Over this festive season, we are shining a light on up-and-coming talent across the equestrian disciplines. These are riders you really need to keep an eye out for during the 2021 season...
Alex Harrison admits that he didn’t have a typical horsey upbringing, but it certainly hasn’t held him back from reaching the top of the sport.
“I didn’t start riding until I was about 11, then when I was 12 we bought a cheap off-the-track racehorse. I don’t think I even had a saddle at first – I spent a lot of time hacking down the road in a headcollar, wearing my school uniform,” remembers Alex, 23.
“I went down the natural horsemanship route at first and spent some time backing and schooling horses once I left school at 16. Then I got a job at AM Dressage with Matt Frost and Adam Kemp. I had decided that I wanted to start getting into dressage – I had got a bit bored with riding the wild and woolly ones, and thought dressage looked a bit more refined. Of course then I realised that actually a lot of dressage horses are slightly nuts too!”
Alex says that one of the biggest lessons he learned during his two years with Matt and Adam wasn’t necessarily what he might have expected, but it’s a takeaway that has served him well.
“I learned that, actually, everyone has bad rides, and that what you see for five minutes in the arena isn’t the whole picture,” he explains. “Whatever happens at a show, you should be able to smile at the end of it because you’ve enjoyed it.”
It was while he was at AM Dressage that he bought the Don Diamond son Diamond Hill, his current top horse, as a three-year-old, and shortly afterwards, he and his partner Jonny Clarke-West set up their own dressage business, Collective Equestrian.
“Since then it’s been a whirlwind,” says Alex, who represented Britain at the young rider European Championships in 2018 with “Damo”, now a nine-year-old.
“I find that young riders and under-25s is really about learning to deal with high pressure situations. At the Europeans I knew we weren’t likely to win, so I focused on giving the horse a nice ride and a good experience. I’m generally quite horizontal – I went into the opening ceremony with a pint of beer in my hand!”
Alex and Damo made their grand prix debut at the start of 2020, scoring a double win in under-25 ranks at the Keysoe CDI in March. The coronavirus pandemic stifled their plans for the season, but they finished the year on a high at the National Grand Prix Championships at Hartpury in December, where they scored 65.7% amongst top class company.
“Damo is so easy to teach things to,” says Alex. “He is getting much stronger and linking the grand prix movements together much more easily. I’d love to compete at Olympia with him next year, if he is ready.”
For 2021, Alex is also excited about his upcoming ride, the eight-year-old mare Horelja L (Lula), who is currently competing at prix st georges, but will be targeting inter II and grand prix next year.
“Damo is a lot of fun and bounces along, but Lula is what I would call a serious horse,” explains Alex. “We call her the secret weapon, as she’s been somewhat hidden away so far.”
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Also on Alex’s agenda for 2021 is to gain his List 2 judging qualification, having already secured his List 3a.
“Becoming a judge has been really eye-opening. I used to get so annoyed at judges, but I’m the kind of person who, if I’m moaning about something, I want to do something about it, so I decided to put myself in the judges’ shoes. I’m starting to practice-judge at PSG level now, which is very interesting and I’d really like to get my List 1 qualification one day.”
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