The Decade in Review: Growing Up and Glowing Up

One of the earliest images in our archives is this, which truly sums up early 2010s trends, doesn’t it?

And so we come to the closing of a year and the end of another decade – things sure have changed a lot around here since Eventing Nation was born at the beginning of it. But it’s not just EN that’s gone through a major cycle of growth – it’s been a huge ten years for its readers, too.

We asked you to send in your own tales of transformation over the last ten years and boy, did you deliver. From heartbreaking and re-making stories of overcoming injury, loss, and mental health wobbles to gorgeous – and, okay, sometimes hilarious – human and equine glow-ups, we’ve loved reading every single one of your submissions. Now, we want to share some of our favourites – get ready to be inspired for your own decade of transformation ahead.

Fighting Through and Thriving

This has been a funny old paradox of a decade – sure, we’re all embroiled in political turmoil up to our eyeballs, regardless of location or leanings, but on the flip side, we’ve all learned an enormous amount about the nuances of human nature. Discussions about mental health, identity, and acceptance are at the forefront more than ever before, and with them, we’ve created a safe place to talk about the wobbly bits in life. Sometimes, that can be the catalyst for some incredible positive change, and we are here for it.

Several of you submitted stories that made us pause and reflect on the bits none of us tend to broadcast – the tumbling lows, a pervasive darkness that won’t bugger off from whence it came, and the huge hurdles that can appear from nowhere and change the path of life forever. But what struck us is the fighting spirit conveyed within – the grit and gumption to keep on keeping on. To those of you who overcame the odds this decade, we offer a salute. To those of you who are battling your own demons, whatever form they may take, let this show you that there is always a light.

From two decades out of the saddle to top ten in an event: not a shabby way to wrap up the 2010s. Photos courtesy of Rachel Thomas.

Rachel Thomas showed just what ten years of determination can accomplish with her story:

“There are no photos of me [from 2010], because I was ashamed of who I was,” she tells EN. “What I looked like, what I did … everything. I was in the middle of terrible, awful, horrible black depression. I don’t remember 6 months of my life because I was too busy trying to stay alive and look after my son who was a toddler. I had lost who I was. In 2011, I had a baby. My daughter helped pull me out of my black hole – but all I was was their Mum. In 2012, I had a chance opportunity to deliver something and visit a mate. There, I met her retrained racehorses and this sowed a seed of something in the back of my mind.”

That seed would have to wait, though.

“I was ill all through the winter of 2013,” says Rachel. “I got sick at Halloween, and didn’t recover until Easter. Steroids, inhalers, more steroids, more inhalers. By this time, I was hugely overweight and unfit.”

The next two years would see Rachel rediscover her passion for horses: “I realised that I wanted to learn to ride a horse in 2014. Like … properly. Not just sitting there. By this time it was 15 years since I had been dumped by Sebastian the Appaloosa pony at Wellington Riding and had not bothered to get back in the saddle,” she says. But there was one obstacle: she was still unfit. Throughout 2015 Rachel, who started the year as a UK size 20 (US 16), lost over 65 pounds, motivated by the smaller-sized breeches she’d bought as a statement of intent. The next year, the svelte size 10 (US 6) would run the London Marathon, receive an influential ADHD diagnosis, and like many of us, would mourn the passing of young Hannah Francis.

“I kicked myself that I had now wasted 17 years, and booked in for trial lesson at local riding school. The jodhs were too big – my hat fitted though!”

In 2016, Rachel would sit on a horse for the first time in nearly two years. Within a year, she would buy her own horse, and within two, she would jump around her first event, completing the Willberry Wobbleberry Challenge (aimed at “wimpy, middle-aged riders” aiming for BE80/Beginner Novice level) at Tweseldown, finishing in the top ten. This year, the newly-minted eventer left her job to work full-time with horses.

“I feel like I’ve won the lottery,” she says. “I’m so happy now compared to how I entered the decade, and I feel pathetically grateful for every single moment I spend with my wonderful horses. I have found lifelong friends, and am stupidly in love with my little life.”

Sometimes, it’s about taking the bad and turning it into something better than you could have imagined. Photos courtesy of Cara VL.

It’s been a decade of rebuilding for Cara VL, who started 2010 in a grungy loft in downtown after losing her job and her house in the recession. But a chance encounter would change everything.

“I took a job as a carriage driver after getting stuck behind one,” she explains. “That job allowed me to be around horses after not riding for a decade and a half. It made me realize owning and riding a horse as an adult was actually an option.”

