All About Tilly

Published : 15/03/2024 13:21:23
Categories : Latest News

All About Tilly

Meet Tilly Berendt, a passionate and committed freelance writer with a wealth of experience and a plethora of useful contacts within the equestrian industry. She spent years working as a groom and learning the ins-and-outs of the industry before writing about it. 

Tilly brings a unique voice and a fresh perspective to the world of equestrian journalism and in 2019 was awarded the British Equestrian Federation Journalist of the Year Award. 

Read on to find out more about Tilly and what makes her ticks.

Tilly, please tell us a bit about yourself, what do you do, where are you from? 

I’m never quite sure how to describe what I do because I’ve become such a multihyphenate over the years! I’ve always previously called myself a journalist with a camera, but that’s probably not quite fair now that photography and, more recently, videography have become such a major part of my business. Beyond that, I also occasionally dive into broadcast journalism and the odd bit of PR, and I really enjoy sourcing and selling horses for top-level sport as a bit of a side hustle, too. Primarily, though, you can find me writing and photographing for plenty of magazines around the world, and most often, I’ll be on duty reporting on top-level eventing for Eventing Nation, where I’m at the helm of the UK and European coverage.  

Where I’m from is just as wiggly of an answer; I was born in Yorkshire to a German mum and moved pretty much every year of my childhood. I spent over a decade living in the US, and most of that in a very rural community that was – and still is – really plagued by poverty and addiction. It wasn’t at all the ‘usual’ upbringing for someone in this industry but it certainly spurred me to work hard on building a future for myself, perhaps against the odds.  

How did you get into Journalism and is this something you have always wanted to do? Do you remember the defining moment when you thought this is something you wanted to pursue? 

Funnily enough, it actually wasn’t initially my intention, although once I realised equestrian journalism might be a great line of work to pursue, it was like everything in the world suddenly made sense to me. I always knew I wanted to do two things – ride and write. But I also thought of those things, for myself, as being very separate – I’d work on yards and ride and somehow, maybe, make a name for myself that way, and when I could find time alongside that, I wanted to write novels.  

Eventually, after years working on a variety of yards both in the US and the UK, riding countless horses, and entertaining no shortage of delusions, I finally accepted that I was a) too broke, b) too useless, and c) too lacking in cajones to actually succeed at or enjoy pursuing a career riding all day long. A friend of mine, who worked as an editor at a tech magazine, pointed out that I could combine my love for the sport with my love for words, and it was like a lightbulb was suddenly switched on.  

It wasn’t that I hadn’t engaged with equestrian journalism; I’ve been obsessed with horse magazines and books since I was about six, and an instructor at the riding school I was very occasionally able to go for lessons at scooped up a Tesco bag full of dog-eared old copies of Horse & Pony magazine for me to take home. Those were the most precious thing I’ve ever owned – even now, I could probably recite some of the articles from memory. They were a doorway into a world that, as a kid from a low-income, non-horsey family, I so desperately wanted to be a part of but couldn’t. I never lost that love for them, and never stopped using magazines and horse books as a way to feed that hunger for knowledge about this world, so I’m not sure why it took me so long to realise that creating those stories for other people was ‘purpose’, if any of has any such a thing!  

Once I realised how much I wanted this, it was still a bit of an uphill battle to get my foot in the door of this small, tightly-knit, very niche industry – and that wasn’t helped by the fact that I had no qualifications, because I’d only been able to afford one year of university before going back to working 70+ hours per week to make ends meet. That was a huge heartbreak for me, and it could so easily have stopped me from pursuing this career, but I gave myself a bit of a slap, reworded my CV so it said I’d ‘attended’ the University of Kent – no lies there, as long as no one asked too many probing questions! – and worked on accruing as many writing samples as possible, even when all my pitch emails were going unanswered. Finally, I decided to go to Badminton and park myself on the Horse & Rider magazine stand until I could figure out a way to negotiate an internship or work experience. I did; it became a full-time role; a year or so later, I went freelance. The adventure’s never stopped rolling on from there! 

We know you do a lot of Journalism covering the Eventing world in particular, how did that begin, and do you ride/compete yourself?  

Eventing has always been my sport of choice, from those Horse & Pony magazine days. I had posters of Bits and Pieces and Star Appeal and Ready Teddy all over my walls and thought the guts and gumption of the sport was incredible. But what was most inspiring about it – and the thing that I still really want to try to preserve and showcase – was that it felt like you could have a chance at greatness even if you didn’t have a lot of money. Now I’m older and have a much more robust understanding of the nuances of financing the sport, which has also changed and become more professionalised in a lot of ways over the last couple of decades, but when I was young, it was such a driver for me.  

