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Remember the name: Ellie McCarthy — ‘I had to choose between dressage and polo’

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...

Meet Ellie McCarthy, the young dressage rider setting herself up for a successful grand prix career with an exciting string of horses and new yard to match

Ellie McCarthy was always destined for a career in horses, but she could just have easily ended up a professional polo player as a dressage rider. Her father, Spencer, is playing patron of the highly successful Emlor polo team, and Ellie grew up playing Pony Club polo.

“I did BYRDS [British Young Riders Dressage Scheme] when I was very young, but then I fell out of love with competing and played polo for a few years instead. When I was 15 my dad asked me to choose either dressage or polo, and I opted for dressage,” says Ellie, 24, who made her international debut at juniors just two years later riding Casual.

In 2016, Ellie took on the ride on Donna Summer, previously produced and competed to grand prix and on British young rider teams with Olivia Oakeley, eventually buying him in 2018.

“It was with Donna Summer that I learned to really, really love dressage again,” says Ellie. “He was such an amazing schoolmaster; with him I could really focus on myself rather than just what the horse was doing.”

Ellie and Donna Summer were selected to represent Britain at the 2017 young rider European Championships, where they finished 15th individually, in the same year that she took the plunge and moved out to Germany to spend two years training with Helen Langehanenberg.

“It was really amazing to see how they do things out in Germany, where dressage is more of a way of life to people than it is in this country,” said Ellie. “I didn’t really want to come back, but I also wanted to build a business for myself. I set up at home when I got back, with five stables and a small arena. But we have since bought a property down the road – it was actually the riding school where I first learned to ride – and have been rebuilding it. I’ll have two barns, an indoor and outdoor arena, and I plan to start a livery yard alongside my dressage business. I’m most excited to have a full size arena – it’s physically impossible to ride a test in my small arena at home.”

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At the top of Ellie’s string nowadays is Sir Lancelot M, her ride at the 2020 under-25 European Championships. The striking grey Lordanos stallion’s career has been punctured by injury, but Ellie hopes to bring him back into work this winter and has high hopes for him. Sharing the limelight is her latest ride, the stunning Londontime son GB Londero Von Worrenberg, who arrived with her in May this year having been found by her current trainer, Charlotte Dujardin, and shipped from Germany for Ellie to try during the pandemic. Needless to say, he never went back.

“Charlotte and I have been training Londy together – he was tricky in the beginning and is very strong and sensitive. I have to sit really quietly as he gets upset easily by things and is very hot to the leg, but he always tries hard,” says Ellie, who got her competitive partnership with 11-year-old Londy off to a super start this month with double inter II victory at Keysoe High Profile show.

“He is still green at the level, but he felt incredible at Keysoe.”

Her plan for 2021 is to bring both horses out at under-25 grand prix, as well as venturing into the world of seniors.

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