Olympic eventer Camilla Speirs gave birth to baby Mathilde in January and is already back in the saddle. Helen Sharp finds out how she did it and about family life with the new arrival.
Camilla Speirs and international show jumper Ethan Aherne welcomed their beautiful daughter Mathilde (Tilly) into their world of horses in January and from the outset she has fitted right in. With the grit and positivity almost exclusive to top-level sportspeople, Camilla gave herself six weeks after giving birth to get herself back in the saddle.
“Tilly was two weeks late and so I had to be induced which wasn’t much fun, but I found being pregnant fairly easy,” admits Camilla. “I was fortunate that I didn’t have any sickness. I was quite neat so it made it a little easier to stay fit. I kept riding up until five months. My doctor said to take a bit of time for my body to heal, so I followed his advice and put work into doing my pilates and some physiotherapy so that I felt fit enough to get back to riding safely.
“When I went back to it, I thought I was relatively fit, but it was soon clear I was definitely not rider fit,” admits Camilla. “As a result, I have a newfound appreciation for horse riders. I’ve always taken for granted how fit I was, and I could ride 10 horses in a day without being tired. However, after maternity leave, riding three horses a day, I was at my absolute limit.”
Camilla acknowledges that when it comes to the daily routine, it has to run to schedule in order to get everything done: “It’s working out really well. On weekdays I have a lovely minder called Christina Wall who minds Tilly from 9am to 1.30pm, which means I can get all my horses ridden and try and fit in as much as possible.
“Tilly is usually asleep for a bit longer after Christina leaves, so I teach a lesson with her in the pram beside me, or I do little jobs in the yard with her close by. Once she’s awake, Tilly comes into the yard with me and we might help Daddy when he is jumping some of the horses. She’s usually strapped onto me in the sling whilst doing the ground work at the yard which is cool. Ethan is the most amazing Dad. He’s so hands-on. He’s based in our yard at home now and spends a lot of time with Tilly. In the evenings, he’s fab, and he does the 11pm feed, which is just great.”
Camilla and Ethan are blessed with a very good sleeper and feeder in Tilly. “We’re very lucky. She’s amazing,” says Camilla. “She’s very alert, so she’s always watching what’s going on. She loves going to the show. She’s been to a good few now! There’s always someone there delighted to take care of her. Wiola Sokol, one of our grooms, is fantastic with her, and Orla O’Neill, an owner of mine, is also fantastic and comes and helps and watches her two horses with us.”
Perhaps the most significant support Camilla and Ethan get are from their parents. Both families help out with Tilly on a regular basis to support them and Camilla clearly appreciates them for that.
Another essential member of the Speirs-Aherne family is Camilla’s legendary mount, Portersize Just a Jiff. The pair captured the world’s imagination as they progressed together from pony club all the way to the Olympics. They competed at CCI1* Junior level, European Junior and Young Rider Eventing Championships and the World Breeding Championships for Young Horses and moved up to the CCI3* and CCI4* world stage.
‘Jiffy’ and Camilla competed five times at Badminton Horse Trials and made four Nations Cup appearance for Ireland, two World Equestrian Games (2010/14) and at their pinnacle competed in the 2012 London Olympics and were reserve for the 2016 Olympics. “Jiff adores Tilly – how could he not?” laughs Camilla. “They’re going be the best of pals. Of course, at the minute, she doesn’t understand how amazing Jiffers is, but I’m sure when she’s older, she’ll appreciate him and get to ride him.” It’s a given that Tilly will grow up around horses, and Camilla is philosophical when it comes to her daughter’s future. “Whether she is happy about that or not, we shall have to see, but if she wants to get into it and be competitive we’d only be delighted. Ethan and I both chose this career path and we love it; we consider ourselves very lucky to be able to wake up every morning and be able to do what we are doing. So, if that’s what she wants to do, we will definitely support it, but even if she wants to go to college and get a real job, we will support that too!”