The international three-day eventer Rosie Fry explains how countless hours in the saddle on the hunting field have made her into the rider she is today

The eventer Rosie Fry looks back at her early days in the saddle, and how hunting has helped her reach the top level of her sport.

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Hunting is firmly in my blood. My grandfather Harry Fraser was one of the founding Masters of the Park Beagles, my mother Caroline grew up hunting and my father Richard got hooked as soon as he started going out with my mother. My great aunt used to point-to-point side-saddle, and my mother and two elder brothers also had success on the point-to-point field. My three brothers and I were all taught to ride by the incredible Jinks Bryer, who had also taught my mother and is now teaching my nieces. I was off the leading rein at five years old, hunting with the Cattistock, and with all of us out on a regular basis, my parents decided to make the four of us wear red hat silks from our racing colours so they could keep an eye on us. The slight downside was that the rest of the field could easily identify us too; one day hunting at Melbury, three of us ended up on the floor at a rail and were soon arguing with each other about who was to blame for making us fall off.

I had some brilliant hunting ponies, starting off with Jenny Wren, a 13hh New Forest who had learnt her trade with another great Cattistock hunting family, the Atkinsons. We were not allowed out on the big vale days when we were small, but one winter we had missed quite a few days in the holidays due to frost and had complained to Mother so much that she relented and allowed us out. Jenny was strongly attached to my father’s horse and my mother had given my father strict instructions to make sure he had hold of me before he set off towards a hedge. Alas, he didn’t listen and duly set off for a hedge that was probably double the size of Jenny. I was hot on his heels, but at the last minute, Jenny thought better of it and turned sharply left, dumping me at the foot of the hedge. Chaos ensued. Father’s horse caught sight of his beloved pony and, having jumped the hedge, veered left-handed, unseating the poor man next to him. Mother rushed to the gate to try to stop the pony but was cannoned into by an out-of-control member of the field. The loose pony was returned by our MFH at the time, Tessa Jackson, who was less than impressed.

I spent the first part of my life hunting with the Cattistock, and for the past 15 years I have been hunting with the Blackmore & Sparkford Vale (B&SV). I am incredibly lucky to have followed some fabulous Field Masters over the cream of Dorset’s country, none more so than Rupert Nuttall, Mike Felton and Anthony Mayo with the B&SV. Hunting behind them has always been thrilling and I have had many brilliant days jumping some vast obstacles. There were a few times when I thought, “Surely they can’t be lining up to jump this hedge”, and then the next minute they have turned and popped over. There was no time to think about it – you just had to follow or you’d be left far behind.

My first event horse, Reuben, was also one of the best hunting horses I have had. At the time, both of us were only interested in going cross-country, so our dressage was pretty ropey to say the least, but he gave me the eventing bug. I do have to work hard at my dressage, but it is all worth it when you get to jump around serious cross-country tracks such as Blair, Bramham, Chatsworth and Badminton. Part of my prize for winning at Blair last August was a stay at Kinloch House, and my boyfriend and I managed to fit in a day’s stalking while we were up there.

I now have an amazing coloured horse called Caesar, aka the flying cow, who is the hunter of a lifetime. He is the most incredible horse who will take on whatever he is pointed at, whether it’s a five-bar gate or a blackthorn hedge. He is slightly unorthodox in his style and would not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me he is perfect, and he has given me some truly memorable days on the hunting field.

Cross-country has always been my favourite phase and I wouldn’t be the rider I am today if I hadn’t spent so many hours in the saddle on the hunting field. It teaches you about riding on every type of ground, not to take a pull but to sit up and kick, to lean back, to get in tune with your horse, feel when they are tiring and adjust your riding to suit the conditions.