‘People run up to give him a hug’: what is it like taking on Andrew Nicholson’s former ride?

  • Have you ever dreamed of taking on the ride on a top horse and competing him for your country?

    For some junior and young riders, the dream becomes reality, but is it as good as it sounds or are there pros and cons to riding a prolific horse?

    H&H catches up with the riders who have made the British long-list with top horses for the teams heading to Italy for the junior and young rider European Championships in September.

    Mr Cruise Control

    Won at four-star with Andrew Nicholson and is now on the junior long list with Thomas Hawke

    Andrew Nicholson and Mr Cruise Control
    Owners: Andrew Nicholson, Nicky and Robin Salmon
    Sex: gelding
    Height: 17hh
    Age: 15
    Breeding: Irish sport horse (Cruising x Broussard)
    BE points: 1602
    Former rider: Andrew Nicholson
    Big results: won Hartpury three-star two years on the trot (2010, 2011), won at Chatsworth and Luhmühlen in 2013 and has had three top-two placings, including a win at Bicton Arena this year so far with Thomas.

    Thomas says: “I went to Andrew’s yard this time last year for work experience, just before he had his accident. It put Mr Cruise Control out of action and his owners Nicky and Robin Salmon weren’t sure what to do with him. After asking around, they contacted me and I went up and tried him and we picked him up shortly afterwards.

    “I did feel a bit of anxious when taking on Mr Cruise Control, but Nicky and Andrew are very good and don’t put any pressure on me. They want it to go well and are always there supporting me.

    “It just feels great to know I’m riding something capable of winning at four-star. I have to ask him for things the right way otherwise he gives me something else, but it’s good experience for me.

    “When he first arrived he wasn’t very fit and looked a bit out of shape — a dressage steward at one of our first events even asked me if he was my hunter — but the fitter he gets, the more impressive he feels.

    “Mr Cruise Control has been very amiable about me riding him. Because he’d had a bit of time off, he actually felt a bit dopey at the first few events I did on him because they were so small [BE100 level], but he’s waking up now we’re doing the bigger novice tracks.

    “He’s very good across the country but we’ve had to work on our showjumping a bit as the tracks have got bigger, and our dressage is also improving. We’ve been up to Andrew’s a couple of times for jumping lessons to sharpen up before he goes to Barbury [selection trials for the Europeans].

    “I was pretty surprised to hear that we’d been listed because I hadn’t had him that long but was obviously very pleased. As long as our next few events go well, we’ll aim for the Europeans, and my aim next year will be juniors again.

    “I definitely know I’m riding a famous horse, especially when people recognise him and come running up to give him a hug!”

    Dunges Laurent Rose

    518 DUNGES LAURENT ROSE Fredericks, Clayton (AUS)

    Placed at four-star with Clayton Fredericks and now ridden by Charlotte Faulkner
    Owners: Tim and Alice Page
    Sex: mare
    Height: 16.1hh
    Age: 17
    Breeding: British sport horse (Almushmmir x unlisted)
    BE points: 473
    Former rider: Clayton Fredericks
    Big results: ninth at Pau four-star in 2011 with Clayton and numerous top 10 placings at three-star.

    Charlotte says: “I’ve had ‘Rosie’ nine months now. One of my mum’s friends knew Alice who owns her and asked if I’d like to try her out. She’d only just been brought back into work after having a few years off to have two foals, and Alice wanted her to start competing again.

    “I felt a bit of pressure to start with because her owners would come to watch me ride her and I was having a few problems with her at first on the flat, but once I’d got the hang of her, I felt better.

    “I also felt a lot of pressure at my first few events because I was aware I was riding a four-star horse and didn’t want anything to go wrong, but I just have to remember that it’s all about Rosie having fun and there’s no pressure.

    “It’s certainly been a learning curve getting to know her. I always thought it would be easy to ride a more experienced horse and it certainly has its perks because they know their job. But they have their own way of going so I had to learn to adapt to how she wanted to do things.

    “If I’m at an event and a bit nervous, I just remind myself what she is capable of and it instantly eases my nerves. I’ve now done a one-star and a couple of intermediates on her. It’s been easier at intermediate because there’s more to back her off, otherwise she gets a bit strong.

    “I bumped into Clayton at Luhmühlen and he gave me some tips on how to get the hang of her in the dressage and his advice really helped.

    “We’ve just been long-listed for the Europeans but we’ll miss the selection trial at Barbury because she is currently off with an injury. It was an amazing feeling to be long-listed and although it’s disappointing that we can’t go, I remind myself how much she has done for my riding.

