Entering the competition arena can be a daunting place, so to compete in your own home or yard is a fantastic way of gaining confidence and experience. Ruth Chappell and two friends set up Dressage Anywhere in 2010 giving riders an opportunity to achieve their goals. It is now a worldwide competition website and a full time business.
Sam Hobden from Haynet recently caught up with Ruth to find out more about the personality behind this innovative equestrian business:
You are very passionate about horses, dogs and the countryside. Were you brought up in this environment as a child?
Kind of! I started off life in Manchester and moved down to Gloucestershire when I was 9 years old. Part of the ‘deal’ in leaving much loved Grandparents and family behind was to start riding lessons and I held my Mum and Dad to that! I’d sat on a horse when I was much younger, a huge horse in fact, well he was huge to me but was probably only 14.2 – I’ve always been vertically challenged! So, I started riding weekly at a riding school and loved it.
Then one day a friend and I cheekily asked a local private yard if we could help after school and they took us up on it. I’d be watching the clock during school time until I could leg it home, throw on my jodhs and then cycle like mad to the stables to muck out, bring some ponies in and walk the older ponies in hand. There were some lovely ponies at that yard – we were lucky enough to go to a few competitions with them and always had a weekly hack round the lanes at the weekend.
What were your childhood ambitions? Was it to always work in rural business or did you fall into this path later in life?
I wanted to be a horse vet and recently discovered in my parent’s loft a folder I put together made up of old magazine clippings about horse health and various things. It turned out that Science wasn’t my strong point at school, so my focus shifted to languages and I ended up in a publishing career. By this point, I’d stopped riding and didn’t come back to it until my 30s when I discovered Geoffrey, the love of my life.
Tell us about Dressage Anywhere and why you set your own business up. What have been the triumphs and challenges?
I set up Dressage Anywhere with two friends, to try and make competitive dressage more accessible to other riders. It’s been an amazing journey so far, I’ve learned so much, not just about running a business, but about myself too.
One of the major challenges was my previous career in publishing – I worked 60 miles away from home and tried my best to ride Geoffrey after work too. It was a huge juggling act and most customer queries were answered in the middle of the night or when I could snatch a few spare minutes at the weekend. I eventually left my role and became full time at Dressage Anywhere in 2015. With the number of members and entries we have now, I wouldn’t be able to juggle it with another full-time role.
We run a number of Online Championship shows and have close connections with governing bodies. Our RDA Champions receive medals which we present at the RDA National Championships every year and groups around the country have really embraced this because of the opportunities it gives their riders. Our BD Online Championships are great for riders who want a Championship experience but can’t get out to live events. This has grown every year and we currently have several hundred riders who have already qualified or are on their way to qualifying for this years’ Online Championships.
Although I’d love our members to compete with us forever, I love that what we offer has given some the confidence to go out and compete at live events. Because we run all of our competitions to BD rules and we work with List 1 and 2 judges, what they experience with us online, they will experience at a live event (apart from the travelling and different environment of course). Yes, horses are always going to work better and feel more confident at home, but if we can build up people’s confidence and self-belief and they then go on to compete live because of that, well, that feels great to have to been at the start of their dressage journey.
How did the idea come about for your business? Was it a lightbulb moment or did it take a long time to come to fruition?
It was a whole mixture of things really. I didn’t have a trailer or lorry and my husband used to film all my lessons and yard-run competitions and at one point our yard was on lock-down following a strangles outbreak. We’d had to pull out of a competition and cancel our hired transport and instead held the competition at our home yard by video for three of us who had planned to travel. Lucinda is a show secretary so we had all the contacts and organisational skills to set up our own competitions, plus Nereide is a BD List 1 judge which enabled us to run competitions with judges that grassroots riders wouldn’t normally have access to.
Your online business must take up many hours of the week. How do you manage to keep on track with entries, judges and ensuring rosettes are sent out correctly?!
Now I’m working full time on it, it’s more manageable! One of our priorities early on was to build a system that is scalable and can handle hundreds of entries. Of course, it took some time to grow, but now we’re handling hundreds of competition and training entries every month, the automations that we put in place are really paying off.
For instance, as soon as a video is uploaded, the judge assigned to that class is notified. And as soon as the test is judged, the competitor is notified with a link to download their scoresheet. It doesn’t stop there either – all of the scoreboards are automated too. It’s a very complex system that we’ve built ourselves, but it gives us a huge advantage meaning we can spend time on other areas of the business.
