Overcoming challenges, beating the odds, and coming out on top – this is a phrase that could be used to describe the tennis icon Serena Williams, the political powerhouse Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez; or in this case – the equestrian phenom Edwina Tops-Alexander, one of the top ranking showjumpers in the world.
By Nadia Aslam. Photo Lena Saugen. Styling Therese Stub Alhaug
Walk through the main arena at one of the Global Champions Tour events on any given weekend, or take a stroll through the immaculate barns of Stal Tops and if you’re very lucky; you might just come across Edwina.
She won’t be standing still; unless it’s to chat with her team about how the horses are doing, or to discuss strategy with her husband and coach – the renowned businessman, LGCT Founder, and Olympic Gold Medalist in showjumping; Jan Tops.
In reality, this incredible lady is far too busy to keep still – she buzzes through life with an incredible drive, sparkle, and a good dose of laidback Australian charm.
But Edwina’s life isn’t all riding horses and jumping over fences; this fierce equestrian splits her time between being a competitive rider, a proud mother, a businesswoman, and one of the first true equestrian influencers.
“I always threw myself in at the deep end, and I really believe that in life, that can be one of the best ways to learn.”
Background and Rise to The Top
A rise in coverage of top female athletes has seen Edwina’s name spread beyond equestrian media coverage and hit the mainstream. From features in Vogue and CNN to documentaries on her success – hers is the name on everyone’s lips, and it’s easy to see why.
If you had told a 15 yr old Edwina that her Pony Club woes of being chucked off of her cheeky mount on countless occasions! Would, in time, be replaced by Olympic Games, millions in prize money, and a ranking as one of the top riders in the world – she likely wouldn’t have believed you.
In fact, it was the age of 15 that Edwina first considered stepping away from the sport.
– When I was 15, my parents supported me one hundred per cent, and I realized with the horse I had – it was not only a waste of their money, but I felt bad that they were putting a lot into my career and I knew that I couldn’t actually go much further. So I told my trainer George Sanna to tell my parents I wasn’t good enough. I remember that day so clearly.
But George refused to do so. – I can see it’s your passion, he told her. And thank goodness he did, because she ultimately went on to incredible competitive success in Australia, and then made the decision to emigrate to Europe, a very wise career decision for a then 24 yr-old.
“I never consider myself to be “working” hard, and that’s because when you have a passion for something, that passion is your driving force and it doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like something you want and
needto do. “
We asked Edwina whether she was scared to move to the other side of the world as a young adult:
– I had no idea what I was doing to be honest, but that’s the beauty of my career; looking back I wasn’t aware of it, but I always threw myself in at the deep end, and I really believe that in life, that can be one of the best ways to learn.
Most importantly I never forget my journey, after all, my success today is all thanks to that path that I traveled with the highs and lows, and I always think of the quote from Albert Einstein “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”.
In the years between then and now, there has been one thing that has remained constant – hard work! On the bad days, she works hard, and on the good days, she works hard – perhaps it all comes down to her mindset on setbacks.
– I never consider myself to be “working” hard, and that’s because when you have a passion for something, that passion is your driving force and it doesn’t feel like work, it just feels like something you want and need to do.
I also differ when it comes to my thoughts on setbacks, and when they come along, as they inevitably will – I don’t see that as a negative thing, I see them as an opportunity to move forward, and the main thing is to keep that curiosity alive and always learn as you go along in life.
“I also differ when it comes to my thoughts on setbacks, and when they come along, as they inevitably will – I don’t see that as a negative thing, I see them as an opportunity to move forward, and the main thing is to keep that curiosity alive and always learn as you go along in life.”
Hailing from a country with so many destinations that many classify as a paradise on earth, it’s no surprise that even after decades of living in Europe – she still misses her slightly warmer home nation, and the one that she so proudly represents:
– I really wish that Australia wasn’t so far away; it’s by far the best place in the world to live, and of course, I miss my family a lot. Every time I go back there, I appreciate the country so much, and even though I feel a bit like a tourist; fortunately, I still have my accent! But, for my career, I would have never have got to this point if I hadn’t moved to Europe.
