Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 18, 2018 on NF.insider.
Since finishing in the top 10 and being the best-placed British rider at the 2007 European Championships on The Holsteiner gelding Liebling II (who was later ridden by Carl Hester a the 2010 World Equestrian Games) Anna Ross has been busy.
Between frequent trips to Brazil to coach the country's eventing team on the flat and a packed teaching schedule, she’s been making moves. She’s ridden at the World Young Horse Championships twice, produced three more horses onto British Nations Cup teams, was reserve for the 2015 European Championships at Aachen, and long-listed for the Rio Olympics. For the past seven years, Anna has been based in the South-West of the United Kingdom at Cholderton Equestrian Centre - that is, when she’s not traveling. However, her latest move is a little closer to home, taking the plunge into purchasing her own place, and with that, carving out some very big plans for the future.
Cue: serious spirit fingers for Anna. From rider to business maven, it’s becoming pretty clear that she’s one to be watched.
Photo by Storm Johnson.
She recently purchased the 35 stall Barons Wood facility in Devon (even further South-West) and teamed up with the largest warmblood stud in the country, Newton Stud, to create a ‘horse village’ - her words.
This large-scale project aims to close the gap that exists in Britain between breeders who are producing top-notch young horses, and the route to market for those horses to find good competitive homes.
Newton Stud is also the home base of the ever-expanding semen import business Elite Stallions, and clients are sending mares to owner Lorna Wilson in increasing numbers so they can be covered and foaled down at the stud, with their offspring then growing up there too. Seamless. If only dating were this easy. Okay maybe not, that might get a little too Handmaid’s Tale. But when it comes to producing well-bred, well-adjusted, and ready to take the show ring by storm young horses, it’s working.
The partnership between Lorna and Anna came about on one of the Elite Stallions-organised European stud tours when both dynamo women realised that each had something that would be very useful to the other: Lorna had fields full of super quality horses ready to start work, and Anna had a plethora of skill and experience in bringing horses up the ranks to the top level.
Photo by Storm Johnson.
“I was on the stallion tour last year with a load of other breeders, and remember practically having to pry people’s phones out of their hands to look at footage of their youngsters,” recalls Anna. “And what I was seeing was fantastic horses who were four or five but hadn’t done anything yet. So I could see this great divide, with horses reaching an age where they needed to do something and breeders struggling to find a route to market.”
Anna started as a regular client just like everyone else, with a single broodmare at the stud, but they soon multiplied. Then things got serious.
“It had always been interesting talking to Lorna as she knows all the stallions and their owners so she’s hot on the breeding side, while I have the riding perspective. Then came such a time that some of my young horses at the stud needed producing and it just became so obvious that our skill sets were extremely compatible.”
Lorna, who is known for the terrific scope and ambition of her ideas (the stud started with just a handful of their own broodmares and has swelled to around 250 horses over the past few years), hatched a plan. With upwards of a dozen horses in each age group at any given time, having a top name trainer and rider on board would be much more attractive for potential purchasers to make the trip to Devon.
"I’m always looking for new and interesting things to do and I felt there was this huge gap in the market”
And when Barons Wood — just a mile from Newton Stud — came on the market, that plan became a reality, and Anna had to act fast. “I was already running a flourishing business at Cholderton and wasn’t desperate to get away at all, but I’m always looking for new and interesting things to do and I felt there was this huge gap in the market,” explains Anna.
“I realized we could provide this service that was very much missing and needed. Last year when we sent our mares to the stud for embryo transfer, they missed out on some training time, but now we’ll be able to carry on competing them and just hack down the road for breeding when we need to.”
Photo by Matthew Roberts
“We’re in the luxurious position of being able to offer young horses great experiences with all the facilities available — we have indoor and outdoor arenas at Barons Wood and can hack up to the arena at the stud too, plus there are miles and miles of hacking and loads of turnout. We want these horses to be safe, sane and sensible members of society. We certainly won’t be hot-housing them; we want them to have a childhood. I’ve dealt with a fair few fruit loops in my time — imported horses who won’t hack or go in the field — and we want to avoid that. We’ll produce user-friendly and useful sports horses that are enjoyable to own.”
The other thing that helps with the route to market is that Lorna has known many of the horses since conception and can predict their behavior and attitude surprisingly accurately - she’s more on her game than your average psychic.
“We know everything about most of these horses, often including what the siblings have been like or what the dam was like to ride,” adds Anna, whose current team of five — including international riders Beth Bainbridge and Alex Baker — are also making the move to Devon. “It’s a much more reassuring way to buy horses. And we hope they go on to do beautiful things and bring pleasure to their owners, while we’re also offering breeders an outlet to sell their lovely horses. We’ll handle the photos and professional videos of the horses and list them on our site so buyers can see what’s on offer and not have to try to buy their next grand prix horse from a shaky video of a horse running knee-deep in mud at the other end of a field. We want to make it easy for people to see the quality and potential on offer here. The aim is to create a hub where riders and breeders meet to produce a group of really good horses. Buyers will be able to see lots of them at once, making handing over all their lovely cash easier and a much more pleasurable experience for them!”
"The aim is to create a hub where riders and breeders meet to produce a group of really good horses"
It will often be possible for prospective purchasers to see a number of offspring from the same dam, for an even clearer picture of what their new horse is likely to turn into. There are currently 21 horses in for backing in year one of this ambitious project and the interest, both domestically and from abroad, is already flowing in.
It might be a lofty vision, but if there are two ladies with the drive and sheer determination to make this large-scale endeavour happen, Anna and Lorna are the ones to do it.