Our Interview with Erin Williams
1.When was the first time you saw a rider and horse performing Dressage?
My Mum rides so I have grown up watching and going to shows with her. We are fortunate to have the horses stabled at home and my bedroom window overlooks the dressage arena! The first ‘big’ show that I will never ever forget was when I saw the amazing Totilas at Olympia, London in 2009 with Edward Gal and score over 90% in the freestyle. It was absolutely breathtaking
2.Was Dressage your first riding discipline?
I’ve tried all riding club activities from gymkhana games, working hunter to side saddle showing. My Mum thought that I should try everything then decide which I enjoyed best. I did like jumping but wasn’t very brave and certainly not patient enough for showing. I never really thought about dressage but I started to enjoy schooling my welsh mountain pony, had a few ‘flatwork’ lessons then joined BYRDS (British Young Rider Dressage Scheme) which is aimed at riders under 25 years with any type of pony/horse to have a go doing dressage. I had great fun at the BYRDS training camps with a bay TB x Welsh pony called Bitterdale Badger and we went on to compete for England in Ireland in a friendly international when I was 10.
3. Who was your first trainer and who are you currently training with?
I had my first dressage lesson when I was eight on my 12’2″ welsh palomino pony called Moonie. It was with my Mum’s dressage trainer Sonia Webster Baines who I still train with today 7 years later! Sonia and I have a wonderful relationship and I am ever so grateful for her support and for sharing her passion for dressage with me.
4.What training advice has been the most influential in your riding and why?
“Work on the basics” – Sonia has taught me that the basics are the same for all horses and she helps me make sure my basics are right before moving to more advanced work. The primary emphasis in my schooling is always on the Scales of Training and if in doubt, ride forward and straight which is harder than people think! I had a great pony called Dublin who was the wiggliest pony you could imagine and he taught me how to ride straight and sit a spook! I did FEI pony tests with him and took him to his first international competition in Moorsele, Belgium in 2011.
5.Tell us how you warm-up your horse before you ride and your cool down after you ride?
I do a lot of walk to loosen off the horse then start to incorporate some lateral work – especially leg yield – in the walk before doing a stretchy ‘long and low’ rising trot and canter. Sometimes I may stay in walk for a good 20 minutes just moving my horse off my leg and around the arena to make sure it’s listening. Walk is a great way of warming up as it isn’t too s
6.Do you follow the Pyramid of Training scale in your daily riding?
Yes! They are written in big letters around the side of my arena! They are the fundamentals for all of my training and Soina refers to them every lesson! I try to use them as a ‘mental checklist’ as I am riding around.
7.How often do you include rest breaks in your training sessions?
As often as necessary, I don’t have a fixed time frame. A lot depends on the intensity of work that I am doing – if its a stretchy day then I don’t rest as much but if we are working on more collected movements then both myself and the horse need quite a few breaks! Fleurie is such a big and powerful horse to hold together so I need plenty of breaks whilst Billy is still quite young so he needs lots of short ‘mental breaks’ as well as physical breaks.
8.What is your “Bucket List” of items that you pack for a Horseshow?
Lots of things live permanently on the lorry and I have a big portable tack locker with pretty much everything in! In my ‘arena bag’ I have my walkie-talkie earphones which are really important so that if Sonia helps me warm up for the test we can talk to each other. My Dad is a big water fanatic and so we always have lots of bottled water available. We tend to have fly spray and Bit Butter on hand as well as a few bits of grooming kit, sugar lumps and a copy of the test sheet for last minute peeks!
9.How often do you show?
Through the winter I focus mainly on training and improving my partnership with my horses. Part of junior and pony international squad includes some training weekends with a test riding session followed by a lesson which is a good way of getting feedback from judges. The show season really starts around March and it can be pretty hectic with something every couple of weeks – either a show or squad training. I am hoping to be selected for the GB international competition at Easter then maybe make 2 trips to internationals in Europe. The international shows pretty much take up a week including travel, vet check etc so its only possible to do a couple and keep my school happy too! Last year we went to Holland and France then went back to France to the most beautiful place, Fontainebleu, for the Pony European Championships.
10.Who grooms for you at your shows?
Usually my Mum and Dad help me and we do it between us but sometimes our groom from home Sam will come to give us a hand. It is especially great to have Sam at the international competitions as we have to plait for the vet-check and ususally mounted prize-givings so need to look extra smart:) At the European Championships it is like being royalty – we have 2 amazing grooms called Jenny and Sarah – who look after the 4 team ponies and cater for their every need! They pretty much take over the horse management to allow us riders time to focus on doing our best job for GB! This season could be quite challenging as I am competing 2 mares and a stallion so I will always be looking for extra pairs of hands!
11.Do you braid your own horse?
