Secrets of the professional touch

  • Competing in the show ring against professionals should be regarded as a learning experience, according to two amateur producers who have proved that dedication does pay off.

    Liz Clemence, who owns, produces and rides the 1998 Horse of the Year Show reserve champion riding horse, Doctor Doolittle, has two children, works as a freelance writer and, until recently, helped her husband in the family garage business.

    “I get a tremendous buzz from beating the professionals,” says Essex-based Liz. “It doesn¨t happen often, but I believe that it is possible if you stick at it, learn as you go and have a good enough horse.

    “If you finish in the top six in a strong class, you know you have achieved something. For years, I thought Allister Hood only had one arm ¨ I got so used to standing down the line from him that I only ever saw his left side!

    “I still can¨t quite believe that I actually won Wembley ¨ even now, I watch the video and half expect the judges to change their minds. For an amateur, it¨s a dream come true.

    “But I get very annoyed when people keep crabbing the professionals ¨ I have always found them incredibly helpful and supportive. Very often, the amateurs who complain simply aren¨t good enough or haven¨t got the right horse.

    “There¨s a lot to learn from professionals ¨ the way they turn the horses out, for example. You can pick up some good tips just by watching their grooms at work in the lorry park. And you have to remember, today¨s professionals had to start somewhere.”

    Liz has owned “Dooley” for five years and produced him through the ranks, with the only regular help coming from her mother, who assists with mucking out, helps look after the children and is in charge of entries.

    “I couldn¨t manage without her,” says Liz, who does not have her own manŠge and does most of her schooling work in a field or out hacking on the roads. “It can be quite a struggle, but I do it because I enjoy it.”

    Liz produced two horses through last season. “But that was as much as I could cope with, financially as well as time-wise. I get enormous pleasure from having the horse go well and I would rather finish third with a good performance in top company than win with a poor one.”

    Liz and Doctor Doolittle took the amateur title at last year¨s national championships, but might not contest amateur classes this year. “I don¨t really think it¨s fair after having won at Wembley,” she says. “In any case, you learn far more by competing against the professionals.

    “I think the amateur classes are a good idea, but I believe there are enough now ¨ there are so many ways to get in, you end up competing against many of the top horses anyway.”

    Another with a penchant for taking on the “big boys” is London-based Amanda Gomersall, who works full-time as a fashion buyer for Hamells. She is responsible for 85 shops with a £30million turnover.

    With the aid of her sister, Nicola Turvey, and mother, Helen Thomas, Amanda rides a three-times Olympia finalist, the Connemara pony Oaklands Mickey Finn, and has a Fell, Townend Cameron, ready to come out under saddle this season. She is also a panel judge for several different societies.

    Amanda believes that time is the major obstacle facing amateurs. “People who work for a living don¨t have the time that professional riders can devote to their horses. If I have a schooling problem, it has to wait until the following weekend before I can continue to work on it.

    “Keeping fit is another big problem, especially if I¨m ride-judging. My family does all the work with the horses during the week, and I can only ride at weekends. My job involves quite a bit of travelling and it is a standing joke in the company that when I go abroad, I have to have a hotel with a gym ¨ otherwise I resort to running up and down the fire escapes to keep fit.

    “Usually, it isn¨t safe to run outside ¨ I was almost mugged in Manila at 6am one day and I had to run very fast indeed to get away! During the week in London, I try and do a mini-workout every morning and run up the escalators.

    “Another problem is that amateurs often are not self-critical enough; if you have to train on your own, you should have plenty of videos taken so you can try to improve on your mistakes or bad habits. I also take every opportunity to study the professionals and how they do things.

    “A successful amateur must have a professional attitude. Attention to the smallest detail pays off and learning is the key. Much can be learned from the different disciplines and the day you stop learning is the day to give up horses.”

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