Jayne Ross: perfection in the saddle

Jayne Ross surrounded by champion horses

The second of my Showing Mentor Interviews: if you enjoy what you read, please do comment and make sure you follow @HowVeryHorsey so you don’t miss out on the rest of the series….

When I was younger, Jayne rode at the Ramsay’s yard and I used to hide in a stable, peaking over the door to be able to watch her schooling in the arena. If you want to see how to ride a show horse, then you need to watch Jayne Ross. She is like caramel on a horse. She has such a lightness and elegance and seems to be able to get a tune out of everything. I was so excited to have the opportunity to sit down and interview her – no stable hiding this time!

Why did you choose showing?

I wasn’t born to ride. Mum and Dad were sporty but not horsey at all. Dad sold cars and one day, he sold a car to someone who said, “when you deliver it, bring your daughter as we have ponies.” I was four or five at the time and had never ridden before, but I think every little girl loves ponies. I could rise to the trot straight away and, within half an hour, I was besotted. From that day on, I never wanted to do anything but play ponies.

I was very lucky that my parents were prepared to accommodate that. Mum and Dad had been competitive themselves so said “if you are going to do it, you do it properly or not at all.” Mum found somewhere good for me to learn, Susan’s Riding School in Harrow. After a year, Marjorie and Richard Ramsay appeared to run a competition yard and I was drawn into the show pony world.

We couldn’t afford decent ponies; we just got what we could, but I was getting keener and keener and Mum and Dad wanted to move from the edge of town into the countryside for a family house. We moved to Hertfordshire and the ponies blossomed from there.

One day the Gilbert Scott’s walked up to my Mum at a show and asked if I would be available to ride one of their ponies in the ring, my first opportunity on a decent pony.  That was Cusop Pirouette who in 1966 won the Pony of the Year.

My family are not blessed with the greatest amount of brains, so I wasn’t going to University or anything like that. When I was younger, all I ever wanted to do was ride, as I got older, I have wanted to learn more educationally. I’ve always had an affinity with horses: I seemed to be able to get on anything and get a tune out of it. When you can do something and you can feel the results are going the right way, you want to keep doing it.

I went into eventing aged seventeen and enjoyed myself, but I could never see myself having the nerve to go around Badminton. I met Anthony (Webber) who introduced me to the National Hunt scene. When we got married, I sold my two event horses, both advanced by then, and they furnished our house.

I don’t think I would have had the show horses, or done what I have done for the years I have, if I didn’t have the broader spectrum of knowledge: I’ve trained forty eight Point to Point winners, National Hunt horses, trained in South Africa on the flat, we broke 700 yearlings, I had the event horses and workers. I wouldn’t want to be purely a show rider, I think that would be very difficult.

What is the best piece of advice you got early on and from who?

I think it’s to be dedicated and do your best. Like Mum and Dad said, whatever you are going to do, do it as well as you possibly can. From the time I realised I was really keen; I was totally dedicated.

What has been your biggest mistake?

I don’t think anything is a disaster as long as you learn from it. One thing I have learnt is attention to detail matters and all your work, you do at home; once you get to the show, it is too late to change anything.

With young horses, you can’t rush anything, you must allow a horse to tell you when it’s ready to do things. Maybe my biggest mistake is putting a horse into a situation too soon years ago. Having had difficult horses, I know sometimes you have to sit, suffer, and wait.

Favourite horse you have had/ridden? Why? What made him/her special?

One of the loveliest horses to ride, as difficult as he was, was “The Philanderer”. When he was right, he was pure perfection, very special. He epitomised everything of a magical unicorn.

“The Humdinger”, the coloured cob, was hysterical fun, you couldn’t ride him without having a smile on your face.

“Time to Reflect”, who has won everything for me over the last year or two, is the most perfect horse you will ever meet. She is charm personified and tries her heart out every time; you fall in love with a horse like that. I judged her as a three-year-old at the Royal Norfolk Show, put her champion for the hunter breeding and then she went into the Supreme, with three other judges, and went Supreme. The Stennett’s had bought her, unbeknown to me, and a couple of days later they rang me, they had something they wanted me to produce and it was her. I fell for her the moment she walked into the ring, her walk, her attitude, her outlook. I could see it even then.

