Interview: Ashley Boyce on the Speed Derby Horse that nobody wanted
By Phoebe Oliver
Imagine purchasing a horse with immense potential, despite facing skepticism from those around you. Despite the obvious challenges, showjumper Ashley Boyce made the daring decision in December 2021 to take a chance on the mare. And where is she now? Well, she’s rapidly ascending to the pinnacle of showjumping, a feat that most can only fantasize about. In just four weeks, Ashley and her equine companion Lulu will return to the magnificent Hickstead showground, ready to showcase their skills in the exhilarating Speed Derby.
In the following exclusive interview, Ashley candidly shares her experiences with Lulu, recounting their arduous journey thus far and emphasizing her unwavering faith, even when others couldn’t grasp it—the undeniable presence of extraordinary talent.
When did you buy Lulu and what was she like when you tried her?
I bought Lulu in Dec 2021. I’d seen a video of her, so had an idea about what she was like, but when I arrived to test ride her I discovered she rnly had one pace and that was quick and very buzzy! She was very unbalanced in her turns and very weak in her core – but there was something in her that made me believe in her.
What made you know she was special?
I knew the moment I popped her over a pole that she had Derby potential because she absolutely loves to jump, anything and everything – she was so bold to a fence and was as brave as a lion. She was a little bit crazy but many of the top brains are – and I felt safe.
Were you put off by what others thought of her?
Yes, a little as I knew she had been in a few homes in a short space of time and usually there’s a reason for this. In Lulu’s case, she was prone to “having a fence down” and I’m sure this is why she had been passed around so much – but I saw the potential and knew if I could just improve her ride-ability and give her the right tools in building the right muscle strength, she could be something pretty amazing!
The horse industry can be cruel and I actually had people come up to me and ask why I was still riding her – which only made me even more determined!
How was she for the first few months of training? Any teething problems?
Tonnes! I started off jumping too small which was a mistake as she’s not respectful of the smaller fences and we were having cricket scores almost every show, but as the fitness, ride-ability and muscle strength improved I quickly moved up the ladder in heights and things became calmer – we had an understanding building. I also had many tack changes along the way to get the right recipe for her too – in fact, this was a daily occurrence at one point – desperate to find something that worked for us both.
When did you start to see something special and how can people tell when they have a seriously talented horse?
The first time I saw something special was in a 1.40 A10 Grand Prix at Pyecombe. It was by far our biggest track to date, very strong in height and technical too and we went clear until fence 9 of 11 where I took the wrong stride into a big combination causing her to land on a back rail. I was gutted as it was my mistake and not hers and without it, we would have been placed.
Up until this point, I was quick to blame the mistakes on her as her rideability was slow, but on this day it was totally my fault, but I am only human and thank god she didn’t lose any confidence.
For me I think you can also always tell when a horse has talent – it’s as much a feeling when you are in the air as it is about seeing the talent from the ground. Lulu has such an incredible brain, and she just loves her job.
How quickly did you start competing Lulu and what level of showjumping are you at now?
I think I took her to a show a week after she arrived, she wasn’t young (2012) and I was like a kid at Christmas. I just wanted to play with my new toy right away! To a certain extent, you can do all the practice and training you want at home, but you only learn and master horses when you’re in the ring so the more often you get them out to shows the better – it’s the old saying – practice makes perfect!
Our first class was a discovery at 1.00m in height and we’re currently competing in 1.40-1.45m classes two years in having come 10th in the Hickstead Speedy Derby last year.
Where did you train for the Derby?
I don’t have the funds to build a Derby bank at home so most of my training is done on the south downs in Pyecombe where I live. I use Wolstonbury Hill for all my hill work, bank training, hedge hopping and fitness work plus I have an arena at my yard which I can use to set up a course.
I am also lucky to live close to the local show centre, Brendon Stud which is great for ring practice. Shirley Light (who owns the stud) helps me out a lot and has previously set up a mock set of some of the Hickstead Derby fences as well.
Where were you placed last year and what was it like competing at Hickstead?
Last year I came 10th, which I was delighted with as I was just hoping for a clear! With the Derby you usually need a run or two around the course to be in with a chance as it’s such a challenge – but she just flew around and the support from my pupils in the crowd was incredible – it really helped. I’m hoping to be back bigger & better this year, we have had a really good season to date and Lulu and I are feeling really strong as a unit.
What are your and Lulu’splans for the future?
I want to win the speed Derby with her, maybe in a few years perhaps but this is my ambition. Eventually, I hope Lulu will be used for breeding and give me a foal, as she is a talent that needs to be shared.