Fast-forward ten years, and Cara is now the ‘proud mama’ to two lovely mares and made her eventing debut this year. And even better:

“Remember that grungy loft? It was full of artists. I left corporate for good to paint horses as my occupation.”

Planning ahead for the best decade yet. Photo courtesy of Jan Snead.

Let it never be said that Jan Snead isn’t a seriously tough cookie. In 2010, she was recovering from her third spinal surgery, and she would spend much of the year in physical therapy, relearning how to walk.

“I walked with a cane and had been told that wheelchair time was a probability,” she tells us. “I returned to college to change careers, from dental hygienist to accountant as my back would not allow me to continue in dentistry. I had stopped riding years before; never did I think I would ride again.”

But – spoiler alert! – she would.

“This year I purchased my heart horse, an off-the-track Thoroughbred. Together we are learning dressage, and we will begin competing in 2020. There are no limits to what we can achieve.”

An early love of horses became a beacon of hope for Jessica Kroposky Fischer’s daughter, pictured here in 2012 with Jessica’s retired eventer…

Now, she’s looking ahead to her own competitive debut. Photos courtesy of Jessica Kroposky Fischer.

Jessica Kroposky Fischer began the 2010s in a way that no parent wants to – rushing back and forth to the hospital with a very sick baby, who had to be fitted with a nasogastric tube to provide nourishment. But all the worry and the work was worth it: now, Jessica’s gorgeous daughter, who enjoyed pony rides on her mother’s retired Thoroughbred, has an OTTB of her own. Watch out for their eventing debut in 2020.

The Glow-Ups

A physical transformation isn’t just limited to riders (or their eyebrows – because let’s be real, we’re all still trying to grow out the over-plucking of the mid-2000s). You sent in plenty of equine glow-ups too, showing exactly what a decade of progress – and sometimes, a change of discipline – looks like.

From foal to fabulous. Photos courtesy of Aidan Hutchinson.

Aidan Hutchinson shared these sweet photos of her Thoroughbred x Paint mare, who was born in 2010 and closed out the decade by competed at the 2019 American Eventing Championships in Kentucky. And in between? “A lot of life happened – two human babies for me, a check ligament surgery, and a PSSM diagnosis for her. She has the heart of an upper-level horse, but not the body – I never thought I’d ride through the Head of the Lake [pictured]!”

Sometimes all it takes is a shake-up to change everything. Photos courtesy of Elaina Anglin.

In 2010, Elaina Anglin‘s Appendix Quarter Horse Wingman was six years old and “mediocre at best at his intended career as a barrel horse – he spent most of his time going on long trail rides.”

Elaine decided to see if the gelding would take to jumping – and as it turns out, he did. Now Junior, as he’s known at home, has extensive mileage at the Preliminary (BE Novice) level, has jumped around two-stars, and still enjoys the odd tackless jumping session.

From 2010…

…to 2019. Photos courtesy of Paige Thompson.

A then-12-year-old Paige Thompson ushered in the start of the decade jumping around her first mini-trials with her four-year-old Quarter Horse, Cole. In 2014, the duo would compete in their first CCI2*-L, finishing on their dressage score. Since then, they’ve helped launch the University of Louisville eventing team, picked up fourth place at the AECs, and made the move up to Intermediate. And yes, that’s the same horse in both photos!

The comeback queen: from making it happen at BN after 25 years away…

…to looking like she’d never left in 2019. Photos courtesy of Melanie Helms.

Melanie Helms didn’t let 25 years out of the saddle stop her from taking the eventing world by storm this decade. After going to medical school, completing two residencies, and committing wholeheartedly to her role as an anaesthesiologist, then-47-year-old Melanie returned to the sport in 2009 with draft-cross Sammy D. Together, they stormed around the Beginner Novice (BE80) level, never finishing out of the prizes – and that, Melanie thought, was where she’d stay.

But fast-forward to 2019: 57-year-old Melanie and her American Warmblood R Pair A Dice are smashing it at Training level (BE100), picking up plenty of prizes along the way.

“Never in 2009 did I think I’d be here,” she tells us.

Five-star in the ’20s? Anything can happen! Photos courtesy of Wendy Ott.

Maddie Cracknell started her decade as a five-year-old doing the walk/trot classes at Upperville Horse Show, and finished it riding around the American Eventing Championships.

“She finally got her diagonals figured out,” quips Wendy Ott.

It’s a long wait – but it’s worth it. Photos courtesy of Alexis Baker.

