OLLIE MCATEER INTERVIEW: Pressure’s on for Horsham rider given Olympic horse

JPCT 210213 Rider Harriet Upton. Photo Derek Martin
JPCT 210213 Rider Harriet Upton. Photo Derek Martin

They say a good workman should never blame his tools. That’s why Harriet Upton is under so much pressure this year.

The teenager has been given an Olympic horse to train on.

“People might think that at 16 I don’t really deserve it, but that’s what I have to prove wrong,” the Rio 2016 hopeful says with determination.

Harriet is sure to turn a few heads from envious riders when she enters the arena on Carraig Dubh, known at home as Danny.

And rightly so - the stallion was trained by Olympic medallist and eventing giant Tina Cook, before starring in last year’s Games with Jamaica’s Samantha Albert.

Now Danny’s being cared for in stables near Storrington, where he’s pushing this young successful rider to her limit ahead of 2016.

The Horsham teenager has come a long way from the girl who was too scared to even get on a horse let alone ride one to victory at competitions across Europe.

“I tried lots of different activities when I was younger, but had this habit of never finishing anything,” says the teen, who like many I’ve met in recent weeks, carries herself with a powerful sense of confidence.

“I really wanted riding lessons, but when I got them I didn’t want to get on the horse. I remember running away screaming.”

But years of training groomed Harriet into the eventing success she is today.

The sponsorship and backing she has is rare for such a young rider. But Harriet’s earned it.

Her combination of dressage, showjumping and cross country was put to the test at the tender age of 15 when she was selected to represent Great Britain at a competition in France in 2011.

Astoundingly, Harriet finished 17th out of 130 competitors - ranking higher than six of the world’s best riders.

It certainly paved the way for a successful year ahead.

But she was dealt a devastating blow when Estella, her horse at the time, was struck lame, seriously jeopardising future events.

“It’s the most heartbreaking thing.

“You go through everything with the horse, all the ups and downs. Not only do you feel so sorry for the horse, but everything goes down the drain for you.

“It was a very hard time. But you have to remember they’re not machines, they’re athletes.”

While Harriet admits to losing some confidence at the time, others obviously didn’t, and the young rider’s hard work was rewarded with an Olympic horse.

“I couldn’t believe it, it was so out of the blue and I didn’t expect anything like that to happened.

“He’s such a different class of horse - he’s a professional. If you sit on that horse and you don’t have your A game, he knows.”

Riding such a specimen does comes with it’s downfalls, though. The teen is under immense pressure to perform this year.

On top of that she will have to ignore the doubters who feel age makes her unworthy. Harriet will certainly know who her friends are over the coming months.

“I’m aiming for Rio because, why not? Competing under the British flag has to be the best moment of my life and has inspired me even more to achieve my ultimate goal.

“In order to get to the top, I know this is not just about me; I have such a supportive family, amazing owners who have trusted me with their precious horses and the best combination of trainers.”

Harriet also paid tribute to her sponsor MDR Photo.

Follow the young rider’s ups and downs on her journey to the Olympics by visiting www.harrietupton.blogspot.com