Abi Lyle Demo at Fountain Equestian, Aberdeen

I’m very lucky to be in the position where I get the opportunity to talk to some of the horsey world’s premier riders, coaches and judges. When I catch up with dressage star Abi Lyle during a tea break at her demo evening, it feels like chatting with an old friend – even though I have never met her before. She has a warmth and a charisma that immediately puts people at ease, a genuine openness underpinned by plenty of that incomparable Irish charm! 😉

This is the first demo evening she has done on her own and I am surprised when she tells me she was nervous, because you would never have known.

She expertly works each fantastic partnership (Julie Robertson, Julie Wattie, Sam Turpitt and Fenella Quinn) through a diverse range of exercises concurrent with the level which they are working at, making a noticeable difference to both horse and rider. But just as importantly, she quickly builds a rapport with the audience based on a great sense of humour, self-depreciation and candidness. But if you follow her on Instagram (and if you don’t, you should!), none of this will surprise you!

Undoubtedly she is driven, talented and incredibly hard working, but she also doesn’t ever take herself too seriously, frequently filming herself on horseback musing about everything from the motivational value of a Britney Spears playlist, to the burger she ate the night before and why her jodhpurs now feel too tight (something we can all relate to!) 😂And therein lies the key to her popularity. She’s so relatable. She wears sparkly bling trainers to the demo, a nod to being at once comfortable in your own skin, while also celebrating your own individuality, and gives honest and down to earth advice throughout. One of my favourites being ‘ride with a big belly and a double chin’😂It makes the audience giggle, but that’s such a big part of what she wants to achieve. Yes to make us better riders, because the advice is tantamount to sit up, tuck your tailbone under and keep your head and eyes up, but crucially, to make us enjoy ourselves too! Because when we are having fun, we are less likely to feel pressure. And when we feel pressure, we start to feel nervous, and it’s this stress that builds an environment for negativity and unkindness.

Indeed during the demo she talks openly about her personal battles with nerves and the work she has done with a sports psychologist to try and manage them, about the importance of keeping things in perspective and of being kind, both to yourself and others. Perhaps not surprising coming from a rider who’s Instagram profile reads ‘trying to make the horsey world a kinder place’. An admirable sentiment, though not always an easy one to achieve in the sometimes not-so-kind world of horses. Abi has been vocal in speaking out against bullying in the sport and I am keen to talk to her about (amongst other things), how she traverses life through the social media lens and how she deals with negativity and the all too often intimidating world of dressage.

‘How have you found your first solo demo tonight?’

‘I was really nervous actually’.

‘That didn’t come across at all!’

‘Everyone is really responsive, so that actually really helps. It’s hard though when you plan what you want to do, because with horses it can be really hard to stick to because you get different problems than you think you are going to get. But I’m enjoying it!’

‘What do you enjoy most about giving these demo evenings?’

‘Do you know what though, it’s the same thing as teaching, because even though you might see a horse and rider you have never seen before, to make a wee improvement is always really, really nice to see. It’s just nice to see people coming out and taking an interest and wanting to know a wee bit more. And also I do try to make it not too serious and I like it if people are sharing in that sentiment because I think dressage is often too serious. If people are enjoying it then I will be really happy’.

‘What’s the best piece of advice you would give aspiring dressage riders?’

‘Never ever stop. It will get worse and it will get better, and you’ll feel like you’ve conquered the world, and then you’ll feel like you’re at the bottom again, and then you’ll go up and you’ll go down – but just keep going! That’s definitely all I can say!’

‘We live in a social media world now where our every move is scrutinised. It must be very difficult to have the spotlight on you, especially because the horsey world isn’t always very kind. How do you deal with negativity?’

‘In all honesty, I’m kind of at a point where sometimes you see top riders and you look at what they have to put up with and what people say about them, and actually it does put me off. But I just try to think that’s why I kind of want to be more vocal about being nice to each other because I think you can only drive it out with kindness. Because the thing is, horses humble us enough as it is. We don’t need to do it to each other. I don’t actually have Facebook on my phone. I don’t scroll Facebook for that reason. Because I just don’t want to see any of that kind of stuff. I think there should be 10 lovely comments for any negative one comment’.

‘Do you enjoy being a role model? Or do you feel pressure?’

