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21Mar 18



Today is the first day of spring and a proper one! After the sodden land finally drying up from a wet autumn all the way through a long and even wetter winter, we were surprised by Arctic blizzards with tons of snow on the first day of March. Can it get any crazier? Yes, March was not done with us yet, we were in for another blast. I admire how most of my pupils and the rest of the horse world have managed to keep going. I wholeheartedly agree: it has not been easy!

It was therefore a welcome break to sit indoors and watch Maarten van Stek at work on my visit to Holland in January. Very uplifting and motivating and as always I came home with some fresh and inovative ideas. Particularly Maarten's novel way of explaining complex things which makes it all of a sudden very 'uncomplex'.




I watched Maarten ride two horses. His wonderful William, who was then just coming back in the groove after a break and has recently done his first Inter II again; inching closer by the day to their Grand Prix debut.

After that Maarten rode a lovely horse belonging to an equally lovely rider who injured her back, which was another joy to watch. Talking to Feline confirmed something that I already knew. How lucky we are to have the chance to get Maarten across the pond for a few days!

Not only is Maarten in great demand as an instructor, he also has recently started to work together with the young and very talented rider Steve van der Woude. It looks like their aspirations to form a solid team which is capable of training horses of all ages and levels in a most thoughtful and caring way.Their philosophy is all about 'slow is good', rather than overlooking what the horse is actually able to give at that moment in its life.

This is also a great opportunity for owners whose horses are recovering from an injury through a thoroughly designed and personalized rehabilitation program.




The lesson with Bianca Zinger and her enthusiastic Friesian horse Kay was right up my alley. Not long before that I had had an exchange with Maarten about the often forgotten importance of the outside leg for a blog I wanted to write for Dutch equine magazine the 'Hoefslag'.

'Two legs' and 'on the wall, off the wall' were the expressions that were repeated regularly. With so much information available on social media, often banging on about riding from the inside leg into the outside rein, it is extremely important to be reminded that we also need the outside leg. For too many riders riding on the inside track is challenging because the emphasis is on the inside leg with the fence doing the rest and that is not helpful in the slightest to achieve a balanced horse which moves on 'line zero', another one of Maarten's great expressions.

The broom in order to explain the balance of the horse was so typically inventive for his way of explaining; a real 'Maarten special' and one I hope he will use on his next visit.




The day ended with a lovely meal (thank you, Marc!) and so it was time to make a plan. The clinics in the two previous years have been a huge success and so I am only too pleased to organize the third one. The dates are Wednesday May 9th, Thursday May 10th and Saturday May 12th. £80 per session.  Again in the lovely indoor school at Derowennek near Bodmin, owned by Vic Hunt.  You can contact me, Liz Barclay, through this website or through Messenger.

Maarten already put up a post last month and so we are filling up fast!


Top picture: Maarten with William doing a demo on the big Event Festival in Holland a beautiful sunny day.

Bottom: Bianca Zinger with Indalo-Keimpe, in short Kay.





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21Dec 17




Some time ago, Dutch Olympic rider and coach Tineke Bartels remembered in an article the time we used to have to ride with two reins on the snaffle as a preparation for riding with the double bridle. It was standard at the riding clubs when I was growing up.

That is how it was done. We were not allowed a double bridle until we were able to keep these two reins at the correct length as if they were connected to the bradoon and the curb.

It is a very innocent practice which makes the life for the horse far more fun, rather than being hassled around with two messy hands and a frustrated rider.




‘Thoombs doown!’ was the favourite phrase of one of our instructors, which made us all go in hysterics. Hence I never forgot.

‘Thumbs down’ is the only way to keep the control over the length of your reins and when you haven’t mastered this it will show as soon as the double goes into the mouth of your horse. It will become an uncomfortable handbrake with your horse having no choice other than to go on the forehand.




It is the dream of every aspiring dressage rider. Throughout history, the double bridle is connected to the higher level of dressage and correctly used it looks beautiful.

