At home with Ros Canter
British Eventing Life caught up with Ros Canter to find out about her rise to stardom and plans for the season ahead.
I first rode a horse when I was tiny. Mum always loved riding, and as my two older sisters rode, I was put on a horse early. Right from the beginning, I was competitive. At Pony Club I always wanted to be better than my friends and, as the youngest, better than my sisters. Then when one of my sisters got into eventing, I followed suit.
Every year at Christmas there would be a DVD of Badminton in my stocking and I would watch them endlessly. I could tell you the running order of Badminton 1996, rider by rider, and who fell off at which fence. Looking back, I was more obsessed than I realised at the time.
I carried on eventing up to Intermediate but without any real success. After university, I fairly reluctantly went travelling with a school friend as I wasn’t convinced travelling was for me, but I had the time of my life. I came home and told my parents I wanted to live and work abroad and they said I’d need to sell my horse. I had to stay for the summer to move him on and then I was free to do whatever I wanted. That led to me going to Judy Bradwell in Newark for a lesson and I asked if she had any jobs for the summer. Judy said she really liked the way I rode and did I want to help her with some young horses. And that’s where it all started.
The opportunity to work with Judy put me on a completely different path. There wasn’t a moment where I thought, ‘this is it’ about my future, but I loved the horses and it appealed to my competitive nature.
I had amazing opportunities with Judy to ride very nice horses, which I’d not had before. For the first time I could ride young event horse classes and be competitive. I started to get a little bit of success – internationally at 2* and 3* – and even though it wasn’t at the highest level, I wanted more of it.
I had a lot of time to master the foundations as Judy was a ‘no stone left unturned’ coach. If I didn’t do a 20m circle perfectly and hit the track for the last millimetre, I’d have to do it again. If I didn’t ride well enough one day, I’d stay overnight and do it again the next day. That level of discipline taught me so much.
“I’ve got better at setting different goals for myself, but it’s taken a lot of work”
Cross country is where I felt most vulnerable, and still do to this day. I go out at the start of every season and think I must go fast at the first event to prove to myself I can do it, but if I don’t, I go back disappointed. I think 2022 was the first time when I didn’t call [Eventing High Performance Coach] Chris Bartle and say, ‘but I wanted to go fast and I didn’t’.
Piggy is one of my absolute idols and she has this ability to come out at the first event and ride as though she hasn’t had three months off. I now know I can’t do this, and it’s not the right thing for me to try and achieve. In the past couple of years, I’ve got better at setting different goals for myself, but it’s taken a lot of work.
I’ve learnt not to look left and right of myself so much and to focus on me, my own challenges and being the best I can be. In trying to achieve your dreams, you have to look to other people for advice and inspiration, but you also have to learn who you are as a person and work yourself out. You have to find that balance between learning from others and creating a system that works for you. We all know there are different types and character of horses, and you just don’t know which will be the champion. I have horses on my yard that don’t seem made for the job but they love it and do brilliantly. People are just the same. Be open to change, always.
NOT WHAT IT SEEMS
To be great takes discipline and determination. You need to continually strive for improvement and work hard but sometimes, just because something looks great it doesn’t mean it feels good. Allstar B is a prime example. He was so kind and trainable and gave so much, achieving incredible results – despite not having all the natural physical attributes for eventing – but he didn’t always feel the softest horse to ride and I had to develop my riding to get the best
out of him.
I’d been around Burghley twice on Allstar B and been competitive in dressage and show jumping. He was a great cross country horse but I was hitting time faults as he was getting stronger and stronger and I was struggling to hold him, which made me feel unsafe and vulnerable, so in 2016 I began working
with Chris Bartle.
Chris helped me to have confidence in doing things my own way, by setting rules and boundaries and creating a system that worked for me. That winter in 2016, we worked on the things that made me feel able to come out of the start box and go for the time. It was about focusing on the right things and not letting my brain drift to things that wouldn’t help me.
Working with Chris was all about making me feel safe because if I felt safe, I could let the horse do his job. I had to let the horse learn and not micromanage him to achieve my idea of perfection. I learnt that if I was in a tricky situation, I could slip the reins, stay behind and create a safe position for myself and give the horse freedom to do what he wanted to do.
The time I spent working with Chris was a real turning point for me. I’ve also benefited enormously by working with event coach and owner Caroline Moore. She’s been with me all through my riding career and I’ve learnt so much from her. With Caroline I worked on skinnies and lines – it was always about making sure the horse knew where it was going. She’s so technical and was always open to trying new things, and combining that with Chris’s approach really worked for me.
