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Karen Ruggles - the equestrian years
From 3 years old I was almost permanently glued to a pony or horse and progressed from highly entertaining entries within Fancy Dress classes to represent Great Britain at two Under 21 Junior European Dressage Championships by the age of 17, with the British Olympics in Los Angeles as my goal. Prior to focusing on Dressage, I had been aiming at the Junior European Eventing team... but a fall from my horse who had a heart attack as we took off over a fence when I was just 13, put paid to my cross-country abilities, leaving me to focus on Dressage and Show Jumping which subsequently became a huge passion. Whilst I trained mostly in the UK, after winning the Dalgetty Spillers Dressage Scholarship plus a Lloyds Bank Equestrian Year Scholarship, it allowed me and my top two horses Kanzler and Lord Richard, to train in Germany in the quest to replicate that country’s renowned success!
The Summerhill team were based in the New Forest and led by Alison Ruggles (a Grade ‘A’ Show Jumper and trained by John Sheddon), funded and supported by John Ruggles (ex Olympic yachtsman) and its vision was to encourage youngsters to achieve their goals using lateral thinking and training methods on a limited budget. Whilst I’ve already mentioned what I achieved in the years when I was riding, my sister Suzi was also very successful, being on the short-list for the Junior European Eventing team prior to a nasty accident in heavy mud at the selection trials. Along the way we were joined by a string of students both from the UK and from overseas and one in particular who trained at Summerhill was Jackie Stolper (nee King), who currently competes at top levels.
Suzi, Jackie and I proved a ‘useful’ team in 1980 winning the British National Pony Club Dressage Team Championships on three of the Summerhill horses as well as my leading horse Kanzler and I winning the overall Individual National Championships. Kanzler also set a record in that year by qualifying for five sections in one year (from Novice to Prix St Georges) of the Taylor Woodrow National Dressage Championships through careful management of the points system and a sudden break-through in his mental state and thus training capabilities. If we hadn’t been competing at the Junior European Dressage Championships in Germany we would have had our chance at trying for the seemingly impossible goal of all 5 titles….! To top off 1980, I was lucky enough to qualify Lord Richard and Stahlberg for the Dalgetty Spillers Novice Combined Training championships with Lord Richard becoming the National Champion at the finals held in front of the huge crowds and spotlights of the Horse of The Year Show.
But fate was to play a cruel card in 1981 when my health finally cracked for good and I ended up in hospital for a long time, finally forcing me to face facts and accept enforced retirement from all riding pursuits.
Note: Riding photographs are of me competing at Junior European Under 21
Dressage Championships (German) and The Horse of the Year Show (London).
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