Davy Russell: ‘Learning to dance has lots of similarities with learning to ride’


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  • Dual Grand National-winning and three-time champion jockey Davy Russell retired from the sport in 2023. He is currently appearing in Dancing with the Stars in his native Ireland.

    The jumps season is taking shape now, with eight weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival. While the first half of the season is about getting the horses out, getting some experience into the young ones and a run into the older horses, the second half is about timing and whether trainers give their horses another run or keep them fresh for the rest of the year. The good trainers seem better at managing situations like cold snaps.

    There are loads of new names in the weighing room, and Danny Gilligan and Conor Stone-Walsh are two that have caught my eye. They’ve a long road ahead but are taking every opportunity given to them. Nobody has wilted from the top of the ladder as such – Harry Cobden, Sam Twiston-Davies, Jack Kennedy, Paul Townend and Rachael Blackmore continue to ride to a great standard. The Bowen brothers, Sean and James, are making good names for themselves, too.

    Mystical Power, the Willie Mullins-trained son of Annie Power, was an impressive winner of the Moscow Flyer at Punchestown on Sunday. He’d campaigned on better ground so that was a good test. He’d sidestepped a Grade One in Naas for that race, which I think might stand him well for the future.

    Putting on my dancing shoes

    I’ve been busy since I hung up my boots last year – I’ve been bitten by the showjumping bug with the kids and they’re doing great, putting in the hard graft and loving it. But when I got the call asking if I’d like to do Dancing with the Stars, the Irish equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing, I had to think about it before saying yes.

    Commitment-wise, I thought it was something I could do relatively easily, but it’s been huge. However, I suppose the commitment required for the top level of anything is massive. Each day’s training is all about how long your mind will take the drilling before you stop making progress. But fortunately, my partner Kylee Vincent is clever and understands when to stop – I’d keep going otherwise!

    I’ve learnt an awful lot from the professionals – just how phenomenal they are at coaching. I came into it with zero dancing experience and their patience and approach to everything is brilliant. I get frustrated at times when teaching my kids on their ponies – not through any fault of theirs, it’s just my fault – whereas Kylee never gets frustrated during the teaching process. It’s taught me a lot.

    There are actually lots of similarities with learning to ride. Dancing is unbelievably technical and your back, posture, legs and knees have to be in certain places at certain times, just as when you’re riding. Much of it is about mind power as well as fitness and by the end of the week, you have to put it all together. The thing I struggle the most with is my facial expressions! I could have a straight face and people would know I was concentrating, but here you have to show your enjoyment and it’s totally alien.

    We had a bit of drama on Sunday as Kylee got very ill and couldn’t take part in the evening’s live show – I arrived at the studios and I knew that something was wrong because they were all looking at me funny, as if to say, “What are we going to do with this lad?” However, they’re true professionals. It was unbelievable how quickly her replacement, Laura Nolan, learnt our quickstep routine, and it’s a bit embarrassing how long it takes me! That was a real eye-opener.

    It’s a brilliant show and a fantastic experience to be involved in it – definitely worth all the effort!

    ● Which equestrians would you like to see starring on Strictly? Let us know at hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your thoughts published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, in shops from Thursday 18 January, 2024

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