My name is Rebecca Halliwell-Coutts, 38 and a British Army Veteran now turned Business Analyst and Degenhardt Undeclared (stable name Cosmo) is my 15 year old registered Hannovarian gelding. Cosmo comes from excellent bloodlines namely Ramiro’s Boy for Showjumping and Donnerhall for dressage and I’ve owned him for 6 years now.
I was medically retired from the Army in 2014 following injuries sustained in service and overseas and so it means that I now suffer from spinal stenosis, three prolapsed discs in my lower lumbar and I need an immediate double knee replacement. It’s not easy and every day is painful but I would have to be dead before you could take me off the back of a horse!
How did Cosmo come into your life?
I previously had a horse at Brookfield called Ares. A big Polish Warmblood who had come from a life of being turned out 24/7 and had barely competed. To cut a long story short, Ares became very stable dominant to the point of being dangerous but the final straw came when he attacked one of the grooms. Ares was never going to be suited to the yard nor my ambitions so I sent him back. My yard owners Chloe and John Perry are incredibly successful in the eventing world (Piggie French has the ride on two of their horses) and they buy regularly from trusted sources both in the UK and Ireland. I gave Chloe a ‘shopping list’ of what I wanted in my next horse and she went and found Cosmo for me within the week.
Cosmo was fresh off the lorry from Germany where he was bred for top level eventing but in his early years, he suffered from kissing spine which was duly operated on. Big event yards don’t have time for lengthy rehabilitation and so Cosmo was surplus to high level requirements and was shipped off to the UK. Cosmo was not a looker when I bought him. He had no top line or muscle and looked very much a difference horse to what you see now! I fell in love instantly and I knew that we would work together as a team and with the experience of Chloe and John Perry and the tuition available at the yard, that he would grow into being something special.
How long have you been riding?
I’ve been riding since the age of 4. I still clearly remember the day my Father put me on a Shetland pony for a ‘pony ride’ and right there and then, a lifetime love of horses was born. I have continued to ride all through my life, mainly in the showjumping discipline but my career in the Army allowed me to indulge in my passion and get paid to do it. I was selected to ride for the Army back in the early 2000’s which saw me ride at Royal Windsor in the Combined Services Showjumping. I then moved onto playing polo which the Army wholly supported and the subsidised rates were nothing to be sniffed at! I became a -1 player fairly quickly but the key in polo is to not only improve your handicap but also to keep it.
In 2011, I was posted to the Household Cavalry in Knightsbridge to join the Blues & Royals and The Household Division for several ceremonial seasons but also to include being part of Kate and William’s Wedding, the London 2012 Olympics and of course, the Queen’s Birthday Parade. Now, this had been my dream since I was a little girl and controversially, I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It to see if he could make my dream of spending the day with the Cavalry come true.
It’s not all glitz and glamour and the hours are hard and long in order to turn out the horses to the standard you see on parade in London. And then there is the time it takes to exercise of all the horses (273 to be exact) out in Hyde Park and round the streets of London. In their ceremonial gear, the horses always look so placid and well behaved however, let me tell you that when you put a snaffle and a GP saddle on and take them round the park, they are wild! There have been a few occasions where I’ve needed my brave pants on down Rotten Row…..
When and where do you ride?
I’m very fortunate to have a competition yard literally about half a mile from my house here in Berkshire. As a London commuter, I only manage to ride at the weekends but Cosmo has a very good weekly routine that keeps him stimulated and exercised at the best level. He is kept on full competition livery which means that he has a dedicated groom that sees to every detail for me during the week, from exercise to vet and farrier.
How did you start riding?
I took lessons at my local riding school in Aberdeen and you would find me there every single weekend grooming the ponies, helping to muck out and tack up. I would stay late in the evenings to help ride all the school ponies down to the field for turn out. Any chance I got to ride, I grabbed with both hands. I was very dedicated as a child because before my parents would agree to buying me my own pony, I had to prove myself in every way. I joined the Pony Club and attended all the summer camps I could on a hireling from the riding school, I passed all my stable management levels but I also had to prove that I could do well at school.
