As part of the blog tour for her latest book, Tabby’s Big Year, I am delighted to be hosting Hollie Anne Marsh today, as she tells us more about her riding adventures. Without further ado, I will hand you over to Hollie.
I grew up in Australia and we lived in a suburb not too far away from the centre of Sydney. It was quite suburban, however, it used to be full of green spaces where many people kept horses. I was introduced to horses when I was around eight years old, and quickly became obsessed! My friend Nicole and I used to spend countless hours at the paddocks, a ten-minute walk from my house, where she kept her naughty bay pony, Billy.
I started riding through meeting Nicole, and afterwards at the local riding school. I’d work half days in the blistering sun in exchange for a half hour lesson! It was kind of slave labour but I was desperate to be in the saddle. As soon as I was old enough, I got a paying job as a checkout chick (the slang name for supermarket cashiers in Australia) so I was able to loan a scruffy grey pony called Apollo. Apollo was fourteen hands and boy could he jump. I trusted him wholeheartedly and he was my best friend. We used to have a great time exploring the Australian bush. I also attended Pony Club and participated in some gymkhanas and One Day Events.
One of my favourite memories was galloping through the bush, with my friend Nicole, being chased by park rangers as we dodged low hanging tree branches. We took a trail that horses weren’t meant to be on… oops! At the end of our dare-devil gallop, we made it safely away, to the other side of the bush (the rangers couldn’t get through the path with their 4WD) and we were in absolute hysterics. We were probably twelve years old. It was a bit rebellious, but this carefree and funny moment stayed with me all these years!
When I grew out of ponies, I had a few ex-racehorses that I retrained. They weren’t always so easy, and I had a few spills including one bad fall – resulting in a broken ankle with metal in it ) :
During University, I used to wake up at 4 am to go and exercise race-horses at the Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney – funnily enough, I never had any falls at the race track. I also used to take the racehorses to the races on the weekends for their owners and trainers… ‘strapping’ and I always enjoyed the excitement of a race day!
After finishing University, I got a ‘proper’ job and I decided to buy more of a purpose bred horse. That is how my first warmblood (a breed specifically bred for equestrian sports), came to my life. I bought Spot at an auction as I got a bit carried away with the atmosphere! He was beautiful, a gentle giant that grew to be over seventeen hands. He was dark grey with a curious white spot on his hindquarters – thus the name. I trained him for show-jumping and later on I preferred the challenge of doing dressage. Out of any horses I owned, I think he had the best temperament. Like a big dog. My friend owns him now since I moved to the UK.
In my late twenties, I wanted to do some travelling and have a fun job for a while (as I started a career in marketing for big brands)! So, I moved to the UK and organised with a well-known stable to work for them, in return for training on their dressage horses. The stable was picture perfect – in Godalming in Surrey… but the cottage I was meant to live in I discovered was filthy. It smelt dank, and what was meant to be my bedroom, was up a ladder into a loft, into a threadbare room with no curtains, and a mattress coated with thick dog hair resting on the ground – with no sheets or blankets. After flying over twenty-three hours I had to lug a sixty-kilo bag up the ladder by myself to get into the sorry room. The riding trainer was a thin stern German lady, who chain-smoked and wasn’t very welcoming. I left after a few days as I just couldn’t live like that and I expected at least one friendly face. The kindly owner I had been talking to over email to organise my job, was nowhere to be seen the whole time I was there. In hindsight, I think I should have been tougher and stayed longer – but I was homesick almost as soon as I arrived and looking for some a little bit of comfort.
After leaving Surrey, I moved into a house share in Hampstead in the north of London with five people! All from different corners of the world. I found a job in marketing again and I spent most weekends traipsing all over Europe like most Aussies, escaping the weather and exploring. However, it wasn’t long before another horse came my way. My marketing director’s son gave up riding and as they were moving to America, so they sold me a big grey horse called Joey for a song. I trained him for dressage and after a year or two, I bought a black Danish bred horse called Odin. I trained him to medium level of dressage, however when I moved to Spain, I sold him. I did bring along my baby horse though – a foal that was bred in Devon.
Living in Barcelona in Spain has been interesting. We live by the beach and not far from the centre, in quite a lively cosmopolitan area – full of international people. My baby horse Frieda has grown up and I have been training her with a Spanish trainer, who has represented Spain in competitions.
Here is a photo of Frieda and I.
The stable where I keep her is quite modern with mainly performance horses. There is a mix of Andalusian and warmblood horses that people enjoy; riding for pleasure and sport.
During my time in Spain, I also visited Seville a few times where I had lessons on Andalusians. My trainer also allowed me to ride one very special Andalusian before he was sold to a home in Florida. Andalusian horses are so willing, comfortable to ride and sweet.
I also visited a few of the famous equestrian stables including the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez, and the Royal Stables in Cordoba. It was wonderful to learn more about the Spanish equestrian culture, the traditions and see the stunning horses in action. The only thing I don’t like about the south of Spain is the bull fighting… that makes me sad – I think it’s very outdated and barbaric. Fortunately, in Catalonia (the region where Barcelona is) they stopped bull fighting because the people thought it was cruel.
I must confess that I am quite envious of everything that Hollie has experienced. If this has whetted your appetite for more equestrian adventures, here come all the important details about the latest Sweetbriars book.
After Tabby’s father vanishes, a deep rift develops in Tabby’s family. Tabby’s mother is focused on being a star performer in her pharmaceutical sales career, while Ava, Tabby’s older sister, is living with grandparents in Cornwall. Tabby feels neglected by her mother and jealous of Ava and although outwardly diligent and responsible, she’s like a kettle about to blow its top… bottling things up until it’s nearly impossible to keep a lid on her frustration and sadness.
Tabby finds solace with her best friends Cate and Violet at Sweetbriars Farm where she is nursing her dream horse Bliss back to peak performance, to be able to participate in the try-outs for the British Young Riders Squad.
Tabby also finds herself facing other challenges – saving her beloved horse Nancy from the knacker’s yard and finding the courage to tell her friends the truth about her family.
Will Tabby be able to save the horses she loves and be brave enough to tell people how she really feels?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Hollie Anne Marsh is an Australian author who lives in Barcelona, Spain with her partner, baby boy and horse Frieda.
Hollie has been horse riding since she was a little girl, enjoying activities such as Pony Club, showjumping, eventing, and trail-riding in the great Australian bush. Hollie lived in England for almost ten years where she had two horses and trained them for dressage.
The Sweetbriars series is inspired by all the special moments Hollie spent with horses – good, funny, and challenging moments!
Additionally the ‘coming of age’ and ‘growing up’ experiences that Hollie had.
Hollie hopes that readers will be able to identify with the characters, find the books fun to read, and they will help readers learn more about horses.
For more information about Hollie and Tabby’s Big Year, why not check out the other blogs taking part on this tour?