The NAF Winter Nationals Dressage competition, held at Hartpury in Gloucestershire in April, is always a good chance to see up-and-coming riders in the heat of competition. Piaffe Presents seized the opportunity to catch up with Lucinda Elliott, the 20 year old resident rider at Emma Blundell’s Mount St. John stud, who is a real emerging talent in the arena.
Elliott is, initially at any rate, shy and diffident. It’s not hard to understand why, when you realise she has only been riding and competing in dressage for two years. Horses, though, have always been a part of her life, as she explains, “My family has always been involved with horses. I did Pony Club and then some showing alongside the Pony Club.” This understatement is typical of Elliott: she was one of the most successful young showing riders ever, winning Supreme at the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead in 2012 with her four year old 14’2 pony Dance All Night, or Mamba to her friends; she also won at Horse of the Year Show that year and was unbeaten in all her shows. Dance All Night was owned by Mary Harforth and David Nixon, and was out of Kilvington Scoundrel, a former HOYS Leading Sire of the Year. Elliott takes up the thread: “I was naturally drawn to showing: I’ve always enjoyed the flat-work and while I also enjoyed jumping, when I was 12 I was offered the chance to ride Show Ponies for Jerome Harforth and that meant the jumping had to take a back seat.”
It was perhaps natural, then, to follow the path to the centreline and at 18 Elliott got the chance to join Emma Blundell at the Mount St. John dressage stud in 2014. As she explains, “I was doing my Pony Club ‘A’ test and as part of that I had to shadow someone. I had never really done dressage before, so on my days off I’d come to Emma’s yard just to watch her and to learn and watch the training. I knew Emma from showing and I’d ridden some of her ponies after she’d outgrown them.” 

Elliott’s dedication and desire to learn quickly showed itself, as she went to the stud every day off she had, and as she impressed with her application and progress, she began to train with Emile Faurie. She goes on, “That summer I got to ride Mount St. John Best Of All at Myerscough and then she was taken over by Charlotte Dujardin, which was amazing for a horse I’d been riding.” Although Elliott was quickly exposed to top-level dressage riders and horses, there have been challenges making the transition from showing, as she says, “I think the challenge has been to improve my accuracy. The training and groundwork in dressage are so precise. There are no shortcuts. In showing, we have a really light contact, so I had to change that and ride to the contact a lot more.” 

Being surrounded by elite riders has helped both Elliott’s training, and motivated her to push herself harder. And it’s when speaking about Charlotte Dujardin that Elliott’s genuine enthusiasm starts to shine through: “Charlotte is so natural on a horse, it’s a privilege to watch her ride, but she’s always really motivational when she trains me. She’s very precise and because she comes from a showing background too, she understands my weaknesses. She wants to get the best out of me and she understands how I used to ride because she made a similar transition. She also so dedicated and she puts so much time into teaching others – it’s inspiring.” 

Physical preparation has been a big part of Elliott’s new regime. She works with yoga instructor Jo Calver to get her body right for the rigours of competition: “I think our bodies are capable of doing much more than we realise. You can influence the horse a lot more with your body than you realise, so I got a lot stronger going to the gym and I also do yoga three times a week, which is great for core stability.” She goes on, “It’s definitely improved me as a rider; I can use my seat to balance more and I don’t have to rely on my hands so much. I also have better endurance, because I ride all day, so stamina helps.” As Elliott explains, a holistic approach is necessary to make the most of one’s riding: “You can have a horse that’s as good as it can be, but you have to put the work in yourself, your fitness and health, your training, and everything else.”

Elliott’s day-to-day work at the Mount St. John stud also helps her dressage training, where she works with owner Emma Blundell to improve her knowledge of the sport. And it’s yet more hard work, as she says, “The horses are all hayed at around 6.30am and then they go on the walker in groups of three for 20 minutes each before they’re worked. I do my yoga for an hour and a half three times a week at 7.30. Then I’ll ride all morning, between five and six a day, either in the school or for a hack in the fields or on the roads to vary their lifestyle. After lunch I ride again and everything is planned out, so we exercise the horses according to a schedule. Then the horses are hayed, skipped out, and fed.” The planning is crucial: “Emma and I sit down and work out plans for routines and work plans and we often ride together. That way, I can learn from how the plan benefits each horse.”

All the hard work has been paying off, as well. Elliott won the Novice Restricted at the Nationals last year with Mount St. John Best Of All, her first time riding there, with a score of 74.64%. She has already qualified four horses for the Nationals this time around too, MSJ Fascinate, MSJ Viola, Dita von Teese, and MSJ Best Of All. And this in spite of a difficult start to her dressage career, as Elliott explains: “I had glandular fever in December 2014, after three months training in Bremen, so I had to take two weeks in hospital and three months off. I didn’t start riding again until April 2015. It’s very exciting to have had everything happen so quickly and to see what I’ve managed to achieve. I’m quite ambitious but to see the results so quickly has been pretty amazing.” It’s a testament to Lucinda Elliott’s talent, hard-work, and determination that the she has achieved those results, and there’s no doubt that she is a name to look out for in the future.