It is an art, where the bradoon gives the horse the contact it needs with the curb kept slightly longer. On the other hand, it is a terrible weapon when in the wrong hands, literally.

It needs a pair of experienced hands and should only be used when the horse is ready for it. Balanced, for the leg and relaxing comfortably through all the exercises in a snaffle. Certainly not when a horse is heavy in the mouth as a measure to achieve the desired lightness.




I am very lucky to have a great bunch of pupils, some of them having been with me for well over twenty years, who are committed and show every lesson they have done their homework. Some are very comfortable riding in a double, others are still dreaming of it and waiting patiently for themselves and their horse to be ready.




One of those riders is Liz Bailey with her horse George who is not ready for the double yet, but Liz is keen and greedy in the nicest kind of way. She has worked very hard on her home-bred gelding, after a rough start with not a whole lot of trust left in each other. George has finally succumbed to accepting the leg and is happy in his work, with Liz now realizing what little information he actually needs to do his job properly.

They are very comfortable at producing a decent Novice test, whereas during our lessons we play with a bit of shoulder-in and the baby half-pass. Also, George has taken a liking to the flying changes, after a very well-established counter canter.




However, this rider is still struggling at times to make her downward transitions uphill. It would be a terrible waste of time to now take that beautiful double bridle, which is waiting in the tack room, off the wall.

Chances are George would revert right back to being behind the bit. The last thing we want after all the work we’ve done. 




Just in time for Tineke Bartels to remind me in an article about the two reins on the snaffle. The perfect way for Liz to feel that she is working towards her dream.

Also, it is a reality check. Liz soon found out that keeping the curb consistently a tad longer was not at all easy, even when George went well. As soon as he had a bit of a difficult moment both reins were tight again.




Knowing Liz, it won’t take her long to get it right. It is now part of her regular homework. I do not mention it during the lesson if it is not quite right. It would become frustrating and we would not achieve anything else. We just go about our usual business and it is not until the end of the lesson when I tell her whether she has improved with her 'double'.

I am convinced that by the time George is ready Liz is capable to make it a comfortable transition for him. She will possibly have the curb rein a bit long. Not a problem, from there she can safely develop her feel.




Tineke Bartels, together with her daughter Imke, also an Olympic rider, are the trainers and coaches at Academy Bartels at the beautiful Culitsrode estate in the Netherlands.


Top Picture: Tineke Bartels

Bottom: Liz Bailey with George practicing two reins on a snaffle





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30Nov 17




When we think of dressage our attention immediately goes towards training the horse. We want for it to move with balance, because we know that is one of the most important ingredients to achieve the desired results.

But how can a horse be well-balanced when 50 kilos of weight is not exactly in the middle or leaning too far forward or back? One hip is higher than the other or the shoulder blades are stuck out?

So, let's be honest...dressage starts with you!

My pupils Hazel Clewley and Liz Bailey, both extremely fit women, convinced me of joining a yoga class because I saw how their balance and position on their horse got very quickly much better from the moment they joined. 




Especially when you're young it is easy to forget about body wear and tear. To underestimate the toll on muscles and joints, especially in the muddy autumn and winter. Wheel barrows are heavily loaded to avoid an extra trip to the muck heap and heavy rugs for in the stable and out in the field are thrown on many times a day.




Fitness is in! Everyone knows about spinning, weights are lifted and marathons run. What a difference between some fourty years ago and now. The fitness development to help us grow old happy and healthy has taken such a flight in the last ten years or so.

It is very available and a wonderful development and for many the perfect option to work on weight loss and/or stamina. But when, as a rider, the rest of your day is also fairly physical, you may need to consider other options. You might need to work on suppleness and learn about engaging without tension. And it is not not cool, even when you are still really young, to join a Yoga or Pilates class.




After a relatively long recovery from a back injury from many years ago a friend suggested the Alexander Technique to me. A one-on-one method where you are retaught your body to sit, lift and bend -and all other kinds of banal movements-  in a novel and uncomplicated way. We forget as we grow up and it causes endless damage.

