Meet A Treccie - Sarah Thurnell

Sarah's story

Meet a Treccie - Sarah Thurnell

Back in the spring of 2000, I came across a magazine article about Le TREC, a new sport brought to Britain from France by the British Horse Society.  At the time I was competing on my grey part bred Welsh pony, Walbro Lucky Jim in unaffiliated one day events, showing and working hunter pony.  He was very talented, but as he was a mere 13 hands and I was already over 18, we kept finding we could not enter various events due to restrictions on adults riding ponies.  Le TREC sounded interesting, as no such restrictions existed.   I was a bit dubious about the standing-still-for-10-seconds-without-your-rider-bit  (I now know this as Immobility), as Jim was renown for legging it if you let go of him in the yard or forgot to bolt his stable door!  However the rules of TREC meant you were not eliminated if you couldn’t do something, so we thought we would have a go.  Searching for events that season, I discovered they were few and far between.  The nearest competition to my West Yorkshire home was two hours away, at Flash near Buxton in Derbyshire.  Training days were non-existent, so we booked our stable and B&B on site and entered the Level 1 Individual.  It was a flaming June weekend, with temperatures up to 32c.  Fortunately Flash is the highest village in England, so we had a welcome breeze all weekend.  After a helpful briefing from the Kendricks on the Friday night, we were ready for the POR.  One minute after entering the map room, I was already learning.  My fat fluorescent marker pen was a LOT thicker than the delicate line drawn on the map for the intended route!  I then dropped my ’map case’ (a plastic A4 sleeve) and realised I needed to buy a proper one with a neck cord, as I chased it down the bridlepath.  We had a very enjoyable ride in stunning scenery, even using my new compass once to decide where to go at a confusing road junction.  I was in 5th place when the scores came out, and walked the course for the PTV, round the trekking centre’s fields.  We’d done a little bit of practice using the obstacle dimensions for the BHS TREC rulebook, and Jimmy loved his first PTV, scoring 146 points.  To my amazement, we finished first overall, and I was hooked!  Looking back at my scoresheet from this event, there are some familiar names in the various classes, including Mary, Anna and Sally Weston, Alison Elmer and Cath Cromarty!

I did four more competitions that year, including a very soggy Pairs only competition near Blackburn where it rained all day, we got very lost and my Pair took the wrong course on the PTV.  The highs and lows of TREC!  Soon after this I persuaded my old friend Natalie Allen (now Chandler) to join up with me, and this started a very successful Pairs career.  We managed to win the English Championships in 2001, as well as being placed 2nd several times including the GB Championships, often behind the mother/daughter pairing of Mary Weston and Anna Weston.  In 2002 and 2003 I did both individual and pairs classes, winning the Level 2 Individual League (beating a new rider called Hilary Barnard…) as well as being 3rd with Natalie at the GBs in Caernarvon and doing my first Level 3 classes.  Jimmy continued to score consistently on the PTV, achieving 15 perfect 10’s at the Brackenhurst Championships in 2002.   I also started bringing on a younger Welsh pony, a very nervous dun called Brilyn Bashful Barney.  I also competed occasionally as a pair with my twin sister Fiona, but her main interest lay with showing and dressage so I mostly got the benefit of her schooling expertise while I preferred map reading and hacking. When Natalie’s horse Henry retired from competition I paired up with Sarah Constantine, with her homebred horse Chester.  Barney and Chester won the Scottish Championships in 2004, and when Jimmy died suddenly a week later my youngster Barney had to quickly grow up to fill his shoes.  I carried on doing both Level 3 pairs plus individual classes at Level 3 and 4.  I lost my first Level 4 win when miles ahead by an error of course on the PTV, not the only time I would make this mistake!!   With Sarah’s assistance we organised the British Championships at Oasby in Lincolnshire, and I continued organising and TDing competitions when not riding.  In 2003 I had helped found the White Horse TREC Group, and this took up lots of my spare time.  I also changed jobs, having been made redundant from HSBC bank I started a new career with the NHS ambulance service.  Initially I was taking 999 calls, involving delivering babies or CPR instructions over the phone, and then moving into being a Dispatch Officer sending out ambulances, doctors and helicopters to emergencies.  Not a bad job for someone who loves looking at maps, although the technology is a bit more advanced than a photocopy of an Ordnance Survey map nowadays.  It always helps to understand grid references though!

When Sarah moved into affiliated eventing, I managed to find myself a Weston to pair up with, and Helen Weston (now Martin) and Barley joined up with us, after we had both been individually long listed for the GB team for the2006 European TREC Championships.  We won the GB Championships together, as well as the 2007 Welsh Championships at Chris Paine’s farm, probably one of my most favourite PTV courses to ride.  When Helen became a mother and was competing less I continued to do some individual classes as well as organising the 2008 GB Championships at Bakewell with Hils Stephens.  In 2009 a chance conversation led to me pairing up with Gwen Bastian from Ireland, lending her our piebald cob Humbug.  After one qualifying outing, we travelled to Scotland for a rather wet GB Championships, where our ponies excelled themselves and we managed to win the Level 3 Pairs.  The following year Gwen invited me to the Irish Championships being held in County Galway, where I along with several other Brits hired a mount from the riding centre venue.  I rode a sweet but rather quick grey Connemara x Arab.  As with just about everything in Ireland he was for sale, but I didn’t need another pony, I had Barney back home in England winning regularly.  However in September 2011 I returned to Ireland, where Wooda was still at the riding school with a reduced price thanks to the recession.  I handed over the cash and Wooda came home to England in Ian Macalindin’s horsebox to start his new life as a professional TREC pony.  Since then he has gone from strength to strength, giving me my long awaited first Level 4 win at Prestwold in 2013 and becoming 2015 British Champion at Level 3.  Barney is also still competing when he gets a look in, and loves TREC as much as ever.  He was placed 2nd at the GBs in 2012 (beaten a single point) and Fiona rode him to 4th place in a massive Level 2 class in the 2013 Championships. He hates indoor competitions though, his spooky nature means he sees monsters everywhere despite his vast experience. In 2015 I  joined the Board of TREC GB as a Deputy Rep and continue to organise TREC competitions on behalf of White Horse TREC Group. Roll on 2016!

Favourite POR venue:  Cannock Chase

Favourite PTV course:  Bryn Sion, Wales

Favourite PTV obstacle:  Rein Back and Bending (Barney), Maypole and Ridden Corridor (Wooda), S-Bend and Gate (Jimmy)

Most useful piece of TREC kit:  My Stowaway pommel saddle bags from Performance Equestrian

Biggest TREC influence:  Rob Jones

Best piece of POR advice:  Don’t worry about the speed, get the direction right!

Worst habit at TREC:  Forgetting the PTV course

Motto:  Every point counts (so try to ride for each one). 

Favourite food:  Pizza

Favourite drink: Cider

Favourite POR snacks:  Jelly babies and Lucozade Sport drinks

Favourite riding holiday destination:  The Cotswolds




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