What you and Cosmo currently working on?
Since leaving the army and buying Cosmo, we have been incredible fortunate to have competed at Hickstead, British Showjumping Championships and Rockingham Horse Trials to name a few and we have had such a great time doing all of that. Last year (2019) I decided to give him a bit of a break from competition and concentrate on training a bit more, with the idea that we would go out again in 2020…… well the Corona virus has put paid to that now.
The polo season is looking slimmer and slimmer now as the months go by so I’m not sure how much I will be able to get out and play but I guess that means more time training with Cosmo so its not all bad and probably easier on my wallet too.
I’ve stripped things back a little bit for both Cosmo and I. Because I suffer badly with my knees and spine, I no longer jump the tracks I used to so we are competing predominately at British Novice and Discovery level and our training concentrates more on accuracy than speed, so lots of grid work and more technical lines but at a lower height. Cosmo is highly intelligent so we have to continue to switch up his training to keep him engaged and interested otherwise he turns into a total monster.
What do you love about riding?
The freedom and clarity it brings away from day to day life. The challenges it brings and the bond that comes with working through things with your beloved horse/s. I’m not ashamed to say that I quite often talk to Cosmo and lord knows he has saved my sanity on more occasions than I care to remember and he looks after me. I have complete trust in Cosmo.
Yes it is now more physically demanding of me and I suffer daily but honestly, I don’t know what I would do if i couldn’t ever ride again, that doesn’t bare thinking about.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
To be honest, aiming for anything high level again has long since passed now. Cosmo and I have had some incredible opportunities such as being coached by Scott Brash and competing at some high profile shows and we’ve had some good innings but for now, we will just continue on at British Novice competitively and just enjoy our rides out.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
Yes, some more profound than others. I think it’s healthy to have nerves to be honest. For example, I am always nervous when I’m in the collecting ring ready to be called forward but then they go as quickly as they arrived.
One spring a couple of years ago and totally out of the blue, Cosmo suddenly became naughty when he didn’t want to do something or he was bored. Cosmo doesn’t buck or bolt but he does have a pretty big rear in him and he went through a phase of doing just that, at any opportunity he could. You could be trotting away in a nice rhythm and he would plant the brakes, do a little dance and then wave with his front hooves. I’m an experienced horsewoman but rearing is not a behaviour you want to deal with so it began to make me very nervous every time I got on him, not necessarily for my safety but for his. Every time, I held on and prayed that he wouldn’t go over.
It took the whole of that spring/summer and winter to get him out of that behaviour bearing in mind that all the obvious potential causes had all been checked out. He very rarely does it now but he might do a little one in excitement when he goes out showjumping but the key is just to send him forward and let him take control.
How do you deal with them?
it’s not easy but for me, I have to say that my trainer, who is also a neuro linguistic coach, had a huge part to play in me moving forward and being the confident rider. Nick Turner is a British Eventing master coach and has headed up both the Brazilian and Irish Olympic teams but he has the most amazing teaching technique that he applies to both horse and rider and takes the time to really get to the root cause of your nerves and worries and plays them back to you in plain English. He sets challenging exercises but talks you through each stage and always has the rider’s ability at the forefront.
I do also think that you have to take control of your own nerves too, deep breaths, relax and trust your abilities as a rider but don’t be afraid to push the boundaries every so often, the sense of achievement can be huge.
Your Top Tip
Keeping things simple and consistent. Horses need to have regular training and you need to be consistent in what you are asking them to do.
The Final Furlong
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
Who is your equestrian hero?
It’s always been the Whitaker Brothers. I aspired to be like them. David Broome is another hero of mine and I had the privilege of training with him when I was based in Wales, he even signed his book that I had for years on ‘How to Showjump’.
If you could have 5 people to dinner who would they be?
Daniel Craig (because who wouldn’t!)
Adam and Eve (to get the real story, whomever they may be)