What a shame, if had learned that before my injury my position as a rider would have been so much better early on and it would have made my riding so much more effortless and effective!




To be able to ride we think quickly about fitness and strength, but riders are often fit and strong because of their way of life. So, choosing an option of a work-out with a focus on  balance and suppleness is probably a better plan.

The Alexander Technique has helped me tremendously to 'find' my seat bones. It has given me a body awareness of which I pick the fruits every single day.

It is called a technique because once you have learned how to use it you just do not forget and it stays with you forever. On days when my back is not very cooperative I can still function fairly normal because of it.




Having started yoga this spring has given me a very different view of what it entails. I thought it was a bit too vague for me, possibly a bit boring. How wrong I was!

If ever there is a way to work on your core strength it is yoga, this together with learning to breath from a lower part of your body. The perfect combination for the dressage rider where breathing correctly is so very much part of successful training. Think rhythm and transitions.




The exercise classes and/or techniques I have mentioned not only make you stronger but specifically focus on learning how to be strong without abusing your body. That not only helps you on your horse, but also with pushing your heavy wheel barrows (with a little less muck in it from now on!) or sitting behind a desk.

It is fitness with feel and when you take the time to feel and realize how it improves your own balance, you will be able to feel better what your horse needs to improve its balance.




We learn everything about how to warm up our horse before the more difficult exercises and movements. We seldom think about our own warm-up and the negative effects because of it, especially on a cold day, on our horse.

Horse riders are a fairly tough breed. The sport demands a certain toughness. But especially because of that we should not forget to develop that other side of ourselves, learning to feel, and allow time and space for that.

It is not only our body which will benefit but also our horses. They will soon show you their appreciation during their training. And it is just so great when you are able to 'feel' that!


Top picture: Liz with George


Bottom: Hazel with Trundle







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01Nov 17




When I walk into the kitchen of the Bleekman family, the first thing my eye catches are the wooden shoes of Edward. Also I still wear them regularly in the yard, although I have learned the hard way they're no good on slippery muddy hills. 

It has been a while since my last visit, when Edward helped me patiently with his stories, of the beginnings of the KWPN horse, for my book 'The Farmer, The Coal Merchant, The Baker...'.

But Team Bleekman is a work in progress and they have had a great year, so it was certainly time for another visit.

After the international event in Boekelo in Holland I wrote a blog for Dutch equine magazine the 'Hoefslag' and here, for the 'Bleekman groupies', is the translation.



Whorridge Farm became Whorridge Stud after Edward and Clissy started life together and what began with some four or five stallions, among whom Grannex, Mayhill and Karandasj, has gradually become a stud where the rolling fields are filled with some fantastic young stock, from carefully selected parents.

It always added something extra when in the past dropping my broodmares off with Edward. Talking our own language with the charming dialect of Gelderland floating through it. As much as I feel at home in Cornwall, a part of my heart stayed where I was born and bred.

But of course the main reason was those wonderful stallions. For my halfbreds Mark Todd's Mayhill, who he had competed internationally, was particularly interesting. This was nearly thirty years ago and there were not that many proven stallions around at that time. Also, to know my mares were in the safe and experienced hands of Edward made the choice extremely easy.




You felt it at the time, when you were there; this was a young enterprize run by two people who knew what they wanted and now, some thirty years later, Clissy has come back with her oldest daughter, Alfie, from the Boekelo event in the Netherlands, just in time to prepare for Aldon. 

There are the three of them, three daughters, Althea (Alfie), Janou (Nui) and Katie, who all are naturals on the back of a horse.

Alfie had been to Boekelo three times before with mixed results, so she is pleased as punch to have had a great ride, a proper confidence giver. The only nine year-old mare Dasj had one refusal x-country and a pole down show-jumping and that is quite an achievement for a horse so young and inexperienced. Not a surprise therefore that Alfie is more than ready for and looking forward to next season.




