Welcome to Elevate, our spotlight series to honor, lift up, and highlight riders just like you from all disciplines and walks of life. If you’re like us, supporting and growing our equestrian community is an important mission, and a mission we are proud to hold at the heart of Sterling Essentials.
This month, we’d love you to connect with Abigail Feeley, a tenacious show jumping rider and Hartpury Equine Science student with roots in both France and England.
SE: So where is home for you and your riding? Is riding easily accessible where you are and is the community supportive of the equestrian lifestyle?
AF: I lived near Reading, England for 8 years before moving to the south of France where I lived for just under 10 years. My mother owned 2 horses in the UK, so I grew up learning to ride, but we couldn’t take them with us when we moved to France.
I then had a break off horses for a few years before starting again through my school, doing mounted games. From then on I had “the bug”, and I got my own horse at the age of 14. Fast forward a few years, I’m now back in England studying at Hartpury University in Gloucester, where the facilities are the thing of dreams!
Aside from the amazing facilities at Hartpury, there are numerous other livery yards around the campus, meaning that you can find one that suits your horse best. In my case, Mitse is stabled 2 minutes down the road at a small quiet yard and is ideal for us as it is within hacking distance of Hartpury, meaning that we can compete often. Hartpury is the ideal place to receive community support as it is like one big family.
SE: Wow, that sounds like riding paradise! When did you start riding and how did you get started?
AF: I’ve been riding for as long as I can remember, and I got into horses thanks to my mum who has also had horses all her life so she passed down her love of horses to me. She still has 2 horses of her own in France and also rides regularly. I love being able to share my passion with my mother as it means that we can spend time together doing what we both love!
SE: You’ve mentioned the wonderful Mitse. What is his story and when did you begin working with each of them?
AF: Mitse Pangaardenhof is the only horse I currently own. He is a 9 year old Belgium Warmblood that I have been producing for just over 2 years. His main discipline is showjumping, but he also enjoys hacking and his flatwork is coming along nicely now.
SE: What is his personality? Goof ball? Any quirks?
AF: Mitse is quite a quirky gelding. He is very sassy and opinionated and doesn't like not getting his own way, which can lead to us disagreeing on certain things. He is a creature of habit and has many quirks. He has a routine before and after he gets his feed: he has a wee before his feed, eats, and then stands and licks his salt block for 10 mins. If I am slightly late in the morning to feed and muck out, he messes up his bed by mixing everything into it, just to show his disapproval! He is a very social horse and enjoys play biting every horse he meets, but it can take him a while to warm up to new horses.
SE: Oh no, too funny - not the dreaded stall mixer. LOL! What are his favorite treats?
AF: His go to treats are carrots and apples, but his all time favorite, especially in the summer, is watermelon! He can be quite fussy with new things, but eventually grows to like them. Bananas did not go down well the first time he tried them, but he now loves them.
SE: Haha, not too many horses seem to like bananas, so I’m impressed! Tell us about your time at Hartpury. What are you studying and when will you graduate? What are your plans after graduating?
AF: I started at Hartpury in September 2019, studying towards a BSc in Equine Science, and I will graduate next year, July 2022. My time here has definitely been interesting to say the least. When I first enrolled I was only 17 due to growing up in France and their class structure, which meant that I finished school a year before I should have if I had stayed in England. This meant that I didn't really start the “full university experience” until the November when I turned 18.
Fast forward a few months and I injured myself whilst riding which put me out of action for a couple of months. When I was finally able to come back, the pandemic hit and disrupted everything, so it's safe to say my first year was eventful. I spent last summer back at home in France before coming back to England for my second year of university, which I have just finished. I’m not sure what my plans are after I graduate. I think that I will stay in England and hopefully find a job in the nutrition side of the equine industry, but with one year left of my degree, things could still change and take a completely different path.
SE: You’ve mentioned show jumping, but what disciplines do you ride? What is it you love about them?
AF: I show jump competitively, but Mitse and I do a bit of everything, mainly hacking and dressage. He has also been cross-country schooling and done mounted games, both of which he seemed to enjoy. Show jumping is my main discipline, which I think is partly due to it being very popular in the area of France where I lived, which made showjumping competitions very accessible and all the horses that I have owned have loved jumping. Mitse always has his ears pricked forward when we approach a jump, and he makes everything feel small.
SE: Did you grow up dreaming about horses? Were you like me and always playing “horses” in the playground at school recess?