‘I didn’t ever think I was one. I haven’t really thought about it. I literally just try to be nice and to make my horses go as well as I can. Because I’m not anywhere near the rider I want to be (at this point I interject and say there’s no hope for the rest of us then! 😜, to which Abi points out that it’s the old adage of the more you know, the more you realise you don’t!)

But I think, good if I am though, because I think I have good intentions. I just want people to be nice to each other and to enjoy their horses’.

What would you say is the highlight of your career so far?’

‘It’s happening on Thursday! I’ve been invited to HOYS for the Dressage Future Elite Championships. That will be it. I’ve never ridden in a stadium before. I’m looking on the Instagram and seeing the arena and I’m like 🤢(she makes a throwing up noise!) But I’ve actually had the most amazing season with this horse (Farrell, owned by Fenella Quinn), so that will be the highlight. I think there’s 10 horses, they are all to be aged 8 or 9, so we’re all green and we get to go in, and I’m just going to ride it like I stole it’.

So there you go. Ride it like you stole it. If that isn’t great advice, then I don’t know what is.

(N.B. Since chatting with Abi, HOYS has taken place where she and Farrell bossed their stadium debut with a fantastic score of 72.16% for fourth place 💃🎉👏🍾🥂)


Dressage Masterclass with Daniel Watson 

An interview with Daniel Watson, by Lynne Clark. Images by KPhotography.

When I arrive for the Country Ways sponsored Daniel Watson demo at Tillyoch Equestrian Centre, I find the man himself sat casually at a picnic table, taking a well earned break before beginning the evening demo (and before I interrupt him with my questions! 😉) I am introduced to him and the first thing he tells me is how much he has enjoyed his day’s teaching and how friendly we all are up here in Scotland 😁 It’s his first time in Aberdeen and he has thoroughly enjoyed it. Not least because of the diversity of horses and riders he has taught all day.

Nicky Heale and Daniel Watson

He tells me how great it is to see horses of all shapes and sizes, as well as riders working to better themselves and committed to developing their partnerships. This is a man who values hard work after all. Daniel is a grafter. Growing up riding the local riding school ponies, nothing has been handed to him on a plate. Perhaps because of this, he is able to appreciate the real inherent value of each and every horse. Yes they may not all be future Grand Prix dressage stars, but they all have something to teach us none the less. With consistent training, the best in any horse (and rider) can be brought out. This attitude manifests itself in his teaching too.

During the demo he takes a step back and watches each of the riders warm up before asking their thoughts on things they are happy with and other things they would like to work on. This isn’t just so he has time to make his own assessment, but also to create a space where he can allow the rider time to make their own appraisal. He is interested in hearing their voices and creating an open dialogue throughout.


During our chat before the demo, he speaks at length about how much he values the journey with both horses and riders. So it comes as no surprise to me that this is his approach to teaching as well. Acknowledging and appreciating each individual partnership and the stage of their journey, while acting as a facilitator to improve it. And he is indeed a very effective facilitator. Expertly coaching each of the fantastic combinations through a diverse range of exercises concurrent with the level which they are working at, he makes a significant difference to both horse and rider. It’s telling that they all leave with big smiles on their faces….

Q: What’s the key to being successful at dressage?

A: “Dressage is the long game. It’s not a quick fix and you aren’t in it for any other reason than the journey with that horse. If I go to a competition and I’m on a particular horse, I don’t think well I’m going there to win, I think I’m going there to better my feeling with that particular horse and if you win it’s a bonus. At the end of the day though, it is what it is, and as long as you’re happy with what you’ve done  when you halt at X and when you come down the centre line at the end, that’s what you need to be feeling”.

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for any aspiring dressage riders?

A: “Be prepared to graft, hard”.

Abigail Gray

Q: What qualities do you look for in a dressage horse? 

A: A trainable horse with 3 good paces. They don’t have to be flamboyant paces; trainability is more important I think. If you’re prepared to be patient, I think patience is everything; you sit and you wait and you train and you keep training and you just take every day as it comes, with every horse”.

(During the demo, Daniel reiterates this point during his assessment of Carmen Gammie’s fantastic pony ‘Bubbles’, citing him as a classic example of the transformative power of correct training…

“he’s not a flamboyant German riding pony, he is what he is, but with training, he has proven that it is completely within his capacity to represent GB in teams. For me, that is what the whole sport is about, because at the end of the day, if you train them correctly, the sky is your limit”).

