But both insist the rivalry between them is friendly rather than fierce, as was clearly highlighted as they spoke about the many thrills and spills they have encountered since they began riding as youngsters.
Karen and Sharon hold high profile jobs, Karen as deputy head at Medina High School and Sharon in the commercial department of GKN Aerospace at Cowes. Sharon also has young sons John and Nicholas to look after, but somehow – with the help and support of both mother Wendy and Brian Sharon’s husband – they still find time to display all aspects of their equestrian skills, from dressage to hunting. And they enjoy each other’s company as much now as when they were kids learning to ride.
Karen explained: “It is nice to have someone close to go away with to shows and events. We have been away a lot this season at Riding Club Championships taking part in the horse trials at Daventry and the showjumping in Lincolnshire. Also the BHS cross-country championships in Derby where they were the Southern Champions in the pairs competition. There is a lot of travelling involved, but if you live on an island you have to be prepared to do that.”
Their hectic day starts around 6am most mornings and rarely finishes before 8.30pm in the evening. Then Karen goes home to do pupils’ marking and planning lessons while Sharon goes home to her husband and sons. They find their passion for horses is a great escape from work, but readily accept: “None of this would be possible without mum. She looks after the horses and the yard for much of the time we are not there, ordering the feeds and haylage and taking care of any veterinary needs.”
Another key player is Brian who takes care of all the maintenance around the yard; repairing stables, fencing, the horseboxes and tractor. He also looks after the yard when we are off the Island competing which is essential.
So after a hectic week, it would be understandable if Karen and Sharon decided it was time to put their feet up at weekends. None of it! They are invariably out competing or hunting. Sharon said: “I think we both love the challenge of riding and working with horses. Horses have minds of their own, so every day you are out there it is different. Horses act in different ways, it’s not like going out riding a bicycle, which you know will be the same each time. We have had a few difficult horses over the years, so when they come good there is a feeling of satisfaction.”
Karen finds it hard to determine which aspect of riding she likes most. “I would not want to give up anything, we started purely doing showjumping but I have really enjoyed what we have done latterly in cross-country and hunting. Sharon said: “I stopped jumping when I was pregnant with Nicholas and did some dressage on my sister’s youngster instead and also continued to go hunting with mum on a Saturday.”
Both girls were born on the Island, but spent much of their early life in Dubai where their late father John and mother Wendy lived and worked. However, they still made regular trips back to the Island, staying with their grandparents in Trafalgar Road, Newport.
It was they who got the girls into riding when they were just five and six respectively at Marks Corner with Bill Moul, and later at Mountalifan Stables with Sandy Bailey. In 1986 we trained on our team horses with Robert Booth who was then at Pan Lane, Robert continues to help us today if we have problems with any of the horses.
That provided the grounding to start riding in Dubai, where they had lessons at the Dubai Polo Club. Later the Dubai Equestrian Centre was built by which time their expertise with horses had already become evident and they became part of the Dubai team. They often found themselves making the long trek back to the Island for a month’s training before competing for their school in the Inter Schools team showjumping at Hickstead, which they did for a number of years, as well as taking part in the Dubai Meeting at Hickstead in a pairs competition.
“We didn’t have our own horses so we were riding borrowed ones, but we still got into the ribbons a few times,” Karen recalls. They competed in Dubai most weekends, but after finishing school they returned to England to attend university.
Although their father sadly passed away in 1986, their mother stayed in Dubai until 1995, seeing the girls through school. When she returned to the Island she brought with her the dogs, cats and team horses which were about 17 or 18 at the time, and were brought back ‘to retire’. Karen recalls: “Being turned out in a field did them good. They both came back into work and started competing again.”
Sharon also brought Smurf (Knock N Agree) back to England when she left Dubai and bought Wee (Four Seasons) from Jodie Warrick as they needed another horse to hunt at that time – they are both now well into their 20s but are still an integral part of the 20-strong team of horses in the stables.
With the family all back on the Island, they decided they wanted somewhere for the horses to be together so they bought Cleveland Farm at Godshill where Karen and Sharon lived and took care of the horses. Wendy began riding again, and all three still hunt regularly, relishing the countryside rides even though they agree hunting has never been the same since the ban on fox hunting was introduced. Karen became Field Master in 2005, a position she still holds.
When asked which one is the better when it comes to competition, laughter echoed around the stable yard. “We are both better in different ways,” Sharon finally revealed diplomatically. “We like the sisterly competition. If you go into an event not wanting to win, then there is little point in being there. We would never let each other win, but if we were in a competition where one of us was not doing too well, then naturally we would want the other one to win.”
They have had enormous success in all aspects of riding over the years, and can proudly claim to be past winners of the Isle of Wight Grand National – Sharon on Four Seasons and Karen on Sir Wotabout. Sharon has also won the Ashey Scurry several times.
Both still have a few aims left. They competed this year as part of the Island teams at the Riding Club Showjumping Championships up at Lincoln. The Isle of Wight Open team which Karen was part of finished sixth overall with just three riders which meant all scores counted. The Intermediate Team which Sharon was part of finished 8th overall. “They have been close to victory on a number of occasions, but never quite made it to the summit. It would be nice to win at that level,” both agree.