A DUNS horse enthusiast is sitting a little taller in the saddle after meeting British Eventing star and Olympic 2012 hopeful Oliver Townend - and looking after his horses.
Seventeen-year-old Chloe Lackenby, an equine student at Oatridge College in West Lothian, was selected not only to meet Townend but to look after his animals too when he spent two days at the on-campus Scottish National Equestrian Centre (SNEC) in West Lothian last weekend.
“It was possibly one of the best weekends of my life, it was amazing!” Chloe said. “I never believed I would be doing anything like that.”
Chloe and fellow student Cara Brodie, 19, were the envy of their classmates on the Advanced Certificate in Horse Care course when they were told they would join the star rider’s backroom team when he visited the college.
Although Chloe knew Townend would be at the site to offer demonstrations and riding clinics as part of a festival of equestrian talent at the SNEC, she never dreamed she would be working with his team.
“I was so surprised when I was told I was going to do it, because I didn’t realise it was an option,” Chloe said. “I was just so excited and honoured to be asked.
“His team and horses were in a section of the stables where no students were allowed - when I walked in I could tell that some of them were so envious!
“To people who aren’t really horsey it wouldn’t be such a big deal, but for anyone who’s into horses it’s huge!”
Chloe, Cara, and another student from the National Certificate in Horse Care course, 16-year-old Craig Donnelly, shadowed Oliver Townend’s groom to gain invaluable experience behind the scenes, and see what it takes to prepare horses competing at the highest level.
Chloe said: “It was such a great experience to be able to work with them and see what is involved. The way Oliver’s horses are looked after is so different to anything I have ever seen before, they have complete luxury. He brought five with him at the weekend, but he was telling me that he has 42 stables at his yard, and they are all full!”
Currently one of the UK’s top-ranked eventing riders, Oliver Townend is very much in contention for a place in the London 2012 British Olympic squad.
With a father who competed in three-day eventing and rode at Burghley and a mother who showed side saddle at county level, Townend was destined to have a love of horses.
He first began riding at seven years of age and at 11 he went to the Horse of the Year Show with his pony Cool Mule. He also represented Britain on the pony eventing team at the European Championships aged 13.
In 2009 Oliver won prestigious eventing competitions at Badminton and Burghley, and finished that season at the top of the British Eventing points table for the first time.
This year he finished in third place in the British Eventing rider rankings with 1562 points, and is looking forward to the London Olympics.
Chloe says she has followed his career for years, but never expected to meet him.
“He was so nice, I was expecting him not to say much but he had lots of time to speak to me,” she said.
“It will be good to watch him on telly now that I’ve met him, and hopefully I’ll see one of the horses that I worked with in the Olympics.”
Chloe isn’t sure what the future holds for her, but one thing is for sure - it will involve horses.
She began at Oatridge, widely recognised as Scotland’s foremost equestrian college, earlier this year, studying on a course designed to meet the needs of the industry by giving students a mix of practical, hands-on experience and theory, which can prepare them to work in riding schools, livery yards, with trainers and breeders, in horse racing or with charitable organisations specialising in the therapeutic use of riding.
“I’m really enjoying it,” Chloe said. “I’m not really sure what I want to do in the future to be honest, all I know for sure is that I want to work with horses - I can’t remember not being involved with horses.”
After meeting one of her greatest equestrian heroes and having the chance to learn from a top groom, Chloe is as motivated as ever. And having impressed Oliver’s team at the weekend, the future is looking bright for the former Berwickshire High School pupil.
“His PA said that we have to give her an email because next year when I do my HNC we do a two week block of work experience, and I might be able to go there to do it,” she explained. “When she said that I was so excited!”