Yasmin Ingham: Living the dream
Yasmin Ingham was speechless. As her friends and family shouted and screamed around her, the 25-year-old was momentarily stunned – mouth wide open, taking in the scale of what had happened.
Yasmin and her horse, Banzai Du Loir, had just won individual gold on her World Championships debut, taking the crown after German rider Michael Jung made two uncharacteristic errors at the end of the show jumping to drop down from first.
But while everyone around Yasmin erupted in celebration, the rider stood in shock. Winning individual gold at the Championships in Pratoni had never seriously crossed her mind, even when she secured a second-place finish after a clear final round.
In fact, she was so certain she wouldn’t win gold, she nearly missed her winning moment altogether.
“It was a really funny and weird moment. I’d jumped in silver and in reverse order, so Mickey [Michael Jung] jumped last,” Yasmin explains.
“Once I’d jumped a clear round in the show jumping, we were all celebrating guaranteeing silver. All of us knew deep down that Mickey wasn’t going to have two fences down, so we were all buzzing and celebrating getting second.
“My mum came over and said, ‘I think you should watch Mickey just in case’ and I thought, ‘he’s not going to have two down, but we’ll go over and watch the master at work anyway’. He got pretty much to the end of the course and was at the last four fences when he rolled a pole going into the last double and I thought, ‘oh well, he’s used his life, he won’t need another one’.
“As he was coming down the last couple of planks, I thought, ‘he’s actually a bit close to those planks’ and all of a sudden, they fell. You can’t describe the emotion of everybody around me; everyone was overwhelmed. It was a really special moment.”
While victory at this year’s World Equestrian Games at her first attempt came as a surprise for Yasmin, there’s no question that she’s been aiming for the higher echelons of eventing from a young age.
Born on the Isle of Man to a horse-mad mum, Yasmin was destined for the saddle. Many of her earliest memories were of being with her mum at the stables, with her first words ‘on it’ accompanied by an unsubtle point towards a horse. As soon as she was old enough, Yasmin found a home in the saddle and rode a few ponies on shared loan as she worked through the ranks in riding and pony clubs.
Even when she wasn’t at the stables, the youngster’s mind whirred with all things equestrian. She’d set up mini show jump courses in her back garden so she could play the role of horse and rider – a game that
helped her star in the hurdles and high jump during athletics season at school – and would spend hours in front of the TV watching competitions. There was barely time for anything else.
“Every night I’d come in from school and go straight to the yard, do the ponies and come back home,” remembers Yasmin. “When I was home, instead of doing my homework I’d put Horse & Country on the TV and I’d watch FEI Classics, so I was watching Luhmühlen and Pau, and all the old Badmintons.
“I’d be a geek and rewatch things, which would trigger my imagination of what I could build at home to play with. I’d create lines and things I’d copy from the TV in a much smaller and simplified form, and I got a lot of inspiration from previous 5* events and the show jumping, which I was mad keen on too.”
Living on the Isle of Man meant Yasmin’s passion for competition wasn’t easily satiated as she wanted to test herself in bigger and better events. It meant weekend trips by ferry across to the mainland became more common, a journey that only grew in frequency as she focused solely on eventing.
“I’d qualified for the Horse of the Year Show and Royal International at 12 or 13 and that’s when it all started,” Yasmin explains. “My trainer at the time, Mark Smith, took my mum aside and said, ‘watching Yaz, I really think you should get her into eventing – I think she’d be really good at it’.
“From there, we did a couple of Pony Club events on a pony we’d qualified for Royal International and done all the work in Hunters on and I had my first taste in the 90cm at Skipton in 2009. After that, I was obsessed with the whole idea of eventing and cross country and going fast. I wasn’t mad on the dressage at this point, but the cross country made up for it and that’s when the eventing bug bit.”
The best feeling
With Yasmin’s ambitions now firmly set on eventing, she bought Craig Mor Tom to help her on her way. The gelding was ‘a little bit of a hothead and quite a crazy pony who needed to be tamed’, but with the help of her trainer, Mark, Yasmin got to grips with her new ride to graduate through 90s, 100s and into Pony Trials.
The family’s schedule soon filled up with competition dates, with Yasmin and her parents regularly sailing back and forth on the Douglas to Liverpool ferry. Friday would become travel day before competing in two-day events across the weekend and catching the overnight ferry back on Sunday. With Yasmin still at school, she’d often disembark just in time to be there for first bell on Monday morning.
Those long weekends were rewarded when Yasmin received her call-up for the 2012 Pony European Championships in Fontainebleau. It was her first experience of competing as part of the British team and despite going to France with high hopes of winning gold, the occasion got the better of her on the cross country and she finished 36th overall. But that disappointment lit a fire beneath Yasmin.
“I definitely went away having learned so much from the experience and wanted to put what I’d learned into the following year,” Yasmin recalls.
“That winter, we put in a lot of work and I’d set my sights on winning a gold medal next season. We had a really great spring in 2013 and Tom won and came second in a couple of Pony Trials, so we got reselected for the team to go to the Pony Europeans.
