After six years under the mentorship of Jill Henselwood as rider and assistant trainer at Juniper Farms in Oxford Mills, ON, Ali Ramsay has stepped out on her own with Ramsay Equestrian Inc., based in Aurora. The winner of the CET Finals in 2012 has been working her way up the ranks with determination, having made her Canadian Show Jumping Team debut in 2016 in the Nations Cup of Samorin, Slovakia. Her 2019 season began with a third-place finish in the AIG $1 Million Grand Prix at HITS Coachella in California, both aboard her top horse, Hermelien VD Hooghoeve (Mya).
“Training with Jill has changed my life,” Ramsay says. “I feel like I always had the drive and ambition, but I didn’t realize how far I could take it before I came to Jill. I don’t even think grand prix was my goal, because it just didn’t seem realistic.
“Jill is very team-oriented and the longer we worked together, the more real it became. Within three years of riding with her I was on my first Nations Cup team. She taught me to set my sights and goals high. I don’t know many people who work as hard as she does; every day I am trying my best to work as hard as she does.”
“Jill is very team-oriented and the longer we worked together, the more real it became. Within three years of riding with her I was on my first Nations Cup team.” ~ Ali Ramsay
This summer, Ramsay made the difficult decision to sell the talented 12-year-old BWP mare Hermelien to American rider Jennifer Gates. It was a blow that is not uncommon for developing riders without unlimited financial backing – and a situation in which she was again able to draw upon the knowledge and experience of Henselwood. “One thing I love about Jill, and what helped me, was that she had a pretty modest upbringing,” Ramsay explains. “She didn’t come from loads of money and wasn’t able to buy her way up the sport; she worked her way to the top, and that includes having had to sell her best horse more than once. I have so much respect for that and it gave me so much confidence that I could do the same.”
Ramsay reflects on her relationship with the horse before touching on their successes in the ring. “Selling ‘Mya’ was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life,” she admits. “She was my partner and my family. I loved her so much; not only was I giving away my shot at Pan Ams this year, or any other big success in the near future, but I was giving up a piece of my heart. Then again, to have someone else see her value and for me to make a sale like that is obviously a huge accomplishment. So I try to remind myself of that when I’m feeling sad. There’s no better stable that she could have gone to and she’s being treated like the queen that she is. Jenn is so sweet and such a nice, soft rider that I know Mya is happy. It really is the best of a sad situation, and one that is just a reality in this sport.”
There is a string of promising horses in Ramsay’s stable who are trying hard to fill Mya’s shoes. “The other part that makes the sale a bit easier is that I am excited about all of my other horses. At this point I don’t know which of the three is my best horse, because they all have the potential,” says Ramsay. “I obviously wish I could keep them all, which is the real dream, but that’s not a reality for most people. So I want to just keep developing and selling until maybe one day I end up with a special one again. Then hopefully, at that point, I’ll have enough financial stability to keep it this time, plus I’ll have that much more experience so I’ll really know what to do at my next championship opportunity.”
Time in the saddle riding green horses and young homebreds is something that Ramsay credits for her own development as a rider. “Riding young horses was such a great learning experience for me,” she explains. “I wanted to know about breaking horses and teaching them simple things that we just take for granted on our more experienced horses. I think it’s a skill that a lot of young people are missing these days – they just buy a fancy, well-trained horse and off they go. I think they miss out on a big part of the sport. Plus I find it so relaxed and rewarding. When training a top horse, you’re working on things that only a top percentage of riders can accomplish, whereas with a young horse, when they pick up the correct canter lead or jump around a course of crossrails without bucking you off, you’re thrilled!”
Ramsay is a hard worker with big goals in and out of the ring. “I think just my love for the animal and wanting to be the best that I can be is what motivates me,” she says. “I’m naturally a super-competitive person, so being able to apply that to a sport that I love and have dedicated my life to is pretty rewarding. I also want to make my parents proud. They’ve supported me my whole life and supported this expensive hobby that I’ve now turned into my career and I just strive to make sure they know it was all worth it.”
Her goal for the near future is to develop a small client base with which she can share her knowledge of horse management and support their competitive aspirations, and to continue paying it forward to upcoming generations. “I’ve learned so much from Jill, and I’m excited to share it.”