I actually first left home off the back of that notion; I went to high school in the US, and I was able to combine the four years of school into three and graduate at sixteen in order to take a working pupil position 800 miles away with Phyllis Dawson, who’s now one of the US team selectors and had competed at the 1988 Olympics herself. I was dead-set on going to her stable to work because a couple of years prior, Practical Horseman magazine had run a cover story on her assistant trainer, Melissa Hunsberger, who had made it to Kentucky CCI5* on an ex-racehorse she’d bought for a pittance. She didn’t have the newest, most fashionable tack or clothing, and finances continued to be an uphill battle for her, but for me, Melissa was a beacon of hope that got me through a not altogether easy teenagehood. I feel very lucky to have gotten to know her so well at Phyllis’s, and am always conscious that now, my role in sharing the myriad stories within our industry could propel another young person out of their own tough circumstances and towards happier horizons. That’s one reason why I’m pretty outspoken about diversity in our industry and in our media – I want everyone who clicks onto Eventing Nation or opens a horse magazine to be able to find someone they can see themselves in, whether their hurdle is an economic one, or they’ve faced exclusion or abuse for their race, sexuality, gender, physical ability… anything. It’s so important that people feel seen and represented and advocated for, and I know firsthand that just one story truly can change a life.   

These days I still ride, though I scaled back my own competitive endeavours over the pandemic. Before that, I was able to just about cobble together a fractured season with my mare, Bella, bumbling around at BE100 – but it was difficult. I keep her at Littleton Manor in Reigate, which is owned by a good friend of mine, 4* event rider Kate Tarrant, and so Bella was often kept ticking over by Kate’s girls, who’d borrow her for lessons or who I could pay for rides. But I’d then have to get my own eye back in very quickly after a week or several weeks away reporting, and it ate into all my limited free time, so I did get burned out on it. I’m not ruling out a competitive comeback, but for now, I’m enjoying just schooling Bells at home and leaping at the occasional opportunity to throw a leg over a 5* horse (more of these, please!). Maybe once the rain eases up in a few seasons’ time you’ll see me back in action, fighting for a shot at 23rd place in a BE100 again! 

Writing aside, you’re a celebrated event photographer within equestrian sport, was this a natural evolution from your journalism? 

The addition of photography to my roster was actually a very happy accident! I first started reporting for Eventing Nation in 2017 after winning an annual writing competition they offered, and at first, I’d head out to events just to report on them, and EN would hire a photographer for the duration to supply my images. After a couple of months of this, the then-editor asked if I might happen to have an interest in doing the photography myself so the company could save a bit of money. I had a very entry-level Nikon that I’d mostly used for taking pretty crap photos on the streets of London, so I did as much learning as I could online, bought a very old 70-200mm lens, and then took the plunge. My first two events that I photographed as well as reporting on were the Young Horse World Championships at Le Lion d’Angers and Pau CCI5*, so no pressure there…! 

From there, it really has just been a hugely enjoyable learning experience. There are a few super photographers in our industry who’ve been really generous with their knowledge and experience when I’ve picked their brains over the years – Libby Law, for one, and Nico Morgan, for another, though there are lots of people who’ve contributed! Trial and error has been a huge part of my learning process, too; every year I look at the previous season’s images and cringe a bit, which I reckon’s actually a good thing, because it means I’m (hopefully!) constantly evolving and improving.  

I spend a lot of time studying great photographers not just within the horse world and reading and learning as much as I can about their methods. I’m actually hugely inspired by war photographers and the way they can fit extraordinarily nuanced narratives into a single frame, while working under pressure far above and beyond what I face when trying to get myself in the right place to take a photo of a horse going cross-country. I think I’ve also been helped along by being a very visual person – I used to supplement my income by doing oil painting commissions, so I already had a reasonably well-honed sense of composition and colour. For me, riding, writing, and photography have one major thing in common – you can never learn everything, and you should constantly be absorbing new information, adapting, and evolving. That’s what keeps it so fun. Stagnancy is the enemy! 

You have moved into presenting as well, interviewing world renowned riders. Was this nerve wracking? Do you have a pre-interview routine? How do you prepare for these interviews? 

Fundamentally, I think I’m really driven by the fact that I’m deeply nosy – or very curious, which is probably a more positive spin on it! I find people fascinating, and unpacking stories so interesting, and so whatever format it takes, I really, genuinely enjoying interviewing people and finding out what makes them tick. So moving into presenting hasn’t actually been nerve-wracking – maybe the first time, when there’s still some amount of unfamiliarity, but after that, I tend to forget about things like cameras and audiences and just focus on whoever is in front of me.  

