Pammy Hutton: dressage riders need to get stuck in and get the job done *H&H VIP*

  • In many a jumper’s yard, four-year- olds happily do smooth stops and starts, going sideways and flying changes. All at an age when many dressage horses are still perfecting trot circles.

    I’ve often bought horses from showjumping yards, including two of my successful international rides. And the best lesson I’ve ever had on achieving a canter with proper impulsion was from David Broome. It took over an hour and is something I’ve never forgotten.

    Maybe the jumpers get on with things because, for them, schooling is a means to an end. Sometimes in the search for dressage perfection, the “getting stuck in and doing” is forgotten.

    I love the slang term “to wagon” meaning “just ride”. Our international trainer Henk van Bergen once remarked: “If you’re walking your dog and he runs into the bushes, you don’t let him drag you through too, do you? You pull the lead, and then release quickly to stop him.” Of course the art is in the letting go, not in the pull. So many times I’ve watched a horse pissing off with a rider who’s “ waiting for him to settle”. So how about telling him to halt like the happy hacker at a T-junction or the hunt follower behind the field master?

    Sometimes it pays not to be too analytical but to get the job done. Being braver almost always pays off.

    Think of the next generation

    As someone who loves giving career opportunities to talented young people, my heart sang as I read about the Racing Foundation’s funding of up-and-coming young people (news, 3 March). As a riding school proprietor, I felt sad that our sector has no such fairy godmother.

    British riding schools are the envy of the equestrian world. But are they valued to the same extent by our umbrella body, the British Horse Society (BHS)?

    As the government champions practical training via apprenticeships across all workplaces, the BHS still does little to support the equestrian industry’s hands-on learning equivalent — the riding school. But I do applaud its latest initiative of using £250,000 legacy funding to help subsidise future BHS assistant instructors (AIs).

    Here she goes again, you’re probably thinking. Just why are riding schools a special case? Well, you only have to do the maths to discover how running the career-training part of a riding school is a good way to lose money.

    Long gone are Windmill Hill, Fulmer and Porlock. And with Catherston and the Yorkshire Riding Centre no longer prioritising student training, equestrian industry recruits have lost an opportunity to learn from the likes of Jennie Loriston- Clarke and Chris and Jane Bartle.

    However, there may be light at the end of a two-decade tunnel. Alex Copeland, the relatively new BHS director of education, has long-distance vision.

    This man is a mover and a shaker, and I found him open and honest when he visited us. He assures me that revisions to the BHS examination system are on the horizon — with my plea to incorporate disabled riders being heeded.

    He also said that the plight of riding schools is to be looked into; that we must hang on in there and give him a chance.

    In the past, some wonderfully enthusiastic, ex-military do-gooders did the BHS and its work proud. But now riding schools need someone representing them with the commercial acumen required to cut the mustard in modern business.

    Unless the training of career students can be made profitable, there won’t be openings for the likes of Emile Faurie, who came to Talland with little more than raw riding skills, or Anna Ross, who made sandwiches to afford her lessons with us.

    BHS, for the next generation of Emiles and Annas, let’s get our act together — or the horse world will be the poorer for it.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 24 March 2016