This week I am truly delighted to be chatting with British international Grand Prix dressage rider Alex Harrison. As well as competing at the highest level, this hugely talented rider is also a BDCC level 3 coach and a List 3A Judge! Before proceeding any further, we were so sad to hear of the loss of his top horse, Damo, who passed away after this interview had taken place but before the publishing date. Having contacted Alex about this, he wanted the article to be published in full. In a recent social media post announcing the terrible news, Alex said “I had to say goodbye to the most generous and happy horse I have ever known. He has been the best teacher, friend and motivator I could have ever asked for and I can’t quite see life without him being the same. Forever and always my king.” Read on to discover more about this remarkable man, his horses and his top tips for success.
Tell us about you and your horsesI am an international Grand Prix dressage rider based in Somerset. I live with my partner, Jonny Clarke-west and run our stables “Collective Equestrian” alongside our amazing team of grooms and riders. My top horse is called “Diamond Hill” or “Damo” to us, he is a 10 year old Hanoverian gelding by Diamond Hit out of a Damon Hill mare. Damo is a real character as can often be found decapitating fluffy toys in his stable; if he isn’t doing that he is normally mugging the girls for sugar lumps …. Nobody says no to the king! In addition to a few promising young horses I also have a 9 year old mare called “Lula” who has been quite a challenge but I think *touches wood* has tuned a corner and will be ready to go Grand Prix next season.
How did horses come into your life?I didn’t really get into horses until I was about 11 when a school friend dragged me down to a local riding school, whereupon I was swiftly winched aboard a donkey called Jimmy (who I might add was mostly blind and completely deaf) …… I never looked back since.
How long have you been riding?Since I was 11 so 14 years
When and where do you ride?I tend to ride first thing in the morning, as I teach lots in the afternoons. Most of my riding takes place at home, we have fantastic facilities and it is always more beneficial to ride amongst other talented riders to allow the exchanging of ideas and to take inspiration from each other. That was really the whole purpose of starting Collective Equestrian, we wanted it to be a place that was really inclusive and fostered a healthy competitive atmosphere that would drive progress.
How did you start riding?Once I had a few lessons at the riding school I somehow managed to convince my parents to buy me a horse. We didn’t have a lot of money, or knowledge for that matter, so we bought a 3 year old off the track racehorse. I also didn’t really have enough money to get a saddle so I just rode him bareback needless to say I fell off …. A lot!
What you and your horses currently working on?After a busy year campaigning and then competing at the European Championships in Hagen Damo is just ticking over, I am really focussing on the suppling work to ensure he feels fresh and ready to hit the ground running next year. With Lula I am focusing of consolidating the Grand Prix movements, especially the one time changes which can get a little, for want of a better word, “expressive!”
What do you love about riding?I love seeing the horses grow in confidence through training and become willing partners. Seeing a horse progress from a small, weedy three year old into a fully fledged Grand Prix horse gives a feeling of pride that I think would be hard rivalled by much else.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?The goal has and always will be an Olympic gold medal. But I think it is really important to make the world a better place through sport. Too often we see some equestrians reaching the top of their game only to come across as aloof and disinterested in their fanbase. Medals are fab and I will do all I can to win them but furthering the sport through empowerment and being a good person is equally as important and shouldn’t be forgotten.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?I am one of those annoying people that doesn’t really get nervous. Normally an hour before I am supposed to get on I can be found having a quick nap in the lorry.
How do you deal with them?If you ever get nervous my best piece of advice would be to go and sit in with a judge. After a whole day of writing you will see at least 20 riders that make the same mistake as you may do, 10 that do it worse and maybe 2 you learn something from. It can be a really good experience for people to learn that the judge is there to help and provide feedback …… and more often than not unless you fall off they won’t remember you 3 horses later, so don’t sweat the small stuff!
Your Top TipMy top tip would be to stay fit outside of the saddle. Nothing quite compares to hours in the saddle but going in the gym, working on your core and balance can give you that little extra strength in your seat that will help to keep yourself and your horse in a better balance …. And hopefully will give you the extra edge in the competition arena.
The Final Furlong
Who would be your dream horse to ride?Definitely Totilas! He was In my opinion the best dressage horse that has ever been.
Who is your equestrian hero?For sure it would have to be Isabelle Werth. She has produced so many top GrandPrix horses, all. Of different shapes and sizes. So many riders are capable to training a certain type of horse but Isabelle I’m sure could win a medal on a 3 legged cow!
If you could have 5 people to dinner who would they be?
- Tom Daley (although he may only want rabbit food)
- Isabelle Werth (I am just a massive fangirl!)
- Ryan Reynolds (Off the scale attractive)
- Ewan Mcgregor (So he can sing Moulin Rouge songs all evening)
- My Fiancé Jonny (He can hold a conversation with anyone)