Getting to Know Edwina
Many athletes get comfortable with their success and gradually ease off of the gas pedal, but not Edwina; a plucky yet petite rider, many have compared her to one of her best horses, Itot du Château – stable name Toti.
You see, Toti and Edwina have something in common – they’re both vertically challenged, but they’ve also got the biggest hearts around.
Edwina speaks incredibly fondly of the small horse whom she has shared the most success with:
– He was a warrior in the ring and always gave the maximum, I knew with him from day one that he was perfect for me. It was as though we were thinking in unison and wanting the same success – I always felt like we were one athlete together, which is a very rare feeling, and that’s when you know you’re on top! I only had to think about what I wanted, and he did exactly that.
“Toti was a warrior in the ring and always gave the maximum, I knew with him from day one that he was perfect for me.”
Edwina has been at the top of her game for over a decade, and in that time we’ve seen her meteoric rise to the top aboard not only Toti, but other famed mounts too – Isovlas Pialotta, Lintea Tequila, Ego Van Orti, Caretina De Joter, Inca Boy Van T Vianahof, Vinchester and California to name but a few.
Quite the string of top-level mounts I think we’d all agree, but it’s not luck that has seen Edwina reach the top with so many of her rides. Thanks in large part to her husband Jan Tops – Edwina has learnt the importance of not only training a horse to win but also in keeping a horse at their happiest.
Edwina certainly doesn’t think of her horses as robots; she knows that they are athletes, and she has some incredibly sound advice to share with fellow horse riders, regardless of riding ability or competitive inclination.
– Respect others and treat people and horses the way you want to be treated; in life, you only get what you give back.
It’s heartening to hear Edwina care so much about her horses, and never once does she take full credit for her wins, they’re always shared with the mount that took her to the top, and rightly so!
Her focus on the care of horses is a passion shared by her husband Jan Tops, and we also have to mention his incredible impact on the evolution of this sport.
We asked Edwina to fill us in on the work that Jan has done, and found out the true inspiration behind the Longines Global Champions Tour.
– My husband has been one of the biggest influencers in our sport because he set out to make a change from the beginning. When he launched the Global Champions Tour in 2006, it was to raise standards in show jumping in every area, and because of this, there has been a big trend for other shows to lift the level too, she says.
Not only does the Global Champions Tour offers higher prize money so that riders earn a decent living from their sport, but it’s also about improving facilities for the horses, riders, and grooms.
– These improvements over the years — and diversity in the destinations that she show takes place in – has ultimately benefited stakeholders in the show jumping and equestrian community; which positively impacts everyone who works in the industry.
We’ve also seen an increase in the popularity of our discipline among horse riders, and the outside world is now even more aware and involved due to the additional media coverage. For example, CNN and Eurosport both cover the LGCT (Longines Global Champions Tour) and GCL (Global Champions League) – this alone has created a huge boost not only for our sport but for the profile of the riders too!
“Respect others and treat people and horses the way you want to be treated; in life, you only get what you give back.”
There’s no denying that Edwina and her husband share a steadfast passion for the sport of showjumping, her enthusiasm for the discipline is contagious; so it’s no surprise that her primary ambition is to help and inspire others!
While a laid-back soul outside of the arena, she’s a real force to be reckoned with in the show pen, but it’s not just sheer talent that has gotten her this far, after all – mindset and hard work play a crucial role in getting to the top in any sporting event.
Perhaps it’s her focus, determination, and competitive spirit that has been the driving force behind her success, or maybe it’s thanks to her biggest fear of ever having regrets – that ensures that she pushes herself always to try her very best.
Edwina is quick to credit much of her success to her parents; it was thanks to them that her formative years put in place a strong foundation which taught her work ethic, and values. And perhaps most importantly, her parents, along with the other members of her family; still make up a tight-knit support network!
