Grill the Equestrian – Judy Reynolds, International Dressage Rider

Next up in our ‘Grill the Equestrian’ series is a woman who needs no introduction. As Ireland’s most successful dressage rider and holder of the Irish international records for Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and the Freestyle to music, Judy Reynolds has brought Ireland to the world stage of international dressage. With our ‘Girl Power’ buzz still going strong, we couldn’t resist getting in touch to ask Judy a few questions about herself and her phenomenal success. Of course we had to grab some quick tips and fun facts while we were at it too 😉

About Judy Reynolds

What does an average day look like for you?

Photo Credit: Katharina Lachs

We start at 7am, once the horses have been hayed and watered (hard feed is fed @ 6am) we start getting them out on the walker for 30 mins or the first pairs into the field already. I like the horses to have moved a bit before I ride them if possible. I will start to get my first horse ready for riding and Patrick continues with getting the horses all out along with the other daily stable chores. I will ride 6-8 horses a day and most days have some lessons after I finish riding, either at the yard or I travel regularly to give clinics. I also travel to Ireland almost every month for 2 days teaching at a time. The yard is finished up between 6 and 7 pm, but I will often still be teaching after this. 

Would/Have you ever ventured into the world of showjumping?  

When I was younger I did lots of working hunter ponies so I jumped quite a bit though never really show jumped. I still jump my dressage horses to give them some variety although any jumping rider would laugh at what I call ‘jumping’! The horses have fun though and that’s what’s important. 

How do you maintain your fitness? Do you spend much time in the gym or is it purely horse riding that keeps you in shape? 

It is not correct but at the moment it’s just riding that keeps me going, I keep planning on joining a gym but regular fitness gyms don’t inspire me so I’m holding out for inspiration! I ran the Dublin marathon in 2005 (I think) and really enjoyed the running, although I am not a natural runner. I was meant to run it with my sister Isobel but an injury prevented her from joining me, after this i was all ran out for a long time. 

If you could swap with any equestrian for the day who would it be with & why? 

I would love to swap with Isabell Werth so I could learn what makes her so darn good! She is amazingly talented at training all different types of horses to Grand Prix. 

Photo Credit: Katharina Lachs

What is the best advice you’ve every received?

Anybody who told me I couldn’t do something, I am stubborn and will work very hard to prove them wrong! 

You’re originally from Kildare, do you think living in this horse-mad county influenced you in your choice to pursue a career in the equestrian industry?

Yes I’m sure it did. We grew up on a farm, having ponies at home and I rode every day after school whatever the weather. We did everything with the ponies from hunting to working hunter to showing to pony club camp so I got a great all round education. Although it wasn’t really planned it was a very natural evolution that I ended up making horses my career. 

The Success Story

You have achieved so much in your career, first Irish woman to reach the final of an Olympic Games (2016), first Irish rider to qualify for a World Cup Final (2017), first Irish rider to reach the freestyle to music final at WEG (2018). What is your ultimate career goal?

Photo Credit: Katharina Lachs

I really want to get to another Olympics and I would like to repeat/improve on some of these successes with future horses. Although I’ve ridden 4 different horses to championship level, I’m only known so far for my partnership with jp, I would like to be known as a rider with multiple successful horses. 

How did it feel when you reached the final in the 2016 Rio Olympics? 

That was a dream come true, to be an Olympic finalist, no one can ever take at away from you. It was an unspoken goal of mine in the run up to the Olympics to make the final, we knew it would be possible but not easy. The elation when we realised that I was into the final is like nothing I’ve felt before, it was also a sense of relief as I was carrying some emotional baggage with me in terms of not feeling really worthy of my place among the best dressage riders. Since then we have gone from strength to strength in part from having this belief that we now ‘belong’.

Most recently you competed in the FEI Dressage World Cup in Gothenburg. You were sitting at the top of the leaderboard for quite a while. How do you handle the waiting game after you’ve finished a test?

After I’ve ridden we often get some food as I won’t have eaten much the few hours before riding. I will watch the scores come in or watch the tests on tv/phone/monitors. I don’t often watch a lot of tests in real life, I’m too antsy to sit still for that! 

Judy’s Tips

When training for dressage, what are the key things for any rider to remember? 

It all based on transitions so they are the most important thing. To give the horse time to understand a concept and then reward them as soon as they offer signs of understanding something new, even if it’s not perfect yet. For me the basics are extremely important, I will spend a lot of time making sure I can ride REAL straight lines, corners, circles, transitions as and how I want them before starting to train ‘movements’. If you train tricks before you have the basics that is all they will be, tricks. 

