Event Rider Interview: Willa Newton
- You spent time based with German event rider, Dirk Schrade, what is one of the main things you’ve learned from this experience?
One of the main things I learned about was how to produce and train young horses. Before that, I didn’t have a system of my own. Over my time with Dirk, I learned how to identify the type of young horse that the modern sport demands. As well as the importance of ensuring correct training at each level, before moving on.
- You had an equestrian upbringing, including being a member of the Belvoir hunt pony club, what is your favourite horsey memory?
It was probably when I was 13 and we had finished second as a team at the Pony Club Championship’s and I made it through to the finals of the Individual too. I was riding “Bounce”, a fantastic 15.3h roan. He went on to take me to my first intermediate, as well as being Mum’s hunter.
- You graduated with a Business management degree in 2012, do you find this helps you run your eventing career?
Yes definitely. It has given me a basic knowledge of running a business and how to make it pay. It has also helped me to look at the sport from the outside in and do a few things differently. The studying gave me another focus and as an insurance policy, the qualification has given me something to fall back on if required. I would strongly recommend any youngsters wanting to follow a professional rider career, to make sure they get some good qualifications under their belt first.
- Your dad, Joey Newton, won the foxhunters at Aintree twice as an amateur jockey and your mother Emma Newton Evented and point to pointed. What made you choose the Eventing discipline?
When I started out I was really into showjumping because I had a really good 13.2h jumping pony, called HR Owen. But when my sister, Chloe, who is five years older than me took up eventing, I automatically got roped in to help and ended up getting hooked myself. I am very lucky to have the complete support and the often day-to-day help of my family and I couldn’t do it without them.
- Lots of people try to balance competing alongside studying, how did you manage it and what would be your top tips for others doing the same?
I was lucky in that I went to a university (Leeds) which is only an hour’s drive from the yard at home, so I was able to combine my study with 3 or 4 days a week riding. But, even then, it did take some organising. I tended to work particularly hard and get a head start in the Autumn terms which clash far less with the eventing season. I had to prioritise so that studying and riding would come first, and then ‘play’ later.
- You aim to represent Great Britain in the Tokyo Olympics 2020, how will you be preparing for trying to impress selectors?
It does seem a long way off, but even now, I have a four year plan which I am taking step-by-step. So, working backwards, I am aiming for three stars this year with my mare, Caja 20, with a view to qualifying for the Europeans next year. It could be a longshot but you need to aim high.
- You have just competed in one of the new Event Rider Masters classes at Bramham. How was that?
Yes, it was a fantastic competition and brilliantly organised. It is a very exciting initiative which offers great prize money and television exposure across the world. This has to be good news for the sport. If I had another chance to compete in an ERM class, I would love to do more.
- On your website it tells us how you source and produce quality young horses, what attributes do you look for in a young horse?
By far the most important thing is that they have to be trainable, with a capital ‘T’. They have to want to learn and work for you.
For Badminton and Burghley you still need a thoroughbred in order to get the time. However, these days, for Championship horses, you need to be looking at better quality horses to be competitive in the jumping and dressage phases.
- How many hours on average do you spend in the saddle a week?
It’s something I’ve never really totted up. On average, if I’m not out competing, I’ll ride 10 horses a day, perhaps 40 minutes on average. So, I reckon it must be at least 45 hours, if you count the competing as well.
- What exercise(s) would you best recommend for a lazy horse?
I wouldn’t over-school a backward-thinking horse. I would make sure that I varied the work and do more work in the field, up and down the hills, to encourage the horse to work more on its own. I would also introduce quite a bit of hacking and certainly wouldn’t rule out a day’s hunting for a horse that needs to learn to go forwards.
- How would describe working in the equine industry compared to a Mon – Friday 9-5pm job?
Completely different, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would find it hard to sit at a desk all day.
- Apart from training at home in the arena, what other rider fitness activities do you engage in?
Running and swimming. I try to run little and often – say 40 minutes in the evenings.
- What is your favourite sport next to equestrianism?
I love to ski and enjoy doing that with the whole family. To watch, it would have to be really good championship athletics. I’m looking forward to watching the Olympic athletics in Rio, as well as the equestrian events.
- What item couldn’t you do without?
A Devoucoux saddle. I am very lucky that they are one of my sponsors, so I have four of them. They are so comfortable and I find their double flap saddle has really helped my balance whilst riding cross country.
Oh, and on the food front, I love anything sweet (I have always had a terribly sweet tooth), so I couldn’t cope without sweets and chocolate. I particularly love those American style cookies – the bigger, the better !