Life lessons: Dressage rider and trainer Anna Ross *H&H Plus*

The international dressage rider and trainer on not looking horses in the eye, listening to your backside and never getting back on for a third time

  • International dressage rider Anna Ross, whose career highlights include finishing best of the Brits in 10th at the 2007 European Championships, heads up Elite Dressage in Devon, from where she produces and sells British-bred dressage stars.

    Every horse I ride teaches me how little I know. They were all sent to make me a better person. Some teach you patience, some teach you to control your nerves. I like having ones we’ve bred as they come as they are and we have to work with who they are – each is a puzzle.

    I was based with German Olympic champion Ulla Salzgeber for an intensive period of training, and she is an extraordinarily good trainer. It’s really worth investing in good training, because the best thing you can have is your skill – it is not a coincidence that certain riders have produced horse after horse to top level. Ulla taught me technique. The time I spent there was all about the German scales of training.

    When I have a new pupil I say, “If we really set the basics, you’re going to have fun later on. If you want to skip the basics and go straight to the fun stuff, then you won’t have any fun. Trust me, none of the shortcuts work, I’ve tried them!”

    It is similar to something German trainer Dr Uwe Schulten-Baumer once said to me: “Anna, the long way is the short way”.

    I’ve had a lot of good advice. Reiner Klimke told me if your horse is short in the neck it’s because it’s behind your leg, and Yogi Breisner said not to look a horse in the eye. I don’t know why, but I never do and I’m still here.

    One of my former riders, Alison Berman, used to say: “Horses do what they did.” If you let a horse do something 20 times, don’t expect it to do something different on the 21st occasion. And a wise man at Goresbridge sales said to me: “Never get back on for a third time”.

    Finally, trainer Adam Kemp once told me: “Own your own horses.” Now I do, all 100 of them. It feels good. If you do ride other people’s horses, get a contract, because circumstances change and a rider that can get a horse to grand prix puts a lot of value on it.

    Horses can come and go, but your skill and the feeling in your arse is something nobody can take. I say when I sit on a horse when it’s five that my bum will tell me how good it’s going to be. My bum could probably tell me sooner but I’m not willing to ask it the question before – I prefer to let others ride the four-year-olds.

    If you want to know something about a horse you should take it hacking, where it’s just you and them against the bin man. I find out how the horse reacts to new things, whether it hates lions or snakes – things above or below it – or it’s not frightened of anything. That’s a good thing to learn.

    “Not everyone claps when you win”

    In my early career I was dealing with the horses other people didn’t want. Those were the ones I learned to ride on in the riding school. I could make the slow ones go and the fast ones wait. I learned to understand a horse quickly – it was survival of the fittest.

    When I had some success, there were people I thought were my friends who were not happy for me. That was a tough lesson. Not everyone claps when you win.

    I’ve got this far by having a good affinity with horses and a love for them. Working with the herds of horses as I do now, I have a good idea of whether they’re happy to work for you. That has stood me in good stead.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 2 July 2020