It all started in a small Dutch field not far from her home. That is where Liz Barclay as a four-year old preferred to spend her time dreaming of riding a little fat Shetland. It became the red thread through her life. Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony. The mix of working with all ages and also her interest in all aspects of riding, including `hacking a horse in a friendly and balanced manner’ keep her fresh and motivated.
NOT A GOODBYE BUT A NEW BEGINNING
COMPETING AT DUCHY COLLEGE
On the way to Duchy College. Having learned to drive in a country as flat as a pancake on straight wide roads with white lines in the middle, made the journey from Fowey to Stoke Climsland with its narrow winding roads and steep valleys very exciting, and so when I arrive in my shabby yellow 7½ tonner I am pretty much exhausted whereas the day has barely begun.
And overheated. Why did I chose Duchy College as my first competition? Also the first outing for my homebred very chestnut mare Marie? I begin to feel far more exposed than necessary. It is all the wrong way around. I have already instructed privately for some time and now I have to show I could actually do it myself.
When horse and rider are both dressed properly we proceed to the warm-up arena breathing purposely slow to stay in charge of the jumpy nerves. On foot. Marie does have the occasional tiny nap related to being in season and it is springtime when she seems nearly always in season.
Near the warm-up there are several Duchy employees eyeing up this newcomer from foreign countries and so the pressure is building. I have to admit, I’m not great at getting on from the ground, so I launch myself with vigour and as my leg flies over her back Marie does a one-eighty underneath me. This results in me falling on the floor on the other side of her. I bravely resurrect myself and grin sheepishly at the employees. ‘Well, it’s obviously going to be a great day.’ Not much response so I get back on again, this time with success.
Warm-up outside goes well but indoor school is frightening, so before we are able to start our test several white boards have to be put back in the correct place.
Two Novice tests later we have qualified for the regionals on our first outing and the trip back is a piece of cake.
REGIONALS AT KINGSTON MAURWARD
So far the description of my first competition in Cornwall in the early nineties. Now fastforward to what turned out to be our last competition. The winter regionals at Kingston Maurward where we qualified for our PSG Freestyle. I love the regionals. The atmosphere is always great with that positive kind of electricity.
The plan is to leave at 11 in the morning. However, the ewe with the big grey face decides to throw her triplets that morning, two weeks before lambing is meant to start. I spend three long hours on my knees getting the little buggers on the teat so that we can leave the house-sitter with a clear conscience. Buz (husband) and I finally jump in the lorry at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. By the time we get to the most treacherous bit along the Dorset coast it is dark and foggy with oncoming lorries blinding us and I dread very much falling off the cliff I am driving on. Two days later, on the way back in bright sunshine, I find out that the cliff doesn’t exist but is actually a very nice flat stretch at virtually sea level.
GRINDING SOUNDS IN THE NIGHT
Back to arrival at the competition venue. We are guided to our stable with a torch and after Marie has had her walk in hand in the indoor arena and is settled down in her temporary home with a full haynet, we settle down in our ‘living’ with salmon and potatoe salad by candlelight. This is out of necessity because we do not have lights. Nor steps, which nearly breaks my leg during the night when I climb out to check what the very loud grinding sound is that just woke me up. I am right. Marie is eating the stable wall. The only option is to get her her morning haynet and let her stuff herself. Her favourite thing.
That morning I can see from her stable through a perfectly round hole in the wall into her neighbour's stable and notice that this very smart warmblood has one of those plastic balls with holes in it in which hardfeed goes that comes out as the ball rolls around. It must have driven Marie crazy and I can see her point. Also, I now know she has a fair bit of wood in her stomach. All in all not a great recipe for a successful day.
THE LITTLE BOY
My neighbour of the very smart horse arrives. She is also very smart and so is her husband. Their little son, bored to tears, is driving his bike around until the chain comes off. Because his parents are so busy with the horse and each other Buz fixes the bike so the little boy decides Buz is great and keeps him entertained with conversation.
Marie and my performance isn’t our best but by the time Buz and I settle for some more potatoe salad I have accepted it and am already thinking about a slightly different approach for the next outing. A knock on the door and there is Buz's little friend with some sweets as a thank you for fixing his bike. Again more entertaining conversation. But as he looks around he suddenly falls silent. After a thoughtful pause he says, ‘Your lorry could do with a lick of paint, couldn’t it.’ Buz is speechless and I rolling with laughter.
That year Marie and I not only qualified again but also did our first Intermediaire I. And then it all came to a very abrupt end. The decision had to be made very quickly to end unnecessary suffering. The very next day I had a phone call with an invitation to take part in a clinic with Conrad Schumacher. I cried long and loud.
But there is new field jewelry. Pinokkio arrived first and is a great friend for Pixel, my new project, and I believe the bond is finally there to be excited about the future. She is turning more into Marie by the day. The horse is the mirror of the rider comes to mind.