“This time it was in Arezzo in Italy and again it was almost like we put all the training we’d done over the winter into practice and had a faultless performance to finish on our dressage score. We went into the show jumping in bronze and the two combinations ahead of us had fences down, so I jumped into gold.
“It was my first taste of being on a podium and winning a medal. That feeling of jumping a clear round and finding out you’ve won gold is something you dream about. It doesn’t happen often and after that first time I was like, ‘wow, this is the best feeling in the world and I want to do it again’. It gives you so much motivation and determination to be better and better and get back up on the podium again.”
With Craig Mor Tom now a gold medallist, he had plenty of potential suitors and his sale paved the way for Yasmin to invest in a new horse. The victory in Arezzo had opened other doors too and a link was established with Imperial Cavalier owner Sue Davies, who also lived on the Isle of Man.
Buoyed by the fillip of winning at the Pony Europeans, Yasmin earned the chance to work on the yard Sue and Janette Chin owned in Cheshire, while also riding a couple of their homebred horses as she worked her way up Juniors. The pair had clearly spotted Yasmin’s talent, so when they were looking for a rider to compete on Imperial Cavalier when he took the step down from elite-level eventing, they turned to their young prodigy.
Imperial Cavalier was better known for winning Olympic silver at London 2012 and World gold in 2010 beneath Mary King, so Yasmin could scarcely believe it.
“I was mucking out a stable after Badminton in 2014 and Janette and Sue walked on the yard. They said, ‘we’ve decided it’s time for Archie [Imperial Cavalier] to step down from 5* level and we want to ask if you’d like to ride him in semi-retirement’.
I just dropped to the floor and asked if I was hearing it right – he was my favourite event horse and I was completely gobsmacked,” says Yasmin.
“Obviously, I was very nervous as well because he’d been so successful with Mary and there’d be lots of people watching such a young girl – I was 17 at the time – get on a horse with so much history,
but it was absolutely amazing.
“He taught me so, so much. The way he was on cross country made me such a brave rider and I had so much confidence and trust in him. There were times I thought he was quite strong, but once we got to know each other, we had such a good time.”
The combination rode together for three years and after Imperial Cavalier took full retirement, Yasmin got her hands on Banzai Du Loir, who took her from 1* up to 5*.
Her 5* bow came at Kentucky earlier this year upon British Eventing High Performance Coach Chris Bartle’s recommendation and despite some initial trepidation, Yasmin carried her strong spring form to the States, where she took second place.
It was a real pinch-yourself moment as Yasmin found herself at the top of the standings with Michael Jung. Although, little did she know the significance the German rider would have in a matter of months.
“When you watch Michael Jung – and I have at the Rio and London Olympics and many of the 5* events in between – he’s the best and most successful rider ever, so to be as close as I was to him in Kentucky was really exciting,” Yasmin explains.
“Obviously, I never thought I’d beat him, which is why Pratoni was so amazing. I remember sitting in the press conference after Kentucky and I turned to him and joked, ‘I’ll get you one day, Mickey’, but didn’t really think that a few months later I actually would.”
Yasmin was thrilled to simply be selected to get the call to join the British team at the World Equestrian Games and took her place in a strong field just hoping to do herself and her team proud. But after achieving a career personal best in the dressage, the self-confessed rookie suddenly found herself at the sharp end of the competition.
A strong cross country saw her climb to second overall and confirmed her silver placing in the show jumping – before watching in amazement as Michael handed her gold at the last.
The victory made Yasmin the first rider to win an individual title on her championship debut since Zara Tindall won the European Championship in 2005. But after hitting such an incredible high so early in her career, Yasmin has already set her sights on a new aim.
“From childhood, I’ve watched every Olympics and thought the athletes were like superheroes,” Yasmin says, with excitement creeping into her voice.
“I’ve always wanted to be selected for an Olympics, so that’s my life goal to get there and win a gold medal. That would be the cherry on top.
“I know it’s an extremely competitive sport and there are so many good combinations at the moment, so the next few years is about trying to maintain some consistency and some good results.
“Paris is my goal for 2024 and with winning gold at the World Championships, it feels a little bit more in reach than it had before. But you’ve got to maintain the results and consistency and make sure you and your horse stay healthy. There are so many factors that go into it, but that’s got to be our goal.”
Based on what Yasmin has achieved this year, there could be more celebrations ahead for Britain’s newest World Champion.
Yasmin and Banzai Du Loir’s dressage test is in the top 10 best tests seen from a British rider at the World Championships
Yasmin was the youngest-ever rider to finish on the podium at Kentucky CCI5*
This score was the best international dressage test of Yasmin’s career so far
Yasmin’s average finishing score from 10 internationals
Her average dressage score from 10 internationals
In 2022, Yasmin competed at 10 international shows – they were all CCI4* and above. She finished in the top 5 on 7 of the 10 outings
Feature first published in British Eventing Life magazine Winter 2022. Top image: Scott Matthews/Charles Owen