    “I’d like to aim for a two-star and hopefully some more intermediate runs next season and continue to learn from her.

    “She’s been the best thing for my riding and even in this short space of time she’s given me so much confidence. I’m just so happy to have been given the opportunity to ride a horse like her.”

    Ngong Hills

    Nicola Wilson riding NGONG HILLS during the Belton Park One Day Event in Belton Park near Grantham in Lincolnshire UK on 18th April 2015

    Former two-star ride of Nicola Wilson, now ridden by junior long-list rider Harriet Wright
    Owner: Harriet Wright
    Sex: gelding
    Height: 16hh
    Age: 11
    Breeding: (Fleetwater Opposition x Reformed Character)
    BE points: 277
    Former rider: Nicola Wilson
    Big results: four top six CIC2* placings including a win at Hopetoun and an open intermediate win at Somerford Park in 2015 with Nicola. Harriet has had a super start to the season, winning Hopetoun one-star and being long-listed at junior level
    Harriet says: “When the opportunity came up to go and try Ngong Hills, I was pretty scared to ride in front of Nicola Wilson, but as soon as I got there, I just got on with it. When I got on him, he gave me the feeling that I could achieve anything because he knew all the moves. It was awesome.

    “I was a bit anxious riding him at first because I was aware that I was following in the footsteps of a professional rider, but we got to grips with each other quickly and haven’t looked back.

    “The pressure of riding a top horse soon went because I was on a different path to Nicola — Ngong Hills had never done junior level before which was my aim, so it was a new sheet for us together.

    “We threw each other in at the deep end — I’d only had him a few months when we did our first event at intermediate level. I’ve now done two trials with him — the first one didn’t go to plan but the second one was amazing.

    “He’s just brilliant and tootles around like it’s a BE90. He has a similar attitude to my old pony and is very easy to get on with.

    “I was a bit shocked when I heard I’d been long-listed. It wasn’t my plan to be long-listed this year at all, my aim was just to get used to him and go with the flow, but it’s gone our way and I couldn’t be happier.”

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    Thornfield Jones

    Caroline Powell (NZL) riding THORNFIELD JONES 3rd in OI Section K at the Poplar Park Horse Trails on 27 April 2014

    Three-star horse formerly ridden by Caroline Powell, now on the young rider long-list with Georgina Kidner
    Owner: Georgina Kidner
    Sex: gelding
    Height: 16.2hh
    Age: 15
    Breeding: Irish sport horse (Dow Jones Courcel x Lady Jessica)
    BE points: 395
    Former riders: Eric Smiley and Caroline Powell
    Big results: placed at Hartpury three-star, Burgham three-star and Chatsworth three-star in 2014 with Caroline before Georgina took the ride.
    Georgina says: “I was working for Caroline when I bought Thornfield Jones. I’d been working with him for a year while Caroline was riding him so got to know him quite well, but there was still a little bit of pressure because I wanted to make Caroline proud of us both.

    “We had to start at novice which was a step down for him, but I needed qualification to move up. Caroline was amazing and always told me that there was no pressure on me.

    “He is quite a sensitive character and the step down and having slightly less pressure on him suits him. He also relishes the one-on-one relationship.

    “He’s been amazing. Everything we’ve done has been a step up for me and he’s taught me so much already. I had a home-bred before Thornfield Jones and we had to learn together, so it’s been great riding something that has that amount of experience.

    “He’s by no means an easy ‘sit-and-point’ ride and I’ve had to work very hard to build a relationship, but I now feel I know him inside and out and I think he feels the same about me.

    “I’d only had him two weeks before we did our first event together. It was right at the end of the season and Caroline encouraged me to crack on and he was amazing.

    “I’ve since done a one-star, a few novices, my first intermediate and a two-star at Houghton.

    “We’ve been long-listed for the young rider Europeans which I never expected. We went to Houghton knowing that was what that section was for, but I was aware that everyone else was a lot more experienced and had more than one horse. All I wanted to do was come home and have someone remember my name, so to come home and be selected for the long-list was amazing.

    “Although Thornfield Jones knows exactly what he is doing, I do have to ride him ‘right’ to get it right, but he knows what I want from him now.

    “It’s been amazing to have the opportunity to ride and we’ll now try our hardest to get a place on the team in Italy. Next year the aim is to go advanced and three-star hopefully.”

    The junior and young rider eventing European Championships take place from 21-25 September 2016 in Montelibretti, Italy

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