Horse you wish you had/rode? Why?

I am so lucky that I don’t think there is one! The one horse I always wanted to ride, “Finn McCool”, I got to ride judge, I judged him at Great Yorkshire, and he was every bit as fabulous as I hoped.

Going back, I would love to have ridden “Tenterk” in the ring, one of Robert Oliver’s hacks from years ago, a beautiful horse. I would like to step back in time and ride one or two of those from an earlier era.

What has been your hardest day showing?

The BSHA National Champs every year. When you go to any of the main shows, you have three or four hard days, but they are staggered: hunters on one day, hacks on another. You get to the Nat Champs and you have novices running into your open horses, you start so early and go all day. I quite often ride in classes, non-stop, all through the day and I am bought sandwiches and drinks in the ring. It is a logistical nightmare. Sometimes my team do have to say, “This one doesn’t gallop, this one is a hack” “Two legs on one side”, you have to keep a sense of humour.

I have a fantastic team behind me, and I couldn’t do it without them. I know I have people that can ride the horses and know them well, and I have fantastic ground staff that turn them out second to none. I also have Jo, who has been with me for years, we call her the show co-ordinator. We sit down the week before these big shows and work it down to the minute, who is where, who is back at the yard, who is getting another ready, who is plaiting and when.

Also, every horse is different so each one has a different plan; some horses don’t like to be ridden for long, some like to go into the ring fresh, others need more work and you have to work everything out accordingly. Some horses just want to go for a wander for an hour and we must make sure we have enough people to be able to facilitate that. Sometimes I think it is more difficult with one though because you channel everything into that one horse. When you have 18 going to a show, I just have to concentrate on getting myself sorted I know my bit.

When looking for a show horse, what do you look for?

I love a show horse that has that “je ne sais pas”, that exudes presence and appeals to you in every way. A truly great show horse, whichever way you look at it, is beautiful. Initially, it must have that appeal, have the wow factor when entering the ring or you have lost before you start. You want to ride something that everyone turns their head to look at it. From then on, it must be true to type; if it is a Small Hunter, then it needs to be a true small hunter, not just a 15.2 horse that could have been anything. A cob must be a cobby sort, short coupled, good bone, not just a horse with a mane off. I would rather not have one than have one that isn’t good enough.

Conformation faults can be very personal – which do you hate most? Which don’t bother you so much?

I am a bit of a perfectionist. I think you can improve a horse to a degree but only the outline and way of going. The reason you look for good conformation is because it’s what gives it longevity, even in a racehorse. If it has a really good foreleg then it is going to last better than one that is back at the knee.

I would rather have over at the knee than back at the knee. I don’t like anything with a touch of anything on a hind leg, I like a horse with a good front because I like to sit behind a really good shoulder, and it must move.

What do you wish non-showing people knew about showing?

Showing is a subjective sport, you are trying to give the impression that it is really easy but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Watching Roger Federer play tennis or Charlotte Dujardin do a dressage test, they look like they have all the time in the world, they aren’t rushing, they have that certain nonchalance and ease about them. We are trying to give that impression to a judge: “Look, mine is the easy one, isn’t he beautiful, wouldn’t you like to take him home.” Plus, you have so little time to do it; you have to try and get it right straight away! But this has a downside because then Joe Bloggs, looking from the outside and couldn’t possibly understand the amount of work that went into that particular horse for that particular moment.

Even for just a little show, the amount of time people put in is huge, so imagine how much work it takes to take a horse to HOYS. I think sometimes the public think Showing is the easy option, but it is very hard to produce a horse to perform on that day, looking spot on, going spot on, able to carry a judge, in a different environment… It is far from easy.

