‘I’m gaining a better understanding of my horses’: Annabella Pidgley’s gap year plans – and why she can’t wait to compete Pumpkin

  • Being a top dressage rider, no matter how experienced your horses might be, requires a huge level of commitment. This is something that Annabella Pidgley knows very well.

    The 18-year-old only made her grand prix debut last October, but has already made her mark on the senior circuit, while continuing to compete in young riders as well.

    2023 has been a bumper year for her – making her Nations Cup team debut for Britain at Compiègne and Aachen, riding Vamos Amigos, as well as winning double individual gold at the young rider Europeans on Espe. She enjoyed success at the recent National Dressage Championships too, winning the prix st georges freestyle and young rider titles.

    Earlier this year, Annabella finished her international baccalaureate (IB) exams, gaining top marks. It’s meant the summer marked an end to the struggle of juggling training and competing with a rigorous study schedule. At least, for now, anyway.

    “I have a place at King’s College in London to study business management, but with a deferred entry,” said Annabella, who has now embarked on a gap year in which she intends to ride and compete full time.

    “Doing the IB was really demanding. I didn’t want to go back to studying without taking the time out to focus on riding at a stage where there is not so much pressure. I want to see if riding is something I want to do full-time in future, or whether I want to pursue a career in something else.”

    Since finishing her exams, Annabella’s life has been filled with competitions, but she is now settling into her gap year routine. She says she is putting a lot more time and focus into her own strength and fitness now she has the time to dedicate to it, and is already seeing the effects.

    “I feel so much stronger now, and more confident on my horses. I know I’m doing the most I can to improve myself and mentally that really helps,” she says.
    Annabella starts her day with a cardio session on her spin bike, before riding throughout the morning and heading to the gym in the afternoon for strength training.

    “I had to give up gym work when I was at school as I didn’t have the time or the energy to cope with it alongside studying and riding,” said Annabella.

    She heads back to the horses in the afternoon and evening to help with the yard work, and says that she loves having the chance to spend more time with the horses.

    “My favourite thing is grooming and just being with them, giving them that special attention. They have physio exercises and stretches that I like to do with them, and it’s good to see how their bodies move when I’m not on them.

    “It’s also nice to be around to have conversations with the vet, farrier, dentist and physio and gain more of an all-round understanding of them.”

    Annabella Pidgley: ‘Pumpkin is really well at home’

    Annabella Pidgley with Gio

    Annabella Pidgley riding Gio.

    Annabella currently has six horses in, with Vamos Amigos and Espe having been her main focus this summer. But she’s looking forward to getting Gio, also known as Pumpkin, back out at grand prix level over the winter.

    The pair made a fantastic start to their international career together, gaining a double win at grand pix at Addington CDI in March, and have training at home over the summer.

    “Pumpkin is doing really well at home. I didn’t have time to campaign all of them over the summer; I wanted to do young riders with Espe as it might be my last chance at young riders if I step up to under-25s next year. And I’ve been trying to gain experience with Vamos at grand prix,” she says.

    “I didn’t have time to compete three horses at internationals – I was already having to study in between tests at shows as it was. So I decided to save Pumpkin for when I had enough time to properly focus on him.”

    Annabella says that although she hasn’t planned out her winter season yet, Pumpkin will definitely be a part of it.

    “Competing at London International Horse Show has always been a dream of mine,” says Annabella. “But we’ll see – it’s important to plan what’s best for both you and the horse, not just you.”

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