Halfway up a windswept hill, overlooking classic Cotswold countryside, Adam Kemp leans against pristine post-and-rail fencing surrounding a recently refurbished Olympic-size dressage arena, transfixed by the antics of his latest arrival.
Saint Cyr, a three-year-old Hanoverian gelding with a blue-blooded pedigree and plenty of attitude, is enjoying showing off during one of his first lessons on the lunge.
This youngster, discovered and imported by Andrew Graham and Ian Woodhead’s Dressage Horse International, joins Adam’s string under the Addero Ltd banner, a company launched with his new business partners and sponsors, Rhegan and Roger Maggs. One year on and the company, which specialises in buying and selling quality dressage horses, is already breaking even.
Back in Addero¨s pin-neat stableyard just outside Wotton-under-Edge, Glos, a row of elegant heads gaze out of immaculate timber boxes on an idyllic rural scene. In the shade of the Maggs’s 14th century manor house, ducks snoozeby the side of the willow-framed pond and freshly-planted heather beds add the finishing touch to a feeling of total tranquillity.
Adam moved here with two horses having left Talland Equestrian Centre, where he was based alongside Molly Sivewright and Pammy Hutton for 13 years.
It is a far cry from his early training days, when money was so tight that he chose to live in a leaky caravan with no electricity behind the Talland stables, working in a pub in the evenings after a day¨s teaching.
It was during his time at Talland that Adam was introduced to dressage and became the youngest Fellow of the BHS, proving talented enough to be offered rides on top horses such as Talland Chocolate Bean and Crown Marcasite.
Everyone loves a heart-warming comeback story and Adam, still only 32 years old, looks set to deliver just that.
Five years ago, his blossoming dressage career lay in the balance when his talented grand prix partner Crown Marcasite died of a heart attack only hours afterwinning a prestigious class at Ardingly, Sussex.
“His death blew everything apart. You just never expect something like that to happen,” he recalls. “Up until then, I had never thought of moving on from Talland ¨ my attitude was always “if it’s notbroke, don’t fix it”.
“For the first few days after he died, I trudged through life just about coping. I was lucky to have some good friends who gave me support when I needed it, but having coped with the death of my mother, I knew nothing could ever feel so bad and I was determined to bounce back.
“I kept all the 250 letters I received from judges, riders and trainers, expressing their sympathy, and I still look at them today. They made me even more determined to get back on track – I realise now that I needed not only confidence, but a kick up the arse, too.
“It also made me realise that there was no longer enough at Talland to keep me happy and I needed more of a challenge.
“I knew then that it was about time I stopped playing safe and that I was ready to fly the nest.”When I gave Molly [Sivewright] and Pammy [Hutton] my six months’ notice, I was only working part-time and doing a lot of outside teaching, but I think it still came as a bit of a blow. However, they were kind enough to understand that the time was right to move on and we have remained close friends.”Determined to get some capital behind him, Adam threw himself into holding teaching clinics around the country, clocking up 7,000 lessons in all.
“I had passed my Fellowship in the autumn of 1995 and once I’d done that I knew that I had reached a spaghetti junction of roads. There were lots of offers to run yards, ride for other people and set up training centres, but they would have taken me away from my ambition of riding at top level and I realised that, in time, teaching would have to take second place.”
Adam met Rhegan and Roger Maggs during his years at Talland, where he taught Rhegan on her dressage horse.
“We always got on well as friends,” he says. “One night, the three of us sat down to dinner and got chatting over a few glasses of wine about our ambitions. A few bottles later we realised that the one thing we all shared was an Olympic dream – to have one of our horseson the team. Oh, I know most of us say that kind of thing in the heat of the moment, but the difference is we know it’s going to happen.”
Adam admits that finding potential international horses isn¨t easy. He makes his selection based on conformation, which he says should be “as near to perfect as possible”, as well as outstanding movement.”I like to see a strong back, strong joints and a hind leg that stands under the body even while grazing,” he explains. “Overall, they should look as if they are built uphill.”
“Andrew [Graham] usually tips us off if he comes across something special abroad and I trust his judgement completely, which means we don¨t always see what we’ve bought until it arrives.
“With some horses I go and look at I get a special buzz – a mixture of goose pimples and butterflies – the minute I walk into the stable, but like worms’ teeth, they’re so rare. I’m not at all influenced by bloodlines and I only look at the papers afterwards as an indication of temperament, or if it has fashionable breeding, that may be another selling point.”
Focusing on the future comes much easier to Adam these days. He puts this down to a recent lifestyle change based on advice from leading sports coach Carl Ward, who is based at Adam’s local gym, where he trains twice a week.
“Carl has made a big difference. As well as supervising my fitness regime, he tells me straight when I’m working too hard, not eating, or if I arrive late at competitions.”Looking after myself has made all the difference. I never used to eat properly, never had a break for lunch and was too tired to bother cooking in the evenings – and then wondered why I was feeling faint!
“I’ve also had help from Nico van Stigt, who comes to our yard on a monthly basis for three days. Because he’s older and more experienced, he spots mistakes that ambitious riders like me can make. He’s built my confidence and helped me to believe in my ability.”
Once a month, Adam also gets together with Ian Woodhead (another former Talland student) and Paul Fielder to swap ideas, as well as horses, give feedback and set each other homework. “We talk frankly and, if one of us thinks someone is doing it wrong, we’ll say so and not get upset. It¨s very non-British, isn¨t it?” he says with a smile.
“People have said that I’ve changed a lot. I agree that I¨m more relaxed, less paranoid and more of my own person now.
“It’s a great feeling.”