How did you get into equestrianism?
I have ridden from as young as I can remember. My mum grew up hunting her whole life and therefore I have always been around horses. I lived in London until I was 10 years old but came up to my new home in Scotland and so I borrowed my godmothers’ children’s ponies and therefore I rode every summer, Easter and Christmas holidays. I have always been addicted to horses from as young as I can remember and was lucky enough to get my first pony for my 7th birthday – she was called Honeybee!
What are you best results to date?
After years of being selected to represent Scotland at Nationals, I was lucky enough to represent Team GB in 2014 at the European Junior Championships. For the following three years, I was reserve for the Young Rider Europeans but due to no horse or rider injury I never quite made it to the Europeans. In 2015 I went around my first CIC3* (old 4*) which is an Olympic level at Blenheim Palace. This was a huge achievement as Cooley Ramiro (Ernie) and I were the youngest rider and horse partnership to ever compete at 18 and a half years old. This was a very special moment. Since then, I have been at University and knew that I would be training less that I would ideally like to, and so I have taken the last few years to train up my young horses to build a strong string of horses for the coming season. Although, due to their age, we haven’t been on GB teams. Their results have been very exciting enabling them to compete around the country and in Ireland.
What is the end goal for a 3-day eventer?
Some would say the Olympics which undoubtably is an incredible achievement but for me it would be to win Badminton Horse Trials. It is in my eyes the pinnacle of the sport. Cooley Ramiro, my top horse, competed their last year to finish 25th and it was one of the proudest moments for me!
Which discipline do you prefer?
I love them all as they are all so different, but nothing will ever beat the adrenaline rush of cross country.
Who owns your horses and how many do you ride?
Every season it changes as horses are sold on and new ones come in. Last season, I only rode 3 horses as I was in my last year of university and so didn’t want to juggle too many things at once. I rode Cooley Make a Move, known as Simba at home who my parents own, Cooley Crawford, known as Trevor who I own, and Hilton Cooley, who is owned by a syndicate including myself, Jo Sherard and M Bicket. They both live in London and so love coming to events around the country on the weekends as an escape from the city! I gave my top horse, Cooley Ramiro to my trainer in my first year at University to compete as I knew I wouldn’t have the time to allow him to reach his potential whilst studying. This was a really tough decision but as the sport can be so dangerous my parents wouldn’t allow me to compete at the level we were, if I wasn’t doing it full time. He is co-owned by my parents and a small part by Janie Tate, who again lives in London and enjoys her weekend breaks coming to see him compete. We also have 4 home-bred horses that are up and coming. I am in the process of breaking two of them in at the moment which is very exciting for the future.
How much is it down to the horse and how much is it down to the rider?
So many people ask me this question. It’s a hard one because undoubtably you need a talented, athletic, scopey (this means it jumps well!) horse that has a good brain to work with to succeed but a huge part of eventing is also down to the rider. If, as a rider, you are not physically fit, strong, disciplined and precise in your training then regardless of how talented the horse is, it will pick up bad habits and slowly over time the wheels will start to come off as the horse loses confidence jumping or bad habits start to appear. The first phase of eventing is the dressage. This is a discipline that horses don’t naturally do and therefore although you can breed good movement and athleticism into horses, as a rider, it is your responsibly to train and perform the different ‘tricks’ with precision. For cross country the horses are expected to jump into water, over ditches and through seriously skinny fences and this is all about trust, understanding and straightness which is all trained into a horse. It is hard to say how much is down to each participant but it’s clear that having solely one good part of the team isn’t enough to succeed long term.
Are you ever scared of the bigger jumps?
I am very lucky that I have never really got scared. That’s not to say I don’t get nervous before competitions, but I wouldn’t say scared.
How much training do you have to do and what is a typical training session?
My horses normally have one day off a week but sometimes two if they have been out competing. This is due to the fact that living in Scotland regularly means driving hours around the country to compete. Therefore, the horses always get a well-deserved break after these long weekends. I normally do two dressage sessions a week, two jumping (one jumping a course and one doing an athletic exercise with lots of poles- brain work!) and two days hacking which we use both for their fitness. By doing lots of hill work it helps with strength but also as a mental break from training. In the run up to the International competitions the horses are taken to the gallops to do their fitness work too! I also do fitness in the gym to build up my core strength and cardio and sports psychology.
What skills do you need?
I think discipline is the most important skill both on and off the horse. On the horse you need discipline in your training to help give clarity to the horse but also to stop you getting side-tracked. Off the horse it is also so important as routine for horses help them stay relaxed and perform to their best. The discipline of feeding them the same times each day and keeping their routine running as smoothly as possible can make the difference between a 1st and 2nd place performance.
Do you make money from Eventing or is it all in sponsorship?
In Eventing it is very hard to make money as the prize money is so poor unlike pure Show Jumping. I have been very lucky to have incredible sponsors and supporters. Firstly, my owners are a huge support and without them I would not be able to compete all the competitions I do. Childeric Saddles, Spillers horse feed, ProTector helmets and HorseScotland (funded by Sport UK) are just a few of the many companies who make it possible for me and my horses to come out in such good form.
Have you had any bad accidents?
I have had two particularly bad falls. One was when I was about 16 years old and I had a rotational fall whilst competing which means that my horse at the time, Lady, flipped over the jump and landed on top of me. I had no feeling from my hips down for a day or two but luckily my body had just gone into shock and after about a week, I was back up and on board again (much to the dismay of my parents!). The second time was about a year later when a similar situation happened, and I got badly concussed. I was very confused and had lost memory of the previous month or so and had to stay in a dark room for about 2 weeks after. It took a month or so to feel fully back to normal.
How long does it take to train for dressage? Do you train the horses yourself or is it done for you?
It is a very long and continuous process that starts when the horse is about 5 years old and continues throughout its lifetime. One element of dressage is about strength which is obviously a continual process. I train mine about two or three times a week for between 20 minutes to an hour depending on what I am working on and how the horse is feeling. When I was at Uni my horses were based with my trainer, Wills Oakden and he would continue the training process whilst I was away.
Where do you see yourself in the future of equestrian?
I have always dreamed of achieving the top, but like with any sport, there are so many ups and downs along the way and a horse (who can be so unpredictable) can make the journey even more tough as you need both horse and rider to be in peak condition at the same time to reach success. As there is very little money in eventing and therefore its incredibly hard to make a career out of it, I have sadly given up high level competing. I am still mad about horses, eventing and everything encompassing it and already excited to get back to it once I have worked out and settled onto my career path!
What is something about the sport that none of our followers would know about?
It is one of the few sports that both male and females of all different ages play on an equal playing field!