Of course Edward gives me a smug grin when I congratulate him with this great achievement -Dasj being one of their homebreds-, at the same time pointing at the wall where there is a smart picture of Bintang II, also bred by Edward. Bintang, together with his rider Laura Renwick, is proving himself to be a top quality show-jumper with a great future still ahead of him. Both Bintang and Dasj have the same granny -probably not a coincidence, knowing Edward- who is by Grannex, whose name keeps on turning up during my visit. 

Grannex stood at Whorridge stud for several years and there is still sperm available, as is also still from Mayhill and Karandasj. Edward tells me Grannex is particularly useful in the mare lines.

Karandasj came from the Venderbosch family (jointly owned with well known equine veterinarian Jan Greve), which yet again proves the importance of their close connection. This is where Edward learned to be an expert at handling stallions from the great character, Freriks, possibly one of the greatest stallion handlers Holland has ever known.




When Alfie joins us at the table and I ask her about the decision to ride for the Netherlands, she is very quick to stop her dad, who only just managed to say, 'not my decision...'. She wants to make very clear that it was her idea and her decision to use the fact that she has a Dutch passport as well as an English one.

She explains that, as a young rider, she had a very lovely and brave horse, which unfortunately was not super fast. With the enormous amount of young riders available in England on expensive and often ready-made horses, she wouldn't have stood a chance to ever qualify for a team, which is what she so desperately wanted. So it was an easy decision: Holland did want them and at the Venderbosch family there was always a bed and a stable.




Go back fourty years or so, when Edward and his uncle would drive into the now internationally famous stud 'De Radstake', owned by Johan Venderbosch, on many a Sunday afternoon, which soon became Edward's second home.

Not only his second home but also where he learned every trick of the trade. 'Johan was like a father for Edward, still is', Clissy says.

At that very moment grandson Bjinse Venderbosch walks into the kitchen. He came back with them from the European Young Riders Eventing Championships at Millstreet in Ireland having competed there for the Dutch Junior team.  Nui, together with Granntevka Prince  (Hah, there's Grannex again!), got a grand bronze in the Young Riders Section. Bjinse stayed on with the Bleekman family for the rest of the competition season. Obviously the love between the two families goes both ways.




Alfie continues, 'I am not the only one and so don't feel vulnerable because of it. There are so many foreign riders based  here in England. The availability of good courses is so great and relatively easy to get to. Can't compare it to anywhere else, really.'

'I may not speak the Dutch language, but I feel as Dutch as I do English and our life style, with our second home with the Venderbosch family in Holland and all the international events we go to, I have friends all over the world.' (Oh dear, Mrs. May, shot through my head at that moment, what are you doing!)




Both girls (Alfie and Nui, Katie wasn't home) do indeed have a very direct 'Dutchness' about them, although, their mother's genes could have helped that along a bit, too. I can imagine that at that lovely big kitchen table there will be the occasionally heated discussion.

However, democracy certainly reigns in the Bleekman household, with room for everyone's opinion. Nui and Alfie get help from different trainers. Nui has chosen to train with Mark Todd and dressage rider Anna Ross, whereas Alfie visits Lucinda Green and Ferdie Eilberg. Together they do share show-jump trainer Allen Fazakerley when he is coming their way.




For Clissy every year at Boekelo is a 'trip down memory lane'. It was the great Dutch trainer Roeli Bril who got Edward on Clissy's lorry some thirty years ago,  Clissy being a regular there. Edward had to be on a flight from Heathrow to Los Angeles for a horse transport where he worked in the racehorse world in the States at the time.

Well... and then this horrible gale arrived and kept them a bit longer at Boekelo because the ferry didn't run...

Clissy puts a huge bag with pictures on the kitchen table.




Loads of pictures, loads of great and also very funny moments. A very young Mark Todd who, during one of the first events at Boekelo went straight through a little bridge of railroad sleepers, with horse and all! The time was stopped, the bridge rebuilt and Mark continued. It was early days for the Dutch to be involved in the sport of eventing and the quality of course building has improved since then!

