Pammy Hutton: Swap the screens for stable work *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s dressage columnist on why the next generation need to get their hands dirty

    We are taking little steps towards the new normal; an unmade road with few signposts. Hope remains for economic recovery, and that we dare peek at our bank accounts again. Like so much in life today, we learn the state of our finances online via a cold, hard screen, yet still feel genuine elation or despair as we look at the figures.

    What a pity, then, that we don’t get that same “feel” when we access equestrian learning online. During these past weeks of virtual training, I’ve climbed all over my computer trying to “feel” softness or resistance while using my eyes and knowledge. I love the feeling of the horse who trusts me, who follows me in trot, who reins back from the word and allows me to share his energy. But I can’t find it in a plastic box.

    In this new virtual world, I fear “feel” might fade away. In fact, I couldn’t put it better than a former international rider who said of a computerised device for measuring rein pressure: “Whatever happened to feel?”

    Real working life

    As colleges move to remote e-studying, will there be a U-turn in the 20-year trend for wannabe equestrians to start their journey in academia rather than on a working yard?

    Learning through a screen can so easily create the illusion that getting one’s hands dirty is a thing of the past. Yet keeping horses – be they for a riding school or competition – involves hard physical work and, yes, s**t shovelling.

    Only through practical experience does the work become easier, through repetition and physical development – just as it does for horses. YouTube is no substitute for being there and doing it to develop the dexterity and coordination required to work in our industry.

    In H&H’s recent education special, one advertisement for a working yard offering training was swamped by college courses. It’s certainly tempting to go online with minimal overheads. But surely, we’re not all giving up that easily?

    One thing’s for sure. The next Judy Harvey FBHS and British team chief selector, or Jennie Loriston-Clarke FBHS, or Anna Ross BHS SM (stable manager) – who says “doing my BHS exams was the best thing I ever did” – is not going to emerge from behind a computer terminal in a classroom.

    Thank goodness real riding schools are back to business, introducing the next generation to riding, training and horses in real life.

    “I got a clear round”

    When Dane Rawlins came up with the stunning Hickstead vs Rotterdam Grand Prix Challenge, I was among the first to ride a test. Videoed at the respective famous venues, with judges giving commentary rather than scores, it actually felt like competing.

    We’re taught to think positive and reach high, so I did… I dreamt of 90%, then woke up and faced reality. “No.” I said to myself, “think low, then anything better is an achievement.”

    So, I visualised going up the centre line, wobble, flop, lacking impulsion and onwards to missing my changes.

    It clearly worked, because I got a clear round. Back home, I didn’t feel low or drink myself to sleep. It’s made me work harder and honed my teaching by reminding me of the terror and fear of “not being good enough” in a test environment.

    A fair and brave individual

    In these uncertain times, it’s imperative to do and say those things that matter today, and not put them off. I was sad to learn that Barry Marshall – Olympic judge, grand prix rider, competitive carriage driver, author and happily married to Leonie – is terminally ill with cancer.

    Whatever level he’s judging, Barry is fair and marks bravely; too bravely for some on the receiving end! And he’s always stood firm, judging what he sees in front of him, never blindly following “form”.

    I hope the pain is not too bad, Barry. I’m grateful for all the harsh marks you dished out to me – you were always right and, even when I grumbled, I learnt so much. Thank you.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 July 2020