Weirdly, this actually wasn’t always the case – the curiosity was always there, but at the beginning of my career, doing the actual interviews felt like my biggest weakness. I felt really socially awkward and gawky doing it, and I’d always walk away from any interaction cringing at myself. Lots of practice and tonnes of exposure have helped – I probably do ten to fifteen interviews a day on a normal eventing day. But I reckon hitting my 30s has also been a not-at-all-insignificant part of getting comfortable with it all – I know myself so well now and my capacity for embarrassment has just about vanished. We’re all just weird, awkward sentient sacks of flesh who all trip over our own tongues, anyway!  

Insofar as my pre-interview routine goes, my main priority is research. I never want to go into an interview blind, whether it’s a pre-arranged long interview for a magazine, which I might have weeks to prepare for, or a live interview on a TV broadcast, which I might have just minutes to get ready for. I’ve got pretty lightning-fast thumbs, I’m a speedy reader, and I keep the FEI horse and human databases saved as Favourites on my browser so even if I have 60 seconds to pull together a basic idea of the narrative arc that’s led us to the moment we’re in as the director says ‘going live!’, I’ve got enough to work with. I’m also not at all afraid to check in on the basics with a rider before the camera starts rolling. I’d rather get my facts right than take a guess and lose the chance at a decent narrative thread when it counts.  

What’s been your most ‘wow’ moment so far in your career? And do you have a favourite event to cover? 

I’m so, so lucky to find this question hard to answer – I often feel that my whole career is a ‘wow’ moment, even if it does involve an awful lot of 18+ hour work days in the rain! There have been some really special wins to report on – Piggy March’s Badminton victory and Yasmin Ingham’s World Championships win, among them – and an awful lot of little pinch-me moments, such as meeting up with Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW in the Badminton stables for an interview and getting to give Sam a cuddle while he was lying down in his bed. Any time I get to stand in the main arena at CHIO Aachen to photograph the Grand Prix jump-off is pretty goosebump-worthy, too – especially last year, when Marcus Ehning took the win with Stargold, one of my absolute favourite horses of all time. But for all-time, stories-I’d-tell-the-figurative-grandkids vibes, it’s got to be when Mollie Summerland won Luhmühlen CCI5* in 2021. It was peak travel restrictions era and Germany was impossible to get into from England, but I’d figured out a sensible workaround, and so she and I set off in a 3.9 tonne horsebox with her horse, Charly van ter Heiden, went to the Netherlands for ten days to base with Dutch Olympian Tim Lips, and then headed on to Germany. It was just the two of us – she rode, I reported and photographed, and together we acted as groom, and we didn’t have any trainers or support staff or anything – but with plenty of kindness and help from other riders and grooms on site, and remote help from trainers giving input from England, we somehow cobbled it together and went home with the trophy. It was our own mad pony novel moment and it reinforced the idea for me that there’s very little that can’t be done if you’re willing to really get stuck in. I somehow also found a bit of time to blog about it while we were doing it, so if you want the full scope of the insanity, you can dive in here: 

In terms of favourite events, Luhmühlen remains very close to my heart – and even if all that hadn’t happened, it would still be a top contender, as it’s such a lovely competition. I also love the pageantry of CHIO Aachen, where the best of each discipline come together. I once followed Isabell Werth into a spinning door there, which I’m certain means I’ve done a pas de deux with her. Badminton is also, of course, always really special, and I never, ever get over the thrill of walking into the buzzy, beautiful stable yard. But I also always like to say that my favourite event is the one I haven’t covered yet, because I love to head to new venues and take on new challenges. Top of my wishlist is Adelaide – so if anyone on the organising team would like to help me make that happen, my inbox is open! Right now, I’m laser-focused on the Olympics – it’ll be my first time reporting and photographing the Games on-site, and I’ll be there for all three equestrian disciplines. I was actually living in Paris when it was announced that they’d be considering bidding for the 2024 Games a decade ago, and was back in the city for a visit in the summer of 2015, when the bid was officially announced, and even though I hadn’t even started my journalism career then, I remember thinking that no matter what, I wanted to be working at Paris when it rolled around. An Olympics in a city that means so much to me is huge – and I’m enjoying every step of the journey so far, from the incredibly intense accreditation process to the actually quite boring admin emails, which I open with all the excitement of a kid at Christmas. It’s also not lost on me that these opportunities might not be around forever – all of us in the sport are working so hard to get eventing onto safer footing, but the reality of the situation is that we might not have that much of a future in the Games.  

You were in Doha recently, reporting, tell us about that experience? How did it differ from our UK events? 

