‘Lost for words’: 15-year-old Brit triumphs at Aachen

  • Junior European team bronze medallist Isla Sully rounded off her breakthrough year by winning the Aachen Youngstars Junior Champion title.

    It was 15-year-old Isla’s first time at Aachen and with the Lusitano gelding Vagabond de Massa she rose from 10th place in the team test with 68.88%, to top the leaderboard in the individual test with 71.22% and the freestyle with 74.79%.

    Travelling to Aachen was a last-minute decision for the combination, who were on the British junior team that won bronze this summer, but had not been planning to go to the event the week before.

    “I had thought we’d bring Vagabond’s season to an end because they’d both been so busy and had already done so well,” said Isla’s mum Cassandra.

    “Then at four o’clock on Monday, we had a change of heart, so I phoned Sharon Weir [British Dressage’s under-21 international officer] to see if we could still go, and she said ‘You’ve got one hour to decide if you want to go or not before the entries close.’

    “So we thought ‘Let’s do it’, because how often do you get the opportunity to ride at Aachen? Let’s just go there and enjoy it. We quickly phoned her trainer, Alex Harrison, to see if he could come and from there it just sort of fell together.”

    Cassandra said they went with no expectation of winning but hoping for a top-10 finish.

    “As a mum, I never care what results come in, I just want her to enjoy it, go to bed on time and stay hydrated,” she said. “But to watch her win in Aachen, I was lost for words.”

    Isla Sully has been training with Alex at Collective Equestrian for almost two years. As well as teaching, Alex rides to a high level and is the UK’s youngest list one judge, which Cassandra believes has contributed to Isla’s success.

    “Alex is a legend, to have a judge who also rides as your trainer gives you a different perspective, and helps solve problems in a way that creates results in the ring,” she said.

    “Isla and him just gel. She used to call his sessions drilling sessions because he’s super competitive, and she loves that.

    “They know each other so well now that there’s never any misunderstanding, she trusts him completely. He helps her with goal-setting and planning her season, which Isla takes great comfort in.”

    With success here and success at the Junior European Championships, the future looks bright for Isla Sully, but with GCSEs around the corner, she and Vagabond are taking every day as it comes for now.

    “Isla is extremely dedicated and conscientious, and she’d love to go into horses but she’s also started thinking about where she wants to go to university, and I think it’s sensible to have that balance,” Cassandra said.

    “The pressure that these young riders take on is incredible, so to watch them keep going out there again and again and performing is amazing.”

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