Considering ride judges: we put anyone and everyone on the horses at home, it is never just me or Scott riding, they have variety. We are careful when we enter a horse at a show though and look to see if the judge may not be right. I wouldn’t enter a small hack under someone tall who I didn’t think it would carry. We are careful when we first start them off too and pick judges that we know are going to give them a nice time, not put pressure on them but equally are going to be there and give them a bit of help if they need it, someone confident enough not just to sit on them.

I think there is also a misconception that Showing is easy in that you just have to go around a ring, there is less risk to it. It’s true to a certain degree however, having said that, the worst fall I have ever had was off a Highland Pony trotting around the ring, I broke my neck. Katie Jerram had her fall tripping up in an arena. There is nothing written in stone about what is more dangerous.

What is your favourite show?

I love Royal Windsor because it is purely a horse show. There is something special about riding in the Queen’s back garden for sure. A few years ago, though was awful with all the rain and we all thought we didn’t want to be there. Bless them they don’t have the easiest time with the weather!

The Great Yorkshire is one of the last, true, real agricultural shows. They are very user friendly; they know what they are doing, and the ground is always looked after beautifully.

I love HIckstead, the amazing Royal International and Derby meetings there.

And I think I like HOYS! I can tell you I like it now because it worked so well for us last year, but it is so tiring, you get into a bubble. You are in such a weird atmosphere: it’s all on concrete and even the horses get off the lorry and look around a bit shocked.

What piece of equipment would you not want to do without?

I am not a gadget person; we don’t use gadgets of any sort. The one thing I couldn’t do without is my sense of humour and my back up team.

I don’t have a horse walker, but I would love one, we may get one in the future. Since we have moved to this new place, we have a lunge pen for the first time and that has been invaluable. It makes breaking and riding away youngsters easier. We lunge and long-rein when starting but we probably ride them away a bit sooner than some, probably due to my racing background where I was given just 3 weeks. I always prefer something from scratch with a young one that hasn’t been started by someone else: I either want something properly started and going or something untouched.

What has been your funniest showing story?

We have had a lot of funny things happen to us over the years. Some of things I probably couldn’t tell you because they were at somebody else’s expense!

One of the funniest things that ever happened to me in the ring was sitting on a little cob years ago called Bombardier. A really sweet little cob but with no wither so was difficult to find a saddle to fit. We were finishing the class, all getting back on after the in hand bit and the judge was just having a final walk along the line and I bent down to check my girth and because he was so round it literally just started to slide. I could feel it starting to slide and there was nothing I could do about it. A very graceful dismount and he never moved a muscle. I just picked myself up and got back on. Nowadays you would be disqualified.

There was another Cob called Bob the Cob, if you weren’t quick enough when you unloaded him, he would just turn and load himself again. And another who came down the ramp and just kept going and going and we could see her across the grounds at Hickstead just skiing for about 15 minutes. She couldn’t stop it and didn’t want to let it go! Normally, the things that go wrong are back at the lorry, thank God. It doesn’t often happen in the ring.

One other memorable one was with my daughter Harriet. She was 6 years old, in the ring with George Taylor judging. This pony was perfection. I bought it as a three-year-old and it was obviously born perfect. In the ring, having won five out of five classes so far, I am at the sixth show and we are pulled in top, we went out to do our show and then there were another 15 or 20 to do theirs. I am in the ring with smarties in my pocket to keep her happy. We have probably been in the ring for half an hour. I am standing in the line chatting to the mother next door to me and I feel at the end of the lead rein the pony do something, I turn round and Harriet has taken her hat off and she has thrown it, it’s bounced off the ponies back and has hit the floor. “What are you doing? Put your hat back on.” I say and she replies “No, no, I don’t want to do this anymore.” “What do you mean you don’t want to do it anymore?” I put the hat back on her, turn around and talk to the mother again and then it happened again. But then the gloves went and then the jacket came off. “What are you doing?” “I don’t want to do this anymore.” “Well, just wait until the end of the class! You haven’t got much longer.” “No.” She didn’t want to know, she got off the pony, left her jacket, hat and gloves on the floor of the ring, walked out of the ring, with George Taylor going to me “Where is she going? Get her back.” And I was like “I can’t” She has gone to the ice cream van at the side of the ring, asked for a ‘99’ and goes “That lady in there will pay when she comes out.” Took the ice cream and disappeared. She never rode in the ring again. When people ask me if Harriet was easy, no she definitely wasn’t! She couldn’t even do it discreetly, she had to do it like that!