AF: As I grew up around horses, I was often at the yard with my mum, helping out or riding. I also had a hobby horse that I used to “ride” around the garden on when I wasn’t riding my sister’s pony. I did go through the phase of having all the walls in my bedroom plastered in horse posters to the point where you couldn’t see the wall underneath! I was lucky enough to find friends in France that were also into horses, so I got my daily dose of horse talk with them.
SE: You recently experienced a bit of a disruption in your equestrian plans due to an injury. What is the story you’d like to share about what happened and your recovery journey?
AF: In January 2020 I had a bad fall off Mitse and ended up breaking my femur (thighbone). This happened a week before we were meant to be doing our first show in England. I was in hospital for just under a week and had surgery to insert a titanium rod through the center of my femur. Due to this procedure I did not have a cast on my leg and just a day after my surgery, I was being made to stand and walk around on crutches to start moving around.
After a couple of weeks of rest, I slowly started going further using the crutches and slowly going short distances fully weight bearing on my leg. I’m not one to sit around so I started pushing myself to go further without crutches, after receiving confirmation by the surgeon that this was okay. Fast forward a few months of rehab and hard work and I finally started riding again, albeit on my mum’s horses. It took me a month or so to work up the confidence to start riding Mitse again.
During that period, I was slowly bringing him back into work by doing a lot of groundwork. I finally sat on Mitse at the beginning of June 2020, a mere 5 months after breaking my leg, and I haven't looked back since. We started training again regularly, and we got to a few shows over the summer. Mitse was very happy to be back out jumping again and this showed through our results as we were placing at most of our shows! Now back in England we have carried on competing and are still doing well.
SE: Wow, I’m so glad you’ve healed well and are now back in the ring. I can only imagine how committed and tenacious you were to make that happen. How do you feel your injury and “down-time” impacted you? Did it inspire you in any way or change your perspective on riding, life in general, or your life goals?
AF: I feel like both myself and Mitse have come back even stronger from my injury. I’m a strong believer that everything happens for a reason and that if you believe in yourself, you can do anything. I never imagined that breaking my leg could have had such a positive impact on my mindset and my riding. I am more conscious of my own fitness now as a rider, which in turn has improved my riding. It really has helped me realise that you only get one shot at life, as cringy as that sounds, and you really do have to take everything life throws at you with a pinch of salt because you never know where you are going to end up. If someone would have told me I would be where I am today after breaking my leg just over a year ago, I wouldn't have believed it, but here I am.
SE: What message would you share with fellow riders who may be experiencing some unplanned down-time, injury, or set-back in their riding pursuits?
AF: With horse riding, I feel like most riders know that injury and set-backs are inevitable, and it's more when not if. As much as it is hard to resist the urge to get back in the saddle early, wait for the doctor's approval, and work on yourself and your fitness in the meantime. Being fit when I started riding really helped me to concentrate on my form and not trying to prevent further injury. In terms of setbacks, everyone has them at one point or another in their riding pursuits and I find that the best thing to do is use them to our advantage and learn from them to come back stronger than before.
SE: What are three equestrian events you would just love to attend and why?
AF: I would love to attend the venues of the Longines Global Champions Tour, more specifically Miami Beach, Paris, and Madrid. I really enjoy watching the pros jump around the big tracks, and my dream, albeit unrealistic, is to get to that level. A girl can dream right?
SE: Absolutely, three cheers for big dreams! What is your favorite horse movie?
AF: My favorite horse movie would have to be “Jappeloup”. It’s based on a true story about a small horse that is not bred to jump that makes it all the way to the Olympics. It is very inspiring and goes to show that even some of the most unlikely horses can make it to the top.
SE: What is one bucket list experience you would love to have with Mitse and why?
AF: I would really like to take Mitse to the beach, like most riders dream of. Mitse is a big fan of large volumes of water like streams and water complexes on cross country courses. He loves splashing around in them, and I'm pretty sure he would roll in them if I wasn’t on top of him. He loves a good gallop, and I think that this, combined with being able to splash around in the sea, would be very fun for him.
SE: What is your favorite Sterling Essentials fragrance?
AF: I currently have only tried the Eucalyptus fragrance, but it smells amazing! Very excited to try the others when I run out of the current products!
I really enjoyed having the chance to get to know Abi better and for the opportunity to share her story with you. I look forward to seeing all the photos from a beach ride with Mitse (hopefully soon, LOL!), don’t you? I invite you to connect with Abi and follow her journey with Mitse by giving her a follow on Instagram at @abif01.