Karen Ledger is her own person, with an overriding love – some might call it an obsession – for dogs and horses. Four marriages and 20 years of competing at the Horse of the Year Show have not dimmed Karen’s enthusiasm for life. Now, with eight dogs and husband number four, Karen Ledger’s life is complete.

Born in 1951, Karen is an only child who was raised in a semi-detached house in Lancashire. Her achievement at school was average. Most of her time at school was spent thinking about riding her pony at the weekends.

At 16 Karen moved with her parents to Africa where her father had been loaned to the East African Government. Her parents were based in East Africa for an extended period, but after only two years, Karen was itching to get back to England.

She returned, two years later, to the seaside town of Southport where she married and had two children, both of which tragically died at an early age. After this appalling blow Karen and her husband adopted a child, but the marriage fell apart. “At the time, the strain was immense and unfortunately we ended up divorced,” she explains.

Karen bought a petrol station with the proceeds of the house she had shared with her husband, and managed it during the petrol war of 1972. It was an exciting and lucrative time and when the petrol firm finally took over, she opened a saddlery shop. She married again, and gave birth to Ryan and Dale, taking up riding more seriously again. The saddlery business was sold and the family moved to a house in the country and ran a livery yard for hunters, where she had a very interesting client. The following story belongs to Karen:

“We had this chap who kept his hunter at our yard called Roy Grimshaw, who was always referred to as ‘doctor’, so everyone assumed that he was a doctor, until he was arrested that is! It was plastered across all the national newspapers when Roy was jailed for six years. But I liked him and I used to visit him in prison,” she says.

“By the time Roy was released from jail, Mark (second husband) and I had split up and our house had been repossessed. So with very little money I managed to buy a small cottage and this was when I became friendlier with Roy. He could have been Jack the Ripper and I would have liked him because he liked my dogs!

“Suddenly, out of the blue, my parents decided to move to the Isle of Wight to retire, having never visited the Island before. We decided to join them and Roy’s retired father came too. We bought a cottage next to Smallbrook Stadium, which had a small livery yard next to it. I married Roy on the strict condition he didn’t play doctors anymore.

“Unfortunately the will to be a doctor became too strong and Roy ended up back in prison. Once again I ended up divorced with the house being repossessed, but I managed to keep my livery yard and my land.” Karen purchased a mobile home and put it on her land and then husband number four came along.

“Chris, my fourth and current husband, is a perfectly normal surveyor, a very law abiding, quiet and unassuming person. We have been together now for 15 years and married for 14 years. So now I’m just a boring old housewife, with a couple of horses in the back garden,” she laughs.

Never one to set her sights too low, riding has always been a passion for Karen Ledger and is perhaps the thing that kept her sane when all around her was uncertain.

“With my riding, my ambition has always been to qualify for The Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). I qualified the first time when I had a nice looking horse which I was showjumping at the time. Someone said I should do working hunter classes with it and I took their advice. I qualified for HOYS the first time out by shear fluke and that was it really, but I was hooked.” Karen has now been to HOYS for the last 20 years competing in working hunter, coloured and cob classes.

“My main ambition is to win at the Horse of the Year Show. I have been placed at the show but I have never won there. That would be my ambition, but it’s down to the horse. I’ve only got the one horse that I’m actually riding at the moment. HOYS is the unluckiest show in the world for me. I’ve always had bad luck there. I think sixth is the highest I have ever been placed and, funnily, that was with a horse of quite poor quality and I really shouldn’t have been there.

“When you are an amateur like me, just getting there is an achievement. I would like to win but I’m not under any illusions.

“The working hunter is a class where you have to jump a course of fences first before the second round which is a showing contest, most of the riders are quite a lot younger than me. The last time I jumped round the working hunter at HOYS was about six years ago and I was the oldest then. I’m getting a bit old for that now. I know a lot of our top showjumpers are in their 50s, but they are doing it for a living and have a lot of help around them.

“I’m 55 and you have to be realistic about your age. I can’t go out jumping big fences now. When you get older, you only need to have a bump on the floor and you break something, so you have to be realistic. I’d rather be at the top of the line in a different class than be struggling in the jumping, but of course I am loathe to let go. I don’t like teaching. You can either teach or you can’t. I can teach the horse, but I can’t teach the rider!”

Karen says she’s quite envious of people who just have one horse and no aspirations. “When you are competing, horses are the greatest thing, as well as men, for making you feel life’s wonderful, or that you want to give up tomorrow,” she laughs.

Most important to Karen though, are her dogs, and her whole life is devoted to keeping them as happy as possible.

“I love my dogs more than anything in the world,” she says, quite unashamedly. “The horsebox, for which I have a massive loan, is designed totally for the comfort of the dogs, not for humans or for horses. I’m a complete doggy bore! I absolutely adore them and I am really lucky to be able to love them so much.”

They broke the mold when they made Karen Ledger!