By Catherine Austen for US Eventing
James Alliston made out like a king earlier this summer at The Event at Rebecca Farm with wins in the CCI4*-L and CCI3*-L aboard Paper Jam and Nemesis respectively. We caught up with Alliston to chat about his horses, competing on the West Coast, his time in the States, and how it compares to competing in England.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your current string of horses.
A: Paper Jam is pretty new to four-star – [Rebecca Farm] was his first CCI4*-L. He is probably my number one horse at the moment. Nemesis is possibly my most competitive horse. He’s young at only 7, but he does everything well and in the way, I would like, so I am hoping his competitive nature will keep going at CCI4* next year. I have had him since he was a yearling; he’s always been very straightforward and a very easy horse.
I also have Pandora, who did a CCI4*-L a couple of years ago. She’s had some leg troubles so she’s just coming back now. She is my other Advanced horse alongside Paper Jam. Then also I’ve got Czechers, who did the CCI3*-L in Montana; he’s done an Advanced and I’m hoping to take him to a CCI4* at the end of this year.
I have a few three-star horses which will all finish up the year at the same level; Nemesis and [RevitaVet] Calaro will all do another CCI3* at the end of the year, but Czechers has already done one advanced so I am hoping he can finish up the year at a four-star. His dressage is a little bit rough, so hopefully, we can improve that a touch. Paper Jam will also do another four-star at the end of the year, and then Pandora is just coming back so I don’t know if she will do a long-format competition, but she’ll do some horse trials and we’ll just make sure she’s sound and then next year we’ll go again.
Q: Do you plan to do the majority of those events on the West Coast?
A: I haven’t been to Kentucky in a few years, but if I am lucky enough to have a Kentucky horse we’ll go east for that. It’s pretty much all on the West Coast for me.
Q: What drew you to the States originally?
A: I came over for my gap year and worked for Bruce Davidson on the East Coast. He was really good to me and gave me a lot of opportunities to ride. I wanted to travel and I wanted to ride, and a lot of people I knew went over to Germany and France and so on, but I didn’t speak the language, so America was good because I was able to communicate! Bruce was quite well known in England by my generation because he spent a lot of time there when I was growing up. I don’t know if he was based there all the time, but he was one of those Americans who were always at Badminton – he won it in 1995. So he was a good person to go to in the U.S. because I had obviously heard of him and seen him ride and he was a big name.
Q: Why did you decide to stay here?
A: I was supposed to only stay for three months or so, but I really liked it and I was just riding so much. I only had one horse in England, and I had always wanted to ride horses and be an event rider, but, to be honest, I thought it probably wouldn’t happen because it’s so hard. I just thought, ‘here I’m getting a lot of reps and riding a ton of horses’, and I think that is what brings you on as a rider. It would’ve been crazy to leave it to all to go and ride one horse at home when I could ride ten out here.
Q: When, and why, did you then choose to move to the West Coast?
A: After my gap year I went back to university in England, but every holiday pretty much I would come back to Bruce’s and ride. I was actually riding at university as well, and then when I graduated, I went to work for Bruce full-time again for two or three years.
Then I got a phone call from a Californian barn asking if I wanted to be a trainer out there. At the time I’d never taught a lesson in my life, so I thought, ‘well, I can ride the horses, but I can’t teach anyone,’ and life out here on the West Coast is mostly teaching people so I didn’t know whether to go. They said they’d fly me out and I could have a look around, see what I thought and just learn on the job! That was Chuck and Peggy Morrick at Raceland Equestrian Center, and I have only just moved.
I am not based at their facility anymore, but I’m literally half a mile down the road from there and I ride one of their horses for them. Eventing is very East-centric in America, but it has worked out well for me because I have carved out a path on the West where I think there is a smaller amount of professionals. I think it is hard to be an event rider in England for sure, but I think it is as hard on the East Coast too, and so I was able to find my place on the West Coast with slightly more opportunities.
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Feature photo: Leslie Mintz/US Eventing