Daniel also stresses throughout that one of the most important tools in your training arsenal are gears…

“Gears are probably one of the most important things that you can use when teaching any horse. Teach a horse different gears within their rhythm and within their tempo, and you can pretty much teach them anything”. 

Eilidh Grant

Q: What would be your advice for riding a great dressage test? 

A: “Concentration. Composure. Never worry about what anyone else thinks. You’re doing it for you, whether you’ve got 1 person stood watching or whether you’ve got 10,000 stood watching. It’s neither here nor there at the end of the day, it’s you in your own world with your horse”.

(At this point I tell Daniel what great advice that is, and how with riding, and riding a dressage test in particular, it can often feel like you are in a fish bowl, the eyes of everyone else watching if you will sink or swim. He replies that it doesn’t matter because it’s all about the journey, the partnership, and being in that moment with your horse. Excellent advice from a top rider who can still relate to competition nerves and the anxiety we often feel as riders).

Q: Where do you look for your horses?

A: “I don’t buy many, I breed them myself. I get what I’m given. I suppose the whole of my career, I’ve never had the funds to go out and buy top horses, so I’ve had people bring horses to me. A lot of them have been mediocre horses, they’ve not been superstars, but you make them into what they are. When you train horses, you have to think they are what they are, don’t force them into something they’re not. But then you train them to enhance the suppleness and if you enhance the suppleness, you enhance the pace and then they start to grow and gain confidence and who knows where that horse is going to go in it’s career. That’s how I tackle it. I have some of the most lovely horses, but I also have some quite boring ones. Every horse is different and you have to take them for what they are. Take their positives and build on them.  Everything is about the training. You need to listen to every horse and take on board everything you learn from them each time you sit on one”.

Carmen Gammie

Q: You have achieved so much in your career, (Daniel has been a member of numerous Team GB Dressage squads, has been on winning Nations Cup teams, and has been shortlisted for WEG), do you have one particular highlight or a proudest moment you could choose?

A: “I had a really tricky horse years ago, which was the first horse that actually went seriously big time internationally with me. He’d come from a dealers yard and I didn’t know this, but when we found him, he had issues. When we brought him back to England, I took him to a few shows and he was just bonkers, it took me a long time to deal with the problems. And anyway people would come up to me and say ‘oh so you’ve got him now’ and I would say ‘well how do you know?’ Oh well it bronced this person off and it did this and it did that… and you’re thinking oh god what have I bought? But the more I worked with him, there was something in that horse that I just clicked with. The more I worked with him, the better he got and that horse took me to being on the Nations Cup team in many shows and being on winning teams with Carl and Charlotte and Gareth and all the others, and that for me was a major highlight in my career.  I suppose because he put me in a place where I never really thought I was going to be at. And he put me in the spotlight. But I suppose in a way it was just a bit of a fluke because you just don’t know what any horse is going to come up with.  You just take them for what they are make them softer and make them more supple and see what they can play with and they just grow on you. And that’s what he did for me. 

“And he’s not the first. I’ve got tons of horses that have different things in different elements,  but he’s always one that stands out in my head as being my horse of a lifetime. And now he’s at home with me in the field retired happy as Larry. He’ll always have a place in my heart; always.  I’ve got a mare that I bred out of a broodmare who I’ve had since she was 3 years old, and she was the very first foal from that broodmare. She’s 11 now and just started going Grand Prix 6 months ago. For me to breed that horse and do everything with her right through from the start, she’ll always be in my heart and she’ll never ever leave my yard. She has a home with me for life”.

Q:What’s the best piece of advice you have ever been given in your career?

A: “Oh god… to graft my arse off! Because you don’t get anything given to you on a plate. If you really want it, and I don’t necessarily mean success, because I don’t think I ever really wanted that, I just wanted to learn my craft and my job, but in this game you have to put the work in. If you don’t put the work in, you don’t learn. So many kids nowadays, they’re not like what we were like in my day, they don’t graft; they get on, they get off, and they leave their parents to do everything else. What’s that going to give you in life? Times have really changed and you don’t see the same hunger as you did 10-20 years ago”.


What is your approach to teaching? Especially combinations who you are just seeing for the first time? 

