Gillian Molesworth learns about Becky Kennen's fascinating horsey history

Becky Kennen is a UKCC level 2 instructor who has competed at Intermediate level eventing, trained racehorses, designed/built cross country courses and spent many years teaching in Cornwall and beyond. We discover some influences on her long and varied equestrian career

Q: Did you come from a horsey family?

My mother, Grace Bevan, grew up in Shropshire, and was a country girl who found herself living in Bristol; she was a nurse during the war. She and her best friend, Winnifred Fry, established a riding stables in Bristol which was really an extraordinary enterprise. They kept 20 odd horses and ponies in Bristol, with only access to little bits of land here and there. Their stables were built out of coffin wood, of which there was a surplus around the time. They showed them and hunted them, transporting them in cattle trucks. It was a lovely opportunity for the Bristol children who wouldn’t have had access to horses otherwise.

Grace and Winnifred used to hunt with the Beaufort: they would load the horses onto the train, as you could in those days, and go out for the day. If they missed the last train back, they would knock on a likely looking farmer’s door and ask if they could stay the night, horse and human.

Grace married my father, John Ancrum, who was a vicar for the Church of England. Winnifred carried on the stables another 35 years.

Who was your first pony?

My first pony was quite unsuitable: it was a newly broken, four year old Welsh Section A

called Alex, which my mother bought at Chesterfield Market. He was actually for my sister, who showed no interest whatsoever. I was also about four: it was not an ideal match.

Later Winnifred gifted me a New Forest called Shadow who was a good jumper, and I was given a very sharp youngster as it was too much for its rider.

There wasn’t any money to spare in my family for horses, and it was a long time before I could afford a saddle for my pony – which did develop my stickability! After we had moved to Worcestershire, I used to hack about seven miles to go to Pony Club rallies. One year, I went to Pony Club camp. I said to the organisers: “please don’t put my pony out because we can’t catch him.” They assured me that they were all good at it and it would be fine. Well, we couldn’t catch him for four days.

I remember that even though I  didn’t have transport and couldn’t get to many events, the Pony Club people were very welcoming and kind to me, and made me feel included. I was always grateful for that and I strongly believe that’s what it should all be about.

What were some of your other early experiences?

My family moved to Canada, where I rode every opportunity that I got and cultivated a love of adventure. After we returned, I came to live with Winnifred for a while. I was about 12-13, and I rode endless ponies and horses, day after day. It was a super early experience and exposed me to a lot of different types of ponies and horses.

When did you decide to pursue horses as your career?

I was unhappy at school, and eventually my father relented about further education. It was clear that horses were my passion. So, I moved to Oxfordshire, where Mum had found this really fabulous yard. It had brilliant facilities and was very diverse, with an incredible cross country course. We were breaking and training eventers, pointers and hunters; there were some top riders and also many visiting trainers, so I witnessed a wide range of good teaching. I planned to become a teacher myself.

While there I hunted a lot with the foxhounds and draghounds, always on young horses.

When did you first set up on your own?

When I was 22 my family moved to Dartmoor, where Dad was made the chaplain of Dartmoor Prison. I was able to set up my own yard hunting and breaking in youngsters. I clipped a lot of horses, and found that was a good way of meeting people and making contacts locally.

It was out hunting on Dartmoor that I met my husband Philip. We were up behind Postbridge in the fog, in a bog. We were both riding youngsters: he was on a very nice thoroughbred that I had been admiring.

We didn’t want to put our youngsters into a tough river crossing, so he said “Come on, I’ll show you the way round.” 35 years later, he’s still showing me the way!

Can you give us an idea of your competitive and teaching experience?

I competed for many years in affiliated competition in both eventing and showjumping.

I’ve been privileged to develop partnerships with some really fantastic horses who gave me everything. I’ve always taught concurrently with whatever else I was doing. I’ve been the North Cornwall Hunt Pony Club chief instructor for more than 30 years, and involved with the Camel Valley Riding Club as well.

Many of my pupils have gone on to pursue careers in the equestrian field themselves, and now I find myself teaching the children of the children I originally taught! It’s great continuity, although it does make me feel old at times!

And what about course building?

I’ve been designing cross country courses for many years – I was involved with courses in Oxfordshire, and I’ve done Pony Club day courses with instructors such as Hugh Lochore and Andrew Fell to learn about safe design.

In Cornwall my husband and I built a course from scratch at Tregroid in St Kew – you can still see parts of it on George Williams’ farm. Philip and I make a good team – I enjoy imagining what they could be like, and Philip does the technical bits.

I’ve also worked with Steph Chapman and Frank Stephens, most recently on Lanhydrock’s course to make it more user-friendly for less experienced riders, and appropriate for pony club area qualifying competitions.

Going back in time a bit: What happened after you got married?

We moved to Cornwall to Withiel, when our daughter Ella was 18 months old. I had a job working for Micky Madden, producing foals for the yearling sales at Newmarket. That was really interesting. I loved handling the young stock.

So that was when you went into training racehorses?

Yes: from there I went to work for the Messer Bennets, with their point to pointers. I trained with them for many years, and we were very successful together; when they gave up I took over the training for them and other owners at my home Treswigga on the Moor.

What is your methodology?

Quite often my approach to training racehorses was to make sure that they had fun during training, and that they were professional about their job. A lot of it is about growing their confidence.

I love riding them on the moor, which it makes them quick and agile and able to think independently. They learn balance and athleticism.

Who was your most successful racehorse?

Sea Snipe was a mare that won 17 races; she was a national champion - Horse and Hound leading horse. We teamed up with Nick Scholfield as a young jockey, which was an excellent combination.

Sea Snipe was a small mare, and the last foal from a good family. She had incredible guts and ability. Riding her was like riding a cat: she jumped for fun.

We had a strong relationship: she pulled out all the stops for me. That was a magical journey – my nerves are just about recovering!

Did you have more children, and did they follow in your footsteps?

Yes, we had Issy in 1993, after a five year gap. It was double trouble then!

Horses and ponies have always been part of our lives, and they were super for the girls growing up, teaching them all sorts of things from responsibility to patience to good animal husbandry.

Like me, my daughter Ella did not have an easy time at school. But, she was a bold rider and racehorse jockey; she won at Wadebridge when she had just turned 17, and enjoyed an incredible season with an amazing horse called “it’s not simple”. That says so much!

What’s life like now?

Now, I’m living on Bodmin Moor with Philip, dogs Buddy and Banjo, and horses Mary and Dashwood. Mary is my rather quirky Irish Draft and Dashwood is in retirement, although he doesn’t let it hold him back! We have new grandchildren in Australia, and we’re looking forward to visiting them.

What is your vision for our new cross country course in Trescowe Brake?

Trescowe Brake lends itself to a confidence giving, enjoyable hunter trial track getting into a rhythm and cantering through woods negotiating fences in your path. There will be one or two slightly more technical questions to challenge the partnership of hirse and rider, but the main aim is fun and the joy of jumping. We want riders to finish thinking: “we would love to go round again!”

What is your favourite type of jump?

A steeplechase, of course!

Any final words?

With teaching, I love encouraging partnerships to develop. When it comes to horse knowledge, one lifetime is not enough