How reining trainer helped dressage rider win at grand prix

  • An unorthodox training regime has helped propel Dutch dressage rider Dinja van Liere into the big time. A newcomer to five-star competition in 2021, Dinja won individual bronze at the world championships last year on Hermes NOP, and impressed at the Commercial Bank CDI Al Shaqab last weekend (24 February) with second string Hartsuijker to win the grand prix. They scored 75.15% to take the victory, 2.28% ahead of Patrik Kittel and Touchdown. José Antonio Garcia Mena was third on 72.26.

    For the past four years, Dinja has been training with reining champion Rieky Young, which is an unusual path for an elite dressage rider. However, the two disciplines have an alliance, especially in the Netherlands – Anky van Grunsven switched to reining after retiring from international dressage.

    “My trainer Rieky Young rides in reining, but it’s really that she’s a horsewoman,” Dinja explained. “With Hermes she’s done such a good job, but also with this horse. She really understands him and his needs. It’s a perfect fit, and makes him a very happy athlete – which is what is most important for me in a horse.”

    The aesthetics of reining and dressage may be superficially worlds apart, but Dinja outlined why her system works.

    “It’s about taking it back to basics,” she said. “With reining or dressage it’s the same principle, you want them really light in your hand and in front of your leg, to be straight and carrying his own body. It’s the same whether you’re doing reining, or dressage or jumping. I can ride a good overall test, but Rieky is great working on the basics and makes sure that when I do exercises I get those basics right. She’s really sharp on that, which helps me a lot.”

    But Dinja is not tempted to follow her compatriot Anky into reining competitions.

    “I’ve only tried reining once, on one of Rieky’s horses, who was really easy,” she said.

    Dinja van Liere: ‘He really wants to please me’

    Dinja was delighted with her “very sweet” liver chestnut gelding by Johnson, who produced a neat and mistake-free test. His marks were consistently around 7.5, with the canter pirouettes the highlights and commanding eights from all five judges, as well as a couple of 8.5s for his passages at the end of the test.

    “It’s a difficult arena to ride in,” Dinja added. “There’s a lot of echo, it’s big, the atmosphere is very different to outside, where it’s really hot, but he was really always trying his heart out. He was a bit afraid, but he pulled out such a nice test. He’s a very honest horse, always wants to work, wants to go. He really wants to please me. It’s like at the end of the test he’s asking, ‘Was it OK? Was it good enough?’”

    “He has such a big heart – his name means Heart Sugar! He’s really growing in every competition to be a very stable grand prix horse and understands the game now.”

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