Melissa Townshend was born to ride. “As part of a very horsey family, I’ve been riding all of my life,” she says. “I was put on a pony before I could walk and have been lucky enough to grow up surrounded by them.”
At five, she got her first taste of competition riding at mini Pony Club camp and at nine she made her eventing debut on a “hogged, somewhat porky, dun pony” named Bertie. “I did get slightly lost on the cross-country but it was definitely my favourite part!”
Although her first BE event, at 13, “didn’t quite go to plan,” Townshend got the competing bug and hasn’t looked back since. Even the shock of a bad rotational fall off a mare didn’t stop her. “Luckily, we were both fine and did compete together again — and now she is in foal. Getting back on as soon as possible was the key, I think!”
Townshend is now competing in two-star events at home and abroad. “Last season I completed my first CCI** in the spring and went to Holland twice to compete in two stars out there,” she recalls. “Chapeau came ninth in his first CCI**, so I was very proud.”
Chapeau, whose stable name is Dudley, is one of her three event horses, alongside Straight Choice (Guinness) and Gaucho (Bertie), a gelding who has been previously ridden by William Fox-Pitt. “All are competing at intermediate level and have completed CCI**,” Townshend explains.
As she progresses, however, she increasingly has to juggle the demands of competitive eventing with her studies at Bristol University. “I’m very lucky to have an incredible team at home who ride my three event horses whilst I’m not there during the week. I wouldn’t be able to compete without them and am very grateful.”
Alongside her team and her horses, Townshend credits her hunting experience for her competitive success: “I think my strengths come from my hunting background, jumping out of bogs and in very awkward places.” The one weakness she still needs to overcome is getting nervous at a competition. “It is one of the main things I struggle with, as you and the horse become tense. I am regularly told to control these nerves and turn them into a positive energy.”
Her immediate plan, she continues, is to take all her three horses to Gatcombe for their second run in the intermediate, then head to Belton for the CIC**. That said, she has far more ambitious targets for this season: “My aims are to complete an advanced and three-star — very exciting! Gaucho has previously completed at this level with William Fox-Pitt so I hope to gain experience on him before the others. Fingers crossed!”