Interview with dressage rider Amy Stovold
She may not be the stereotypical dressage rider, but Amy Stovold has reached the highest level of her sport. Now she wants to spread the word that equestrianism isn't just for the elite. Words by Katie Brown
When I go to meet international dressage rider Amy Stovold she’s just moved into her new home in West Sussex, a beautiful timber framed house with a sweeping drive, stables and paddocks. The odd builder or plumber is still lurking around, completing unfinished work on the stunning new-build, which is a far cry from Amy’s humble beginnings.Born and raised in Croydon, Amy isn’t the stereotypical dressage rider. Unlike many others, the 33-year-old has made it to the top of her sport without a vast amount of money behind her. Amy’s mother rode at a local riding school and, from the age of three, she was desperate to have a go herself. “I remember begging my mum for lessons constantly. She finally agreed and I was allowed one every other month, but I was hooked, so gradually we built up to one a week. “Any spare time I had was spent at the stables and I worked there in the holidays and from seven until five on the weekends, in exchange for riding lessons. I did anything to be with the horses,” she recalls.Amy’s commitment soon paid off. Her parents recognised her dedication and her mother came to an arrangement with the riding school to secure Princess, a pony Amy had been riding there. “She was a total nightmare,” she laughs.Then came Diamond, an inexperienced pony that Amy brought on. The pair began experimenting with some basic dressage moves, “I had no idea what I was doing really, but I was determined and even had some competitive success with him,” Amy explains.At sixteen, Amy enrolled at Merrist Wood Agricultural College in Surrey, taking Diamond with her. The dressage-focused school cemented her love of the sport and Amy continued to enjoy victory in the show ring.After graduating, the then nineteen-year-old worked at a showing yard, living in a caravan, on a muddy slope, next to the muckheap. “It was so disgustingly dirty, always full of flies and if I wanted a bath at 7am I had to run it at 4am! It was awful and I soon moved on.” Then, after several years spent working with Danish dressage rider, Dorte Semler, at her yard in Rudgwick, West Sussex, Amy decided to leave and started teaching on a freelance basis. “Word of mouth soon spread and I was then being asked to ride other peoples’ horses. I was offered the ride on a horse called Lenski, who really put my name on the map.” MacBrian, Amy’s Swedish-bred champion gelding, came along soon after. She then set up her own yard in Staplefield, West Sussex, and her competitive career flourished.Despite her success, Amy has also experienced devastating lows. Last year, while competing in France, the rider’s yard in Bolney was burgled.“I got a phone call to say that everything was gone,” she says. “I felt vulnerable and violated and wondered why someone had done it to me, when I did nothing to them. But, ultimately, it made me stronger. I picked myself up, carried on and didn’t let it get me down.” Now tipped for the Olympics, Amy must maintain consistently high scores in order secure her place on the British Team. “To represent my country at the Games would be the pinnacle of my career and I would obviously be honoured to have the opportunity,” she explains. “I have already visited the Olympic Equestrian Centre in Greenwich Park and it is fantastic. I’m desperate to be on the team. Obviously, it’s something that every rider dreams of.”Amy is also hopeful that the press coverage of the sport in 2012 will raise awareness and encourage young riders to get involved. “I want young people to understand that you don’t have to live in the countryside, or have buckets of money, to enjoy this sport, or equestrianism in general for that matter. “Having horses from a young age taught me so many things, responsibility, focus and commitment, to name a few. If I didn’t get up to do the horses in the morning, no one else was going to do them for me! This meant I couldn’t go drinking in the park with my mates on a Friday night. Horses kept me off the streets and on the straight and narrow.“Without responsibility young people can lack a sense of purpose, and I think that girls, in particular, do feel the need to nurture from a young age. I believe this is why we have such a huge problem with teenage pregnancy in this country.” And Amy may have a point. In countries like Sweden, where almost every little girl rides and the government supports the equestrian industry, teenage pregnancy rates are low.Amy is now in conversation with a charity that is lobbying for more funding for the equestrian industry and for some involvement of riding within the curriculum. “I want to see how I can help because what the research shows is so encouraging. Getting these young people, who were struggling at school, involved in riding had a positive impact on their attendance and behaviour. The Government needs to recognise this. Yes, to subsidise this sport would be expensive, but it’s also very expensive having so many people on benefits.”I ask Amy what sport or interests she would have if she weren’t involved with horses. It’s difficult for her to answer because she can’t imagine her life without them, but when I jokingly suggest golf, she agrees. “I think I would like golf because it’s very skilled and a talent you would need to perfect – which is right up my street!”I get the feeling that whatever career, or sport Amy chose she would have made a success of it – she’s ambitious, determined and undeniably committed.
Amy is sponsored by Bates Saddles, Equetech Clothing, Balanced Horse Feeds, NET-EX and Rowan Asset Management.
The dressage rider is seeking further sponsorship to help fulfill her dream of competing at the Olympics. To sponsor Amy call 07740 708026 or email email@example.com.