Influence and Style
Tops-Alexander has a strong interest in fashion and has made a permanent mark on Equestrian Style. Edwina’s likeability, tenacity, and let’s be honest – incredible fashion sense, has seen her have success in another area – as an equestrian influencer, and it’s perhaps no surprise that this fashionista has secretly always wanted to be a fashion designer!
With so much success, she’s accustomed to the media attention, and perhaps that’s why capturing content to share with her 300,000 followers across her social media presence comes so naturally to her, but it’s not only her well-known outfits that you’ll see gracing Edwina’s Instagram and Facebook posts.
You also get to see the ins and outs of a jet-setting equestrian life that takes her to dazzling locations almost weekly, but it’s not all luxury; she shows the real-life outtakes, the moments of exhaustion, and the team that helps her to make all of this possible.
– I’ve been very fortunate to have some exquisite brands sponsor me throughout my career, and I’m always so honoured when a company chooses to work with me! Having sponsors and partnerships is fantastic, it provides you with support in all kinds of ways, and it’s an absolute honour to represent these different brands.
“I’ve been very fortunate to have some exquisite brands sponsor me throughout my career, and I’m always so
honouredwhen a company chooses to work with me!”
Life away from horses
Even though Edwina is at the top of her game, it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have a life away from the barn, and actually prides herself on her work/life balance that allows her to spend time with her husband and daughter too.
One thing that perhaps helps with this is the fact that she isn’t based at the facility that she and her husband own — the breathtaking Stal Tops in the Netherlands — but instead, Edwina and her family call Monaco home.
She’s very aware that in order to be a strong competitor, she needs to have downtime, and is very open about the fact that she gets bored very easily! On the days that she doesn’t feel like riding – she doesn’t force herself to or beat herself up about it.
Instead, you’ll find her looking at horses or just keeping up to date with what else is going on in the world!
But as with anyone high up in their career, it is a busy life, and when Edwina happens upon an empty hour it most certainly doesn’t go to waste – those unexpected free hours are well used by spending more time with her family, cooking, or reading!
The mother of a young daughter, we asked Edwina what lesson she hopes that children the world over will learn from seeing the evolution of her success;
– I hope that they learn that you only get somewhere in life through hard work, determination, and courage. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy success, and the best part about having success is the path that leads you there. Ultimately, you should always stay positive and set realistic goals.
“I never forget my journey, after all, my success today is all thanks to that path that I
travelledwith the highs and lows, and I always think of the quote from Albert Einstein “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”
Future of the sport
It’s easy to get caught up in the furore of top-level competition and fame, and many athletes go down the path of understandably wanting to cash in on all of that hard work and success.
Whereas some athletes also want to give back to the sport that helped to make them who they are today.
Following in the footsteps of Olympic Skier Lindsey Vonn who recently launched a foundation, and Simone Biles the Olympic Gymnast with her own legacy scholarship – last year Edwina and Jan unveiled an exciting new circuit for young rider in Australia to help keen equestrian athletes, and it has been met with tremendous enthusiasm.
It wasn’t until a stint away from the arena while on maternity leave for just five months, that Edwina had time to have a break and miss the sport. It was that time away that reminded her of just how deep her passion for the sport, and those involved in it really is.
But, having gone through two periods of almost retiring from the sport – she’s quick to offer some words of advice for riders who are facing struggles, whether that’s overcoming an injury, or trying to get to the next level of competition.
– I would tell them to try to stay positive, to be open and listen to others. Watch as much as you can in the warm-up ring and never give up on your true passion!
There are many inspiring, powerful, and successful women to look up to in the world, and for the showjumpers; there’s Edwina Tops-Alexander.
We’re glad to see Edwina influencing the younger generation of horse riders into being their authentic selves, grateful, and hard working.
Some will do anything it takes to get to the top, and some, like Edwina, will do that PLUS putting in extra work if it guarantees the happiness of her horses. And her motto of “Where there’s a will there’s a way” is something that we could all do with reminding ourselves of!