At Badminton this year, there was so much discussion about the weather that British riders’ dressage results more or less got buried. A few did reasonable tests, but not nearly enough.
That the cross-country did the sorting was no bad thing. As a former eventer — who was even once shortlisted for the senior European Championships — my dressage was once so bad that I too relied on the cross-country.
But with the World Equestrian Games [WEG] fast approaching, dressagewillbe backontheagenda. So is it time for Team GBR to review their training policy for this phase?
Often referred to as “dressage”, as opposed to the stuff we do, which is “pure dressage”, it needs to be acknowledged that all dressage should be pure. It’s just that some is more pure than others.
With this in mind, are “pure” dressage trainers used enough by eventers? We have the absolute tops in Britain now, so why not call on them?
It can take more than one specialist trainer to help a partnership — and sometimes one trainer does not tick all the boxes. For many a year, there were official trainers to our Olympic dressage team, yet now that team does their own thing — with great results. Perhaps this is a policy that should be adopted across the board by our young rider, junior and pony teams — and the eventing teams, too.
A trainer that horse and rider know well, and vice versa, is often best placed to help that partnership gain their best results. So I question whether team trainers are needed and whether funding could be redirected towards riders’ individual trainers?
We can all think of a trainer who has really influenced us; someone who makes a goal seem possible or a win happen. But for most of us, there will be several who help draw the plans, dig the foundations, plant the garden, weed it, prune it and tidy it to perfection.
They aren’t necessarily the most famous trainers, but the ones who say the right things at the right time.
Some brilliant trainers are no longer with us, but their teachings live on. In my case, they include my grandmother Pamela Ryder- Richardson and my mother Molly Sivewright. When I forgot my jumping saddle for Windsor three-day event one year, my mother made me ride cross-country in a dressage saddle. I couldn’t walk for days!
From the showing world — and specifically David Tatlow’s father Harry — I learned how to spot whether a judge is looking or not. Charlotte Dujardin has capitalised on her showring experience.
Dick Stilwell’s teachings were endless; the most important being that endless trotting on 20m circles does not cut it. However, I regularly return to Major Boltenstein (Olympic gold medallist in 1952 and 1956) who remains my base.
Sheila Willcox influenced my test riding. If I made a mistake I had to run the corrections on foot.
Learning the art of explaining things comes from Henk van Bergen, the award-winning trainer who coached Anky van Grunsven to her first gold medal. Henk’s patience is an example in itself.
Currently, my support has come full circle with my offspring, Charlie and Pippa, keeping an eye. I trust no two people more at a competition.
Lessons must be learnt off the horse, too, as Pippa discovered on a recent trip to France. On the return journey, the lorry and horses made it back, but Pippa, the dog and a friend were left behind. They’d forgotten to have the dog vaccinated. Off went very patient husband, Brian, on a rescue mission, only to find his phone didn’t work abroad. He nevertheless managed to locate the bedraggled trio on a concrete block at the docks.
This incident serves to remind us that practical experiences are often the best remembered.
With the summer qualifying season over, we are now on the hunt for winter championship places.
When it comes to entering regional finals, I was amused to hear that more competitors are quietly finding out where their rivals are going in order to avoid them. What will be, will be…