Although Alice Pearson, who grew up in an intensely equine environment, doesn't remember the first time she sat on a horse, she does clearly recall her first pony. "I remember my godfather bought me a little Shetland pony called Miss Muffet. I was told to go down to the stables where there was a present, but I was so little that I didn't think to look into the stables themselves, but when I did, there was a pony. It was brilliant and started the love of horses."

"She loved it from day one," says her mother.

From there it was a short step to Pony Club - "I think I was about five or six when I joined," says Alice. "And I was doing competitions off the leading rein at seven - it was very competitive."

"Initially, we just went round local shows and rallies, always trying to improve, then from the age of 12 I did some British Eventing, and the first Pony Trial I qualified for was in Brougham in Cumbria, in which Alice and her pony, Joker finished 10th which they were suitably pleased with and qualified for the British Pony Championships ... "My first foray into being a bit more professional". But certainly not her last as she declares that the experience had her totally hooked.

Her mother, Sally, had also evented to a high level and, with her father, John, ran a successful stable of point-to-pointers from their Herefordshire base in Bredenbury, with their picture appearing on the front of The Sporting Life (known today as the Racing Post).

Having tasted success, Alice wanted more and academic study took a back seat as she explored possible routes into a life working with horses - including point-to-pointing, team chasing, hunt rides and hunting - but eventing was the course she was passionate about pursuing.

"We were still involved in point-to-pointing when she got to the point of deciding, but Alice preferred eventing and we gradually became less involved with the pointers," says Sally. "It's best to have just one discipline. But you've got to have the killer instinct. You won't get there otherwise."

"It is always horses," Alice says, adding that her mother, who taught riding at St Richard's, once wrote a report which said 'could you possibly think about another career', "and I instantly burst into tears. Fortunately it was a joke and she'd written another one."

Reflecting on what else she might have done, had a career in horses not been the only one she wanted, Alice says "I was sporty at school, and I think I might have been some kind of sports coach." (Her older sister, Nicola, is coincidentally, one of the top 10 field hockey coaches in the US teaching at Bowdoin College in Maine.)

Instead, Alice's ambition was to go to the European championships. "I went to watch a couple in Germany and Spain," and in 2005, riding Coconut Grove, a horse she started riding that year, Alice was asked to compete for Great Britain in the Junior European Championships where they were placed 10th and awarded Best British combination.

Currently Alice has 12 horses at livery, horses owned by people who share her love of the sport, but doesn't have one of her own and concedes that "you have to have your own to bring them on to earn money". Explaining that the prize money at one of the most prestigious competitions on the eventing calendar, Badminton, is only £90,000, she says wryly that "horse racing is a very different game".

""You're always trying to get the best out of each horse," she explains. "And the more horses you ride the better you ride. I've ridden all sorts and they all teach you different things, even it it's not to ride them again!"

And what is it about eventing that has so firmly in its grasp? "It's an addiction, the thrill of going cross-country, the love and partnership you share with the horses - you're a team, it's not just about you, it's about everyone: staff, family, friends, physio, farrier. You see the horses progress, you see yourself progress and you keep striving for better.

"In dressage you can't achieve perfection. No one has ever got 100%. There are 18 to 20 different movements being judged - I think I've got 16, which is 84%."

Eventing consists of three elements - dressage, cross country and showjumping - and, Alice explains, "a horse needs to be able to do all three, and for that they must have carefulness for showjumping, bravery and speed for cross country and the movement for the dressage .... and they need to have a trainable temperament.

"The quirky ones are the talented ones generally. A nice quiet horse won't have the bravery, and it's a bit of a gamble to find one. You need to find more than a horse that is a happy medium. You have to work with them. You can look at the confirmation of a horse and you can tell a bit by its attitude but you would still have to spend a good six months with a horse to know if it can handle the game and wants to do it."

Alice has been fortunate enough to find horses embodying that unique combination, with one of them Beau Bear giving her one of her career highlights - "jumping a clear round at Badminton. It was the first Badminton for both of us, so there was no pressure on our shoulders. It was the most perfect day. I rode it as I'd walked it, which never happens.

"I was so buzzed and thrilled," she says. "And that's why I keep doing it, to do that again. I just want to get back there again. It gives you that drive to be at the top of your game."