“We all know what someone’s put in to get that great result because we’re all doing the same”
There are so many things at play when you compete. Sometimes you can win and feel lucky because someone made a mistake they wouldn’t usually make. Or you can finish, like I did at the World Championships, on the same score as someone else but they win a medal and you don’t. As I get older, top results are extremely exciting and mean the world, but it really has helped me to have a normal life outside of eventing. You have to stay level.
Having my daughter, Ziggy, means I’m reminded more about life outside of the sport, but it hasn’t dampened my desire to succeed. I’ve had to become more efficient because I have smaller windows of time, which is actually healthier.
I did feel nervous coming back after having Ziggy – I was concerned I would forget the system that works for me and backtrack. I competed four weeks after having her and then I went to Pau when she was 12 weeks old. I had to be much more disciplined about how I separated myself from my family to get into the right mindset for competition. I can’t easily switch out of family mode into competition mode – it needs time.
On the morning of cross country, I need protected time in order to give my mind the space it needs to focus on the task ahead, but I find it much harder to stay focused when I need to picture the course. I’ve worked with a sports psychologist to tackle this and have created a new system where I split it up. This helps me to be much more disciplined and I’ll say, ‘I need 10 mins’ and I write in my diary. On big event days, such as Badminton, it’ll be written on the board so everyone knows that at 10 past 10 I’ll be sitting around the corner on my own, in the quiet, visualising the course.
When I picture the course, I focus on the technical side of things. It’s not just going through the jumps but about galloping to a certain point so you don’t slow down too early. I visualise the preparation point for each jump, as well as particular trees as markers and minute markers and where I need to change my whip. The more you go over it, the easier it is to do when you’re competing.
While we’re all competitive, eventing is such a warm, supportive sport. We’re never put on the start line with others next to us, so it’s easy to support one another. We’re genuinely thrilled when someone’s had a great day, as everyone deserves their moment and when it all goes right across all three phases, which doesn’t happen that often, you can only be happy for them. We all know what someone’s put in to get that great result because we’re all doing the same.
HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS
Pratoni was a real highlight for 2022. While it was disappointing from a team point of view, Lordships Graffalo (Walter) put in an amazing performance and excelled himself. It couldn’t have gone better for him.
At Badminton last year, both horses (Lordships Graffalo and Allstar B) were amazing. While it didn’t come off for Allstar B (Alby) in the show jumping, I knew he’d done his absolute best. To then have Walter take the world by storm as he did was incredible – I’ve always loved riding him cross country; I’d pick him for any course in the world.
My ultimate goal has to be Olympics. I went to Tokyo in 2021 and that just fuelled my desire to get there and actually compete. Being a reserve was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be mentally. Having it in reach and having to prepare to compete every day just in case something went wrong so I’d be ready – there was a window of two hours where I could be switched into the team – meant I had to be in competition mindset, not thinking as a spectator. Some days I’d be buzzing with adrenaline with nowhere for it to go, then other days the adrenaline didn’t kick in and I worried I wasn’t prepared enough should I be called to compete. It was hard.
ONWARDS AND UPWARDS
Last year was also the year we lost Allstar B. I’m a practical person; I was brought up on a farm and we know that life goes on, but losing Alby was incredibly sad. It all happened so quickly. We had to make the right decision for him and be strong. And life doesn’t stop when you go through something like that. I had to compete other horses the next week, so in a way that made things a little easier. I had 15 other horses to ride and I needed, and wanted, to keep going.
After competing at Aachen, Alby would have had a quiet couple of weeks in the field, so it was harder for my team and my mum who would have been caring for him every day.
Now some time has passed and I’ve had time to think, it’s actually much harder now. When the horses came in for the winter, it was more obvious he was missing. He was always very vocal in the morning, so he would get his breakfast first, and was such a personality in the yard. We’ve had a lovely photobook done of him, I’ve watched his videos and I can take the time to appreciate everything he did and what a very, very special horse he was.
Ahead of the new season, I have plenty of goals I’d love to achieve. I love being on a team – in fact, I’d drop anything to be part of a team – so I’d love to be selected for the Europeans. And so far, a 5* win has eluded me, but then I have to remember that I only went round my first 5* six years ago, so I’ll be working towards that.
You have to keep progressing, keep improving as a rider and as a person, and hope everything slots into place.
First published in the Spring 2023 issue of British Eventing Life magazine. Photos: Roy Kilcullen, except where credited otherwise.