‘It’s a learning experience every time I go in the ring’: meet the teenage CSI5* competitor – riders to watch for 2023

  • US-based British showjumper Grace Debney has enjoyed a breakthrough year in which she won her first five-star classes, stepped up to grand prix and won a team bronze medal at the European young rider showjumping championships.

    This 18-year-old is clearly a star of the future.

    “I really am living the dream, it’s been amazing,” says Grace, who is based in Massachusetts but will be spending the next few months competing in the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) at Wellington, Florida.

    The teenager has been riding for as long as she can remember and has channelled a strong competitive spirit and natural flair in the saddle, rising quickly through the ranks and she is now catching the eye on the international jumping circuit.

    “I’ve always been competitive,” she says. “But that competitive side helps me to fight for success in the ring, especially when my horses are fighting for it as much as they do.”

    Grace won two five-star classes in 2022, the first coming at WEF in April and the second at Traverse City Horse Show in September, both with her 11-year-old mare Zarina De Vidau, a Spanish-bred daughter of Diamant De Semilly previously ridden by another British rider Amy Inglis and US Olympia Reed Kessler and whom Grace refers to as her “trusty steed”.

    Grace Debney: ‘I’m figuring it out and it’s a lot of fun’

    Her other top mare is the 15.3hh Boheme De La Roque, but Grace has added two exciting new horses to her string in recent months. The 11-year-old gelding Agadance Van’t Gelutt Z is proving a fantastic schoolmaster.

    “I got to jump my first bigger grand prix on him,” she says. “It’s a learning experience every time I go in the ring, which is how it’s going to be, but I’m figuring it out and it’s a lot of fun. I own Agadance with Jos Lansink, we bought half of him in August to get me going in the bigger rings and he’s really done a good job of that. At only my second show on him I jumped my first five-star grand prix. He’s a real confidence giver. I also bought an eight-year-old, who shows a lot of good talent so I’m very excited about both of them.

    “I still feel ‘wow’ about jumping at five-star, but hopefully it can become a regular thing for me,” she says. “I have some big goals this Wellington season in Florida, so hopefully I can achieve them all. It’s really exciting to have so many good horses going into the new season.”

    In July, Grace Debney fulfilled a life-long ambition to fly the flag for her native Great Britain when she was selected as part of the young rider team at the European Championships in Oliva Nova, Spain with Boheme. The squad won a bronze medal and Grace finished sixth individually.

    “That was unbelievable, I was so happy and proud of my horse, she gave her all,” she says. “It was a bit intimidating coming in and not really knowing anyone on the team because I’m in a different area obviously, but everyone was so welcoming, I made a lot of friends and hopefully I’ll try to keep working towards a championship again in 2023 — I’d love to do it again and try to ride on some teams, it’s definitely a goal.

    “So after Wellington the plan then is to go back to Europe — I don’t want to miss another opportunity like that. We have good experience from last year as to where to go and what to do, so hopefully it will be fun.”

    You might also be interested in:

    Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.

    You may like...