What are your tips for a horse who struggles to accept the contact? 

Photo Credit: Katharina Lachs

Make sure your horse is truly working from behind. Horses can be forward going but not really pushing themselves forward with the hind legs but rather pulling themselves forwards with their front legs. The horse must be truly in front of the leg, only then can they search for a contact. If I have a new horse in for training who really doesn’t have a concept of contact then I will lunge them using a chambon as I find this helps at the beginning to get them searching forward and down and from there I can work on the contact while riding. 

What is one training exercise you swear by?

Transitions! If in doubt, ride transitions. And leg yielding, this can help any number of issues and you can get quite inventive in how you use it. 

What advice would you give to young aspiring dressage riders?

Get the best training possible and if you are serious about a career in dressage try to spend time in Europe. When I moved to germany at first I thought I was a good rider, went to my first show and promptly came last! Turned out I hadn’t even scratched the surface in terms of what I had to learn. I also believe that competing against those who are better than you is the best way to improve. 

Things We Didn’t Know

Who do you see as your biggest competition?

The Germans! 

How do you go about picking music & creating a routine for freestyle? If I had it my way I would be in there dancing to backstreet boys I want it that way! 

If you want to you can do that! You really are free to use what you want, though saying that it is worth bearing in mind who will be judging you and they don’t necessarily have the same musical tastes as you. First off we make the floor plan, this can take some time, working out how best to show off your horse’s strengths, putting the movements together so they flow and make sense to the judges. You almost want them to have a feeling that they know where you are going before you do it. Personally I like a symmetrical floor plan. Then you have to make sure it’s within the required time allowed, nothing worse than coming up with a great routine to find it is 20 seconds too long! Once we have that done, we film the floor plan and send it to the freestyle composer. Ralf Roder has composed my last 2 freestyles, he’s really easy to work with.  I give him an idea of what I want and then we spend time sending ideas back and forth until we are happy with the direction it is going and Ralf then puts a version together. My previous freestyle was 80’s divas, I wanted it to be music that I enjoyed listening to but also the judges could relate to, my rule was that if my dad hadn’t heard of it, it wasn’t going in! My current freestyle is based on lord of the dance by Michael Flatley, Patrick and my dad had been trying to convince me for years to use Irish music, finally I gave in and the response to the music has been amazing, people love it! 

Vancouver K – tell us about his personality? Has he any quirky traits or bad habits?  

Photo Credit: Katharina Lachs

Jp is a very special horse, I think if we would let him he’d be on the sofa with us watching tv at home. He has a huge personality and relates a lot of his character thorough his facial expressions. He has multiple bad habits, he knows he’s the most important horse in the yard! After riding, I take off jp’s bridle and he has a scratch, while he’s doing this I hang up his bridle and get him a treat. If I’m not quick enough he will literally follow me into the tack room for his treat (Patrick calls this free range dressage). If you are hand grazing him and he doesn’t think he has been out for long enough, if you try to direct him back towards the stable he will just park himself and refuse to move. He is very stubborn! If you want to wash him after work, he must first be allowed to drink from the hose, if you don’t he will make sure you get wet! 

Have you got any lucky charms that you bring with you when you are competing?

Photo Credit: Katharina Lachs

We have a whole support crew of teddies! One very special one in particular, known a little P, is a cuddly horse teddy that comes complete with hand made white bandages, fly veil embroidered with ‘jp’, and a numnah that has the olympic rings embroidered on to it along with the names of our friends who made it for us before going to Rio. He also has a necklace with all the lucky charms we were given before Rio. Little P has been to every show since and regularly gets covered in mash and various things as jp likes to share! 

Anyone else seriously considering getting a horse teddy of their own? No..just us? Alrighty then..

We’d like to say a massive thank you to Judy for answering our questions for us. We actually learned so much, we’re kind of raging we didn’t ask more! If you’d like to keep up to date with Judy & JP, make sure to follow their Instagram accounts (yes JP has his very own account!) @judyreynoldsirl and @jpvancouverk.

Lastly, a big thank you to Katharina Lachs for providing us some pictures. Make sure to follow her on Instagram, her pictures are stunning, @katharina_lachs_fotografie.

As always, thanks for reading,

Orla & Darielle

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