COVID-19 restrictions allowing, Liz Bates will be joining the Canadian team to compete as an individual at the CSIO3* Vejer de la Frontera in Spain, November 26-29. Along with the rest of the team competing in the Nations’s Cup, Bates is based in Europe, which at the moment allows for travel within certain EU borders.
Bates made her Canadian Show Jumping team debut at the 2019 CSIO4* CSIO-W in Morocco, where 14 countries were competing on their 5* horses and vying for Olympic qualification. She was also a member of the 5th-placed team in the Nations’ Cup at the prestigious and notoriously difficult La Baule 5* CSIO, her first 5* competition.
“Both competitions were very exciting for me,” she says. “La Baule is a hugely historic show and Morocco was special because I got to jump on the team. Ever since I jumped on the Young Riders team in 2010 I knew team competition was special and that I wanted it to be a big focus for my sport. I’m also very proud to be Canadian and competitive in sports so that plays a huge part of it for me.”
Bates began riding at the age of six on the Trillium circuit in Ontario. At 16 she began showing on the ‘A’ circuit and got her first jumper at 17, competing in the equitation division until she was 19. In 2010 she competed on the Ontario Young Riders team. A win in the grand prix at the Ottawa International Show Jumping Tournament in 2015 riding Wildfire, a horse her sister purchased as a yearling at auction, solidified her reputation as one to watch. “I think the equitation was a great foundation to build on, but I wish I had started the jumpers sooner!”
Bates opened Breakaway Equestrian BVBA after spending a year with Leslie Howard in the United States and in 2016 moved overseas, “just me, my dog, and three horses” to spend a year in Germany with Dietmar Gugler’s stable. Realizing how much she liked being in Europe and having experienced some success with the three horses she brought with her, she decided to stay.
“I sold all three horses within a year and then my choices were either to move home to open a business, or to stay here in Europe,” she explains. She found the location for Breakaway’s European base just south of Brussels on the French side of Belgium. “I decided to stay, and I chose to go from Germany to Belgium because I speak the language and it’s already very international, which, coming from Toronto was important to me. Belgium is very central in terms of shows and business activity.”
Being based in Europe allows Bates to both produce young horses and campaign her seasoned mounts at the best shows in Europe, due largely in part to the geography and a system that allows many opportunities for the development of young horses. “I chose Europe in general because I like to produce horses from the ground up, and basing somewhere that has so much activity starting from breeding to 5* level made sense. It’s a very well-rounded system here which is definitely what I’ve always wanted.” Bates says she has access to about 15 different shows within one hour of her facility.
Bates has benefitted from the teachings of many mentors including Jane Casselman, Mark Hayes, Ainsley Vince, Leslie Howard, Yann Candele and Dietmar Gugler. She also keeps sharp by getting help from Jos Kumps with a select couple of horses. “He travels a lot all over the world so he’s in high demand and I really appreciate working with him,” she says.
Bates’ most seasoned mounts are the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding Chronos 31 (Casall x Claudio), and the 11-year-old Selle Francais mare Vanille de Conquerie (Castronom Z de Hus x Quidam de Revel). She has several exciting younger prospects that she is developing who are gaining experience in ranking classes, but she is careful to be slow and patient in their development. There is the seven-year-old mare Francis 146, nine-year-old Pink Floyd, and eight-year-old Coach 11, who was purchased by Bates as a six-year-old after watching competitions online.
“All of the horses in my string excite me at the moment,” she says. “Each one has something special, in my opinion. As a rider I really try to respect the time they need to step up. Getting there isn’t always the issue, but getting them consistent at that level is something that requires respect. Even when they’re ready and have successfully moved up, I usually move them back down so they don’t always feel maxed out at every show they go to. For their minds and bodies I think it’s vital.”
The balance of sales and competition horses can be tricky. “When you want to have a business running, and you also want to do the sport and compete, you can’t have all your eggs in one basket,” Bates explains. “It’s important to have some that you don’t mind whether or not they sell, or that you plan to keep long-term. And others that you’re willing to sell or plan to move quickly so that you can continue to have turnover and less pressure on the ones that you plan on keeping.
“We all know that horses are unpredictable, and sometimes the one that you plan to do a quick flip with ends up being the one that you keep the longest and the superstar that you foresaw keeping for the future turns out to be a little more normal and you can do something else with him.”
As is the case with most professionals in the industry, Bates’ plans for the future are largely COVID-19 dependent. “The horses that came to Spain will have a big break in the new year,” she says. “The few that I left at home are ones that can wait until the new year if there aren’t any shows going on when we get back. Long-term I really want to keep growing the business and my team of horses and people. I go through my barn right now and there isn’t a single horse I’m not happy to ride and it’s something I’m really proud to have built up for myself.”
2020 results: 19 top-5 finishes in classes ranging from YH1* to CSI3*
Favourite Netflix shows: Suits (filmed in Toronto!) and Game of Thrones
Last book you read: The Orient Express (in French)
Favourite restaurant: In non-COVID-19 times, “Bartho” the Steakhouse in Waterloo, Belgium, was definitely frequented very often.
Most embarrassing moment: “I went off course the second time I jumped a course ‒ I have no excuse! The first one was just a training round and the second one I was going for it. I literally missed a jump thinking about my next inside line.”
Coffee or tea? Coffee
Playlist: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kings of Leon, Blink-182, Our Lady Peace. “I was (barely, but still) born in the ’80s.”
Superstitions: “I always have to walk the course twice for a big track, even if I’m basically running.”
If you could ride any horse in the world, who would it be? Milton, Big Star, Clinta, or H&M All In.