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You may remember our recent articles on Olivia Lochhead (daughter of Dave, our Corporate Tax Manager - Autumn 2015 edition) and Alex Jones (daughter of Kerrie from our Tax Team - Winter 2016 edition). Well.... both of them have returned to Scotland, Olivia was representing the UK at the American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup in Australia and Alex was in Swaziland with World Challenge and here's what they had to say about their adventures:-
With western-style riding still an extremely small sport in the UK and even less popular in Scotland I do not have much showing experience in western, certainly the least on our UK team, despite having ridden this way for eight years.
Including myself, there are only two youths in Scotland, we have only one show per year, and we live about five hours away from each other. At the Youth World Cup, I have had an incredible opportunity to make lots of new friends my age who share my passion for western riding and the American Quarter Horse.
Going back to my lack of show experience I mentioned earlier, I am so proud to be here in Australia competing for my country at the American Quarter Horse Youth World Cup against the world’s top riders, and I didn’t even feel nervous walking into that ring in showmanship on June 30, only feelings of joy and pride that I have come this far.
At dinner on July 1 when sitting with our coach, I was able to count on my fingers the number of shows I have competed in… the Youth World Cup is my TENTH ever western show. I am so proud of myself for, despite this, managing to step up with confidence and put up a fight and score myself an 86 in showmanship after only taking it up at Christmas, and using a horse who had about as much experience in the discipline as me. We have both taught each other this week, and BGW Docs Impression – “Ziggy” – is a truly awesome horse.
I know that, although I don’t have any medals in my suitcase, I have a wealth of knowledge and that I have proven to those who have ever doubted me that this little girl from Scotland does have what it takes to stand out and get noticed doing what she loves. I hope that I have managed to make those closest to me proud of how far I have brought myself. I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me get here, my trainers John Fyfe and Bob Mayhew, Charlene Carter, my sponsor AllSports CM, and David and Sarah Deptford of Sovereign Quarter Horses. As Bob always says, “Onwards and upwards.”
The day finally arrived, all that planning and fundraising, in the very early morning of Saturday 25 June at Edinburgh Airport we boarded our flight to Amsterdam and then on to Johannesburg. The turbulent flight took its toll so not much sleep (I‘d stayed up most of the night before hoping I would sleep on the flight) but even without the tiredness, nothing would have prepared me for “Joburg”, gangs of youths on the streets trying to get our luggage and, when we arrived at the Hostel for our overnight stay, I was horrified to see the place surrounded by electrified fencing and blood stains under my bed. I’m glad to report that was the only time we felt unsafe, Swaziland was a breeze compared to Joburg.
We travelled to the Care Point in Swaziland by bus, a 4.5 hour journey by road, or should I say dirt track, often stopping to avoid cattle which had wandered into our path. An unexpected treat on the way was a visit to Nandos but we couldn’t believe the view from the window which looked out onto a watering hole where antelopes, rhino and zebra were all gathered to drink – our first sight of the wildlife. Little did we know that sights like this would become as familiar as seeing sheep in Scotland.
At the Care Point we wild camped outside the church and were introduced to our drop toilets. I was surprised by how cold it was at night, even though it was often 30 degrees during the day, it was winter in Swaziland and darkness fell at 5.30pm. The animal noises at night frightened some of our group but I thought they were comforting and filled what would have been an eerie night time silence therefore I had no problem sleeping.
The first day was spent shopping for food – we had to look after our own budget – lots of pasta, rice, vegetables and porridge, but no meat, we had two vegans in the group and anyway the meat looked a bit dodgy even for a carnivore like me.
And finally we met the children – all so cute even when they nicked our sunglasses. They ranged in age from 8 months to 14, about 30 of them. The Care Point was set up by Unicef and is run by Tenby who has lost some of her own children to disease and is committed to helping the many orphans who attend the Centre during the day. The children are mainly in the care of older siblings and extended family who can’t afford to educate or feed them. It was hard for me to accept that the children were left to walk home on their own, especially after dark, and to see them eating brown stodge twice a day but at the end of the day they were all happy and full of life.
The Project’s aim was the installation of a water system which would extract water from the hills and store it inside the Care Point. We supplied the materials and helped with the laying of the foundations for the huge water canisters to sit on. We learned how to mix and lay concrete, although I did sometimes feel that we were more of a hindrance than a help. But it was a great experience and the builders assured us that what we were doing would make a massive difference to so many lives.
The last day at the Care Point was emotional. We gave out gifts of stationary, sports equipment, football strips and of course flags. We also left Tenby food and small plastic chairs for the school which we managed to purchase with our leftover budget. Springfords had kindly given me goodies to give to the kids – they had never seen sticky labels before and, as you can see from the photo they thought they were for decorating themselves – what a laugh we all had. With final goodbyes and a round of shortbread for all, which went down a treat, we set off for the Rest and Challenge phases of the trip.
A few days rest was spent watching the varied wildlife on our jeep safari, a horseback safari – quite a shock for me as I’ve never been on a horse, but great fun – and a zip wire safari over the tree tops – awesome.
The trip culminated in a 4 day trek – camping along the way, eating hot marshmallows by the campfire to celebrate my friend Sophia’s 18th birthday – magical. The highlight of the trek was seeing the beautiful African night sky filled with constellations.
I’ve learned so much from the trip – not to take people and things for granted, I certainly didn’t miss my phone (well maybe just a bit when I wanted to share my experiences with my Mum and Dad). Life was so much simpler – no need to worry about fake tan, make-up, what to wear, texting – just “how do I get this horse to stop”. I made lots of new and I’m sure lasting friendships with people I hadn’t ever spoken to, even though we go to the same school – “I’d go back and do it all again in a heartbeat”.