‘I’d nag my mum to take me to the riding school, then be too scared to get on a pony’ – riders to watch in 2023

Horse & Hound is looking ahead to the new season with our experts’ selection of equestrians to follow

  • Jessica McConkey admits that she “took a punt” two months before the young rider European Championships in 2022. Having secured a role as rider for Amy Woodhead in May, the 20-year-old moved her horses to Amy’s base and changed her training routine to fit her new job.

    “It’s not always the greatest idea to switch up your training system two months before a big event, but I took a punt and it worked out. I don’t think I’d have got the scores I got at the Europeans without Amy’s help in the lead up,” says Jessie.

    And they were some scores. A hat-trick of personal bests riding the 13-year-old Quatarback mare Lady Gaga II culminated in a 77.38% freestyle for individual fifth, less than 1.6% off the podium.

    “2022 has been one of my best ever years. The Euros is one of those shows you always aim for but can’t always achieve your best at, so to get a personal best on all three days was really cool,” she adds.

    Jessie now has both Lady Gaga and the 12-year-old gelding Wilson Stensvang at Amy’s, and she says that all three of them can feel the difference.

    “Wilson used to be quite weak and even though he had the talent, I struggled to help him build the muscle. But now he has bulked out and can hold himself in the collected work,” she explains. “I have a habit of overriding because I want it so much, but I’m now learning to showcase the horses’ talent by letting them perform.”

    Most of all though, Jessie is soaking up the opportunity to learn how a successful UK dressage business works.

    “I’ve learnt a lot about horsemanship, and what goes on behind the scenes, in seeing Amy run her business. I’m trying to learn as much as I can and Amy’s taken me under her wing.”

    Jessica McConkey: ‘I need to establish myself in Britain’

    Having a proper career strategy for her own future in the sport has always been important to Jessie, who hasn’t come from a horsey family, and can’t really pinpoint where her passion for dressage started.

    “I was always obsessed with horses and I’d nag my mum to take me to the riding school, but then be too scared to get on a pony,” she recalls. “But eventually we bought my first pony from the riding school and everything snowballed from there. I did a bit of everything when I was younger, but I remember saying to my mum aged 14 that I didn’t see myself ever going round Badminton so it would have to be dressage. If I was going to do it, I wanted to do it properly.”

    She’s certainly thrown herself into the sport, with four junior and young rider Europeans now under her belt, as well as a placement at Van Olst Horses in the Netherlands in 2021.

    2023 will be her final year of young riders and she is keen to make the most of it, while also stepping both horses up to inter II.

    “I’d like to focus on more national shows in 2023, which I think is important from a career perspective” she says. “I’ve always focused on [youth] CDIs but national shows are becoming bugger and more important, and if I want to create a career for myself I need to establish myself in Britain.

    “In future, I’d love to produce and sell young horses, but I’d also love to make the British senior team one day.”

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