A girl tends to have few issues when her best friend is a Rockstar. This has certainly been the case for twenty year-old Eventer, Ella Hitchman, whom has enjoyed a whole host of success over the past few seasons with her growing string of talented horses. Seasoned campaigner, Rocky Rockstar has been particularly instrumental in her quest to climb the levels and further her promising career. The thirteen year old, grey gelding, affectionately known as “Rocky” at home, has helped young Ella attain her Junior and Young Rider team debuts for Great Britain and the pair have been on fine form recently, keeping them at the forefront of the selectors’ minds. “Although I’d always wanted to get onto youth teams, it was never something I thought would happen, until we got Rocky and he started to show us just how good he is.”
Ella made her first appearance on the British Eventing scene in 2011 with Purple Patch and immediately tasted victory, reigning victorious on their maiden run. Since then, she has forged a name for herself with Rocky, whom started life as her Mother’s hunter. The young partnership finished 9th individually at the Junior European Championships in 2014, but it was the 2015 European Championships, where the pair edged out tough competition to make the Young Rider squad, that they really flourished. They narrowly missed out on individual glory, finishing 4th in the solo rankings, but still made the podium at the end of proceedings, as Britain topped the team standings to claim gold. “It’s been absolutely incredible to have the opportunity to represent Team GB. The support network is like no other when you’re at the Europeans.”
On the back of this incredible result for Great Britain’s up and coming Event Riders, which really attracted much deserved media attention to the young squad, there was intense competition to make the 2016 Young Rider European Championships in Montelibretti. Despite a number of riders in the running for selection, Ella and Rocky pipped them to the post and were again selected for the team after putting together a string of impressive results. This meant he would travel across to Italy with Ella’s temporary groom, Emma Hartwell. “I felt fairly confident that he would travel well as he coped very well with the drive to Strezgom last year for the Young Rider European Championships and it was the same again this year. The horses are in the best possible hands.”
However, fortunes were not as they had been the previous year in Poland. A trio of setbacks left the young Brits out of the team competition before the final day even commenced, which was hugely disappointing given the success of the previous year. Firstly, Emily King was sadly forced to withdraw Dargun upon his arrival in Italy, before a toe was flicked or a fence jumped, due to the eight year old gelding “not feeling quite himself.” Injury then resulted in the withdrawal of Will Furlong and Livingston at fence eight of the cross country course. Despite the best efforts of the British team, an abcess picked up by the gelding plagued him round the early stages of the tough track and so Will sensibly decide to pull up and save him for another day.
However, it was arguably Sam Ecroyd’s departure from the competition on the final day that was the hardest blow for Team GB. He finished the tough cross country course three seconds inside the optimum time, leaving the duo well in touching distance of an individual medal. However, a slight injury sustained by Opera House meant that he was the final casualty for Team GB, withdrawing before the final trot up. This meant that Ella and her team mates, India Wishart and Katie Bleloch, went into the final phase knowing that a team medal was no longer up for grabs. “It was a very challenging week for everyone. We were such a tight-knit group that I think all the problems each member was hit with affected us all, but we just had to pick ourselves up and keep going. On the Sunday morning when we heard that Opera House wasn’t being presented, we were gutted as it ended any team hopes, but at the same time, I was glad I had a sound horse to trot up.”
Rocky did far more than just trot up, however. The pair were rewarded for chipping in a sophisticated, mature cross country round, picking up just 7.6 time penalties to leave them in 27th place individually heading into the showjumping. It was on the final day that the pair really shone. When the chips were down, Ella and Rocky showed immense grit and determination to jump clear, soaring up the leaderboard to finish in 13th place, a very credible finish. “Everyone did extremely well under the circumstances. Something that I really learnt from that week was to never take horses for granted, nearly everything that could have gone wrong did, a huge contrast to the year before.”
Ella now has an intense schedule for the next few years, as she juggles her blossoming eventing career with the rigmarole of student life. A gap year allowed her to work with renounced International Italian Event Rider, Victoria Pannizzon and further her career, with a number of younger horses slowly progressing through the grades. “It’s been pretty hectic. My feet haven’t really touched the ground since returning from Italy. I’ve started at the Royal Agriculture University, which is luckily only forty five minutes away from home so the horses have stayed put.”
Whilst it has been all go for Ella, Rocky has enjoyed a quieter few weeks and has a well-earned winter holiday to look forward to. “The last few years he has finished at Championships, at all of which he has dug in very deep to pull out great performances. He tries so hard in everything that he does that he thoroughly deserves a long holiday in the field. He is known as ‘Bob the Cob’ at home, especially in Winter then he lets himself go a bit too much.” Like us all, Rocky has a guilty pleasure, a typically British guilty pleasure, which he indulges in a tad too much during the winter months. “He’s very fond of tea and biscuits… His particular favourite is a hobnob, although this of course stops before the season starts with dope testing in mind!” Poor Rocky – His beloved biscuits is the sacrifice he makes to be a top class Event horse. I’m sure we can all relate to that!
At thirteen, the gelding is at the peak of his career and Ella is keen to capitalise on his talent next year. The pair started at BE90 level back in 2012 and have quickly progressed through the rankings. The prospect of stepping up to 3* competition is very realistic for the pair. “I definitely think Rocky is capable. I’ve walked a few 3* tracks this year to get an idea of what may be to come. Watch this space!”
However, she is also keen to take some of the pressure off of her current top horse and hopes that her younger horse, Wills Rebel will make the cut for next years Young Rider Championships. “My plans for next season are to aim for Young Riders again, but with my second horse, Wills Rebel. He’s stepping up to 2* at Aldon and it would be great to have him in the running as well.” Although the partnership unfortunately did not complete their first 2* run at Aldon, plenty of positives can be taken. They will have gained invaluable experience to build on going into next season and posted a very impressive dressage score of 48.8. Indeed, with such a talented array of horses in her yard, her thoughts are already on next years team selection. “As Young Riders is only for three years, it’s my main aim to get there as it will be my final season before I become a senior.” Despite the slight blip at Aldon, the pair have had a very successful season, having finished runner-up at Oasby and Gatcombe respectively, in a very competitive field. However, the real eye-catching result is their 18th placed finished in the 1* class at Houghton, where they put on a classy display to complete on their dressage score of 48.3.
One has to admire the improvement of Rocky Rockstar on the flat since Ella took over the ride on him. At their first 1* at Gatcombe in 2013, they posted a dressage score of 59.0. Three seasons later and the gelding is well-capable of consistently chipping in a dressage score well within the 40’s, an improvement which now sees the pair as a regular fixture in the British Young Rider squad. She is keen to acknowledge the support she has had to make such vast improvement possible. “My main supporters are my parents, who are a huge inspiration, as they support me in everything I do. I would also like to say thank you to my coaches, Dominic Ruane, who helps me with the jumping side of things and has put up with me for the last six years. Also, Adam Murdin has helped Rocky and I on the flat and without whom, we definitely would not have achieved what we have!”
Rocky and Wills prove that Event horses have their quirks too. “They are both very talkative. When you walk into the barn, you normally get shouted at by one of them. The only ‘bad’ thing I can associate Rocky with is turning him out – as soon as you get through the gate, he wants to gallop off at 100mph, whether you’re still attached or not.” Here’s hoping that Ella and her lovely string of horses have a quiet winter before hopefully stepping up to 3* next year and clinching team selection for her final season at Young Rider level.