This was my second year working at the CHI Al Shaqab in Doha, and it’s an experience I really enjoy – but it’s always a bit of a wild ride and a very last-minute booking! Both years, I wasn’t sure what I’d actually be doing until I got there. Last year, I primarily helped run the media centre, and did interviews with every class winner across jumping, dressage, and para-dressage, so the assembled journalists would have quotes to use for their stories. This year, I did a bit of that again, but had two major objectives – firstly, I was the organiser and interviewer for a new live zone interview space, and secondly, I was the collecting ring correspondent for the CSI5* jumping class broadcasts, which meant that I did all the rider interviews throughout each evening’s classes. It was a whole new world – I’d never had an in-ear monitor in or had to corral riders for live interviews on such tight timelines – but it was an incredible job to get to do and a great challenge. It was also so much fun to interview new faces, because I don’t spend a huge amount of time in the jumping world – but between my TV roles and the live zone, which was a half-hour interview session each day, I really got to feed that innate nosiness and meet some lovely people. It was a real highlight to interview Malin Baryard-Johnsson when she won the biggest class of the week, the Longines Grand Prix, because she’d been my day two live zone guest and we’d had a lovely time chatting all things showjumping. 

It’s definitely a different world in Doha, not least because money really is no object at the CHI Al Shaqab. It’s an incredible facility and a remarkable stage for top-level sport (and it’s warm and sunny, which makes a nice change…), but I’m also achingly aware of the flip side of working in Qatar and the privilege of the position I’m in. I donate some of my earnings from the show to a charity that works towards reform of labour laws and protecting migrant workers, which is a drop in the ocean in comparison to what needs to be done, but I don’t ever want to turn a blind eye to the harsh realities of the world.  

What do you do in your spare time and what do you get up to offline? 

My head often feels like it’s going to bubble over with all the things I’m interested in and all the projects I want to undertake, so my reasonably limited free time is often spent working on one of those. One of my other big loves, other than horses, is music, so I’m often found at gigs and festivals. I taught myself guitar during the pandemic so I play a lot at home, and I’ve started a bit of a sideline in photographing and writing about bands, with some really exciting names on my roster over the next couple of months. My partner’s a musician, so I also taught myself to screenprint so we could make merch for his now-defunct band, and I’ll be pulling that skillset back out to screenprint some guitars that he’s building at the moment, which will be quite fun! Diarm Byrne of EquiRatings and the Eventing Podcast and I also keep talking about starting a music podcast, so perhaps admitting that on the internet will be the push we both need to actually do it… 

I’ve also been doing a lot of film photography, which is a really good way to challenge my understanding of the whole craft of photography. It’s way too easy to become complacent when you’re reliant on being able to look at your screen and adjust any mistakes you’ve made – having to really think about the mathematics of my settings, as well as being very decisive with my composition because I have limited shots, has been transformative for me when I pick up my digital cameras. I have a bit of a passion project planned with my medium-format film camera at the Olympics this summer, so watch this space!  

Beyond that, I ride, I love to travel, I adore cooking – one day I’d love to write a cookbook, and I’d be deeply honoured if someone would read it in the bath with a glass of wine and some red lipstick on, which is how I like reading cookbooks best – I occasionally revisit the paints, I spend money I don’t have on tattoos, and I read, voraciously. I think it’s necessary to read great writing if you want to be a decent writer yourself, and I also find reading so extraordinarily therapeutic. It widens my world. Great authors are my rockstars – I once met Zadie Smith and then had to go have a little cry in a public loo because I was so overwhelmed by the experience, which is not a particularly cool admission... 

What is your ultimate Hiho love (favourite piece from the Hiho collection) and why? 

I think a brand and a creative person are at their best when their voice, or their style, is instantly recognisable as their own, and for that reason, it’s got to be the cherry roller collection, and especially the cherry roller bangle. I always know, when I spot one peeking out from a cuff, where it’s come from, and so to me, that’s classic Hiho! 

Where can we find you online, so we can follow your journey? 

This depends very much on how much or little chaos you’d like in your life! If you want sleek professionalism, you can check out my website, If you want a hodge-podge of interests and opinions and a lot of behind-the-scenes looks at life as a #journoontour, come along for the ride on my Instagram, which you can find at @tillyberendt. I’ve got a few major things in the works this year – an online equestrian travel publication, for one, and (you heard it here first!) a Substack, too – so that’s the best place to be for updates on all that. I won’t be offended if you click that follow button just for the chance to see lots of content from the Paris Olympics, though! If you’re curious about the music side of my business, I’ve bitten the bullet and launched another Instagram, @tillyberendt.jpeg. Finally, you can find a lot of my most in-depth reporting at, which is @goeventing on Instagram – the best place in the whole world for us eventing nerds to convene, in my highly biased opinion. 

And finally - what is the best piece of business or personal advice you have received?

Every single person you ever encounter has an interior life that’s every bit as complex and interesting as your own – so never make assumptions, and listen at least as much as you speak. 


Share this content