That was somewhere during the eighties. Now, a full generation later, there Mark was, this time in the same section as daughter Alfie who is becoming as much a regular as her mother. 

When, during my visit, Alfie led the small but ever so brave Dasj out of her stable for the picture, I could not help but think of Mark Todd's very special Charisma, who once stole everyone's heart. 'Yes, Mark certainly has a soft spot for her', Alfie says.




And Edward, he stayed behind holding the fort. There are to many valuable steeds roaming the fields for all to up sticks. Seven mares in foal; 22 competition horses of which half of them home bred. Plenty of youngsters, among which two stallions which Edward particularly likes. But he is a Gelderland man, born and bred, so he is sparse with his his words.




All in all this is a small but extremely efficient functioning horse factory where all involved are fully committed and no unnecessary luxuries permitted. Every penny goes to where those pennies are most needed. Which are the dreams and goals of and Edward, and Clissy, and their three enthousiastic daughters. Because you can feel that in their kitchen with a cup of coffee in front of you, the desire to move forward and think big by young and old.

Like Alfie said, ‘we do not have the money to buy expensive horses, so we have to breed and make them ourselves.’  Well, they certainly have the best mum and dad for that!




I left the Bleekman household and Whorridge Stud with a happy feeling. It was a wild ride back. When I left home the clouds were yellow and the sun an eerie orange. In six hours back and forth with hurricane Ophelia breathing in my neck. But, I have heard the wooden shoes clump through the yard and the familiar Achterhoek dialect from my beloved Gelderland. Back to Cornwall, home away from home...


You can order my book 'The Farmer, The Coal Merchant, The Baker..' on Amazon for only £7.50

It tells the story how the Gelderland horse helped to make the KWPN horse internationally famous. Interspersed with the great anecdotes from Johan Venderbosch, founder of Stud De Radstake and Henk Nijhof of Team Nijhof among others. They were once farmers, coal merchants and bakers, hence the title.




Top picture: Team Bleekman, from left to right: Clissy, Edward, Dasj, Alfie, Nui

Middle: One of the Mayhill offspring I bred with her mum Bodrigan, the mare Claire Daniels show-jumped so very successfully into Grade A. The best foal I ever bred, but unfortunately died of a colic.

Bottom: Mark Todd on Mayhill taken from my 1996 Whorridge Stud catalogue


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21Oct 17




Just over two months ago I had a phone call. Audry Cole, who occasionally has lessons with me, had had a nasty fall of her young horse, breaking three ribs and her collar bone. Her show-jump trainer was now taking the horse to a local event for her. Could he please book a dressage lesson.

Hah! This could be the moment I'd been waiting for. Maybe I could build a tiny little bridge...




Always keen to see a new face and only a few days later I was in an extremely good mood and heading towards Plymouth.

Adrain was the name of the young Irishman who was on his way back from a small hack before his lesson. Audrey had told me about him before. This young guy was one of the riders for Monty Roberts, also teaching show-jumping. Audrey told me he had helped her terrifically with her jumping and she took it upon herself to organize the odd clinic for him.




I have blogged before that when I hear any name connected to some form of Natural Horsemanship I do feel slightly uncomfortable and not because I am against these techniques, but because in the past I have been pushed around a bit by the odd trainer who advocates these techniques as the one and only way and so we, 'conventional trainers' are therefore seen as narrow-minded and stupid. This was extremely insulting and humiliating.

But I had heard from several people what a nice chap he was so I was determined to make it into a fun and productive lesson in the hope that afterwards, with a cup of tea, I would have the chance to air myself, of course giving Adrain the chance to air himself, if he felt the need.




On arrival, Audrey told me with a mischievous grin on her face that he had even polished his boots for me. Very naughty, two middle-aged women making fun of this young Irishman.

Adrain arrived, we shook hands and went to work. I did not need long to see that this was a confident and experienced horseman with a secure jumping seat. Only, he had let his stirrups down for his dressage lesson, so I asked him to put them up again. He was sitting on a horse which had unseated his rider in a most unkind manner so I wanted Adrain to be in his own natural balance. I think he was pleasantly surprised.




