Young Athlete Series: Alex Hellings on conquering the world of dressage
Name: Alex Hellings
I started riding purely by accident. My family moved to Derbyshire when I was seven and my Dad thought it was the thing to do when you lived in the countryside: buy your daughter a pony. We weren't a 'horsey' family at all! It turned out that a friend of his, Sonia Baines who lived really nearby, was a trainer and I started having lessons with her. That was nearly ten years ago and I’m still training with her. Sonia is a dressage specialist and although she got me to do jumping and other things when I was younger, I didn’t enjoy them as much as dressage: that’s where my heart lies and what I focus on now.
My horse trains as much as I do!
I ride nearly every day with my horse Uvender (Uvi), but his type of work varies: sometimes he will have a lunge day and some days are easier than others. He goes on the horse walker for an hour every day, and goes out in the field in the summer or in the turn out paddocks in the winter. Uvi has the physio and farrier once a month, which fits around our busy competition schedule. My Mum is great and drives the horse lorry to competitions, and makes sure I’m well fed!
Nutrition and exercise are really important as a rider
With riding, there is the misconception that the horse in the best condition will do the best in competition. Sadly that isn’t true, and as a rider you have to work hard on your own fitness and technique. This is where Fit Missions comes in: I train with my personal trainer Tom three mornings each week at 7:00am before school, and I try to get into the gym on my own as well. Since I’ve been training with Tom at Fit Missions my nutrition has become very important to me – I try to eat foods that will give me sufficient energy and help me concentrate so that I can perform at my best. I no longer eat school lunches and instead I cook myself something the night before. It doesn’t take me long and I’ve found this has improved my concentration at school as well, which is good given I’m studying for A Levels in Maths, Business Studies and Sports Studies! They have always been my favourite subjects so it's great that I can now focus on just these three. It can be hard juggling riding, my school work and a social life, but it's worth it in the end even if it does tire you out sometimes!
“As long as you stick at something and try your best you can't go far wrong”
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get myself and Uvi into the best condition we can be so that we can perform at our best, but as long as you stick at something and try your best you can't go far wrong. I set my self mini goals to achieve which bring me closer to my overall aims and it keeps me focused and motivated.
When you succeed in sport it's the best feeling in the world but it does come with a lot of pressure. I was picked for my first international at the age of 12 with my pony Dublin, and in 2014 I went to the pony European Championships on Der Kliene Lord (Lordy) and we won Team Silver and Individual Bronze. I was the second ever pony rider to win an individual medal and felt really proud. When Lordy was sold after this competition, I essentially had to start again with my new horse. Everybody expects you to succeed which can be tough, but you have to focus on what you want to achieve and your own goals. We all have bad days sometimes but as long as you take the positives from it and learn from it then you’re always improving! I think especially in dressage having an open mind is vitally important. Being able to take on board criticism and other people's opinions really does help you to improve as a rider and a person.
My goal is to get to the European Championships at Junior level with my new horse Uvi, and to compete at Prix St Georges, the beginning of International Dressage, and Intermediate 1. My long term goal is to train Uvi to Grand Prix which is the top level of competition and would mean I could compete in the Olympics as Charlotte Dujardin has done.
These are my tips for anyone hoping to get into dressage:
- Finding a trainer that you really connect with and understand is really important. Sonia Baines has been training me since I was 7 years old so we know each other very well. This allows her to giving me a telling off if I need it or help me if I'm feeling nervous! This understanding and relationship between rider and trainer is vital to success.
- Never give up! Even if you've had a bad day keep your chin up, brush yourself off and learn from your mistakes. Never dwell on them as this will only make you feel worse about yourself.
- And finally, patience and dedication are key for me. Rome wasn't built in a day and your horse isn't going to get to Grand Prix in a day, but if you keep working hard and have patience and empathy for your horse you can and will get there!