q & a with chris anscough
We are delighted that Chris Ainscough has joined the CC team and he will be sharing in the coming months what he looks for in the driven horse or pony and the training methods he uses to compete at the highest levels. But first - let's meet him! January 2021
- What is your first carriage driving memory?
My earliest carriage driving memory is being involved in a turnover with my grandparents at about 3 years old. They used to go out driving in the evenings in their two-wheeled exercise cart and I would sit between them, arrive home asleep and be put straight in bed! For some reason, one evening going down a track the carriage was turned over and the horse ended up on its side. Luckily, I ended up in the footwell and nothing landed on me – I was completely unhurt. I don’t remember much else apart from opening my eyes and being under the carriage and the horse flailing around. I don’t know how they got the old mare out but I do remember my Grandad pulling the carriage home with me sat on it and my Nan leading the horse back.
From what I remember the only bit I was upset about was that my Dad put his foot down and said I couldn’t go out anymore!
- Who was your best driving horse or pony and why?
That’s a difficult question to answer as many of them have taught me so much in different ways and there have been different successes with various turnouts.
I’m particularly proud of what I’ve achieved with Joe, who I’ve driven over the last few years. He was given to me to possibly use as a teaching pony and he’s taken me to my first world championship and a few internationals. He’s a real tryer but isn’t probably what you’d buy as young superstar potential. However we’ve achieved a lot and I feel he’s a product of me pulling a lot different experiences together and developing more of my own training system. He’s not perfect and I’ve learnt a lot from him along the way.
I hope the best horses and ponies are yet to come!
- What is your greatest driving achievement to date?
I’m fairly sure it’s driving at the 2019 Combined Pony World Championships with Joe. He’d had a few health challenges that season and was still relatively green, but we did it and I don’t feel like we disgraced ourselves at all. I was particularly proud of coming 9th in the cones at that event although it still irritates me that a little loss of balance and straightness in the first zig zag cost us the one cone down!
- As someone who has competed since you were a junior, is there anything in driving that you wish you had done?
Probably competed more, but the reasons at times that I didn’t were either due to having a lame horse or focusing on building my equestrian business. Everyone has lean times.
I also didn’t compete on the junior international scene as it developed when I was in my late teens and so I was already doing reasonably well at senior level, so I think that I possibly missed out. There are some that did compete on the junior international scene who have gone on to become great competitors and I’m sure that early experience will have helped them.
- Who has influenced your driving journey the most and who do you aspire to emulate?
There have been many influential people on my journey so far, so it’s hard to pick one.
Without my grandparents I would never have got started. Their enthusiasm and support was unwavering. My grandad was also a stickler for things being correct, like correctly harnessing up and putting to, so it’s stood me in good stead.
As a teenager I spent a lot of time with Emily and Peter Bennett who I learned a lot from. I got the opportunity to see competing while with them at national and international level, and I saw a lot of breaking of young horses as well as training of older, more established horses and I learned many skills. I still draw on a lot of my experiences with the Bennetts today.
I spent nearly 7 years training with the late Amanda Saville, who was a significant influence. She taught me to be more intuitive in my approach to training and be more observant of the horses, as well as being more aware of how I, as the driver, was impacting the horse. Her flair for marathon driving made a big impact on me but I think some of her biggest influences were things like self-belief, confidence, thinking outside the box and not being afraid of trying something new or being different.
Over the last 5 years or so I have trained with Abigail Rowland, a dressage and eventing rider. Through her I have had access to training with the founders of the BALANCE organisation who were significantly influenced by the great horseman Robert Hall and the Spanish Riding School. In a nutshell, their training has helped me to find some important but missing pieces to the jigsaw puzzle of my knowledge, in particular how the horse’s body functions and should work.
There have of course been other influences over the years including more recently Boyd Exell as Team GB trainer.
Who I’d like to emulate is very tricky as I’m quite individual in my approach, but I would say that it’s anybody who stays at the top of an equestrian sport for a long period of time, whilst also training in an empathetic manner.
- What is your favourite breed or type of both horse and pony to train and drive?
I’m not particularly specific about breeds but it’s more type these days, as so many breeds have different qualities. I’m very excited about an up and coming Dutch New Forest Pony I have because he’s so athletic, got great conformation and I have to say the feeling he gives me when I drive him is one I’ve never had before. But he’s never been to a competition yet so let’s wait and see if my feeling is right!
- What aspect of your driving do you find the trickiest?
To be able to drive in as relaxed a manner at a big competition as I do at home.
- Having turned your hobby into your profession, what goals do you have for yourself and for developing your career?
To keep an open mind, keep learning and moving forward within the sport. I hope to be able to keep successfully competing at international and world level for many years and of course some medals would be the ultimate prize. Single driving is my passion but who knows what the future will bring, and I would like to compete a horse again at some point.
Teaching wise I’d love to see more of my clients progress through the levels of the sport, but that will take time.
- You have represented Team GB at international level. What are the main differences between competing in the UK and abroad?
The standard abroad is generally very high, and that applies to the competitors as well as the facilities, arenas and courses. There are usually large numbers of entrants in the classes which adds to the competition and if you do well, you feel like you’ve really achieved something. There’s normally a lot of atmosphere at events abroad and I enjoy competing against some of the best in the world.
- Where do you see the future of carriage driving in the UK?
I’d like to see the sport grow at all levels. But the more interest and growth there is at grass roots level will hopefully lead to a percentage of those drivers going on to climb the ladder, to some degree. I’d like to see driving recognised more within mainstream equestrian sport as when I say I’m a carriage driver, most people imagine me trotting down the road with a trap and cob going to the pub (not that there is anything wrong with that at all but it’s a long way from what I do). I find that a lot of those involved in equestrianism have never heard of competition driving. I’d also like to see the horses being seen and treated more as athletes. Whether it goes in that direction, time will tell.
- What is the best lesson you have learned along the way – and who did it come from?
Tough to give one answer but Amanda taught me to be true to myself and stick to my beliefs whilst also being open minded. It applies in all areas of life.
- As part of the busy Thompson Equestrian Centre near Wigan in the Midlands, you are juggling your own teaching, training and competing with managing the centre, organising events and the other businesses on site, such as the veterinary surgery. How do you successfully juggle all the commitments?
Start early, finish late and try not to stop in between – probably like most people.
I have a small but great team of people around me and I’m constantly looking at ways to improve and be more efficient. It might not always be perfect and the ‘to do’ list grows constantly, but a bit of hard work didn’t do anyone any harm!