“One thing that you need to remember with every horse and rider is that there is no one who knows that horse better than the rider on it’s back. When you first work with someone in particular, it’s always good to actually just sit back and watch a little bit and see how they tackle different scenarios, how they warm up and then you start to get a feel for the positives of that particular way of going, or the slight weaknesses as to what you can improve on in a session. When you are teaching someone, you have to be able to determine what the rider can cope with, depending on how the horse is”.

“It’s always so great when riders want to learn more and do more things with their horses and teach them the more advanced stuff, because at the end of the day, they are setting a president in their own learning ability and in their own riding career to be able to then move onto many other horses if they wish  and teach them the right way up the levels. If you can do it on one, you can do it on many”.


This event was organised by David Lawson Equestrian Events and Sponsored by Country Ways and Ardene House Equine Vets

For more information about…

Daniel Watson Dressage at Bislingon Priory Equestrian

Book a lesson with Daniel on 28th Sept 2019 David Lawson Equestrian Events

Country Ways

Ardene House Equine Vets




Badminton Grassroots success for local rider, Sophie Bultitude

Mention the word Badminton in non-horsey circles and most people will think of the sport involving racquets and a shuttlecock. For the rest of us horsey folks however, the word is synonymous with the pinnacle of eventing.


Badminton Horse Trials has a history and status all of its own. First held in 1949 as a way to allow British riders to train for international events, it became the world’s first annual three-day event and hosted the first European Championships. And with it’s now 5 star status, Badminton is officially more difficult than the Olympics. Competitors are drawn from across the globe, with impressive crowds of spectators in their thousands to match.

So when local rider Sophie Bultitude and her beautiful bay gelding ‘Juno’ qualified for the Mitsubish Motors Cup Grassroots BE90 Championships, it was a seriously impressive achievement. All the more so considering the pair have only been eventing since the 2018 season. And because the equestrian community up here in the North East is pretty tight (we all seem to know each other one way or another 😉), it seemed as if we were all invested in Sophie and Juno’s journey in some way, not least because Sophie kept everyone updated with her experiences via her fab blogging. Anticipation was high and everyone was willing the pair to do well. After some very skilful riding from Sophie to pilot an ‘explosive’ Juno round the dressage, the pair went double clear for a top 20 placing out of more than 100 competitors. An incredible result. And I kept thinking to myself, how must it feel to have went clear round Badminton? So I invited Sophie for a chat to find out!


How’s that for a backdrop? Flying over the fence in front of the iconic Badminton House

My first question to Sophie when she arrives is how does it feel to be able to say you have been double clear round Badminton? She pauses before she answers, as if it is still sinking in. ‘Unexpected’, she replies. Not in the sense that it was unexpected that Juno could do it. She knew he could. But it’s Badminton we are talking about and who actually expects to go double clear? She tells me how it was a once in a lifetime experience (though I have a feeling it might not be!😉) and how she cried going through the finish line. The tears came not only because they went clear, but because her support team were all there at the finish waiting for her. Her mum and dad, brother, coach and friends all cheering her on. As Sophie explains, and as all of us know, it’s a team effort – it was as much their accomplishment as it was hers. Indeed her team consists of her mum (chief trucker who drove 13 hours over two days just to get down there!), her Dad, whom she says now has a much better understanding of the work involved in horse shows 😉, her brother, who Sophie tells me has a very special bond with Juno, coach Sally McCarthy, sponsors LP Equine Chiropractic, RG Equestrian, and of course, her Aberdeen Riding Club family. She credits all of them with playing a significant role in supporting her and helping her achieve her dreams.

Coach Sally McCarthy and Mum Julie pictured with Juno

But what of the horse that’s made all of this happen? Sophie recounts the fabulous story of how Juno came to be in her life. She and her mum, along with her coach Sally, were at the horse sales in Cavan, Ireland. They originally bid on a different horse, but missed out. Meanwhile they had seen Juno warm up but had to leave to catch their flight before the auction began. Sophie’s mum asked someone else to bid for Juno on their behalf. A miscommunication however meant he was bought by someone else! Thankfully the (very) new owner was willing to concede to parting with Juno. In fact it was all done in such haste that her mum was reading out her bank details as the plane was taking off and the flight attendant telling her to put her phone away! Bought, quite literally, on a wing and a prayer, Sophie describes Juno as her horse of a lifetime. Thank goodness her mum managed to make that call.

