WHILE other teenagers have been sunning themselves in Spain or France, Erin Williams has just returned home from Poland.
And the trip was no holiday – because Erin has been competing as part of the Great Britain Pony Team in the European Championships.
The 13-year-old, from Barlow in Derbyshire, rode herself into the record books last year, as the youngest-ever rider on the national pony dressage team.
This time she led the team, as the only member with previous international experience, despite being the youngest of the four, and once again she was the top-placed British rider.
She improved on last year’s result, finishing seventh in the individual championship, was top Brit in the freestyle competition, and led her team to fourth place in the Nations Cup – missing out on the medals by just 0.002%. The result was so close that organisers initially awarded them a joint bronze until spotting the fractional difference.
“It was devastating for the team, but they all showed great maturity to ride so well through the remaining competition,” said Erin’s mum Clare, an accomplished equestrian, who was cheering her on from the stand.
Erin – daughter of Sheffield property developers Clare and Paul Williams – began riding when she was given a pony, Twinkle, for her fifth birthday.
“Erin has always loved being around horses and grooming them as much as riding,” says Clare. Her first taste of competition came at local shows, with the Hallamshire and Hope Valley riding clubs. Aged eight, she was taken on by her mum’s dressage trainer, Sonia Webster. At nine, she took part in her first affiliated dressage competition. “This was when we all noticed her competitive streak and ability to keep composure in a test environment.”
Since then she has worked her way up the rankings until making her debut with the British team last year.
In April she dominated the British international competition at Addington Manor and in June took second place at the French international in Compiegne.
Says Erin: “I love competing – and when I do well I want it more! I rarely get nervous any more because I’ve had lots of experience and now I’m just building on everything I have learnt and trying to achieve my best possible score.”
A pupil at Mount St Mary’s College, Spinkhill, she rides each morning before school and spends much of her spare time with ponies Danny Boy B and Dynasty.
“I’ve worked really hard to establish a great partnership with my ponies and the hard work is paying off,” she says.
The next big date is the British Pony Championship when she hopes to hold on to the title she won last year. Then she will train through the winter with the British squad, ready for next year’s competitions.
Clare adds: “There won’t be any Olympics for Erin for a few years, but hopefully we’ll be back from the Pony Europeans in time to see the top riders in action next year.”