The H&H interview: Dressage sisters Becky and Hannah Moody *H&H Plus*

  • From humble beginnings, the Moody sisters have reached the heights of dressage. Helen Scott hears their plans for 2020

    As children, the Moody girls would make the long drive south on a freezing November day to pony team training at Hickstead. Ahead was a night spent in the trailer in sub-zero temperatures. Becky had won the pony talent spotting final and was about to be selected as reserve for the European Championships.

    But the main memory the sisters have of the occasion was a remark about them being the people who did dressage on a shoestring because they didn’t have a wagon.

    It’s something they laugh about now, as Becky, now 39, ended up riding for Team GBR at juniors and four times at young rider level, winning two team bronzes. And they do now have a wagon — called Frank.Fast forward 25 years and the Moody sisters have established one of the northern dressage powerhouses, based in their parents’ converted pig farm nestled in the Pennines near Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

    It’s not what you would call flash, as it’s a yard that has grown organically around some original converted buildings, housing impressive indoor and outdoor arenas, a separate barn for the competition horses, and enough room for human and equine visitors who come for training. But the beating heart of Moody Dressage is the grit, determination and humour of the sisters and their loyal team.

    They coach 150 clients between them; both sit on British Dressage committees — Becky on training and Hannah on youth — and have 10 horses Becky will compete this season.

    “We have the same aims, but maybe get to them in different ways,” says Hannah, 49, who focuses on coaching and the business, despite having ridden to grand prix with Caluna.

    “Becky is a brilliant test rider and way more competitive than me. I love the training of horse and rider and it’s great we can bounce ideas off each other and be there for each other when things go wrong.”

    “It has to be fun, that’s the main thing,” adds Becky, who has a wacky sense of humour, as shown in her Facebook posts with her and her stallion James Bond II sticking their tongues out at each other, and the way she uses whinnying sound effects on her phone to get horses to prick their ears for photos.

    “Yes, but you love winning!” retorts Hannah.

    Watching Becky school Famke PF (Iris), Hannah is quick to pick up on every detail.

    “It’s all about Iris’ balance,” she says. “She’s a natural at passage and piaffe but Becky has been working on the foundations of her training which is why she’s not competed yet.”

    Childhood days

    The Moody story began in Scotland where both sisters were part of the Eglinton Hunt branch of the Pony Club before their father Patrick’s work in textiles took them south to Barnsley. Both then rode on teams for the Rockwood Harriers branch, and Becky caught the dressage bug when she took over the ride on Hannah’s thoroughbred/Highland eventer Sir Fred and began training with Ian Woodhead. She rode on teams with Jordas and Kwadraat, whose competition career was started by Hannah. Along the way Becky has won 18 national titles and is currently on the British Equestrian Federation podium potential squad.

    Hannah headed off to the Slade School of Fine Art in London, but came home to concentrate on horses when she completed her degree. She trains at home and at clinics from Aberdeen to the Midlands and juggles her coaching with her family, husband Robin and seven-year-old daughter Eva.

    The sisters agree on pivotal moments in their careers.

    “Mum and Dad have been beyond supportive. If they hadn’t been here for us, they’d now have a very nice retirement house in the south of France and a much better bank balance,” opens Becky.

    Hannah adds: “Beginning training with David Hunt in 2002 was a game changer. He’s a genuine life mentor and has given me so much confidence.”

    David visits for two days’ training a month, and Becky also goes to Carl Hester half a dozen times a year, saying the two men’s training approaches are complementary.

    “Our partnership with Julie Lockey, who has sourced or bred some of our top horses, is amazing,” says Becky.

    Julie originally came for lessons before buying Wallenstein for Becky to ride and then Caluna for Hannah. She bought stable star Carinsio (Jack Jack) from Astrid Bolton as a yearling because she loved his Painted Black bloodlines.

    “When I sat on Jack Jack as a three-year-old, I thought he was awesome,” says Becky. “Now Mum and Dad own half of him, and we’re hoping he’ll be back out this season. He won twice at grand prix last year before picking up an injury, but he’s back in work.”

    Developing talent

    More recently, Jo Cooper met the Moodys when she came for schoolmaster lessons, and now owns Eureko, James Bond II and Famke PF. Pat and David Walker, whose daughter Grace trained with the Moodys, also have shares in some of the horses.

    “The people around us are enormously important, and we’re lucky to have a yard team who tend to stay on — some have been with us for more than 20 years.” says Hannah.

    Developing talent is something to which both sisters are committed, whether it’s someone aiming at teams or children starting on native ponies.

    Previous Team GB members Eilidh Grant, Sophie Taylor, Ryan Todd and Carly Taylor-Smith, who is now in the United States, have all been Moody-trained.

    Josh Mellor, who joined the yard as an apprentice after doing work experience, had only ridden at the local riding school before. This summer he contested the national championships at medium gold on veteran Wallenstein and will now compete some of the younger horses.

    The pair have many aims for the New Year.

    “I want to keep helping my clients to improve, whether they are the grassroots ones just starting out on their journey or our future international stars,” says Hannah. “There is always so much to learn for all of us and that’s one of the pretty cool things about what we do.

    “I guess I also have to keep Becky in line, her horses on the bit and her accounts up to date, which is the trickiest job,” she smiles.

    Becky adds: “I feel I have the best team of horses I’ve ever had and just want to do them all justice. I believe some of them have the potential to become top international horses and I’m hoping to have both Carinsio and Famke out on the grand prix circuit.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 16 January 2020