You may have noticed Rudall’s Round-Up has a new sponsor. Vardags is a law firm specialising in family law.
The woman behind the brand is Ayesha Vardag – one of the world’s most in-demand divorce lawyers. Ayesha’s passion for her cases has won her wealthy, high-profile clients, ranging from royalty to footballers.
She is also passionate about horses – we spoke to Ayesha to find out more.
Why did you decide to team up with Horse & Country TV?
Quality! When you have an equestrian sports channel that’s shortlisted for awards, along with the Discovery Channel, you know you’ve found something extraordinary. The Getting to Greenwich series was an instant classic and the offering has stayed really strong. We need top quality coverage in the equestrian world, bringing us up there with other sports and entertainments, making the sport accessible and available to people at all levels. Horse & Country is leading the way in making that happen. Of course I want to support that!
Your company specialises in high net worth divorce. Can you explain what this is?
Divorce for high net worth and ultra-high net worth individuals and their spouses, with family wealth ranging from the millions to the billions.
You’ve been described as ‘Britain’s top divorce lawyer’. What makes you so successful?
I came into family law nearly 20 years ago with a unique mix of experience. First as a City lawyer with Linklaters in London and Moscow (power stations and diamond mines, making deals, finding structures and a completely make-it-happen approach), then the Bar – which involved advocacy and persuasion – and then academic work, leading the family law course at Queen Mary London’s 5 star law school, which required a really deep knowledge of the law.
I also brought my experience of my own divorce and the challenges of single parenthood, which made it easier to understand what my clients were going through. I had a mission to bring City quality, genuine humanity and real intellectual creativity to family law.
I’m completely focussed on winning for my client, whether winning means a great negotiated deal or a full-on dog-fight in court. I push the frontiers of the law to try to create fairness and good sense in a modern society, and I just don’t take no for an answer. But beyond me is my team of amazing people, all hand-picked by me – I believe we have the best, brightest most brilliant team anywhere in the law.
It’s often said ‘horses cause divorces’! In your experience is this true?
I don’t believe that! Sometimes full-on diversion into horses can be a symptom of a couple drawing apart. Stereotypically, the husband might spend all his time at the golf course or in the office; the wife might become increasingly obsessed with horses and spend all her time in the stables or at shows. The distance is already there, though, and the couple are just finding ways to fill the emptiness caused by the reduction of intimacy in the marriage and, often, the experience of children growing up and away.
Horses are not the cheapest of passions, and anything that costs money can cause marital tension. But on the other hand, horses can provide a stimulus, an excitement, a genuine happiness and independence that can be incredibly healthy for a marriage. Going to shows and watching our team compete is something we all do together as a family and even my husband has become a devotee. I prefer to say ‘horses make you happy!’.
You also compete yourself – how did you get into horses?
I rode from nine and had my own pony from 11. He was a four-year-old Welsh Cob Section C palomino dream pony, who was too big, too wild and too young, who carted me around the Ridgeway wherever he liked and was utterly loved by us until he passed at 36.
Boys, university, working abroad and pregnancy all took me away from horses though my mother kept it all going with her mad Arabians and my old pony. But when my daughter was four we moved to the country and a dear friend was putting her eventer on loan to move up to a bigger ticket, and I jumped at the chance. Within the space of a weekend I’d bought a Welsh Section A for my daughter, installed it with this lovely TB/Welsh X eventer, my beloved Will, whom I ultimately bought.
Suddenly I was reliving the happiness I’d had with horses with my mother as a child. It brought my daughter and me so close and still does, as it’s such a special thing we share. Two years ago, I moved Will to Dubai, which has a great showjumping scene and developing eventing scene. I started jumping, very timidly, aged 48 and managed to be placed in the Dubai National Eventing Championships, the famous Spinneys Cup, with marvellous Will, who looked after me every step of the way at the ripe of age of 21. From then on everything spiralled and horses now take up a huge part of my and my daughter’s life.
You have set up Vardags Equestrian. Can you tell us about more about this?
We have 17 horses across the UK, Dubai and Southern Italy.
In Dubai, at professional level (rather than my own very amateur eventing), we focus on showjumping, and our superstar rider Ahmad Mansour recently won the UAE Longines League championship and also the international medium tour speed competition here in the UAE on our Dutch warmblood bay mare Estoril de Vardag (whose grandsire is For Pleasure).
