What is it like riding as part of a team?

  • There has been a distinct buzz in the air with the eagerly anticipated team announcement of Britain’s Rio selection for dressage, showjumping and eventing, as well as the Paralympic squad. We are, after all, a country fiercely proud of our teams.

    With British Riding Club’s Animalife National Horse Trials Championships just around the corner (5-7 August 2016), Becky Murray caught up with one qualifying senior team, Findon Riding Club, to find out exactly what it means to be part of a team…

    Introducing: Keely Gordon riding Thunder VII (Thunder); Shona Kinnear riding Best Kept Secret II (Diva); David Lawson riding Silken Chique (Friday) and Kara-Louise Milne riding BMJ Franki (Fifi), who as a team will be making the long journey down to Swalcliffe Park Equestrian in Banbury from Aberdeenshire to compete in the Senior BRC90 class.

    1. What does it feel like being part of a team qualifying for such a big championship?

    David: I am delighted. Everybody had a really good run at the qualifier and all the horses seem to be on good form. I can’t wait to go.

    Shona: It’s great — but scary. Diva hasn’t competed much, and I haven’t for many years due to usually having young horses. I’m sure the others will keep me right…

    2. What are your team strengths?

    Keely: I think we all bring different things to the table. Although we take the competition seriously we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

    Kara-Louise: We’re all very game and hardworking — and competitive when it comes down to it.

    3. How do you train together as a team?

    Kara-Louise: With difficulty! Most of us work full time but we all know each other and have trained at various camps and lessons before, so we are far from strangers.

    David: We all have such busy lives, and with so many competitions on it’s difficult to find a convenient time to see everybody. We do have a lot of banter and give each other support on a daily online group chat. We will have some team training sessions before the championships though.

    4. Before a big competition such as the championships, what difficulties have you faced as a team and how have you overcome them?

    Shona: I have found facilities to train quite hard to come by. I have been boxing up and going places but getting the time is hard.

    David: Our main issue is cost. It’s a 1000 mile round trip and we will need stabling both on the way and the way back in addition to the stabling at the championships. However, some very generous local businesses have sponsored us to cover costs which is a big relief.

    5. Are there individual team members that you view as stronger in one area and how do you balance this out?

    Keely: David and Kara-Louise have a lot of experience which I’m hoping rubs off. I’m probably the dressage diva!

    David: Kara-Louise and I have more experience but then we are both riding inexperienced horses. I am the only one old enough to have experienced roads and tracks and steeplechase — being the wrong side of 40 has some advantages! I will be able to help the other team members with those phases.

    6. When things don’t go to plan, how do you keep the team spirit up?

    Keely: This is my first experience of such a high profile team competition, so in all honesty I’ve no idea! We are all in it to win it but also just for the experience. I think we’re going to have a great time regardless of the result.

    Shona: This is also my first time in an event team so I hope that if it goes wrong, then we can still see the things that have gone right and focus on them.

    7. What does the word ‘teamwork’ mean to you?

    Kara-Louise: Teamwork to me is not just about the team setup. It’s about the team that is you and your horse. I’m fiercely protective of my horses and believe 110% that every time I go in the start box it’s my aim to come home clear, mainly to improve the horse’s confidence and education and so they don’t lose trust.

    Keely: Teamwork in a way is added pressure — the worry that you could let the team down. But you  also get the comfort in the knowledge that they have your back. I think we will head down to the championships as friends and return as teammates. It’s once you’re in the moment and the pressure is on that the true meaning of “team” kicks in.

    8. What makes a good ‘team player’?

    Shona: I think team players need to know when to put the pressure on and when not to. Sometimes it’s a fine line and the right kind of support is needed.

    Kara-Louise: Different personalities! Responding and sometimes adapting to different people and situations for a positive outcome. Some people may suffer nerves, others will have a joke in the warm up but we love it and we are privileged to do what we do.

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    9. What would you say to anyone interested in joining a team in equestrian sport?

    Keely: I think it’s important to compete as part of a team at some point in your life. It brings a different outlook and is extremely worthwhile. It brings a bit of selflessness to the sport.

    Kara-Louise: Be a part of a team! We all dare to have dreams and ambitions with our horses whether it’s doing a dressage test without your mind going blank, getting round clear cross-country or competing at Badminton. Having a team and support around you makes all the difference and pushes you to places you may not have gone alone.

    Don’t miss the full report from the Animalife National Horse Trials Championships in the 18 August issue of Horse & Hound magazine

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