A Gainsborough teenager who lives for horse riding has helped her country to a famous international victory.
Leonie Aitkenhead is in her final year of showjumping on ponies, before graduating to work with horses, and capped her youth career with a Nations Cup victory in Belgium.
The 16-year-old was riding her mother Beverley’s 12-year-old dun gelding Newton Sampson for Great Britain – under the branding of Team Fairfax – at the tournament in Bonheiden.
And the Huntcliff School student was delighted with her clear in the first round, only narrowly missing out on the same achievement in round two, when a top pole rolled to register a four penalty score.
Aitkenhead and her team-mates Harry Charles, Jared Lunn and Charlotte Ash finished on a total of just 17 penalties to take gold, ahead of the Netherlands and Belgium in second and third respectively.
The Gainsborough youngster said: “I love horse riding, and competing in an international competition was really exciting.”
“Having a gold medal is fantastic, but I haven’t taken it in properly yet. It still feels a bit weird!”
“Going to Belgium was really good and it was great to compete against people from different countries.”
Not only did she face a test on the pony, but at a desk as well – having to sit one of her GCSE examinations while in Belgium.
She said: “My RE GCSE exam fell on the Thursday of the competition, but Huntcliff managed to arrange for my paper to be sent to a school in Belgium.”
“On the day of the exam I travelled half-an-hour to the school with another girl who also had an exam, and we sat the paper there.”
She was accompanied on her second international showjumping trip by her proud family, and mum Beverley said it was a fantastic experience.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” she told the Standard.
“It’s one thing to be picked, being selected is an honour, but to win gold as well is brilliant.”
“Leonie was thrilled to bits.”
“We were all over there with her, myself, my husband George and our little boy Charlie who’s 13.”
Riding since the tender age of four, Aitkenhead has always shown great promise and showjumping has become a real passion.
Beverley said: “She’s gone through from Pony Club to jumping small ponies and she did really well at 11 and 12.”
“Every year she’s at the Horse of the Year Show, it’s been non stop.”
“She’s a very quiet girl, very shy but she lives for her riding.”
“She’ll go to school, come home and then she’s training and riding every night, and weekends are always at shows, she’s totally immersed.”
It’s not just an individual pursuit, as she obviously requres plenty of support and help from the whole family.
“We’re all involved, it’s a full-time thing.”
“I used to ride, although not to the same level as Leonie rides, and now I’m chief groom and driver.”
All the hard work, sacrifice, training and trips to shows have paid off, with two selections for events on European soil already this year and some big competitions on the horizon.
Her mum explained: “The Nations Cup is the biggest one she’s done, but she was in France in March to get some experience of jumping in a foreign event and she had a great show there.”
“She’s got the Horse of the Year Show on the same pony as she rode in Belgium, and then this weekend there is another trial for another Nations Cup, and then there’s the European Team event in July.”
“This is her last year on ponies and she wants to go on and work with horses and go as far as she can.”
Aitkenhead’s school were also keen to heap praise on her achievements.
Head teacher Sue Bond said: “We’re all extremely proud of Leonie and what she had achieved. She is a very talented rider and her gold medal is testament to the efforts she has put in.”
“The fact that she also sat a GCSE examination whilst in the middle of the Nations Cup shows her determination to succeed both academically, and in show jumping.”