Funny, because this was a dressage lesson and I a new face, I suspect Adrain rode more conservative than he would possibly do when training on his own. The grey was pretty much behind the leg, lazy actually. For me that is a sign for trouble with a young horse, especially at an event where all kinds of things happen -speaker systems, another horse racing by, quad bikes, you name it- an apparently lazy young horse can often unleash some bottled- up energy to let rip at those moments with the rider not expecting it.

Soon I was bouncing around banging with a stick on the pooper scooper, anything I could find to make some noise. Great to have rider on top with good 'stickability', if needed. And, yes, the young grey woke up nicely, although I felt a total fool and not exactly a dignified dressage trainer.

But this is not a blog about how the lesson went. No, this is about how great it was to work with a horseman from, let's just call it 'the other side' for ease, who was wide open and 100% approachable. I had hoped for that very much but, to be honest, had not dared to expect as much.




I mentioned earlier how frustrating it was to be pigeonholed and pushed into a small box with the word 'narrow-minded dressage trainer' on it. As a matter of fact, I am very proud that I am the opposite of narrow-minded and have always wanted to learn more, still do, if it helps my training and the well-being of the horses I work with.

This was going to be the moment I hoped to be allowed out of the box and show we can do this differently.




I can not tell you how delighted I was when Adrain wanted to book another lesson. I had totally assumed it was a one-off. And that while I had certainly put his feet to the fire. After the lesson, in Audrey's kitchen, having listened patiently to my frustrations, his answer was clear, 'I do not belong to anyone. I do also work for Monty Roberts, from whom I've learned a lot, and otherwise I am open-minded to anything that can add to me becoming a better horseman.' Point taken...




Before temporarily flying off to the next job, Adrain has had four or five sessions with me and the guy is like a sponge, able to take in new information very quickly and deal with it. It is clear dressage is not his first love (it doesn't have to be, as far as I'm concerned), but he wants to learn for the sake of learning, not only to win and I like that very much.

I have fully understood that he is open-minded to anything that can enrich him as a horseman. Also, that he sticks to a horse like glue, but when he does go, he rolls and gets back on. Handy for me and very relaxing during our lessons. 

I have made an effort to watch him work with some of his clients and seen the result. He is great with people and clever at helping everyone to feel more confident with their horses, often using a good bit of Irish humour, cheeky grin included.




So, yes, I am impressed; Adrain is honest, respectful and above all, humble. And in my experience that is not always the case with the new young 'alternative pro's' which the Natural Horsemanship world has produced.

In our chat in Audrey's kitchen we soon agreed that most problems with horses occur because of too much food and not enough work. And when further along in our conversation Adrain said, 'there is no quick fix', it was like music to my ears. Especially when during some of the demonstrations these days the audience is given the misconception that anything can be achieved in no time at all.




So...I am happy and very satisfied. From what I've seen so far, I can back Adrain's methods. I can trust, that when a horse which is started or corrected by Adrain and continues its education with me, this horse has been treated with honest respect and will therefore be respectful and trusting of the human race, which makes my job much more straightforward.

If I run across a complication which needs a young and capable body on top, I know who to call. Very important to me, Adrain proved to be open to my advice and suggestions which occasionally were very far from his bed. But he tried and felt the result.

That is because Adrain James Brannely is a true horseman in heart and soul, to be taken seriously. First little bridge built; mission accomplished!



Top: Adrain with the lovely Ollie

Middle: on the big and powerful horse of Sally Jane

Bottom: wondering what the joke is? During a demonstration with Monty Roberts







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Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

About Liz Barclay

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.


My book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' with the subtitle 'A Personal Impression of the Development of the Gelderland Horse World' has been received with more enthusiasm than I possibly could have hoped for. Click here to contact me and I will send you a copy. £7.50 + postage, or click here to order from Amazon.