When Juno first arrived home, Sophie tells me how she couldn’t even remember what he looked like! But he had nice movement, good breeding and crucially, a lovely nature (she describes him as ‘a big dog’😉) He wouldn’t trot though – coming from a showjumping background, it was walk or canter 😂 But she persevered. Indeed when I ask her what the key to their successful partnership is, that’s the answer she gives; perseverance. Chipping away at it and not expecting everything to be perfect all at once (a lesson for all of us horsey folks who all seem to be mad perfectionists! 😉) She explains that often it’s when you least expect it that everything clicks. And how you need to have confidence and trust in your horse. You need to know they can do it. The work needs to be done at home. Sophie and I happen to be at the same yard, and whenever I see her riding, she is in the zone. Often with her headphones in, she is focused, determined and hard working. And it’s paid off!


I ask Sophie how it felt to walk such a famous course and whether there were any fences in particular that gave her some heart in your mouth moments?  She tells me it was bigger to walk than ride and how she was glad it was a 90 because while it was big and technical, it was manageable for the pair who have now moved up to Novice. She explains how there was so much thought put into the course, that the smaller jumps were inspired by the 5* ones, giving it true Badminton gravitas. One particular jump was causing issues. A box which was flagged more like a corner caused some confusion. Because Sophie was on later, she made sure to watch some of the lines taken by other riders, but was careful not to over-analyse at the same time. Something she says she has had to work on and has got better at recently. When the pair were in the start box, the poor rider before them had been taken off with in the wrong direction, so it was all a bit of a hectic beginning. No matter for Juno though who Sophie tells me was so good waiting his turn. Once out on the course, he knew his job and breezed round, giving Sophie the most incredible feeling. She recalls how good he was at the more difficult questions, including the skinnies, making it all feel easy and what a thrill it was to jump through the iconic Badminton lake. Indeed her Dad even heard the commentator say how easy the pair were making it look! Sophie starts laughing as she tells me she really hoped Juno wouldn’t lock on to some of the bigger fences because he definitely would have given them a go! In fact he jumped everything so well that she had been worried they might be too fast. Consequently, she didn’t chase the time too hard, still laughing as she tells me how she looks like she is out for a hack in some of her videos 😉 Her main priority was to enjoy the experience and focus on the moment, telling herself ‘this is Badminton – let’s do this!’ 💪


When I ask Sophie what her biggest challenge was, she tells me it was the dressage phase. An extremely hot Juno had ‘exploded’ in the dressage warmup and Sophie had worried they might part ways! She describes it as their ‘hairiest moment’! The atmosphere was like no other the pair has ever experienced, the only thing close being perhaps the Blair prize giving the year before where Juno had refused to go in the ring. Banners billowing, umbrellas popping up all around, kids shouting – even a baby shaking a rattle noisily! No wonder Juno’s eyes were on stalks! It’s a testimony to Sophie’s talent that she was still able to achieve such a great dressage score of 31.5.


She tells me how thankful she was to have her coach down with her too, confessing that she didn’t really know what to do on her own, so having Sally there meant her preparation was structured and effective. She credits Sally with keeping both her and Juno calm and focused, helping enormously when it came to walking the course, which she did 3 times. In the showjumping the pair went clear, despite the fact the heavens opened and the rain poured down. As Sophie explains, as soon as Juno starts jumping, he knows his job, come hell or high water (lots of water in this case!)

Talking tactics with coach Sally McCarthy
Jumping clear in the showjumping phase

When I ask what the best thing about the experience was, Sophie replies animatedly ‘everything!’  The whole experience was amazing and she tells me how so much thought had been put into each element. The event was so welcoming, with beautiful stabling, a lovely stable manager and a drinks reception by the lake. Those competing at grassroots right through to 5* were treated with the same welcome and support. Nothing and no-one was considered an after-thought. Every rider who took part was awarded a rosette – an acknowledgement of just what an achievement it is for any horse and rider to take part in Badminton, at any level. Indeed as Sophie explains, it is especially hard for Scottish riders in particular to qualify, given the lack of opportunities to do so North of the border. 


Juno sporting his Badminton rosette – how amazing to have one of those hung on the wall?!

