04 December 2023

SportsAid's One-to-Watch Award shortlist: Alice Casburn

Corpusty equestrian Alice Casburn is a walking advert for Gen Z. The hottest property in eventing right now, the 21-year-old credits newfound balance in her use of social media and nutrition for her rapid rise in the sport. After a stunning year in which she broke onto the five-star circuit - equestrian’s equivalent of the tennis Grand Slams - she has now been shortlisted in the top 10 for SportsAid’s prestigious One-to-Watch Award.

Alice Casburn

The annual Award, launched in 2006, recognises Britain’s brightest young sporting prospects and has previously been won by Olympic champions Tom Daley and Alex Yee and Paralympic gold medallist Hollie Arnold. The top 10 athletes have been selected from around 1,000 rising stars, supported by SportsAid, across more than 60 different sports in 2023.

“To be nominated feels incredible,” said Alice. “To make it onto a list like that and get the recognition alongside such high profile athletes, it makes the bad days really worth it.

“Things took off completely in the last year and hopefully there’s more to come.”

The youngest rider in the field at the Badminton and Burghley Horse Trials, Alice is regularly competing against rivals more than twice her age.

Second-generation homebred horse Topspin has been her companion all the way and the partnership secured a landmark seventh placed finish at Burghley this year.

Famous faces like Zara Tindall and William Fox-Pitt, 54, stalk the stables and Alice believes that avoiding online comparison has been crucial to her progress.

“I think social media makes things incredibly difficult these days, looking around and seeing what everyone else is doing,” says the youngster.

“When I was younger, I was very, very far behind everyone else. Up until the last three or four years, all of my friends were out doing junior teams and I was just at home trying to make a hobby into something more.

“I found it tough seeing that at the time and now I’ve had a really, really successful year, they might be looking at me and feeling the same way.

“I’d catch myself doing it, I’d be sitting at home with my mum and saying, ‘look at them, they’re doing this and that’ and she’d say, ‘yes, but look at what you’ve done, you just don’t publicise it as much.’

“I set a lot of limits on how much I use social media and I think it’s really important to have those boundaries.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. A terrifying incident saw Topspin taken unwell with muscle spasms in the middle of Badminton Horse Trials as the pair’s future flashed before her eyes.

“It was absolutely petrifying,” she said. “Luckily he was okay and only needed treatment for ulcers but it hit me at the next event, I came out with nerves I’d never had before as nothing had ever gone wrong.

“It took me a little while to get back in the right mental state and it’s part of the learning curve, I’m learning on the job.”

Topspin remains the lead hope but of the lot of 17 owned by Alice and mother Caroline, excitement surrounds the potential of younger rides Allerton, Burnham Market and Shelford Manor.

Heading into 2024, improvements in the cross-country phase are Alice’s priority with her traditional strengths lying in showjumping.

Another key work-on in the winter is to continue to improve her approach to nutrition.

“I haven’t eaten great in the past month, since it's been off-season,” she said. “I’m making a conscious effort to ensure I’m getting all of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals in place.

“I had a bit of a wake-up call two years ago, I went to an event and just lost all form of strength. I was second but I sat there thinking that if I’d been stronger, I would have won.

“That was when I decided to eat better, make myself stronger and fitter and take my rest where I needed it.”

Next year’s Olympics in Paris may come too soon for Alice, particularly given the strength of British eventing with GB riders occupying seven of the top 10 places in the world rankings.

Alice, who received her SportsAid support from Entain this year, has certainly caught the eye of GB selectors with a place at the LA 2028 Games sitting top of her sporting bucket list.

“There’s a lot of debate in the sport on whether five-star or the Olympics is the pinnacle,” said Alice. “For me, it’s the Olympics. What an absolute honour it would be to represent Team GB.”

SportsAid’s annual One-to-Watch Award is backed by Royal Bank of Canada – a long-standing supporter of the charity celebrating 10 years of partnership in 2023. The winner of this year’s Award will be revealed in December with each of the top 10 receiving cash boosts and special in-person visits at their training environments to celebrate their achievements.   

Photo Credit – with thanks to British Equestrian