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Padiham’s Jessica Dunn sets her sights on the 2020 Olympic dressage

PUBLISHED: 00:00 02 May 2016 | UPDATED: 14:52 02 May 2016

Jessica with Princess Fifi at the stables in Altham near Accrington

Jessica with Princess Fifi at the stables in Altham near Accrington

Archant

A young woman based in Padiham is working hard to make the 2020 Olympic dressage team. She spoke to Roger Borrell

Jessica and her horse have a close bondJessica and her horse have a close bond

It was one of the enduring images of the London Olympics when the dressage competition got underway against the stunning backdrop of the 17th century Queen’s House in Greenwich Park.

For a time, the eyes of the equestrian world focused on that elegant arena and among them will have been Jessica Dunn, a determined young woman who aims to be involved in a similar spectacle but in a very different setting – the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Jessica, and her wonderfully-named mare, Princess Fifi, are working hard to emulate the success of the Great Britain team that took a riding hat full of medals in London. The 26-year-old, who lives in Padiham, has made a good start, recently marked out as ‘one to watch’ by Horse & Hounds magazine.

But while the public image of dressage is of immaculately tailored riders and beautifully buffed horses, the day-to-day reality for Jessica is a 6.30am to 9pm slog at the stables. Training hard to achieve the perfect performance is tempered with the need to find funding to keep her dream alive.

Jessica, right, with the gold medal winners at the Youth OlympicsJessica, right, with the gold medal winners at the Youth Olympics

‘This isn’t a poor person’s sport,’ she says, ‘and you don’t get a lot back. In some of the mainstream equestrian competitions you might have a £10,000 first prize but in dressage it could be as little as £40.’

Jessica is lucky to have the backing of Nicola Keenan, co-owner of Princess Fifi and director of east Lancashire based Keenan estate agents. ‘Their support has been amazing. It’s great to have people who believe in your ability.’

She also has support from Crow Wood equestrian centre near Burnley where she will be providing tuition to further bolster her income and her chances of making Tokyo.

Jessica has several horses with Olympic potential but her mainstay is Princess Fifi. They have already had much success, winning at the national championships and picking up team gold in the Youth Olympics festival in Australia along with an individual bronze.

Jessica picking up trophies for dressageJessica picking up trophies for dressage

‘Her official name is Fyona but I thought that was a bit boring and we wanted something people would remember,’ says Jessica, who spent three years training in Germany. ‘She’s top dog in the yard. She’s perfect, super-easy going, safe to handle and beautiful to look at. She’s the best.

‘We got her in Holland where we had been looking for a horse to buy. We didn’t see anything satisfactory and that gave us a day spare so we went to another stable and we saw 13 horses in the space of three hours.

‘She was the last we saw and she came in with her ears forward and she was the one. I knew it was the Keenan family’s type of horse.’

Jessica has also had considerable support from her parents who did without to help her follow her dream.

‘Mum and dad gave up everything so I could do this and I worked hard, too. I sat my GCSEs and A levels while also doing two jobs. We never had summer holidays – my parents really gave up everything for me. My mum works with horses and she always says I’ve been riding all my life and that’s just about true,’ says Jessica.

‘I got my first pony when I was one. I always jumped at events right up to my 15th birthday but it was around then that I started to become interested in dressage. Stephen Clarke, who is a well-known Olympic judge, saw something in me. He took me under his wing a little and has been very encouraging.’

Why dressage? ‘It is something you get engrossed in. It’s the harmony and the relationship with the horse. It’s probably the precision I enjoy most – I’m a little OCD!

‘I’ve a bit of a history of working with quirky horses, animals that have had a difficult past. I like to use animal psychology more than the conventional training aids.’ There have been plenty of knocks along the way – not least the occasional broken bone and black eye. But you can tell it would take a lot more than the occasional tumble to put Jessica off the sport she loves.

You can contact Jessica Dunn on 07824 903675

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