Estoril is hot, delicate and sensitive. She jumps like a deer and slinks around the course like a whippet. We also have grey mare Ficanka de Vardag (grandsire Heartbreaker), who’s doing well too in the internationals, but is somewhat overshadowed by Estoril’s star quality.
Then I have my own 17hh chestnut Hungarian warmblood, Atletic de Vardag, who came over from Holland rather sleepy, but has become hot and strong and rather fabulous. As I’m pregnant my teeny daughter Helena, now 13, has been competing him successfully in the novice classes at the UAE Nationals, and we also have the lovely Fuego, a giant-hearted PRE who would go through fire for my daughter and is even having a go at teaching my husband.
Ahmad, who trained with Jan Baumann in Holland, is an incredibly talented rider- completely in harmony with the horses. He is gentle and calm, but technically and tactically superb and super-fast.
We have big plans for Ahmad and the Vardags Equestrian horses in showjumping for the Sunshine Tour next year, for the World Cup and ultimately for the Olympics. We’re off to Holland again this year to find more horses. Helena and I are immensely privileged to be trained by Ahmad when we’re in Dubai.
In Italy we have two showjumpers, a Hungarian warmblood called Corino de Vardag and a Dutch warmblood called Ersina de Vardag. Both are competed by Sara Battista who has jumped internationally at Grand Prix level, along with her horses Black Honey and Don Felipe. She also jumps under the Vardags Equestrian banner, and again, we are fortunate to be trained by Sara when we’re there each summer at our house in Molise.
In England we’re focussed on eventing, which is my daughter Helena Vardag-Walter’s grand passion. We have a seven-year-old grey Irish Thoroughbred Vardags Saratoga, who is going well on the intermediates and is aimed at Le Lion. We believe she has huge potential. Then there is Vivendi de Vardag, a green young mare going into the five-year-olds this year, and baby palomino Dona Isabella de Vardag. She was home bred and is by dressage champion Don Perry and out of a good sports mare, whose grand-sire won the Derby three times.
We’re looking forward to seeing how she goes in the four-year-old classes this year. Also, rather thrillingly, we’re hoping to have a foal from her by For Pleasure by way of surrogate.
We also have Vardags Silmarillia, a grey Irish sports mare who has lost her way a little with eventing, getting rather spooky, but we’re giving her another go with a new trainer this year.
All those four are just starting training with Flora Harris, a really talented young international eventer, who was long-listed for Rio, and still only just beginning to come into her full powers. We’re incredibly excited about the horses moving over to Flora, and that she’ll also be mentoring Helena, who’s just starting the BE100s after the 90s last season and is raring to go.
Helena’s two horses are Vardags Bucephalas, a 16.1hh eight-year-old black Oldenburg sports horse, who is such a trooper and eats up the cross-country (which is what she loves the best), and Noble Nuttella, a cracking 14hh Irish sports mare.
They’re just about to return to the OMP stud in Hampshire next to Helena’s school, Bedales. We also have my old TB/Welsh X Will, splendid old man that he is, and my lovely grey jumping mare Flora, who’s going to carry Isabella’s foal – inshallah!
To round it all off, we have the most ridiculously adorable tiny pony, a little Falabella mare, Equuleus Fortunata de Vardag, who likes to come into the house and gaze into the fire, and steal our bacon sandwiches from the kitchen table.
Helena is totally committed to an eventing career – she wants to go all the way and is willing to put in the blood, sweat and tears to achieve it – and I’m completely behind her. She doesn’t need to follow me and be a lawyer, I want to help her to pursue her dreams.
She has the most amazing trainers in Ahmad Mansour, Sara Battista and Flora Harris and she works so hard to learn everything she can from them. Watching my giant warmblood throwing shapes because he was cross about knocking a pole in the 115 UAE nationals, and seeing tiny Helena (the only child in the competition) sit through it all and get him round with no more poles down, put my heart in my mouth, but made me so proud. She’s a very determined little person and I think she’s one to watch for the future.
Of course, what we want to achieve in eventing for the Vardags Equestrian horses, for our riders and for Helena in due course is Badminton, Burghley, Kentucky and the Olympics. For Helena, it’s a long road and a big dream, but I always say, someone has to do it!
You divide your time between Dubai, Italy and West Sussex – where do you call home?
Home is where the horses are! Dubai feels like home during the winter, Italy during the summer and England intermittently, all the time. I’ve become very used to adapting quickly to feeling at home in whichever home I go to. We’ve established a rhythm. Of course, you end up with three pairs of the same shoes in one house and no bras in another, but you adapt!