Emily Hayward-Morgan: on a roll

Teenage show jumping sensation Emily Hayward-Morgan reflects on two extraordinarily successful seasons

Emily Hayward-Morgan and AP Ninja (Image: Libby Law)

Emily Hayward-Morgan has had a steady rise to the top of the show jumping world. She has progressed from pony club to hunting, then started out competing in show hunters. Unusually, though, she then went straight on to show jumping hacks without tackling the pony Grand Prix classes. In the 2015/16 season, she won an unprecedented three prestigious national series titles; the Equissage Horse Grand Prix Series, the Canterbury Equestrian Young Rider Series and the Telford Junior Rider series.

And last season, she did it again; taking out the Bayley’s Real Estate Horse Grand Prix Series (with AP Ninja), the FMG Young Rider series and the East Coast Performance Horses 5YO series (with Delicious HM). She was also second in the Lincoln University Junior Rider series.

I caught up with Emily to learn more about the secrets of her success!

When did you first start riding, and tell me about your first pony?

I started riding at about two years old, on the lead rein with Mum [Rachel Holdsworth]. My first pony was Steely Dan, a 10hh white, naughty little thing! He would stop dead when I was trotting around and put his head down to eat grass. I did about three years at Kihikihi pony club and local gymkhanas, and my favourite event was barrel racing! 

A very young Emily and her lovely skewbald Poncho, who got her off to some early success in show hunter

Do you enjoy hunting?

I used to hunt a lot and really enjoyed it! I hunted my pony, Chat You Up, until I was about eight and then I moved on to Mum’s horse Telex. Well, Tele was originally my step-dad Dean’s horse, but he was too small for him. I really loved hunting, jumping lots of different fences, but there weren’t a lot of other children hunting. Then in the last few years, we haven’t really had suitable horses and we have got a bit busy with the jumpers.

Full wire held no fears for Emily out on the hunt field!

As a pony rider, did you enjoy competing in show hunter and what was your greatest achievement?

Definitely! Show hunter taught me so much about how to ride correctly. It was good fun, hanging out with my friends. I won the Cat A series on Magnum Classic in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and the Cat B series and equitation series with Chat You Up in 2011 and 2012.

How old were you when you moved up to competing horses?

As soon as I turned 12, I moved on to Mum’s horse Telex and did a season of show hunter, winning the Junior High Points and Junior Equitation in 2012. We couldn’t really find or afford a top jumping pony, so Tele was a good option for me. Mum was happy to let me steal her horse, because he looked after me and was safe – but I still had to ride him properly.

Emily and Telex on their way to winning Junior Show Hunter of the Year in 2014

Do you watch pony Grand Prix classes and wish you could have been doing them?

I am so happy with what I have done and where I am. Yes, it would be nice to be around people my own age, but everyone in the hack classes is so supportive of me. I have no regrets about missing the pony Grand Prix stage.

How regularly do you get riding lessons and who have been your favourite coaches?

I haven’t really had much coaching in the past two years, but before then I would go to Sam McIntosh twice a month. And I went to Duncan and Helen McFarlane a couple of times last winter. But Mum takes videos of every round and I learn a lot from watching these. Sometimes Mum and I will watch them 10 times and pick away at little things like my lower leg, eyes and my release over the fence. I have learnt a lot from watching videos of myself.

How does school fit in around your busy show schedule?

I try to give school plenty of warning about taking time off, so they don’t mind me missing the odd day so long as I catch up on my work. If I miss more than a few days, then I get work from the teachers to take away with me. I haven’t been able to represent my school in equestrian teams events, but I do try to support the other riders from my school. And, I am not involved in any other sports teams, but if I didn’t ride I’d like the idea of giving rugby a go. As for working my horses; school is only 10 minutes away, so I have plenty of time to ride before and after school.

What are your plans after high school; travel or university? And where do you see yourself in five years?

I haven’t really decided yet; I’d love to get some overseas experience but I also know I need a back-up plan. I would love to take a horse overseas and base with either Sam McIntosh or Bruce Goodin and try to qualify for WEG 2018 or the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. It would be amazing to be riding AP Ninja, but I am not sure yet if he will make it to that level. But that is what I am building up to!

What was your goal for this past season?

Emily and Ninja after another Young Rider win at Woodhill (Image: Libby Law)

In January, I was old enough to compete in World Cup classes. You need to be in the calendar year of your 18th birthday to compete in these classes. So I had my first World Cup starts with AP Ninja.

Tell me about AP Ninja. What are his strengths and weaknesses and what does he get up to over the winter months?

Ninja has the biggest heart, he just tries his hardest every time! He knows his job – I just point and shoot! He is a bit nuts and I have to have a really good hold on him. And he is really excitable going back to the truck, it can be pretty scary really! People are like, ‘Watch out, here comes Ninja’ as they run out of the way!  All our horses get a little break over the winter, but only for about four weeks. We don’t like to give them too much time off so they don’t lose muscle and get too fat.

And what about the feisty mares – how did you come across them?

Wasabi (‘Flossie’) is a horse we found on Trade Me – she’d been on there for over two years! She had been successful as a young horse but then developed a well-known buck and then sat in the paddock. We took her on trial and we loved her enthusiasm to jump and now she is our little money maker of the team.

Yandoo Lady Gold (‘Blondie’) is a very typical chestnut mare, she is very hot and extremely feisty and strong. She was found in Australia by Sam McIntosh and we bought her off Sam’s recommendation. She is an amazing 1.40m horse and is very fast in a jump off!

Emily and Yandoo Lady Gold in the Ultramox Lady Rider of the Year (Image: Libby Law)

Do you have any younger horses in your team that we should look out for in the future?

We have two more thoroughbreds. Sharon is a four-year-old and a distant cousin of Ninja’s. She is really laidback but wants to learn. And Thunder, is a six-year-old TB we found recently. He is big, weak and green, but he has a phenomenal jump!

What sort of curfew rules do you have at the shows?

I’m not really interested in staying out late at the shows, so I am always home by 10pm. I still have time to hang out with my friends, but I know my limits. The shows are expensive to be at and I am there to compete! Anyway, I wouldn’t like to try and ride a horse like Ninja when I am tired!

What is your favourite show and why?

I love the atmosphere at the Horse of the Year Show. And both shows at Masterton, the Labour weekend show and the Series Finals. The Booth family always make sure everything is perfect. The ground in all rings is just beautiful, the jumps are so cool and the organisers are so welcoming, nothing is a problem. It makes us happy to do the huge trip down there.

How do you feel about younger riders looking up to you as a role model, and do you try to keep up with the latest fashions?

It doesn’t really bother me, I don’t pay too much attention to what other people think. Most of my stuff has been secondhand so I don’t focus on the latest fashions. But I was given a Kask helmet from sponsors Kelly and Grant Stewart, and it is so breathable and comfortable. It would be my favourite piece of equipment. 

Behind every top sportsperson is a devoted support crew. Tell me about your greatest supporters, Rachel Holdsworth and Dean Morgan?

Dean drives the truck and does the studs. I help Mum with the cooking and we all share the stable duties. We all work in a pretty good team, but when push comes to shove – Mum is definitely the boss!

What motivates you – the prize money, winning the series or improving your horses?

I don’t get the prize money; it all goes into horse account and helps to pay for the bills. I am quietly determined, so winning a class makes the hard work all worthwhile. And winning a series is definitely humbling, as they are a great way of showing consistency though out the season. But I do it because I love it and also because none of my horses are easy, so it is nice to see how they have improved and progressed throughout the season.