Life lessons: Dressage rider Michael Eilberg *H&H Plus*

The grand prix dressage rider on his jumping background, the importance of standing still and the horse he would love to have back on his yard

  • Michael Eilberg is a British dressage rider who is based in Worcestershire. He was part of the silver medal-winning team at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) riding Half Moon Delphi.

    I used to be a showjumper, and didn’t take up dressage until I was about 20 or 21. One of my early riding icons was Germany’s Marcus Ehning; I really admire his riding style and the way he has his horses going, and I wanted to recreate that.

    I’ve also always looked up to my dad, Ferdi, who is my trainer now. But before I switched disciplines it was actually my mum, Geri, who was a great supporter of my jumping career.

    Dad and I used to clash big time – he used to make sound effects while I was jumping and I used to have to tell him to leave the arena! It wasn’t until I changed to dressage that I really came under his leadership – he always thought I was capable when it came to dressage, and he was really happy when I started succeeding in something he could be more of a part of.

    But it was my mum who always taught me to believe in myself, as even when you’re doing quite well at something you still get doubts.

    I certainly don’t regret my background in showjumping – it has helped me in so many ways with my riding. But I do wish I’d known earlier that I would eventually make the switch to dressage, and perhaps combined the two disciplines for a while. I could have had a head start!

    Sitting pretty

    I’m a great believer that the “perfect” riding position has not been created because it looks nice, but because it is the most effective. A lot of people think sitting well on a horse is about sitting pretty, and end up quite stiff in the saddle. Those riders who look particularly good on a horse sit in a way that makes them effective, and that is why they also look as though they sit well.

    Recently, I’ve become more aware of my wrists in my own training – I tend to collapse them; it’s an old habit from my jumping days. In working to get my left wrist straighter, I’ve noticed that the side a rider carries their excess rein on can have an influence on their wrist position – those whose reins fall to the left of the horse’s neck often have a bent right wrist, and vice versa.

    So now, I try to alternate the sides my reins fall on, and sometimes I loop them so they fall across both sides evenly.

    Another thing I’ve recently changed at home is that I have started to introduce more standing while schooling. When I gave my horses a break before I would always walk them, and they wouldn’t really stand still apart from at the start and the end of a session. But now when I give them a rest partway through, sometimes I’ll walk and sometimes I’ll just stand still.

    It’s really helping one of my younger horses, Dante, who is a bit nervous and used to grind his teeth when he got uptight. Now he has got into the habit of standing more, he doesn’t do that, and I’m hoping that he will be more relaxed at shows when we start going out competing again.

    “She was my learning horse”

    Every time I ride, I make sure I stretch beforehand. I have recently had two hip operations, which means I don’t have to do quite as intense a session as I used to because I’m not in as much pain, but I still do stretch.

    The horse I wish I had now is Half Moon Delphi. In a way she was my learning horse, and was with me during the early stages of my grand prix career. I think that if I had her now we could do even better together. She was a fantastic horse, not super-easy, but extremely talented, and I loved her natural mechanic, her power and the way she handled the top level movements.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 July 2020