Who do you most admire in the showing world?

I must be careful here or I will upset someone by not saying them! I have learnt so much from so many different people over the years. I think probably, the people that I admire most are the people that are still there after all these years, the Robert’s, and the David’s, the people that have had a complete cross section of knowledge over the years and are still giving it.

 We have lost so many now like Andy Croft and Vin Toulson, Tub Ivans, Roy Trigg, Roger Stack, John Rawding, these people just had so much knowledge that has gone with them. Those are the sort of people that I admire and not just the ones that can go in the ring and do it, the knowledge of the breeders too.

What is the worst trend you are currently seeing?

I am worried about where showing is going in general as far as the horses are concerned. The ponies seem to be thriving, but I wonder where our future ride judges are coming from. When I was a kid, we went to Pony Club rallies, we swapped ponies, we used to take our saddles off and have a lesson bareback… but with health and safety you are not allowed to do that anymore. It’s so stringent that we are losing the fun but also the ability to survive. We learnt all our defensive riding out hunting or out hacking or playing around at pony club. I have a feeling in a few years we won’t have ride judges anymore and it’ll go like it’s gone abroad with riders doing individual shows. That will be, to me, the ruination of, certainly the hunters. It will change the whole facet of showing altogether.

Who do you see being a big winner in the future?

I think a lot of the people who are very good, have the good sense to realise that it’s a very difficult way to make a living. You look at people like Alice Homer, David Tatlow’s granddaughter, a super jockey but also a clever girl and she will probably ride for fun and not to make a living from it.

There again, where are the future generations of professional producers coming from. It’s hard to say. We as producers, struggle to make a living, so it’s not something that you go bouncing into for the fun of it. It’s a lovely life and a fabulous way of living if that’s what you want to do and you enjoy horses but make no mistake, there is not a lot of money in it. So, if you have the ability to go and do something else, then you are better off doing that and riding for the fun of it.

A few years ago, a professional may have had one cob, one hack, a couple of hunters and there weren’t as many shows either. Nowadays, I have 26 horses to show. To make a living you have to take on what you are given. I am very lucky though, that I can pick and choose a little bit more, I really don’t want to produce a horse that isn’t going to win.

Poppy Carter, Alice Homer, there are talented kids are out there, but I don’t know whether realistically, there is a future for them to make a living as professional producers.

What are your concerns for the future of the showing world?

Mainly the above. It’s getting more and more difficult to find lovely horses because I think, rightly or wrongly, there has been a lot of foreign blood introduced into the breeding and the good old English thoroughbred isn’t what it used to be. If you look back at the lovely national hunt horses that Fulke Walwyn, Jenny Pitman, Fred Winter used to train; they were lovely big, upstanding horses, with limb and substance and nowadays, people have gone for the lighter sort of horse and we are losing the true old fashioned thoroughbred. They are tough wirey little horses that can run ten times in a month, as opposed to the old horses that you had to look after and be careful with.

I think also we have ruined things by bringing in all these all-weather arenas and gallops because I don’t think the horses are as tough as they used to be. Now everything is on a surface and you wonder why you get to a show on firm ground and then your horse puts a splint up.

How would you like to be remembered? What would you like to be remembered for?

For being a true competitor but with the right attitude. My mum was a northerner and said, “You don’t get ought for nought.” And I would like to be remembered for putting a lot of time, effort and energy into it to get the rewards. I think that I have put a lot into it over the years; it has been fantastically good to me and I have had a wonderful time, some fabulous horses and some fabulous owners. I would like to think that people remember me, if they want to remember me, because I put something into it.

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