Diane Thurman-Baker: the classical dressage trainer who values in-hand work *H&H Plus*

  • Classical dressage trainer Diane Thurman-Baker on the power of working in-hand and taking a bit-part in a popular TV series

    I grew up in Turville, famous for being the location of The Vicar of Dibley. In fact, I appear in some episodes riding one of the Lusitanos we had at the time. My parents started a riding school when I was about ve so I was always around horses. My sister and I both live in houses next to the stables, which is now a competition livery.

    My in-hand journey started when I went for a week’s training with Lord Loch, an eminent classical trainer.

    When he died, my mother, Nan Thurman, bought a Lusitano from his wife Sylvia but we didn’t really know what he was capable of.

    Mum went on an Association of British Riding Schools trip to Luís Valença’s yard in Portugal and realised we had a horse like his at home who wasn’t doing any of the things she saw there.
    That was the rst of many trips for us and Luís would send his students to us to help us with the horses and learn English. I spent a lot of time there watching and learning the in-hand work –
    I was fascinated by how all the movements were rst trained at the walk.

    We had a Lusitano stud and our most well-known stallion was Diabo. When we first saw him as a five-year-old, he was so wild he was only shown on the lunge. He turned out to be a perfect schoolmaster.

    Diabo won many breed classes and taught scores of riders the advanced movements. I competed his part-bred son Lucca at grand prix and also on the British working equitation team. We won the pia e-passage class at the famous show in Golegã one year, beating all the Portuguese!

    My in-hand training has been invaluable in producing my daughters’ horses to grand prix. Spring Pascal, Samantha’s horse, was terri ed of being lunged when we got him, so all his early work was in-hand. Joanna’s Highcliffe Apollo wouldn’t accept a rider at first so he was worked from the ground for a year.

    Both of these horses represented Britain on youth teams and Apollo is still supple and competitive at 19. I don’t really ride competitively these days but Apollo and I were national advanced medium restricted reserve champions in 2015 and Apollo showed off his Spanish walk in the prize-giving.

    Although I mainly work with warmbloods now, the work is exactly the same as for Iberians.

    All of ours learn the Spanish walk as it loosens the shoulders and we use it when teaching passage.

    More people are beginning to appreciate the benefits of early – and then continuous – in-hand work, and Samantha and I teach owners how to work their horses successfully in-hand.

    I’ve been working with grand prix rider Jessica Dunn, who describes the in-hand work as “transformational”, and event rider Alison Gill who cannot believe the difference. I’ve also found it invaluable in rehabbing horses after kissing spine surgery.

    Samantha and Joanna have been riding since they could walk – and learning to passage when they were tiny. Growing up they had the chance to ride our Lusitano schoolmasters who could do all the advanced movements.

    When introducing the younger or retrained horses to ridden work, I’ll put the girls on so the horse learns to transfer the commands from the handler to the rider. The horse is using his frame while learning to understand what the rider wants.

    Working in-hand establishes a synergistic relationship with the horse. The handler can observe how the horse is moving and using his body and make adjustments to help him balance. Without the rider, the horse can move through his back better and it gets stronger so hopefully there are fewer issues in the future.

    Even our established horses will have regular in-hand training, working through all the lateral movements – shoulder-in, quarters-in, pirouettes, half-pass and Spanish walk. It’s good for their brains to work so closely with the handler and keeps their bodies supple.

    As told to Helen Triggs

    Ref: 4 February 2021

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