This week I’m chatting with Canadian Grand Prix dressage rider Justin Ridgewell. Based in Ontario, Justin is Director of Equine Development and principal rider at Braeburn Farms, a private Warmblood breeding operation based in the Blue Mountains of Collingwood. In addition, Justin is also a senior dressage judge. Read on to learn more about Justin, his ambitions, and top tips for success
Tell us a little about you and your horses
I currently manage and am the principal rider for a private training facility in Blue Mountains, Ontario. We are located just at the base of Osler Bluffs ski hill and overlook Georgian Bay. During the winter months we relocate to Wellington, Florida to compete on the winter circuit there. Braeburn is a truly special place, and I am so privileged to have called it home for nearly 10 years. I have competed at the FEI levels internationally and have gone up the ranks to Grand Prix. I am currently one of the youngest in Canada to hold my Senior judging card which is the highest level of dressage judging attainable through Equestrian Canada. I am a High Performance 1 coach candidate and am taking part in the HP1 training cohort put on through Equestrian Canada and NCCP this summer.
This season I will be competing 3 horses owned by Braeburn Farms.
Alchemist (Hermes in the barn) is an 8-year-old, 18hh, black Hanoverian gelding that I will compete at 3rd and 4th level this summer with hopes of bumping him into the FEI classes this fall at Prix St George. I would love to compete him at Dressage at Devon this fall. Hermes has quite the presence in the ring, and I have big goals with him for the future.
Denmark (Dayna in the barn) is a 12-year-old, 16.2hh, bay Oldenburg mare that I plan to compete in the FEI small tour.
I have just recently made the step into Prix St George with Dayna with hopes to work our way up to CDI level this fall. We made the step into PSG this past winter season in Wellington, Florida. Dayna has her own opinions which I like and when things click in the training, she’s stunning.
Cosmopolitan (Cosmo in the barn) is a 12-year-old, 16.1hh, bay Hanoverian gelding that I also recently made the step up into the Prix St George classes with this past winter in Florida. I call him a little pocket rocket. He is sweet and kind with a great ability for the work.
My top horse Jolene is a 12-year-old, 16.2hh, bay Oldenburg mare that is currently with my coach Shannon Dueck. I have competed Jolene in the CDI Small tour. I was able to declare Jolen for the 2023 Pan Ams this summer.
How did horses come into your life?
For some reason I always had a keen interest in horses but did not have access to them. My grandfather raced standardbreds back in the day but was out of that industry long before I came along. When I was ten years old myself and my older cousin started volunteering at a therapeutic riding centre in our hometown. This gave me the opportunity to be up close with the horses. I would groom and help tack them up for the kids coming in for therapy rides. From there I met two girls around my age named Jaime and Mary Kit. I started mucking stalls with them on weekends a quickly became a barn rat. They eventually offered me riding lessons as a thank you for the help. To say it took off from there was an understatement. We became fast friends and competed at local horse shows in the area.
Eventually the three of us moved to Michigan for a summer to work at a dude ranch. We lead trail rides, mock cattle drives, and even participated in the rodeos every Friday. Later that fall my whole life trajectory changed. In the fall of 2004, I was offered a job with Canadian Olympian Belinda Trussell and from then on dressage became my life blood.
When and where do you ride?
I ride daily at Braeburn Farms. My title is the Director of Equine Development. I manage everything horse related on the property. We currently house 16 horses on site ranging from 2-year-old ponies, to retired hunters, and all the way up to FEI dressage mounts.
What you and your horses currently working on?
Dayna and Cosmo are working on perfecting the Prix St George movements and playing around with some of the Grand Prix while Hermes is quite confident at 3rd level and working on the PSG movements. I also have a 3-year-old mare named Zoe that is exciting. She was bred for dressage by my friend, Sara Alberni. Zoe is slowly being started over the next few months and so far, has proved to be a fast study.
What do you love about riding?
I truly love the problem solving that comes along with riding. Each horse is different, has their own opinions and ideas. I enjoy the process of trying to figure them out and what works for them and what does not. I also really enjoy coaching for a similar reason. As a coach we are dealing with 2 athlete personalities and trying to help fill in the gaps.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
I would love to represent Canada on a national team one day. Much like any sport, timing is everything and I hope one day all the pieces will fall into place. I have my eyes set on Los Angeles 2029 with Hermes. I would also like to continue up the ranks with my judging eventually attaining FEI judging status one day.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
Of course! I tend to get more excited than nervous but like any sport or performance that comes with the territory. In Florida there are so many professionals that I will often be warming up next to, or even competing right after past Olympians which can easily knock you off your game.
How do you deal with them?
I enjoy competing. I find that I don’t get very nervous. I have a bit of nerves which is healthy to have. If you don’t feel anything in competition, I find that comes with a complacency. You want to take the nervous energy and turn that into drive and determination. I think with me and my students, knowing that I am going into the ring with the ability to be confident with what I’m trying to achieve is a big deal. I do not put the pressure on myself that I must win at all costs, but I do want to know that my horses and I are set up for the task at hand. I am also very type A and I need to prepare my show day down to the minute. Doing this preparation allows me to know I have the time needed. I plan what time I will feed my horses, braid, tack up, mount, warmup, and how long I need before going down the centreline.
When I do this, it takes the guessing out of it. I don’t have to feel stressed or rushed to get to the ring.
Your Top Tip
Don’t get greedy or desperate! Be PATIENT! Training and riding horses is a slow process. When riders try to achieve goals or move up the levels too fast or take short cuts it shows. When training you need to be sure not to get greedy. Don’t continue to drill a movement. Horses are live animals with feelings and emotions. They are not machines and should not be treated as they are.
Down the Centre Line
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
I always had a love for Bjorsells Briar ridden by Jan Brink. He is now passed but growing up I thought he was such a cool horse.
Of course, if the offer came across my desk to sit on Valegro I would never pass up that option!
Who is your equestrian hero?
Carl Hester is the king of dressage, and his story is so inspiring.
If you could have 5 people to dinner, who would they be?
I love stand-up comedy. A dinner with Chelsea Handler, Wanda Sykes, Billy Eichner, Carl Hester, and Martha Stewart would be the craziest dinner party. If I don’t have to host.
Favourite colour horse?
I am a bit boring, but I love a classic, shiny bay with dapples.
Favourite horse event?
I had the privilege of attending the CDI at Schindlhof in Fritzen, Austria. The farm is owned by the Haim-Swarovski family. (Swarovski Crystal) It was amazing to see Isabel Werth dancing down the centreline in the middle of the mountains in Austria.
I love sushi.
Favourite way to relax?
I have been called a shark in the past. I cannot stop swimming. Ha-ha I do really enjoy wood working. When I have the time, I am known to be in the shop working on some type of furniture out of reclaimed barn wood.
I love the Jurassic Park franchise. The firstt two movies are my favourite out of the series.
Growing up I loved the movie “Something to Talk About”. It stars Julia Roberts and Dennis Quaid and takes place on a horse farm. I think that’s where my horse obsession may have begun.
If you enjoyed meeting Justin you might like to view more dressage rider “chatting with” interviews here You can keep up with Justin’s progress and check out his instagram page here