THIRTY YEARS FLOWN BY
My first pupil was Lorraine Ball. It must have been in the late eighties and when I think about that I realize how thirty years have just flown by. Lorraine was still very young and full of spunk. Teaching her in a huge field with the Atlantic occasionally throwing horizontal rain at us was a challenge. Lorraine disappearing out of sight because Ben did a runner was another. We had fun and it was a great start for me.
I’ll continue with some more of the highlights of my teaching career in Cornwall. Being welcomed in the yard of Claire Rushworth was a real bonus. Spending time with a show-jumper of her caliber was extremely helpful for my development. It is where I started to teach her then working pupils Claire Daniels and Tors Nicholls. These two great friends had, still have, their unlimited work-ethic in common. Claire later took on my first bred Bodrigan and together they jumped the stars out of the sky. It cemented a long teacher-pupil relationship from her event horse Feathers going advanced to Claire’s little but incredibly brave show-jumper Paso, also showing prospect as a dressage horse.
I met Martyn Humphrey at Claire Rushworth as well. It is still a very proud feeling that together we turned Damarisk into a PSG horse. Something many thought to be impossible.
Then there were Katie Nicholas and her mare Priddy, surprising themselves as they moved through the dressage ranks. With her parents supplying me with endless cups of tea. And of course Nicky Turriff with her very special Lux storming into the HOYS arena with emotions running high after her excellent round. Her triumphant wave with that big smile to the Cornish section was out of this world.
Event riders Kate Rowe, Lucy Lloyd, Davina Pritchard and Becky Maitland came to me some years ago and from the beginning those four stood out for their commitment. Working full time and always punctual, upbeat and well prepared for their lessons. Hat off to them.
Watching George gradually bond with Liz Bailey after all they had been through was a truly emotional experience.
Time moves on, people come and go, and there are some new faces. Ex-racehorses seem to be in vogue at the moment and they are a different kettle of fish all together. They often have a complicated past and need to learn to trust the human being again. But they love being loved and in exchange love giving back. Joey and Merlin both have found owners who are able to give them what they need and that makes it very easy to work with them.
But there is one little star who needs an extra mention. Jacob, the 13.3 moorland pony. Bought by Helen Howe for just over 40 pounds in an auction. Being pulled off the moor in feral state to learning to trust human beings is an art in itself and Helen did a smashing job. But when I met them Jacob was either going too slow or too fast, with no interest in dressage at all. To see them trotting and cantering, enjoying showing off and Jacob with his ears pricked is such a treat. And he doesn’t just do it at home but also at the few shows he has been to.
Jacob proves that size doesn’t matter. Damarisk proved that an unusual attitude can work for you if you’re patient. Bodrigan proved that you don’t have to have perfect conformation to become an outstanding show-jumper. And if all goes according to plan, Joey and Eleanor Dunstan are going to prove that a thoroughbred can beat a warmblood in the dressage arena.
Every horse I’ve worked with has taught me more than I taught them. And it keeps on going. It never ends and that is what I love about my job.
A WONDERFUL JOURNEY
By now you probably wonder where this is going. This is my last blog for this site. Thank you for reading and responding. From now on my website will be stationary so that you can still find me, contact me, ask questions or book a lesson.
I thoroughly enjoyed writing the blogs. A wonderful journey which resulted into writing my book ‘The Farmer, The Coal Merchant, The Baker’ which in turn gave me the chance to blog for Dutch equine magazine the ‘Hoefslag’. In that process I met subtop dressage rider Maarten van Stek who has visited and done some great clinics in Cornwall with hopefully many more to follow. Added bonus, he, his husband Marc and I became great friends.
I loved meeting up with horsemen and women in England and the Netherlands in order to write about them. The afternoon with Lipizzaner expert Atjan Hop beating every meeting so far because of the chemistry we had from the word go. ‘We are wearing the same sweater’, he joked when we met outside the train station. Which was actually true and the start of a most entertaining afternoon.
In Devon meeting Lorna Wilson at Newton Stud stood out because of Lorna’s extraordinary inventive and forward thinking methods. That combined with her dry sense of humour, gave me a wonderful insight in why Newton Stud became so successful.
The time at the stallion show in Den Bosch, when I was introduced to dressage rider and trainer Remy Bastings with whom I had an interesting conversation about the grading and training system of the stallions. I really liked his clear vision and honesty and hope that, one day, I can visit his yard for a longer chat and another blog for the Hoefslag.
All those blogs are still on my website, so if you haven’t read them, please do. If I feel the urge to write more I will do that through Facebook from now on.
Okay, I’m off. Other challenges on the horizon. Thanks again, safe riding and you know where to find me when you need advice.
Pixel and Pinokkio
Marie at Advanced level
Marie at Kingston Maurward
Pixel and Pinokkio again
Claire Daniels jumping Bodrigan when she just had her
Lucy Lloyd with TomTom
Helen Howe with Jacob when we had just started
My book 'The Farmer, The Coal Merchant, The Baker'