Five-year-old rider has ‘wonderful time’ as ‘youngest ever’ to compete at national championships


  • A tiny rider who at five is thought to be the youngest ever to have competed at the British Riding Clubs (BRC) winter novice championships did herself and her pony proud – and wants to do it again.

    Henrietta Henton and Winneydene Countryman (Frank) qualified to represent Saxon Dressage Group and BRC area nine at Arena UK last weekend.

    “We’re very lucky to have Frank; they’ve got a really good bond together,” Henrietta’s mother Laura told H&H. “They work hard on their dressage and jumping, and go hacking and generally have fun.”

    Laura, who was on a British junior eventing team in 2002, said Henrietta first sat on a horse aged one and has not looked back. She first rode a Shetland and then moved on to 12hh Welsh section A Frank when she was three.

    The pair also compete in showjumping, with the Pony Club and the National Schools Equestrian Association, but she cannot compete in affiliated dressage until she turns six this June.

    “With BRC they allow them to compete on the lead rein,” Laura said. “She really enjoys both the dressage and jumping, and it’s such a lovely sport for children to be able to do. BRC has been so supportive and welcoming. Saxon does lead-rein dressage for under-10s so she’s been able to get into the arena and have fun from a young age – she did her first dressage aged two.”

    Henrietta and Frank earned their ticket to the championships at Caron Roberts Equestrian, at intro level.

    “We were astonished and thrilled when she qualified and we had the opportunity to go to the national championships,” Laura said. “We did wonder as it’s such a big occasion but had a lot of encouragement from BRC, who said ‘You’ve qualified, come and enjoy it’, so we did.”

    The family travelled to Arena UK the day before and stabled Frank there overnight, to Henrietta’s excitement.

    “She had the most wonderful time,” Laura said. “Frank was full of the joys and a bit more on his toes than normal but our goal was to complete the test. Just to be there, and to be able to ride a test, at that age was a challenge, let alone in that environment, so we thought we’d go and have fun and learn, and we did.

    “She was very excited about going; she was desperate to go and had been practising her test and drawing it out  – we called the two half-circles ‘the binoculars’ so she could visualise them – and she was thrilled to be there and really enjoyed it.”

    Laura paid tribute to the “absolutely fantastic” Sarah Stewart, who trains Henrietta and, Laura said, inspires her, but also everyone who made the event possible.

    “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support and encouragement of BRC, and all the stewards and officials, everyone behind the scenes, who were really happy to have her there,” she said.

    “She had the most wonderful time and what she said afterwards was ‘I want to do it again!’”

    Laura said Henrietta will keep going, and aim to compete with British Dressage once she is old enough.

    “Sometimes you reflect on these moments in the equestrian world,” she said. “It’s so wonderful, for so many reasons, and it’s so nice to be part of it, and have the support of all those who work so hard in the background as without them, it wouldn’t be possible. And creating memories along the way.”

    Head of BRC Rachael Hollely-Thompson told H&H: “We’re thrilled to be able to offer riding opportunities to people of all ages, and at all levels. You only have to read Henrietta’s story to see how truly important creating an inclusive setting is, as well the unique horse/human bond.

    “At the heart of British Riding Clubs, we aim to provide training, competition but most importantly a fun and supportive team environment. We’re so pleased to be a part of people creating treasured memories with their ponies.”

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