at the time, but having seen and fallen in love with her, Clare and Charlotte’s dad Glen drove to the capital to collect her.
“I had no idea,” says Charlotte. “I thought they’d gone out to a ball, but when I woke up the next morning she was there in the stable. Mum and dad had driven through the night to bring her home. It was the best day ever.”
Dwenqua, however, was inexperienced when it came to ridden showing, the discipline favoured by Charlotte in competitions where she has both to ride the pony with the whole class, perform an individual display then show the pony in-hand without a saddle.
“She hadn’t done anything so we took her right back to the beginning and let her try a bit of everything, which is important,” explains Charlotte, who is a member of Barnard Castle and Teesdale Riding Club.
“I took her to the club summer camp which is a great experience as you do everything there, from dressage to jumping, cross country and hacking with other horses and ponies.
“She turned out to be a very good all-rounder and puts in 100 per cent all the time, she just loves it.”
There are 18 hotly contested opportunities throughout the country to qualify for the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) but only the winner from each makes it to the final.
“This year was going to be our novice year but we ended up coming second at our first qualifier in Harrogate, then fifth out of 27 in Essex and then at our third competition in the Midlands we won, which was amazing,” explain Charlotte.
As a rider she had qualified for HOYS last year on another owner’s pony but in the end wasn’t able to ride due to the pony being injured a week before the show.
“I was very nervous this time because I wanted it to go perfectly but I needn’t have worried as Dwenqua was incredible, she was foot-perfect.
“There were lots of people supporting me in the crowd and encouraging to me to keep smiling. It was in the morning and with the black curtain and spotlights it was as if we were in our own performance.”
Earlier in the summer, Charlotte enjoyed major success on Dwenqua winning the prestigious £1,000 Janus Supreme Champion Ridden Coloured Horse of the Year at Arena UK, in Grantham.  It is a special class where the competitors must have won champion or reserve champion at a very high level show.
“One of the judges turned out to be the Queen’s stud groom, Terry Pendry. It was a huge honour to win under him. He was quoted in Horse & Hound magazine as saying how he loved the pony’s elevation and cadence from the moment she entered the ring, how she was well balanced through all her transitions and her performance was outstanding.
“He personally told me how he would follow our progress as he felt we had a very promising future.  Overall it’s been a very successful year for us,” she adds.
Non-native coloured ponies are fine legged with shorter and finer coats than the traditional breeds of skewbald and piebald animals and now have their own classes at prestigious shows thanks to a pioneer of the horse world. Merrigan was a horse bred by Clare Martin and her late first husband, the National Hunt jockey Alan Merrigan, who died in a road accident in 1994.
Following his death, Clare was determined to train the horse and, in true National Velvet style, he not only went on to be the first coloured horse to win at The Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead but also became the first skewbald to win a riding horse class there too. He also won the Coloured Horse & Pony Championship at HOYS in 2003 as well as many other prestigious shows like The Royal, The Royal Highland and The Great Yorkshire.
Merrigan, who died three years ago, lives on in the name of the Martins’ private stud, which they run, with help from Pauline Rowntree, of Barnard Castle, in their spare time – Clare from her job as a higher level teaching assistant at a Yorkshire Dales primary school and Glen as a health and safety manager at a Darlington packaging company.
Merrigan’s sister is producing most of the Merrigan family descendants, but the Martins have plans to produce more ponies from the stock named after him.
“It’s even more rewarding and means so much more if you’ve bred and trained a pony who goes on to be successful,” says Charlotte, who is herself coached by dressage rider Heidi Hutchinson, which means travelling to York every week, a commitment she fits in around school and homework.
“The teachers at Barnard Castle School are really supportive, and I couldn’t ask for better parents. They are amazing. Mum and dad never pushed me, but are willing to do whatever we need to do to get better.”
Charlotte adds: “I’ve learned through lots of lessons and watching my parents, friends and people like Olympic gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin and applying what I’ve seen.
“I’ve suddenly got a lot of confidence and am happy to ride anything. That’s where you really learn, being sensitive to an individual pony and responding to their differences.”
Already selected to compete for British Young Riders Dressage Team, Charlotte is hoping to move up the rankings even further with Solaris Dwenqua.
“I would love to get to HOYS again and move up to win it. To repeat what Merrigan achieved would be the dream.
“My goal is to be the best rider I can be; to get to the Olympics would be amazing but there are people who are better than me at the moment, like Lucinda Elliott who rode Brookfarm Heaven Scent for us when she was a youngster and rides with Charlotte Dujardin.
“Just to know someone who’s doing that well is an inspiration because it shows me just what might be possible.”