This week I’m chatting with the very talented and hardworking Irish international Grand Prix dressage rider Alice Hurley.
Following a recent move to a rural part of Queensland, Australia, Alice has started her own business coaching and schooling at Beecher Equestrian Park. Read on to discover more about Alice’s story to date…
Tell us a little about you and your horses
I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to train and compete owners’ horses for the last 10 years or so. However, after a bit of a ‘Corona-Curveball’ I was forced to leave my job as a dressage rider/coach near Sydney, Australia and join my partner in Central Queensland (about 1400km north and a heck of a lot more rural!). Finding myself horseless I worked super hard over the course of 6 months to save enough money to buy my own horse; taking up a part time job as a receptionist (I’ve never had a job unrelated to horses!) and slowly built enough interest to start operating as my own business coaching and schooling in the area and travelling further for clinics.
The horse in question is a 3-year-old chestnut Hanoverian gelding by Quarterhall, bred by Kalimna Stud in Victoria. Kalimna Quick Wyn, aka Buddy, is currently being broken in and will be joining me in the not too distant future ready to embark on our journey together! Given that Victoria is a three-day dive away and the purchase was made in the midst of a COVID lockdown, Buddy was bought unseen – something I swore I would never do, but the moment I saw the videos I knew I had to have him!
How did your horses come into your life?
My mother has always ridden and kept horses so I was in the saddle before I could walk!
How long have you been riding?
Over 30 years!
When and where do you ride?
For nearly 9 years I was based at a Dressage stables in Oxfordshire where I was the Head Rider and Manager. We rode or exercised the horses usually 5 or 6 days a week (including hacking, pole work, lunging etc.) depending on competitions etc. We had a few horses to get through, but I would usually ride from around 8am to 2/3pm. The routine was pretty similar when I moved to Australia, where I was fortunate to be schooling in really rather luxurious facilities at Sutton Farm Equestrian Centre.
How did you start riding?
After lolling about on my mother’s pony, she quickly got frustrated and palmed me off to a local Riding School where I had weekly riding lessons from the age of 4. I had a brief flutter with ballet (not even 6 months), decided riding was much more fun and quickly returned to the Riding School. When I was 8, I used the money I was left from my grandfather to buy my first pony – a 13.2hh Welsh C Liver Chestnut Mare named Cocoa for under a thousand pounds (she was nameless from a dealer – I felt very clever at 8 years old naming her Cocoa and her competition name was Hot Chocolate….).
I had the classic all-round Pony Club style education until I accidentally won a British Dressage Talent Spotting competition at the age of 11. From then on, I was channelled into the Under 21s training and squads.
What you and your horses currently working on?
Well, assuming that Buddy successfully graduates from the breakers, I will mostly be working on staying on, steering, and working on the go/stop buttons….
What do you love about riding?
I can enjoy a relaxing or fun-filled hack. But as a Dressage rider it’s the addiction of progress through training and problem solving. A win in the dressage arena every now doesn’t go amiss either!
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
Despite having trained and ridden horses at Grand Prix level I’ve never had the opportunity to compete. That is still an ultimate goal of mine. In terms of short-term goals, I’d like to concentrate on producing Buddy to the best of my ability and I’d love to wear the Irish flag on my jacket once again!
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
Hasn’t everyone?! Whether it’s navigating a ticking time bomb around the arena/road/showgrounds or the build-up to a big competition or indeed any competition where there is surrounding pressure (usually from myself).
How do you did you/do you deal with them?
I have received help in the past particularly in the build up to international events where a lot of travel and expense (on the owners’ part) is involved, and a lot of time and effort goes into qualifying for it. I had a couple of sessions with a sports phycologist, but this was a few years ago now. It’s definitely something I would invest in in the future.
By nature, I lack confidence in my ability and worry about the result rather than addressing what’s happening in the moment. I’ve recently taken to yoga to facilitate both exercise and mind-set. Let’s hope it helps!
Your Top Tip
Be open minded – I live by ‘every day’s a school day’. I enjoy absorbing different exercises or approaches to training from other coaches and riders (or indeed practitioners). Obviously, you have to filter what works and doesn’t work for you as an individual, but we can learn so much from each other. And the other thing I would say is to never be too proud to seek help.
The Final Furlong
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
I’ve always adored Valegro. Not just because he’s incredibly talented and a world champion, but because he seems like such a cool character. But in reality, I don’t think I’d be able to ride one side of him.
Who is your equestrian hero?
Carl Hester – always has been, always will be.
If you could have 5 people to dinner, who would they be?
David Attenborough for some stimulating conversation and a touch of class,
My parents – because I haven’t seen them in over two years and they are great craic after a couple of wines,
Irish Dressage rider, Abi Lyle, seems like she would bring a good vibe to the table, and I’d love to get to know her better,
And Tina Fey – love 30 Rock!
Favourite colour horse
Black – but I really don’t mind. Just as long as it’s not grey (too much work).
Favourite horse event
Badminton was such a highlight as a child and Olympia in recent years, enjoying the Freestyle to Music. Australia-wise, Willinga Park is a truly phenomenal venue – state of the art facilities combined with stunning contemporary architecture. I haven’t competed there, but I was lucky enough to have been selected as a rider for the Dorothee Schneider Masterclass during the CDI4* on a beautiful horse I was training at Sutton Farm Equestrian Centre. It was a fabulous experience.
In terms of competing – there has been so many cool venues but a standout one was my experience at the Barcelona Spring Tour in 2014. Two weeks of back-to-back CDIs, sunshine, G&Ts, olives, Ibiza-like chilled dance music pumped out across the arenas. It was an awesome show and to top it off we were in the prize giving! The Spanish know how to do life.
Can’t beat a really good steak, fries and salad with garlic butter and a delicious glass of red!
Favourite way to relax
I love a day where I have enough time to prepare a roast dinner whilst listening to a podcast (at the moment I’m late to the party in listening to ‘The High Low’) and sipping a glass of wine – I find the whole process quite meditative and a bit of a treat.
I also enjoy reading books and going for walks.
Lord of the Rings! All of them but if I had to pick, probably The Two Towers.