I have worked with horses all my adult life. I worked at the National Equestrian Centre at Stoneleigh for many years and one of the things that impressed me was how many international trainers there were giving clinics. It was a case of “watch and learn” for me.

What I see today is the younger generation not taking every available opportunity. They must have hungry eyes for self-development — not picking up their mobile phone the moment they’ve finished training, while still on the horse.

We have such a different system in the UK to that of the Continent. We need to encourage the pony riders to get onto a horse earlier — the whole youth system needs to be more joined up. What I have learnt in the Scandinavian countries is that everything works around a club system — almost all riders have their horse in a club. This brings a very different approach. What I see and tell parents is that youth riders are not all going to be winners, but the experience of working in a club team teaches them life skills. For example, young people should make time after school to go and train their pony or horse. They must work in the arena with others, where they are around adults and learn a code of conduct. They are a member of a team, and winning and losing is part of this.

The driving force

No two riders’ horses are alike, which is why one has to train individually; each rider must be their own trainer. What is important is they get help from their trainer when they ask for it, so they in turn must know the combination well. The driving force must be the rider’s inner voice, not the voice of the coach.

I often hear trainers say to their pupils: “I’m saying the same as you.” And the pupils reply: “But you’re saying it in a different way.” So we all want the same goal, but it’s how we achieve it that’s different. The first rider to learn a new fact or technique is the first to put it into practice; they will then have the advantage and be the most eager to learn.

Many years ago, I would take groups of like-minded people to visit European trainers; we were always made welcome and we learnt a lot. So if I had one wish, it would be that our youth riders would go and watch these riders training. It’s very cool to be part of a team and work together, but here in the UK I get the impression that it’s a bit cliquey.

The future is rosy

I have only just become involved with the youth group [as British Dressage’s international youth coach advisor], but so far I’m impressed by the quality of many of the horses and the riders’ keenness to learn. The future looks good. Home trainers need support as many are doing a great job — they just need to be acknowledged. In Europe, it’s the regular trainer that makes the difference.

We have very good trainers here in the UK, but it is also good to learn from our friends across the sea. And we need to encourage change, otherwise if you go on doing what you’ve always done, then you get what you have always had.

I was lucky to have been awarded a Sir Winston Churchill scholarship [which assists with overseas research] and am reminded of his quote: “Travel to learn — return to inspire.”

Ref: Horse & Hound; 8 March 2018