The sport of eventing has had many changes over the past few decades, and one who has really noticed the change is 57-year-old Iain Alexander who got back into the sport with a vengeance six years ago, after an absence of 26 years.
Iain believes the sport has evolved for the better. “The jumps are bolder and fuller, and overall I think it is a lot safer than it used to be,” he said. “There are a lot of new rules and regulations, but they all have their place. I find it a lot more encouraging now, especially to bring a horse through the grades. It is such a versatile sport in general.”
As to why Iain is putting his energy into eventing again after such a gap, he says it is the challenge of the three phases. “To try and bring the skills base of the three is extremely time consuming and challenging. To raise the bar in the whole three is the big challenge.”
Iain has spent all of his life in Thames, attending pony club and spending a lot of time riding in his childhood and teenage years. He was in the NZ Pony Club Inter Pacific team who travelled to Japan in 1983.
He gave up his equestrian pursuits when he decided to put his energies into getting a trade and earning money to buy a house. “It was a horse or a house. I had been riding since I was three so I had given it a good stab.” That strategy paid off as it took about 18 months before Iain achieved his goal, buying a place in Thames. He also had a trade to focus on – he trained to be a butcher aka ‘carcass technician.’ Iain went on to set up his own very successful business in the meat industry, and sold it a few years ago so since then has been able to devote his time to other pursuits.
Getting back into eventing for Iain at that point was a bit of “if I don’t do it now, it will be too late” and he ended up taking over a horse that his partner had been struggling with and it went from there.
He has learned a lot since getting back into the sport but says his main learning has been that it is more beneficial to ride softer. “I also now don’t get so wound up about expectations as it sabotages your performance, it sabotages all the skill base you have worked so hard for at home, and trained for.”
His focus now with his horses is working on a better connection between himself and his horse. “Every horse is different, from paddock through to the competition.”
Iain has remained in Thames on his lifestyle block which is ideal for horses. “We have rivers, alluvial flats and hills, with a cross section to ride and train which is a plus. I spend about four to five hours a day with the horses.”
When asked who his main coach is, Iain laughed and said “YouTube!” He went on to say that his eyes and ears are his best coach. “I have had a lesson with Jock (Paget) and Lucinda (Green) – they are so very different but there is something to pull from both of them.”
Taking up the sport again aged 50+ has had its challenges physically. “Falling off does hurt a lot more when you are older. I have done my collarbone, which was totally rider error and then I got an air vest. I had another fall and the air vest was great.” Iain also likes to keep himself fit. “I do work out in addition to riding. I keep my cardio up as well as strength and resistance training. I am not into yoga, but I have tried a bit of pilates.”
Progressing from one-star to two-star by the end of the season is one goal for Iain. “I also want to bring another horse on that I have at home and see how that goes.”
Iain often has the support of his daughter at events. “She was interested in horses, and rode, but she is now in the workforce. She loves that I am back into it, and when she can, she hoses and scrapes and does the tack for me at competitions.”
Iain’s son had a rugby accident and was paralysed at 17. “He’s 21 now and he is finally got out of the dark hole he went into with his new life, and he is now at university and doing really well.”
He was never that keen on horses, and Iain described him as “more of a petrol head. He’s got a modified Yamaha side-by-side bike and he takes that through sand dunes, and into the bush; that’s his horse.”
As to advice to other people thinking of making a come-back? “It has to be your passion. It has to turn your dial otherwise it will let you down and bury you.”
By Jane Thompson
ESNZ Eventing Media Liaison