Festive stars: the teenager making waves at five-star on a second generation home-bred horse

  • A 12 month progression from your first four-star to your first five-star is impressive by anyone’s standards – and that’s exactly what Alice Casburn achieved between October 2020 and October 2021. Not only that, she recorded a double jumping clear on her five-star debut riding a second generation home-bred horse, the then-13-year-old Topspin.

    “I came out at the start of 2021 thinking I’d like to get my five-star qualification and do Luhmühlen 2022,” says Alice. “Topspin cantered round Aston and Houghton CCI4*-Ss like they were nothing. I picked Blair for a CCI4*-L because of the terrain – he’s a thoroughbred and I knew he’d probably jump clear on the last day, and he did.”

    The pair finished second in the CCI4*-L at Blair Castle Horse Trials.

    Alice continues: “I thought I’d apply to go to the five-star at Pau Horse Trials and if I was accepted, I’d do everything in my power to get there and if I wasn’t, it wasn’t meant to be. Our flatwork has never been the strongest, but I just want to get experience while I have a horse who loves his job and I know will do everything he can to get from one side of the fence to the other. I thought, ‘What am I waiting for? He’s a once-in-a-lifetime horse.’

    “I tried to keep it quiet for a long time that I was going to Pau, then when the entries list was released I tried just to block out that extra pressure.”

    Alice’s mother Caroline (née Sizer) rode on the British squad at the 1994 World Equestrian Games at The Hague on Ghost Town. Alice Casburn, 19, is based at home in Norfolk and grew up through the North Norfolk branch of the Pony Club.

    She explains: “Mum said I needed qualifications, so I did my A Levels, then planned to take a gap year and apply to university ‘just in case’, but it all fell into place. I’m trying to earn my keep by running the livery yard and then building a bigger platform, but I don’t think I’ll be going back to education.

    “We have good facilities and if I need help with exercises or something like bitting, Mum is there.

    “The yard is mostly a livery yard and we have horses for backing, breaking and schooling to afford our own. I just have ‘Spin’ and a couple of really special youngsters, so I hope to try some NEXGEN classes and that sort of thing next year. I’m quite late to the game compared to people who’ve been doing it since ponies, so it’s just about getting my name out there and getting more rides.”

    Alice Casburn rode at a junior Europeans in 2019 on Spin, finishing 16th, but the home-bred by Zento was not an immediate star.

    Caroline evented his grandmother Spangle to advanced before breeding Spin’s dam Capriati from her.

    “His grandmother was lovely but loopy, and we sold Spin’s siblings as at the time we didn’t think they were as special as they are now,” says Alice.

    “Mum evented Spin as a youngster, but he put everyone on the floor and no one wanted to ride him. She started showjumping him and accidentally entered him in a 1.30m. She took him in and he jumped a double clear – he started to grow up a bit when the fences were bigger.

    “I rode his brother, but he had a skin infection that flared up whenever he went went through water. We didn’t have the money to buy something to fill the gap, so we thought why didn’t I give Spin a go? We didn’t instantly get on – he threw me off at the first fence at our first international – but in 2020 he really started to listen and want to work for me.

    “Even now I really struggle in the warm-up because he knows he doesn’t have to listen, but he lights up in the arena and does everything I ask of him and more. It’s about holding his attention because he finds everything so easy.”

    Alice and Spin finished 19th at Pau, adding just 8.4 cross-country time-faults to their dressage of 36.2.

    “I did feel a little out of my depth when I walked down the stable block and I was with Laura Collett, Oliver Townend, William Fox-Pitt – all my idols. But if I had any questions about the course they were all happy to come and help me look at lines and so on. I thought the track was really nice and Spin was phenomenal.”

    Alice Casburn will aim for more five-stars next season with Spin, though is as yet undecided whether she will target Badminton Horse Trials or Luhmühlen Horse Trials in the spring.

    “I never expected to do Pau in 2021, so I’m coming out with an open mind and anything is possible,” she says.

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