Roland Tong: Passion and resilience in training *H&H VIP*

  • The Olympics have come and gone and I’m struggling to find anything I want to watch on TV. Am I the only person who feels a bit depressed now it’s over? The dressage was nail-biting and while I was thrilled and honoured to be selected as reserve to Judy Reynolds for Ireland, my horse Rybrook Ambience (Alf) is only in his second season at grand prix, so he’s relatively new to the level.

    However, he is one of the most talented and genuine horses I’ve had the privilege to train. I’m hoping he continues to go from strength to strength because by Tokyo 2020 he will be in his prime, and bionic Nick Skelton, winning Olympic gold at 58, has given me hope!

    The Irish half of my family are lobbying the selectors as I type and based on the strength of Judy’s fantastic results at her first Olympics, I am hopeful that the Irish will be able to send a team to Tokyo.

    All ages, all abilities

    I love training horses and riders and spend a lot of my time driving up and down the country and travelling abroad to give clinics. I have a wide range of clients, of different ages and abilities, riding a diverse range of horses. Some compete, some don’t. Some get my sense of humour, some don’t. Some swear at me, some don’t!

    However, all do their best and are passionate about improving. To me, that’s what it’s all about. You have to be passionate about this game and resilient to survive the ups and downs, knock-backs and bad days — we all have them and, trust me, it happens at every level.

    Horses take time to learn, and each and every one of them learns at a different speed. Alf was born on the bit and read the FEI manual before he was five. He has always found work easy and has taken everything in his stride; everyone needs an Alf in their life. Some of my other horses, sadly, are not Alfs.

    Let’s not forget that it has to be fun — for both trainer and client. And some of my clients are very amusing. A recent Facebook status from Tracey Nelson (who swears at me a lot) said: “I’m only there for entertainment value: I’m counting the ones and get to nine and the horse actually stops doing them, but I’m completely unaware (clearly I have no feel) so keep counting and then go into Olympic-style celebrations, like Charlotte and Valegro, because I think I’ve done 15. Big smile, look at Roland for the nod of approval and he is hysterical with his head in his hands.”

    I was actually laughing so much, I couldn’t talk for seven minutes and offered her a discount. When we’d both pulled ourselves together, the 15 one-times happened, but faster than Party Politics at Aintree. A work in progress.
    As riders it is our job to take our time, so the non-Alfs can work things out and not lose confidence because they are being rushed.

    As a trainer, I find that riders are much the same; all learn at different speeds. Giving riders the confidence to get out there and go for it, while having fun, is a big part of my job.

    Structure dissatisfaction

    What’s going on with the new British Dressage (BD) structure? It’s a question on many people’s lips. A number of my clients are very disillusioned; many are sadly not renewing their membership.

    The BD forum and Facebook have been rife with debate, with judges and members putting forward their own solutions and ideas — many very credible. Let’s hope the changes coming into effect on 1 December 2016 not only make sense to members, but actually work as intended.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 1 September 2016