Inspirational amateur event riders taking on the big boys *H&H Plus*

  • Dedicated amateurs being able to compete alongside professionals is a special aspect of equestrian sport. Gemma Redrup meets three inspirational amateur eventers who are taking on the top riders

    Lauren Innes works full-time as an auditor for KPMG in Reading, an hour’s commute from her home. She is on a training contract, which means she is also completing exams alongside her job so she can gain her chartered accountancy qualification.

    “I’m on the client side of things so although I always start work at 9am, my finish time can vary from 5pm to midnight depending on what deadlines we’re working to,” says Lauren, 29. “I once finished at 5am and day-to-day I don’t know exactly when I’ll be home, so I always get up at 6am to ride before work.”

    Lauren owns one horse, Global Fision M, and is on the lookout for a young horse. She sourced “Flipper” five years ago and the now 10-year-old gelding completed Blenheim’s CCI4*-L and was in the money in the CCI4*-S at Barbury last season.

    “My proudest moment so far, though, was getting my Union Jack upon being selected to compete on the three-star European Cup team last year – we went on to win team silver,” says Lauren, who cites her mother as the person without whom she couldn’t manage to do it all.

    “My parents, but especially Mum, are a key component of making my competing around work possible,” she explains. “She’ll bring Flipper in from the field in the afternoon, provides financial support and is at home, keeping an eye on him for me when I can’t. I’m also really lucky to have a horse walker, which I couldn’t live without. I have access to a water treadmill, too, so when it’s too dark to hack in the mornings, I can take Flipper there to add variety into his work.”

    Lauren, who is aiming for Bramham’s CCI4*-L in the first half of this season, says that although the hours to combine work and eventing can be tough, “if you want to do it enough, you find the time to make it work”.

    “It needs to be enjoyable, too – if getting up in the morning makes you miserable, then it’s probably not for you,” she says. “There are times I get frustrated because I know if I rode more and could dedicate more time to it, my results would be much better, but I’m very fortunate to be able to combine my job with competing at events such as Blenheim.”

    An expensive hobby

    Adam Harvey was Horse & Hound’s 2019 Pikeur Amateur Rider of the Year, and he combines competing at four-star level with a full-time job as a chartered surveyor in commercial property.

    “My hours are 7.30am to 4.30pm and I’m based predominantly in Reading, which is a 90-minute commute,” explains Adam, who has two horses – a six-year-old at BE100 level and an 11-year-old at four-star. “I ride in the dark after work, and am usually getting off my last horse at 8.30pm, but work have recently allowed me to start working from home two days a week, which is very helpful.”

    Adam recently moved away from home and his mother Vickie, who was “instrumental” in Adam’s riding career – “she sorted everything for me”– and he now lives in north Oxfordshire with his boyfriend Jonathan, who is a dressage rider.

    “Jonathan will hack and lunge for me on the days I can’t ride, and I couldn’t live without our covered horse walker, which in the recent weather has been a massive help,” admits Adam, who says he committed to having this “expensive hobby” a few years ago, and sees himself as a “professional amateur”.

    “Lots of people said riding at a high level and working full time couldn’t be done,” explains the 26-year-old who has jumped double clear at four-star level and won and been placed at three-star.

    “But I think it’s important to dream big – as long as you apply yourself and believe in your system, while maintaining personal relationships with your horses, you can succeed.

    “It’s also important that you don’t spread yourself too thin. I used to have four or five horses while at university and it was too much. I find two or three works a lot better for me.”

    Adam, who has five-star competition in his sights aboard his self-produced Picasso V, says that, like Lauren, being selected onto the European Cup three-star British squad that won team silver last year was his proudest moment so far.

    “We were also fourth individually,” he says. “I’ll do some more four-stars this year, but five-star is something I’d like to achieve – it’s good to have something to dream about.”

    Being organised is key

    Jess Campbell combines working as a vet for Buckingham Equine Vets with keeping a string of six horses, from youngsters up to her top advanced horse, Aghalaan Wee Dan.

    “My hours are 8am to 6pm, so I tend to ride two before work and two after and I have them on a rota,” explains Jess.

    Jess is based with her boyfriend, full-time five-star eventer George Hilton-Jones, but she says that he is “plenty busy enough with his own horses” to be able to help her with riding.

    “I tend to get onto the yard at 5am and am rarely finished until 9.30pm, but I’m fortunate to have George and his mother Isabelle on the yard all day to keep an eye on things,” explains Jess, who is aiming Dan at CCI4*-L this season. “I used to muck all of mine out before work, too, but I made the decision to employ someone to help me with that, which has proved life-changing – I don’t know how I managed before!”

    Jess says that being organised is key – “although I’m pretty terrible at it,” she laughs.

    “You also need to be realistic. If you’ve had a really long, hard day at work, it’s not going to kill your horse to have a day off, and it’s better than trying to ride in the wrong frame of mind.

    “You have to do it for the love of it – remember it’s meant to be fun, but be aware that long days and sacrificing aspects of your social life are inevitable. Injuries are always a low point for me, but I’m lucky in that through working hard, I’ve got other horses to fall back on.”

    Ref Horse & Hound; 12 March 2020