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09Dec 16

My time in the States: from boats to horses

In the late eighties I had a great chance to spend some time in the States and work on some very smart sailing yachts, delivering to the Virgin Islands, the Bahamas and further north as well; Nova Scotia being the best trip of all. It was an adventurous time, however, life without horses turned out to be impossible, so...

...One day, a good friend, who understood my problem, drove me to the freshly started Mounted Police Unit in Portsmouth.

Well, I ended up at the right place at the right time. There was only one policeman who was a rider, two who were bravely hanging in there and one who had only just joined the patrol and was green as grass. There were four horses, of which one had turned out to take to the job well, two which were getting there and one poor gelding who lived as far back in the stable as possible being terrified of people.

This was something these guys could not help; the horse had only just been donated to them. But, on the other hand, it was not something they knew how to handle. What a coincidence! I fell in love with Jesse right there and then. He was a young and stunning looking Saddlebred and only God knows what happened to him before he was brought to this unit. I had my work cut out for me and took some time off the boats to fully immerse myself into this great project.

Sitting lessons for the novice riders, schooling the other horses and playing patiently with Jesse on a piece of wasteland on the edge of the biggest naval yard of the States, with the mighty aircraft carriers in the background; the odd pack of wild dogs roaming around. How crazy can life get!

Jesse soon proved that he had a heart of gold and within a couple of months we were on the road, teaching him to be comfortable in city traffic and learning to stand perfectly still next to a car, close enough to put a parking ticket under the windshield wipers, but of course without scraping the car with the stirrup. He had to learn to relax next to a police car with lights and sirens full-on and walk over unusual surfaces, with me firing some sort of a fake-gun. Not easy, sometimes a bit scary, but what fun! 

Sadly, Jesse turned out to be too much for the novice riders the policemen really were at that stage and he was moved on. I would like to hope I gave him a chance for new and good life. By then it was time for me to move on,as well. The unit was on its feet, by now a well-liked sight on the streets of Portsmouth and my 'McCloud time' over. I'd had a call from a lady in Smithfield who, together with her husband, ran a very smart private dressage yard. I had been there once before with a friend to watch at a clinic and drooled at the sight of some lovely horses and of course more my type than those at the mounted police. 

Yolanda asked if I would come and see her young horse Sonny, who had had a hock injury early on in his life, had been consistently sound in the field for quite a while but, since being backed, not quite on the lunge or ridden. The vets could not do anymore for him. Yolanda was virtually in tears when we met because I literally was her last hope. No pressure!

I put him on the lunge and watched. I guess muscle-memory is possibly the term now used. When put under a little bit of pressure Sonny seemed worried to use his previously injured hind leg, so I used my gut-feeling and only activated this particular hind leg with the lunging whip every step, again...and again... and again. And he went sound within minutes. My gut feeling had been right: he just did not know anymore how to use this leg correctly and only had to be reminded. As soon as he realized it did not hurt he was absolutely fine!

Of course I was worried about whether I did the right thing, it may have been Sonny's adrenaline kicking in, but then again I knew I was his last chance, literally. Of course we had to wait how he would be the next day. Years before I was asked to work a horse with what was thought a nap. After 'not a great time' she gave in and worked actually lovely. The next day she was lame. It turned out to be the navicular bone and that was her reason for napping. At least the owner knew she could not be ridden anymore and she did not have to go through another horrid session, but I was not proud of myself.

The next day Sonny only in the very beginning drug his hind just slightly, but already so much less than in the first session. After that he was sound and stayed sound  during his entire career into PSG. It was the turning point for my career, because from then on I spent most days at Terra Ceia Farm with Donald and Yolanda Williamson. Yolanda not only gave me the chance to work with her older PSG horse Boomer, but together we had such a blast producing Sonny. It is where I did my first flying changes and canter pirouettes. There were some lovely livery horses with very nice owners who were also keen to have lessons and often it was followed by a great lunch or dinner. We watched endless training video's, from Reiner Klimke to some eccentric South American guy who taught piaffe in the most unusual way. Still to this day use his method for the horse with no natural ability. It is uncomplicated, kind and always works!

And then the time had come to settle somewhere permanently. I missed Cornwall and my little farm terribly. Contact with Terra Ceia Farm faded but every so often I looked at the picture of Yolanda and Sonny in the hallway and wondered how they were getting on. Well, thank you Facebook, after years of having lost touch we're posting, messaging and liking as if there's no tomorrow.

Donald and Yolanda achieved great things. They believed in what they did and always worked their tails off. They bred some fantastic horses and of course their home-bred Dutch stallion Staccato by Idocus out of their beautiful mare Domfee was the highlight and an achievement they so very much deserved! 

Now, guess what? The grandfather of Idocus is Voltaire. This is when life goes in circles and Yolanda will be able to read in my book 'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' how Voltaire ended up in the Netherlands with Henk Nijhof. It is a lovely story, amongst many others. I know there are many of her friends with an interest Dutch Warmbloods and I hope they also will enjoy reading about how the Gelderland horse evolved into the able competition horse of today, changing the life of many Dutchmen who were brave enough to embark upon the challenging adventure of horse breeding as a job.

Next week a small group of us will drive to the big equestrian happening Olympia, with plenty of tissues in our pockets. It is time to say goodbye to Valegro... his last big performance. Again Voltaire as a great-grandfather, with Amor and Pericles in his bloodlines, as well. KWPN stallions from the past, but never to be forgotten...

'THE FARMER, THE COAL MERCHANT, THE BAKER...' for sale at Amazon. Price: $10. Now also available as eBook! Price: $4.32

Comments exciting to have reconnected with you, here in southeast Virginia. We've missed you, beloved friend. More on the Williamson's Staccato....I bred him 4 times to my Lovely Swedish mare by Kyra Kirklund's Master, and also had purchased Staccato's full sister Odessa as a 3yr old, and had wonderful Successful foals from her too. Just keeping it all in the family.
Diana Barnes , 4th January 2017

Dressage Training

Dressage training needs variety, including pole work

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.