Jane Gregory's (nee Bredin) words: music to my ears
Olympic dressage rider Jane Gregory (nee Bredin), who sadly passed away far too young in 2011, came to do a demonstration at Duchy College in Cornwall in the early nineties. She had brought not only her top horse Cupido who was chosen for the Olympics in Atlanta, but also a chirpy 15.2 palomino, a Connemara cross who had a phenomenal passage.
I remember her words well, 'Some horses are born as a dressage horse, others are made into one.'
Pinokkio is his name, a 7 year-old piebald 15 hand tinker /thoroughbred cross. His head a bit big, not much of a neck yet and a bottom at least one inch higher than his whithers. I met him some three years ago as he came to live with me for a while with his young owner who wanted to work with horses. She ended up not liking him because she saw him trip over and fall down several times in the field as a youngster and didn't particularly like the thought of eventing a horse with a tendency to end up on his face; and I don't blame her.
He was so kind that I just could not help myself but secretly fall in love with him, however, I wasn't looking for a horse, certainly not that kind. So, because he was so quiet he ended up being sold to an inexperienced rider. To cut a long story short, it didn't work out because of lack of interest and he ended up with me...again... now permanently.
I didn't even dare to tell my pupils. Most of them are competitive and striving for higher levels. But still, Pinokkio and I started our routine of one lunging session, two hacks, one session over poles and one flatwork session a week, gradually ticking the boxes of improving rhythm, impulse and the beginning of self-carriage. It was very tricky at times with a few falls involved which I don't wish to remember, but... the stumble gradually disappeared with the trot growing bigger and the canter less 'discombobulated'.
Years ago, at a dinner party with a nice selection of Cornish horsewomen, show-jumper Claire Rushworth said to me that she could not understand how I was always motivated to train others without competing myself. It was before I moved here permanently and although I was already training in Cornwall, I was not able to compete for that very reason. This never bothered me. Training others and riding many different horses has always been, and still is, sufficient to keep me focused and interested in my job.
Of course I can't deny that, once I'd settled down permanently, I didn't have a blast competing my home-bred mare Marie -also quite basic- into PSG, but when she had to be retired after an injury I knew enough was enough.
So why take on an undersized ugly duckling with a stumble? Two reasons: first of all, I had promised his first young owner I would make sure he would end up in the right hands. Second of all, I was yet again drawn like a magnet to the challenge of proving one more time that a common little horse with not great conformation but a heart of gold and super work ethic is worth far more than an extravagant mover with top breeding and therefore possibly a complex personality; certainly for the hobby rider.
It is gradually becoming a real issue. The horses bred for dressage are becoming more extreme,and hotter and with that not always easy for the general rider. The other problem is that these horses are just so unbelievably expensive with their dad's sperm having cost the same as one used to buy the whole horse for some twenty years ago!
Often I question myself on why I teach. How much ego is involved? Of course I want my pupils to do well and of course I feel pride. But somewhere in me is a little voice which tells me to stick to the rule that every horse deserves decent care which includes decent training. And that is where I so often see the small miracles happen. And I know from experience that, what seems to be a common horse, but wants to work, can surpass anybody's expectations big time.
Thank you, Jane…your words were music to my ears!
Top Picture: Chill time, Jane with her horse Cupido.
Below: Pinokkio having a play in the river.
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Rollkur, classic dressage, one-armed riders and social media
It seems to get more intense by the minute. The equine world is using social media in order to give their opinion with pictures of horse cruelty, whether it be rollkur, classic dressage versus whatever other dressage or statements about one-armed riders harming their horses when using a double bridle.
I really don't get it. This thinking in little boxes and condemning all else, more often than not with no real fundamentally correct arguments. I guess one could say that by writing my blogs I am doing the same thing, however, I am hoping to bridge gaps, rather than deepen them. It is not possible though, to bridge gaps when the the heated arguments are made by people who have not made the effort to inform themselves sufficiently about their subject.
I am still not quite sure about the whole rollkur discussion; I need to read and learn more about it. What I am sure about is that the images circulating to attack rollkur look to me more like horse abuse than rollkur. A horse tied down, head on chest, with only a thin piece of string through its mouth I do not think is rollkur and a picture with a horse looking distressed with its tongue hanging down could have been made yesterday of my own horse when we had a momentous small upset which only lasted a split-second, because of a shy on my cat running out of the bushes,and is definitely not the norm when I train. I do at times for a very short spells ride horses deep when they are ready and I feel they can cope and this is the same thing my physio does standing still in order to flex and loosen the horse's neck in order to achieve greater suppleness. Yes, by overdoing it you can harm your horse and that is wrong of course, but you can do that with everything!
Yesterday someone told me blatantly that they loved classic dressage and hated that 'show dressage'. When I looked obviously puzzled and asked her what she meant she said: 'Well, you know, what they do at the Olympics.' I did not even know what to answer for being utterly gobsmacked.
I seem old when I write this but when I grew up and had my first dressage lessons, I learned that you did what was needed to supple your horse and engage its back. Generally that meant riding in a deeper frame before you would lift in the desired frame. Later, when I became more experienced, I learned to use different methods and adjust my riding for different horses: a horse that would hollow you would ride deeper longer and a horse that would naturally go deep you would ride more up, some horses needed more leg, others less.... but it was all called dressage. And it was all done so that the horse would grow the correct muscles in order to have a longer and healthier life.
Last but not least, a statement appeared last week about the fact that there ought to be a rule to keep one-armed riders from using double bridles. I am sure there are one-armed riders who are not capable to use a double bridle properly, just as there are tons of two-armed riders who ruin the mouth of their horse with the same tool.
But when I watch Dutch one-armed subtop dressage rider Maarten van Stek and I see the softest happiest horse with a slightly looser curb rein and I then think of all these badly founded statements, I get so very angry and am ashamed to be part of a dressage world which now seems to gradually deteriorate into below-the-belt ignorant statements.
I think social media can do so much good and a healthy discussion is a good thing, but in these cases I feel that the comments become hurtful rather than powerful, obviously caused by ignorance.
What can we do about this? I asked my 'guru' Maarten. His answer was: 'I think that we trainers, also at the highest level should not become defensive but rather show transparency through education.'
Okay, Maarten, point taken, instead of wanting to push the delete button I will keep on trying to build bridges!
Top picture: social media at its worst!
Bottom: Maarten van Stek with William
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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.
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