“In 2010 we had bred what I hoped to be my upper level horse. A decade later we finally moved up to Preliminary,” says Alexis Baker. “The wait is soooo long, but I have a great partner and it’s so much fun to compete on one you bred and started yourself!”

Learning to leave the ground with Ben in 2010…

…and flying Air Peach around the 1.05m jumpers at Hickstead in 2019. Photos courtesy of Sophie Evans/Spidge Photography.

As the summer of 2010 began, Sophie Evans‘ dreams came true: she was finally a horse owner. Nearly ten years later Sophie, who has since worked as a travelling eventing groom and the head girl of a busy competition yard, is planning her first FEI event. The secret? Hard work and big dreams.

From the trails to the top. Photos courtesy of Jadyn Silver.

As the decade began, you could likely find Jadyn Silver on the trails – she and her aging Appaloosa were out and about six days a week. But in 2016, Jadyn wanted to try something new, and she bought Gellan, a very green six-year-old, despite not yet knowing how to post the trot or pick up the correct lead. It didn’t slow them down, though – this year, Jadyn and Gellan won the Area VII Jr Training Level (BE100) Championships. Green and green makes black and blue? Nah, sometimes it makes blue, red, and gold.

Taking it to the Top

The stars – they’re just like us. Or at least that’s the case for these top riders, who made great strides in the 2010s, proving that no dream is too big to realise.

Jodie Seddon makes light work of Bramham.

Jodie Seddon might be a familiar face at four-star events and showjumping competitions in the UK now, but in 2009, she was fully entrenched in London office life, working for US law firm Skadden.

“I was slightly bored, working crazy hours in Canary Wharf,” she says. That summer, she made her first tentative forays back into the saddle, having given up horses when she’d graduated from Oxford in 2003.

“I started tinkering about with horses again – meaning clinging on to a hack around the farm now and then, when I was home for a weekend avoiding the Blackberry! I secretly took myself off for a schoolmaster lesson (awful) and even more secretly found a share horse in London (really), which I rode a couple of times and took to a BE90 [US Novice].”

An impromptu return to eventing at the start of the decade.

Over the next few years, Jodie would start to withdraw from city life, leaving her last role at an investment bank in 2015 as the horses began to take more of a starring role. In March of 2016, she committed to riding and working with horses full-time, taking on ad-hoc equestrian legal work in the evenings.
So how’s that worked out for her? Pretty well, actually – she’s ridden around Blenheim three times, Bramham once, and is five-star qualified “with a small, opinionated grey horse I’ve produced, who doesn’t know the meaning of can’t!” She’s also a regular out showjumping, where she competes in 1.30m classes, and this year, she began producing her first lot of homebred four-year-olds.
“I think if someone had told me 10 years ago that I’d be the one riding on course, not just watching, shopping and snaffling free prosecco, I’d have laughed in their face,” says Jodie.

Imogen Murray and Ivar Gooden climb a remarkable 52 places to sit eighth overnight after Burghley cross-country in 2019. Photo by Nico Morgan Media.

Imogen Murray might be one of the British eventing’s brightest young talents now, with top-ten placings at both Badminton and Burghley in 2019 with Ivar Gooden, but in 2010 the then-sixteen-year-old was making her international debut on horses. Although she was young, she was determined – the teenager knew she wanted to go pro, and had left school to start setting up her business.

A 16-year-old Imogen Murray tackles her first international out of ponies at Houghton with Tennessee. Photo courtesy of Imogen Murray.

“Basically Imogen disliked school a lot (although she got excellent grades without much work!) and she thought she would see if she could make a go of it,” explains mum Kim. “Tennessee was no world-beating horse but he enjoyed life and eventing. He picked up an injury just after his and Imogen’s first international together. We then found Wiseguy who again was no world-beater and was nicknamed the diesel tractor! He did, however, have the biggest heart and took Imogen from junior level to 5* in 3 seasons.  They did lots of learning together.”

Ivar Gooden makes his eventing debut in 2012. Photo courtesy of Imogen Murray.

A broken ankle would rule Imogen out of the junior team in 2011, but the plucky rider wasn’t going to let a setback stop her. In 2012, she took a young Ivar Gooden to his first event, and set herself on a path that would lead to her representing Great Britain at the senior level and winning plenty of fans along the way.
So here’s to the roaring ’20s – who knows what’s waiting within them? Until next time, folks – Go Eventing.

Submissions have been edited for clarity.