Social media marketing can be a challenging place. What platform works well when promoting your business and why?
We have the most followers on Facebook, possibly because we’ve had a presence on it a bit longer. Instagram is growing and I try my best to make use of Instagram Stories and have even been doing bits of video to camera more recently. I think it’s important for people to see the real people behind a business, so putting myself ‘out there’ has been a thing this year and it’s so easy to do (providing I’ve brushed my hair and put my face on).
I think it’s easier for followers to share our content on Facebook and I find that’s what increases our reach.
You are a huge animal lover! Tell us about your animals past and present that have been a big part of your life.
I think it all started with Sherlock, the Jack Russell who used to run up to the bedroom door when I was crying as a baby. He’s long gone now but has a special place in my heart. The first horse I ever loved was Sylba, a gorgeous 14hh palomino. About the time I met him he retired so I only got to ride him once, but I used to walk him in hand in his old age.
I fell in love with Geoffrey, a Wellington Riding school horse. I rode him in a lesson and instantly loved him and when the instructor said he was for sale; it was a done deal. I wasn’t even looking for a horse, I didn’t even think I could afford one, well I can’t but you make these things work don’t you?! In some ways he reminds me of Sylba, he’s a similar size, his mother was a palomino mare and he’s got this really cute little face that I just want to squish and cuddle.
A few years later Hudson the chocolate Labrador came into our lives. I remember feeling really guilty about Geoffrey because as a puppy, Hudson took up so much of my time. The breeder and friend I bought him from said ‘horses will always be there, but dogs just have a way of getting under your skin.’ Boy, did he! When he died a few years ago I was totally devastated. But we had his nephew, Henry, also bred by a friend and he kept me going. He’s very much a Mummy’s boy but he dislikes cuddles immensely, preferring to just be close enough to keep an eye on me.
I should mention Claudius, my husband’s 18hh Holsteiner! He joined the family about a year after Geoffrey. I’ve ridden him a couple of times but his size terrifies me, so we have a fantastic relationship on the ground, or well, stood on a box on the ground so I can reach him to groom.
Harvey, also a chocolate Labrador is the latest addition, joining us last year. Whilst Henry is so laid back and chilled, we joke that Harvey is actually Hudson reincarnated but on drugs – he is completely bonkers. Last year we started gundog training – I don’t think we’ll ever go on a shoot, but I like the methods of training and the foundations that they build. It’s been a challenge! Henry at seven years old was the oldest in a puppy beginner class, but loved it, and prided himself on being the demo dog showing all the other puppies how to retrieve. He really is Mr Perfect. Harvey is a work in progress – when he’s on form, he’s amazing, but other times he just wants to do his own thing on his own terms. Although he makes us laugh every single day.
What are your future plan and goals for Dressage Anywhere?
Ooh, that would be telling! We have a number of exciting plans and additions to what we offer, but I couldn’t possibly reveal those!
On a day off, where would we find you?
Probably at the yard with all of my boys, dog walking with friends round the local fields and then riding Geoffrey.
Where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
Do you know, I’m not actually sure! Interestingly I always struggled with this question in terms of career development when I had a proper job. I think it is because I try to live in the present and enjoy the moment. I have goals and aspirations but they’re all things I’ve broken down into small steps that I’m working on right now and are just part of normal life.
Against the Clock
Bays, Greys or Chestnuts: Chestnuts, every time!
Gin or Champagne: I’m not much of a drinker so a watered-down champagne I think.
Cheese or Chocolate: Chocolate, without a doubt.
Sunshine or Snow: I initially said sunshine, but I’m a winter baby and there’s something about snow and dark nights in front of a wood fire that gives me a very homely feel, so I’ll go with snow (providing I don’t have to go out anywhere)!
Home Counties or Far Away Shores: Tricky one, home counties I think because I’d have to have my dogs and ponies with me (and husband – oops, he always comes third).
Spend or Save: Save
Home Cooked or Eating Out: Home cooked
Music or Film: Music
Wellies or Heels: Wellies
Please visit: https://www.dressageanywhere.com/
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Header Image Credit: Karen Bennett Photography – Ruth and Geoffrey