When I first became involved with the British Young Riders Dressage Scheme (BYRDS) training was available only for those at FEI level. Now, all regions boast a comprehensive programme throughout the year, including monthly training clinics, camps, test riding, and workshops. There are greater team opportunities for all levels supported by dedicated volunteers, reps and coaches.
It has been very rewarding to watch young people come into our sport and progress competitively at all levels. Our sport is often criticised for being elitist, and that only those with money will succeed. But the highest placed individual pony rider at the Europeans, and winner of the Lucan Trophy — very kindly donated by Kathryn Heappey — has certainly shown that not to be the case.
I am feeling very proud to have been awarded the British Dressage medal of honour having completed two terms as BYRDS director, and previously two terms as BYRDS north-west rep.
It has been an immense privilege to have the opportunity to help steer the BYRDS programme over the past six years as director, work with some amazing volunteers and watch how the pathway for young riders has developed.
I was hugely proud to see Maddy Whelan collect her award. Still a committed regional BYRDS member, Maddy has taken Ode To Shannon through the levels herself and I hope that we can share stories such as hers to dispel the myth that it is all about money, and motivate and inspire all young riders.
During my time as director, we instigated numerous new initiatives including the high performance camps developed by Moira Lafferty, with a focus on holistic development and a “two equestrian athletes, one performance” ethos. These camps have given many riders the chance to excel and develop.
I’m also really proud of the work and contribution made to Team Quest and My Quest; it’s really important to me that we break down the perceptions of elitism — we need to be open and
embracing of all riders and Team Quest allows people to enjoy dressage with friends, and family.
The feedback I receive is how much fun it is, a message that we should all probably remember. Our sport is full of setbacks and disappointments, so we should always make the most of and enjoy the good times and this is especially true for all of us who work with young riders.
Old dog, new tricks
On a personal note, I have just graduated from Gloucester University with a postgraduate diploma in professional practice in sports coaching — who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? — along with Jo Swain and Harry Payne.
Equestrian coaches often work in isolation, especially as many of us are freelance, so it has been fantastic to study alongside coaches from other sports, learn from them and discuss their systems for helping young people develop in and through sport.
As a coach working with young riders, I’ve always believed in a holistic approach to development. We need to look after our two athletes — horse and rider.
I have always recommended riders seek sport science support such as nutritional, psychological and physiological help and to now be able to back this up through the application of research is so important. The course not only increased my understanding from an academic stance, but also from an applied perspective by exploring how sport science has helped athletes in other sports excel internationally. We must develop links and work more closely with sport scientists.
Equally, we must ensure that anyone we work with is appropriately qualified, registered and insured. We are setting standards for coaches, and those standards must be replicated for all involved in working with young people in our sport.
Ref Horse & Hound; 15 December 2016