Olympic hope for dressage prodigy Erin

Erin Williams
Erin Williams

THE Olympic glow is fading for must of us, but for one Sheffield schoolgirl the excitement is only just beginning.

Fifteen-year-old Erin Williams has already made her mark on the international equestrian scene. Now she has been singled out for the British Excel programme – a world class talent initiative which is steering young athletes towards the 2016 Olympics.

Erin Williams

Erin Williams

Erin, a pupil at Sheffield High School, had her first pony for her fifth birthday and was soon taking part in local jumping competitions.

But at eight she had a dressage lesson from former British rider Sonia Webster-Baines, who happens to live within a couple of miles of the family home, and Erin was hooked.

“I liked jumping, but I wasn’t very brave,” she says. “Dressage is different. It takes a long time and it’s very specialist. It’s definitely not a glamorous sport; you’ve got to love it to do it.”

At the age of 10, Erin was picked to represent England in a friendly international against Ireland – needing special dispensation because she was two years under the official minimum age.

At 12 she entered her first European Championship, and at 13 became the first British girl for a decade to win an international competition.

Since then Erin, of Barlow, has gone on to represent her country in three consecutive annual championships and is now being selected for horse classes as well as ponies, competing against riders four years her senior.

Erin’s performance has attracted attention from the highest level. Britain’s only Olympic equestrian judge, Stephen Clarke, asked to see her ride and was impressed by her ability.

Last year Erin and mum Clare had to fly to Poland to compete, while dad Paul - himself a former Sheffield United footballer - and brother Connor drove overland with the horsebox.

Erin is up every morning before 6am and spends at least two hours riding her three horses before school, eating breakfast in the car en route.

Her teachers are very supportive and give her the flexibility she needs.

She also finds time to play in the school netball team, run a Facebook page, write an online blog for Pony magazine and work on a video diary for Horse and Country TV.

It’s a tall order for someone who is currently working towards ten GCSEs and aims to study business or German at university.

Meanwhile, her riding is every bit as important.

Dressage is very much a partnership between horse and rider, so Erin needs to work with all three of her mounts.

She will hear in June whether she has been selected to ride for Great Britain in this year’s European Championships and is hoping to be picked for the World Class programme when she turns 16 next year.

By the Rio Olympics she will be 18 - still very young in a sport where top riders compete into their 50s.

“But I’m very determined,” says Erin.