Equestrian, News, Personality Profiles

Cath Neill: Winning Hearts & Championships

October 31, 2019, Author: Contributor

As many of us can attest, working and riding at the top of your game can be difficult to balance – never mind maintaining a household and raising children all at the same time! One young lady who is flying the flag high for female riders in South Africa currently is wife, mom, businesswoman and 2018 SA Champs Winner, Cathryn Neill. 

 With a mentally handicapped younger sibling who had difficulty walking as a toddler, Cathryn’s family was advised to consider horse riding as a means to strengthen his core and assist with balance. Her mom bought a welsh-cross pony from Zululand called Downeen Speed Limit, affectionately known as “Speedy”, for a mere R250 and the little grey pony became the reason her brother learnt to walk, and also the reason young Cath began riding.  

Despite admittedly not being the bravest rider at the time – taking almost two years of persuasion by her mom to break into a canter, once the proverbial “bug” bit, there was no looking back and Cath has ridden and competed ever since. She competed at provincial level in all disciplines as child and junior, including equitation to eventing and even showing, but her first love has always been show jumping and the winner of the 1.50m Grand Prix at the World Cup Qualifier in Shongweni in June is riding with more confidence than ever before.  


2018/19 has been an amazing season for you so far, what have been your most memorable moments? 

I still have to pinch myself when I think of the 2018 SA Champs with Clyde Z. That was definitely the highlight of my career. Winning the 1.50m GP at the Forsythe Shongweni World Cup in June ago was also an amazing feeling – he always gives his best so it’s an honour to partner him!     

You’ve developed an amazing partnership with Clyde-Z, can you tell us more about him? 

Clyde Z was formerly ridden by my husband Shaun, and has won 6 World Cups as well as the SA Champs twice previously, so to be given the ride on him when Shaun injured his back was anincredible privilege!  

Clyde is like a bull to ride, but he has the biggest heart, and is the most competitive horse I have ever ridden. He just loves to win, and gives 110% every single time he goes in the ring. 99.99% of the faults we make in the ring are mine as Clyde is the ultimate perfectionist and hates to make a mistake! I actually can’t describe in words what Clyde has done for me, he has changed my riding career forever and given me a belief in myself that I never knew existed. He is one in a million and so much more than a horse to me, if I could give him a bed in my house, I would!  

How do you deal with any pre-show nerves or anxiety? 

I suffer terribly from nerves and selfdoubt! I am very competitive and hard on myself by nature, and up until the end of last year my nerves were very rarely under control. After winning the SA Champs I began to believe in myself a little more and this year I have found myself being able to focus more on enjoying each class – concentrating on getting it right rather than worrying about what I might do wrong.  

What are your goals for the future? 

As Clyde is an older horse who has jumped at 1.50m level for many years, I am never sure how many shows we have left before he has to retire. Right now I am just enjoying every single round I have with him, and obviously focusing on giving my best in the ring and staying competitive for the shows to come.  


What is the best advice you ever received from a fellow rider? 

My trainer, Barry Taylor, has always given me the best advice for my “busy/nervous” brain.. Just jump each jump as an individual, then focus on the next fence/line. If I try and think ahead too much and think of the course as 12 fences, my brain gets a bit scrambled, so being able to “box” the course into sections/individual fences helps to keep me calm and focused.   

Who Inspires you? 

I am inspired on a daily basis by my husband, Shaun. He is one of the most naturally talented riders I have ever seen in SA, and it is a privilege to have him by my side, supporting me every single day. Shaun hurt his back in 2017 and it has been a really hard road for him to continue riding, but he hardly ever complains. Despite intense pain some days, and no matter how badly his day has gone, he is always there for me with some positive advice and help. When Clyde and I are in the arena, I think Shaun rides the course harder than I do! I am incredibly grateful to him, not only for giving me the honour of riding his once in a lifetime horse, but also for being my rock in and out of the arena. 

What do you when you’re not riding? 

I have 2 young children, Oliver(4) and Sarah (2) so when I am not at work or riding, they are my main focus and take up all of my spare time. 

 Any advice for upcoming equestrians looking to ride competitively? 

Horse riding is an incredibly tough sport, not only are you asking a 600kg animal to do your bidding willingly, but one day you can be on top of your game and the next you are (literally) on the ground. If you love the sport, you have to love the horse even more… never forget what that horse is doing for you by allowing you to ride and compete on him. If you can keep that thought at the fore of your ambition, the lows won’t feel quite as bad, and the highs will feel even higher as you will appreciate what you and that amazing animal have done, as a team! 

 Motto or quote that you live by? 

As clichéd as it sounds, I always try and live for today so I guess “Carpe Diem” would be my motto. Never take any day for granted, and try and appreciate all that you have, today! 


Photo Credits: Nicky Le Jeune and Kevin Loney