Anna Ross shares her thoughts on growing older gracefully, while embracing change and looking to the future
I recently had a “big” birthday. I have always taken a robust view when it comes to birthdays; after all, the alternative is not an attractive prospect.
Riding can be a career with great longevity if your body holds up. There were 40 years of age difference between Lottie Fry and Richard Davison, both members of the British team at the dressage World Championships in August.
We were all young and fearless once. I’ve long joked that young horses are for riders in “Club 18-30”. I remember a teenage Jezz Palmer backing a young horse that went somewhat doolally. Roland Tong, Ben St John James and I looked on in horror, but as the bucks got bigger and the wall got closer, Jezz shouted, not “Help!” but, “Look, he’s like a dolphin in the waves,” and was merrily laughing away.
For the young riders who work in our team, their greatest fear is not falling off, but that their friend might stop recording the situation for their Instagram story in the process. So I’m happy to exploit the age card when it comes to riding youngsters, waving my bus pass furiously as soon as my horse puts his ears back, and awaiting rescue from another member of our team.
But I like change – and a sure sign of getting old is becoming adverse to it. The revamped National Dressage Championships at Somerford Park is a better show for the competitors compared to its pre-2021 format, and the separate arenas and warm-up benefit the safety of riders and the programme.
It was wonderful to see numerous British-bred horses win national titles at the championships, including our own Newton Astro Nascente with our 17-year-old apprentice Hannah Luesley. Many of these horses have the quality to be on our future British teams.
Few sports require more patience and perseverance than ours. Andrew Gould has worked for 20 years since he last had a grand prix horse at the National Dressage Championships, and this year he finished in the top three in the freestyle, riding Indigro. He and Indigro went on to win the recent NEXONE final, with two of his young rider Europeans team-mates from 2001, Sarah Millis and Becky Moody, in second and third.
Looking to the future
Our sport evolves constantly. To remain relevant and successful as breeders, riders and trainers, we need to stay at the forefront, making sure we deliver horses of the quality needed, while using our experience to ensure they can withstand the greater demands of suppleness and power expected.
Fortunately, I’m in a position to influence our equine gene pool, so I’m also ensuring we breed horses with comfortable paces, meaning I’ll be able to sit to the trot for years to come. Meanwhile, I’m giving the bouncy ones to the younger riders to level up my chances.
Longevity in the sport comes from a mixture of talent and, unless born into wealth, that all-important business acumen, as well as forward-thinking and perseverance. Mature and experienced is a good look, but old and bitter is not.
Enjoying and encouraging up-and-coming talent and looking to the future with the benefit of experience is part of the fun. Banging on about ye olde days is not. More mature riders might need more make-up, but there’s no excuse for wearing our hairnets over our ears and ill-fitting bras. I fully intend to keep going until I half-pass over.
But on a recent trip to LA, I did realise how much younger my peers looked. I might spend more time there – it must be that California air.
• What are your tips for longevity in the sport? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org
- This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 6 October
You may also be interested in…
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade your subscription to access our online service that brings you breaking news and reports as well as other benefits.