Anna Ross on a party vibe at Hickstead and reaching the top against the odds
HICKSTEAD dressage is back with a bang, and now on the iconic showjumping site. Huge thanks to the Bunn family for taking on the challenge of putting on the recent Premier League show, with fabulous arenas, online results online, a livestream, and – vitally – a champagne tent.
I hope this will be a regular feature (both the show and the champagne tent!). Is it too greedy to ask for an international again?
The organising committee ran the event like clockwork and although the weather was inclement on the first day, the competitors’ spirits were summed up by an emphatic “who cares” attitude, and we all had a fabulous time.
There was something of a party atmosphere with people cheerfully embracing the little emergencies such as forgetting your sports bra, snapping your hair band or, in my case, the terrible rookie error of packing the wrong colour pants. Thankfully the rain held off for the grand prix or the judges could have been treated to a rainbow of stripes across my derriere in the one-tempis.
FOR me, competing at Hickstead on the showjumping “side” felt like full circle. As a teenager I used to groom and babysit for the Gills, a successful showjumping family, and I remember the long walk to and from the Hickstead arenas pushing a buggy, dreaming of being a rider there one day.
At the time this was, frankly, unlikely, since owning a horse back then was financially unviable for me. But coming back this year and winning the grand prix with Newton Domino was a reminder that it is possible to start from the bottom and graft your way up, even in a sport where breaking through to top level can seem unachievable.
I’ve also had great fun at the last couple of shows watching my fellow senior riders, who are as cool as cucumbers when competing themselves, pacing around anxiously as their kids compete.
Ruby Hughes, Mette Dahl, Olly Gould and Tegan Cantrell are all sons and daughters of international grand prix competitors and they all look like future champions to me. I bet they have their beady eyes on their parents’ horses. I hope so – as with the talent shown by our young riders we need good horsepower to emulate the success of our seniors at championship level.
For those not quite so well connected, it’s important to remember that for every child of a grand prix rider and every millionaire in the sport, we have a great leveller in the horse who doesn’t know or care, and needs to be ridden well to perform at his best.
It’s important to forge your own path, and remember that riding ability and a willingness to learn are the two trump cards regardless of status or bank balance. My advice is not to look sideways and always to enjoy the ups as there will be plenty of downs – in sport there are always peaks and troughs.
DOMINO’S win was another tick in the box for British breeding, as two out of four grands prix at Premier League shows so far this year have been won by horses bred here in the UK. Due to the embryo transfer programme at Elite Dressage, “Dotty” has two foals expected this year and three foals next year, as well as many siblings growing up at the stud.
Developing a breeding programme can be a good long-term plan for top riders who need a supply of horsepower.
The next big show in the calendar is Wellington Premier League, which has a prize fund of £2,000 for the prix st georges music class, sponsored by Nirvana Spa. This is going to be a great class targeted by the top riders I’m sure. There’s a lot of fun ahead.
This feature is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 3 June 2021
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