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‘Carl Hester is my idol’: nationals success for 11-year-old dressage star and his Welsh gelding

Rupert Byam-Cook and his mother Nicola Byam-Cook’s Welsh section C pony Twyford Salamander
Rupert Byam-Cook and his mother Nicola Byam-Cook’s Welsh section C pony Twyford Salamander at the National Dressage Championships.

An 11-year-old rider finished as runner-up in The Centre Line prelim silver championship on his debut at the LeMieux National Dressage Championships. Rupert Byam-Cook and his mother Nicola Byam-Cook’s Welsh section C pony Twyford Salamander (Solo) scored a final total of 71.1% to provide them with a coveted spot on the podium.

Rupert has been riding Twyford Salamander, an 18-year-old palomino gelding, for two years.

“Finishing second at the nationals was one of the best days of my life,” reflects Rupert, who also competed Solo at the Area Festival championships  held at Hartpury earlier this year. “His free walk was a highlight during our test, and I was pleased that I managed to keep him nice and forward. However, the best thing was the fact that I actually remembered my test!”

Class sponsors, The Centre Line, also helped Rupert achieve another dream when they sourced him a custom-made jacket, inspired by Rupert’s idol, dressage legend Carl Hester.

“I look up to Carl so much and he is my idol; he makes all of his horses look effortless,” Rupert says.

“When we were at the Area Festival finals earlier this year, The Centre Line said that if we made it into their class at the summer championships then they would make Rupert a jacket,” Nicola explains. “When he won his wildcard they stuck to their word and they designed him a copy of Carl’s jacket which they have named ‘the mini Carl’. They also helped to organise Rupert meeting Carl here at Somerford, which was just incredible.”

Solo has been based with the family for five years and he’s been a pony of a lifetime.

“While he’s very safe, he’s not as easy to ride as he may look,” Nicola says. “You really do have to ride him to get those higher marks out of him.”

The family drove up from their home in Hampshire the night before to compete at Somerford Park in Cheshire.

“When I heard my score called out after my test and I realised that I was in the lead I couldn’t believe it,” Rupert recalls. “The suspense was high for a few hours; I couldn’t eat anything!”

Prior to catching the dressage bug, Rupert competed in Pony Club activities, but the young star now has ambitions to stay within the sport: “At home I’m starting to train at novice and elementary so I’m currently working hard on perfecting my sitting trot.”

Nicola adds: “I never feel the pressure myself when I’m competing but I get really, really nervous watching my children. As a mother, I’m constantly worrying whether I’ve got both the child and the horse prepared enough, or if I’ve forgotten something important.”

Rupert has been training with Nicky Pasco for the past two years.

“He trains with her about once a month and she’s helped us immensely,” Nicola confirms.

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