The H&H interview: Jasean Spraggett – show rider, coach and course-builder

  • Last year’s HOYS lightweight hunter victor is garnering a reputation as one of the most versatile and forward-thinking young people in showing, as Alex Robinson experiences first-hand...

    Just 10 months ago Jasean Spraggett hit the headlines when she took home one of the most prestigious crowns at the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). Competing in the lightweight hunters – one of the hardest classes to crack – against the country’s leading show horse producers, Jasean became an overnight inspiration for many young riders who are perhaps tentative about taking on the crème de la crème of showing.

    “I had been banging on for ages about how I was never going to win at HOYS again and that I must just be useless,” reflects Jasean, 28, who had her first NEC centre line moment 16 years before in the open mountain and moorlands (M&Ms) with Welsh section A Springbourne Camelot.

    Jasean’s victorious hunter was her exceptionally talented mare Noble Queen Bee (Sally) who had jumped round the Cuddy working hunter final to stand fifth 48 hours earlier. In the lightweights Sally was awarded a near perfect 49/50 for her ride, four marks clear of second place.

    “She’s a real old-fashioned stamp with an amazing gallop,” says Jasean, who bought Sally from the Underwoods in 2017. She was persuaded to give the hunter classes a go with her by showman Magnus Nicholson.

    “I grew up around those ‘proper’ hunter people, the likes of Nigel Oliver and John Rawding, so my preference of horse has been influenced by that time in my life; I like something traditional in type with plenty of substance. I used to go to the Rawdings’ yard at Church Farm as a child, at the same time as Hayden Hankey who also won at HOYS last year.

    “I like to do more than one class with my show horses; in 2018 Sally was at HOYS in both the workers and ladies’ finals. Back in the day all the hunters would jump round the workers after their flat class at the big county shows.”

    Jasean’s parents, Terry and Cindy, were at the NEC to watch her triumph.

    “After the win Mum and Dad went to Sally’s old owner Mike Underwood’s funeral, so it was a very emotional day all round,” adds Jasean.

    At home in Worcestershire, Jasean runs the family’s Mulbrook stud from their nine-box yard. Alongside managing the stud, Jasean is an accredited trainer and a qualified course-builder. During lockdown she was working non-stop, moving her coaching business online so she can provide clients with remote lessons.

    “I’ve had to adapt and as I’ve not been running up and down the country I’ve been able to offer this service,” she explains. “My virtual lessons have worked well; my client will send a video of them riding an exercise and we’ll then go over it together before they have another go and see if they’ve improved.

    “I love coaching; thinking about my career going forward it’s definitely what I want to do.”

    Jasean Spraggett – show rider

    Jasean produced for the show ring from the age of 17 until she was 22; the highlight for her was winning the 2012 show hunter pony of the year championships at HOYS with Welsh section B mare Stambrook Wedding Belle (Floss) and Eleanor Fairey.

    “Floss was sent to me as an M&M worker but I thought she’d make a cracking 13hh hunter pony; she’s a real scaled down middleweight,” says Jasean. “We had to be brave and completely trim her out, but it paid off. It was such a shock to win that championship as it was Eleanor’s first time at HOYS, too. When they were called out I literally fell to the floor and had to be picked up!

    “We had success but it was a lot of pressure for a young person. I applaud those producers who have 20-plus on their yard; it takes commitment and you need such a big team. For me, the lessons put me in a better financial position, plus a past back injury means I’m not able to ride dozens of horses every day. I like to think I’m just getting a head start on a career many riders pick up later in life.”

    A few years ago Jasean had two rotational falls in quick succession before being diagnosed with dehydrated discs. She now relies on steroid injections and constant physio work to keep her sound and in the saddle.

    “My equine physio, Emma Phillips, works on my back, too,” says Jasean. “I have to work hard on staying symmetrical so it’s helpful Emma can work with me and the horses together. I’ve also had a fantastic surgeon along the way. He was recommended to me by Nick Skelton, and if he’s good enough for Nick he’s good enough for me.”

    Jasean spent her early years in the show ring learning the ropes with showing legend Julie Templeton, before finding her zest for jumping.

    “We wanted to get into showing and I was lucky that my parents were in a situation to let me have a pony with someone like Julie,” says Jasean, who first rode at HOYS in 2000 on a 12.2hh show pony. “Julie taught me a lot about showmanship and ring craft, and I follow a lot of these same principles when teaching my younger jockeys.”

    Getting the jumping bug

    Jasean’s first top-level worker campaigner was the 15hh coloured gelding Gigolo, who first landed on the Spraggetts’ yard as a gangly five-year-old.

    “He was found tied to a lamp post at a trotting sale and was offered to us as a three-year-old, but I was a bit young,” says Jasean, who mentions the “quirky” 18-year-old is currently getting fit for the coming hunt season.

    “The first day I sat on him he tripped over his own feet and fell on his knees when I tried to ride a circle; I just looked at Mum and said, ‘Are you serious?’ But we persevered and later that year he ended up jumping clear at HOYS. He won countless championships for me.”

    Several horses have followed – including Kendall Banks-Browne’s intermediate worker Kidside Ferguson, who stood champion to Gigolo at Royal Windsor on two separate occasions. And with HOYS off the cards for this year, Jasean has been spending time with her brace of novices who are gearing up for next term. She is particularly excited about five-year-old home-bred Mulbrook Errant Amour (Amour G x Willoughby Wanderer) who is to be campaigned as a lightweight hunter.

    “I’ve missed the social side of things this year,” she says. “I struggled at school so I’ve made the majority of my friends through showing and we usually spend all summer together travelling the county show circuit. HOYS is usually quite tearful as I know I’m not going to see them until the following April.”

    Jasean Spraggett – course builder

    When she’s not working with the horses, Jasean is making her name as an upcoming course-builder.

    “When I came out of intermediates I missed the British Show Pony Society scene so much; this was a way of staying in the pony world and giving back a bit,” she says. “I was always the kid on the yard taking all the tools and wheelbarrows to make courses. Growing up I’ve found it useful to have a rapport with the course-builder and I’ve been inspired by some of those top designers, such as Lisa Kelly and David Cole.

    “I’d like the showing world to have more of an industry standard when it comes to courses; we shouldn’t be able to predict a weaker track at one show and a stronger one at the next, but should expect standardised courses for the respective level.

    “I like to see novice courses provide lots of clear rounds so youngsters can gain beneficial experience, whereas I’d expect more challenges in an open track as it’s designed to test and ask questions.”

    Jasean is also keen to see more young riders in the horse ranks and hopes she has motivated some to dip their toe in next season.

    “I don’t know if it’s just me as I don’t like other people riding my animals, but I’ve been on horses since I came off my 15hh worker,” she says. “I find that you’ll often see intermediate worker riders in the Cuddy horse final at HOYS, but you won’t see intermediate flat jockeys in the horse equivalent; they’ll usually have another rider. It’s important to ride horses alongside so it’s more of a crossover when you’re out of class, and then hopefully fewer riders will drop off after their intermediate careers.”

    It’s been refreshing to speak to someone in the sport who’s thinking outside the box and making plans for her own career – and the sport in general – both in and out of the saddle. With her bright ideas, positive outlook and want for her young peers to succeed, Jasean’s on the right path for ensuring she’s an integral part of the show scene for a long time.

    H&H 13 August 2020

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