Rising star Williams is happy to shoulder Olympic expectations

SHEFFIELD High School student Erin Williams was bought her first pony – Twinkle – when she was five years old.

Erin Williams

Fittingly, a star was born with the youngster going on to earn her first Great Britain call just seven years later.

It is a star still on the ascendancy with the 15-year-old prepared to put in the hours to shine brightest at the Olympic Games.

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Williams, 15, is one of the country’s hottest young dressage prospects, having been the highest scoring British rider at the European Pony Championships in Fontainebleau last July.

But selectors also wanted the Sheffield ace on the higher grade junior team with the schoolgirl starlet dealing with the transition to horses somewhat ahead of her time.

Not that there is anything surprising in GB’s bid to fast-track Williams, who was only 12 and the baby of the team when first selected for the British Pony squad with two of her team-mates now at University.

Williams is studying her GCSEs but both the schooling and dressage education are going swimmingly, Williams up every morning at 6am to ride her horses with the GB youngster’s immediate sights set on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Even then she will only be 18 but why should a tender age stop her?

“Watching the Olympics last year was brilliant and I was just hoping that one day that I’d be there,” Williams told the Yorkshire Post. “We need to work very hard to do it but it’s very inspiring and when you are representing your country it makes you feel very proud.

“Last year, I had a decision to make because I was on both ponies and horses and I got picked for both teams for the Europeans. I had to chose between them which doesn’t happen too often! You’re allowed to go on to horses at 14 but you are supposed to go on them at 16. I guess we were a couple of years ahead!”

Just as Williams is proving a couple of steps ahead of the opposition, even in spite of the sad death of her initial star, German Reitpony Danny Boy B, in December, 2011. It was Danny Boy B that helped Williams burst onto the international scene and his death from cancer rocked the schoolgirl.

But the confidence gained in succeeding with her much-loved equine friend inspired Williams to produce her German palomino mare Dynasty to a top-class level with the partnership enjoying a glittering 2012.

“Danny Boy was one of my best friends and it was really sad and hard when we lost him,” said Williams, who will be 16 in September.

“It was hard to get back after that but we were lucky to find Dynasty as well.”

She also has17 hands Hannovarian mare Fleurie on whom Williams won all of her Premier League events at junior level last year. Dynasty and Fleurie are joined by new six-year-old recruit Billionaire with all three based at the teenager’s Barlow home which has stables on site.

The family home is completed by 17-year-old brother Connor plus former professional footballer dad Paul and mum Clare – a former Sheffield Hallam University Lecturer who has also had horses since her childhood. Williams’s parents now run their own property investment company and the teenager, trained by Sonia Webster Baines, knows she is blessed to have had such a fortunate upbringing and both indoor and outdoor stable facilities on site.

But the dedication and commitment to juggling dressage and GCSEs is down to Williams herself with a daily 6am wake-up call crucial to the cause.

“We are very lucky having horses and the set-up we have got at home,” admitted Williams, a former Mylnhurst Primary and Mount St Mary’s College, Spinkhill pupil. “We have an indoor school so when the snow came and stuff we were still able to ride. We’re so fortunate, actually.

“It’s good because we ride early before school in the morning at about six o’clock. As it’s a two-minute walk down the road, it’s fantastic. I do that most mornings!

“But it’s not too bad juggling that with school if we ride in the morning because then you have got all afternoon to do your school work.”

Asked if she never fancied a lie-in, Williams laughed: “Sometimes I do but I’m a morning person so it’s fine. I don’t mind.”

Neither does the Sheffield-born star mind the pressure that comes with being one of her sport’s most prized young assets. Williams knows she is almost expected to become a future Olympian, but that suits her fine. Anyhow, being something of a mini sporting celebrity at school is not bad either.

“I think everyone at school is pretty happy for me,” said Williams. “I hope they think it’s quite cool but I’m not quite sure. I know I am expected to do well but I love it. That’s what I want to do so I don’t mind at all.”

Yorkshire show-jumping apprentices given a leg-up towards the top

THe FUTURE looks rosy for three young Yorkshire show-jumpers who feature as part of an exciting national apprenticeship programme.

White Rose stars Olivia Dales, Sally Hopkinson and Laura Robinson form three of 20 aspiring professional show-jumpers with places on British Showjumping’s government-funded advanced apprenticeship in sporting excellence.

The apprenticeship was launched at Solihull Riding Club on Sunday and covers all aspects of a professional athlete’s career.

The initiative, developed in partnership with Haddon Training Ltd, offers riders on the British Showjumping Elite Talent programme a unique opportunity to develop their potential as a professional show-jumper whilst also continuing their education and gaining a valuable Level 3 qualification.

Top show-jumping coaches, sports’ psychologists, nutritionists and fitness experts will support and develop the athletes who looked assured of bright futures as a result.

Of the star Yorkshire triumvirate, Dales is from Hull with Hopkinson from Womersley and Robinson from Northallerton with all three aged 18.

Grand Prix Dressage champion Niall Quirk led the first session of the flatwork training and was impressed with what he saw.

“These riders have a great natural ability; the apprenticeship will offer them the potential to become a more educated rider and succeed in show-jumping,” he said.

Corinne Bracken, chef d’equipe and team coach for the children, junior and young rider international squads as well as programme manager of the Elite Talent Programme added: “The apprenticeship is delivered entirely within specialist training camps throughout the year and in the riders’ daily routine as aspiring show-jumpers.

“Our philosophy has been to develop the elite talent programme and incorporate as many opportunities for educational development as possible.

“The value that the apprenticeship offers is outstanding.”