It depends on the show and if we are stabling or travellling on the day. I find it quite theraputic to do the plaiting but if its a really big show then either Sam or Sonia will help. For local shows we tend to use plaiting bands but for the premier league shows and internationals Sonia insists that we sew up the plaits! We usually put the Equissage on the horses whilst we are plaiting to make sure they are nicely relaxed.
12.What is your horse’s personality like and what is his/her favorite goodie?
Dynasty is ruled be food! She has to have her hayledge weighed as she puts on weight easily but she has the nicest temperament and would never kick or bite. Fleurie is quite complex and a bit quirky – she is a proper squeally mare but is also quite loving. She is very easy to handle and loves to do carrot stretches after exercise and does them automatically, searching for carrots whether you have one or not! Billy hates to stand still and puts everything in his mouth! It can be hard work just to tack him up without him eating his reins, rug or anything! He really enjoys attention and just loves being pampered! All the horses have sugar lumps at the beginning of training to help them mouth the bit and a couple afterwards for a treat.
13.Do you trail ride and how often?
I hack out once a week if time permits and also do some hill work. We have a sand bank that we sometimes use after a training session to make sure that the horse is using its back well and to help prevent repetitive stress injuries from working on a flat surface all the time. It helps that our house is at the bottom of a valley! The best trail riding I ever did was when I went with my family to a ranch in Wyoming and rode out on the mesa. I had a super horse called Dr Seuss and I loved it when we did team penning and barrel racing!
14.What are your goals for you and your horse?
My goal this year is to be in contention for a place on the European Pony Team with Dynasty and/or the European Junior Team with Fleurie. I also hope that I can get Billionaire good enough to be selected for his first international show this year.
I have already done a few Prix St George classes with Fleurie and I am aiming to do some more after the main competition season and try to qualify for the regional championships. My long term goal with Billy is to train him up to grand prix. He can already piaffe and do tempi changes but the hardest thing for me is to get used to riding a young stallion and making sure he doesn’t fling his legs around too much (which he loves to do!)
We have some home bred horses too – a 4 year old by Johnson who I am playing around with at weekends and a 3 year old by DiMaggio whom we hope to back this summer.
15.What is your favorite Dressage music freestyle performed?
I was so lucky to be in Greenwich to witness Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro make history by winning the Olympic gold medal in the kur. It was a moment of a lifetime and I felt very partiotic! A large group of us went into Greenwich Village afterwards and partied!
16.Who is your favorite horse and rider?
I think that Carl Hester is a superb horseman and has a fantastic partnership with his horses. I think that Totilas will always be the ultimate Black Beauty and it would be amazing if Carl rode Totilas! Laura Bectolsheimer’s Mistral Horjis looks exactly like a huge version of my pony Danny Boy B and I would have loved to have done a Pas De Deux with them!
17.What can you tell other junior riders about reaching their goals in dressage?
Accept that there are ups and downs in all sports and try to turn negative situations into positive. I don’t think any sports person has an easy ride to the top. I went to a great talk given recently by former GB athlete Sally Gunnell who talked at length about the disappointment of injury and almost giving up prior to her winning Olympic gold in Barcelona.
I sadly lost my awesome pony of a lifetime Danny Boy B to a cancerous tumour just over a year ago which was totally devastating and I had to dig very deep to find it in me and make the transition to juniors a year earlier than planned. I still miss him every day but losing him made me even more focussed.
18.From your experience, what is the most important advice you can give?
Work hard, be determined and develop rhino skin! Dressage is a tough sport and there are lots of times when people will say that you are not good enough, your horse is not good enough, you won’t make it or that you only do well because you have a good horse. I try not to take criticism personally and instead focus on just doing the best I can.
19. Please tell us who you would like to Thank for being your best supporters:
There are not enough words to thank my amazing parents for their support! They have made so many sacrifices to help me realise my dream of representing my country and I am so thankful. I am very grateful to my 17 year old brother Connor who’s more into rugby that horses but has been to loads of shows with me and puts up with lots of horsey talk at home and a spot of mucking out at weekends:)
My fantastic trainer Sonia has been with me every step of the way and I dearly hope to be her first international grand prix pupil.
There are lots of other people who have supported me in different ways – in particular, my sponsors, the team selectors and my fellow riders. When Danny Boy B died I had hundreds of messages of support from all over the world! I am also very thankful to the judges who have taken their time to give me advice and words of wisdom and to British Dressage for giving me the opportunity to proudly wear the Union Jack flag.
20. What is your favorite quote that you love and want to share with others?
“Knowledge is not a heavy load to carry”
My Mum was a University Lecturer (3 years at Virginia Tech) and has always encouraged me to learn as much as I can about all aspects of the sport – technical, physical, horse management etc. I love twatching other riders, especially the senior riders, in the warm up arena more than in the actual competition and observe their riding position, the exercises they do and their focus. Recently, as part of junior squad training we went to watch Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin training at home with a variety of different horses which was so interesting and I came away determined to sit stiller and more self-disciplined! And of course to be the next Charlotte:)