Anna Ross: ‘Planning is key to success beyond youth teams’


  • Anna Ross on young talent, the London International Horse Show’s new home and a shocking loss for the sport of dressage

    THE future looks bright for our youth teams, with a new influx of horsepower competing at Keysoe High Profile show earlier this month.

    It’s good to see some former grand prix horses being passed to younger riders, such as Headmore Delegate with Charlotte Hill, Extra Time with Ruby Hughes and Rosalie B with Sarah Wallace. All these horses can help strengthen our arsenal ahead of a home youth European Championships at Hartpury next year.

    The general consensus is that the best way to learn is with a schoolmaster, but for those aspiring to be senior professionals it is essential to ride all sorts of different horses.

    Mette Dahl, 15, is still in ponies, but showed great versatility in piloting the 18.3hh Daytona Platinum, former grand prix ride of her mother Fiona Bigwood, to win the junior team test at Keysoe.

    Those without grand prix rides need not despair though, as training a horse oneself can give an advantage from the harmony perspective as well as invaluable experience. Horses with lots of experience are not necessarily straightforward, and “gears” need to be kept in check throughout the test.

    Flying changes, for example, can be very personal to whoever trained the horse in the first instance, and can be tricky to master on ready-trained horses.

    Planning is key to success beyond youth teams. There’s a huge drop-out of riders once they leave the “bubble” of youth events, and they become part of the huge pool of senior riders. Talent rarely goes unnoticed, though, as there are a lot of people looking out for it, and employers and owners value riders by how good they make each horse.

    In 2018, the entire British young rider team comprised riders who had trained their horses from scratch, and two of them, Anna Jesty and Lewis Carrier, reached the final at the young rider European Championships.

    The now 22-year-old Anna thought long-term after those championships: she sold her horse but three years later she reappeared in the under-25 grand prix at Keysoe, having taken the time to train another prospect, Flow Motion, through the levels.

    She’s taken another two horses from scratch to prix st georges, sold one and invested in some young horses along the way. This foresight sets her up well for senior ranks – with three years of under-25s left to go.

    Less charm, more space

    LONDON INTERNATIONAL had excellent facilities for the horses – and the bar overlooking the warm-up arena was a great idea, although the short grand prix test does make the first day experience somewhat “bijou” for die-hard dressage fans, especially with only 15 in it.

    Perhaps the new venue at the ExCeL lacks the historic charm of Olympia, but the larger warm-up area was appreciated by both horses and riders. Sharing the small space with the Household Cavalry or the Shetland Pony Grand National contestants was a part of the Olympia experience in years gone by, but it didn’t always set one up for the most relaxed test!

    Linda Whetstone was instrumental

    I WAS shocked to hear that British Dressage (BD) chairman Linda Whetstone died suddenly last week.

    Linda was smart, open-minded, forthright and fair. She generated a feeling of trust; riders could speak openly without fear of repercussions as she had no agenda other than the development of the sport she loved.

    She was instrumental in many roles within British dressage, which she saw grow from the tiny “dressage group” into Olympic and Paralympic gold medal-winning teams.

    Linda dedicated her life to the pursuit of equality in both her political work and her passion for dressage, and occasionally sent me emails with her thoughts on the content of this column.

    I will treasure them along with the legacy of hope she left us all as members of BD in her determination to ensure every rider had a sporting chance.

    Do you have special memories of Linda Whetstone? Share them with us at hhletters@futurenet.com

    • This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 23 December

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