Hartpury group’s groundbreaking research shows how to excel as an elite equestrian


A Hartpury University Centre lecturer teamed up with a top coach and sport psychology expert to produce revealing research which could help a number of aspiring riders to hit the heights of Olympic stardom.

Team GB had a record Olympic Games in Rio this summer, including an impressive medal haul for the equestrian competitors, and now a team of researchers and industry professionals have explored just what key factors play a part in achieving and retaining a horse rider’s elite status.

The study applied techniques that have successfully been used in sports like football and rugby to understand how riders have developed to achieve Olympic success and assess how this information could be used to help up and coming riders to mimic these successes.

Dr Jane Williams from Hartpury University Centre worked with sport psychology expert Dr Inga Wolframm and top level rider and coach, Warren Lamperd, to produce a paper that has been published in the Comparative Exercise Physiology Journal.

Entitled ‘What makes an elite equestrian rider?’ the study features interviews with international riders from the Olympic equestrian disciplines of eventing, showjumping and dressage. The study uses personality profiling to evaluate how riders at the top of their sport got there. While this is common in human sports, it is a fairly new concept in the horse riding world.

All of the rider interviews showed that key factors were present on the rider’s journey to elite status. While no singular or obvious pathway was identified, the key foundations were replicated within the psychological profiles, motivation and developmental stages of riders who have achieved Olympic level success.

Dr Jane Williams said: “The ability to learn from Olympic and world champions will hopefully be of interest to all levels of rider. Any aspiring young rider can learn from the core themes and stages of development that all of these top riders went through. It should also be encouraging to riders of all abilities that everyone faces challenges and has to overcome them on their journey, be that to Olympic medals or rosettes!”

The research also highlights the differences between the equestrian sports and how dependent the rider’s success is on the horses they have the opportunity to ride. Dr Wolframm said: "We’ve always known that getting to the top in horse sports is a very complex business.

“While the ‘usual suspects’ of elite performance, such as skill, ability, personality, attitude and opportunity, all contribute to equestrian success, a rider's developmental journey is inexorably linked to his or her horse or horses. This research paper sheds light on why horse riding must always be considered a team sport, and why behind every great rider, there are many great horses.”

Lamperd led the research and will use the information and evidence the team gleaned to inform his own practice as an international coach. He added: “Equestrians tend to operate in isolation. Publicly, you see them competing but with little insight into how they got there.

“It was insightful to begin looking at the factors that influence a small group of successful athletes’ development, the challenges they face, how they cope with adversity, cultural influences and their core motivation for riding and competing.

“This is not a definitive work but it does start to tie down the commonalities as well as the uniqueness of each athlete’s journey and the discovery of their own systems. It gives coaches and aspirational riders a base from which they can consider the factors in their own development and the challenges they will invariably face.”

The team are looking to extend this research by undertaking personality profiling linked with the results obtained here to explore how young riders can make the transition to elite level. If you are an up and coming rider interested in taking part in this research, you can e-mail Dr Jane Williams at jane.williams@hartpury.ac.uk

Study details: Lamperd, W., Clarke, D., Wolframm, I & Williams, J (2016) What makes an elite equestrian? Comparative Exercise Physiology, 12 (3), 105-118

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