I conclude the conversation by asking Sophie what her aims for the future are? She replies that the dream would be to do a 2* this year, but it will depend on how many runs she is able to get at Novice. She doesn’t want to rush things, but given the whirlwind that has been their eventing journey so far, anything is possible for this talented pair! 



The Mystery of Marks with Jane Peberdy

By Lynne Clark
Event: Dressage Supporters Scotland, Dressage Demo
Photos: Karen Reid KPhotography

Most of us who have ever ridden a dressage test will have at some point felt confusion/mild irritation/full-blown anger (delete as appropriate! 😉) at some of the marks on our test sheet. Indeed the very fact that the demo to which this blog is dedicated is called ‘The Mystery of Marks’, denotes that there is often much confusion as to how and why judges award the scores they do.

Jane Peberdy & Cecilia Gladwyn

Enter Jayne Peberdy to illuminate us! As well as being a BD List 1 judge, Jayne is also on the BHS register of Instructors and holds the UKCC Level 3 coaching certificate. She trains a variety of dressage riders ranging from novice to advanced level, with this spectrum being reflected in the demo. The evening consisted of an impressive array of horse and rider combinations – Teresa Smith and Costa Rica II, Mhairi Niven and I Love You Too PC, Sarra Mayberry riding Lorna Anderson’s Danny Boy, Victoria Gladwyn and Sonnersted, and Fenella Ross with Creatzo.

The aim of the evening was to highlight what the judge is looking for at all levels from Prelim to PSG and to find out where those elusive marks come from. Riding a variety of test movements in accordance with their level, Jayne would assess them first with her judge’s cap on, doffing it then for her trainer cap, where she would work the horse and rider through exercises designed to improve the marks, before then putting her judge’s cap back on once more to reassess. In each case, the combination was awarded a higher mark the second time over. The fact that Jayne is both a trainer and judge works very effectively to illuminate where marks are won and lost because she is able to tangibly demonstrate improvements to horse and rider before your eyes. Suddenly marks on paper jump off the page into a more uphill canter or ground covering trot. What is interesting is that no matter what level combinations are competing at, training at home and riding in a test should ALWAYS follow the scales of training. They form the foundation upon which all else should be built, no matter the horse, the movement, or the level. As Jayne observed, the judge never loses sight of the scales of training, and neither should the rider.

Theresa Smith and Costa Rica II

Jayne explained from the outset that the purpose of a dressage test is to assess the ability and training of both horse and rider. It is the responsibility of the rider to develop the horses natural ability and not hinder the action you would see in the field. In other words, to nurture what nature has given it. This development is based on the scales of training, which, as Jayne explained, is also what judging is based on. She also emphasised from the outset that marks should be honest with helpful, respectful criticism. Any remarks should never damage or take away a riders confidence. Judging is about responsibility, not power.

As well as the scales of training, judges also work within the perimeters set by the scale of marks which they are able to award each movement.

To add further context to these scales, Jayne used the example of a medium trot. If there is no ground cover, then your mark will be a 4. If you manage but there are problems, say the horse is trying but running on, then your mark will be a 5. If you need more ground cover, a 6, could have been more ground cover, a 7 and if it’s good, then an 8 is awarded. Using one movement as an example to work through the score scale is helpful for the rider to gain a clearer comprehension of just how the pendulum swings from bad to better to good.

Sarra Mayberry on Lorna Anderson’s Warmblood, Danny Boy

Anyway, you’ve entered at A and are making your way (nervously in many cases! 😉) to the judge at C. What’s the first thing they are looking at? Well, as Jayne explained, the first thing that the judge thinks about is the overall picture. Is the eye drawn anywhere in particular? If it is, this normally indicates a problem as the overall impression should be pleasing to the eye, with nothing particular jumping out. If the overall picture is good and the eye is not drawn to anything in particular, then it’s an 8.  The next thing is rhythm and tempo (tempo being the speed of the rhythm), ground cover (back feet tracking over the front), suppleness (both laterally and longitudinal), contact (mouth closed and horse not behind the vertical), balance and acceptance. Indeed this is the criteria which form the basis for assessing any movements, whether it be at Prelim or Grand Prix.

Throughout the demo, Jayne was at pains to stress the importance of balance, balance, balance!  Balance is the common denominator of all the scales of training and it’s the yardstick against which judge’s measure any movement. Jayne used the effective analogy of being able to balance a glass of wine on top of the horses head. They should carry themselves in a rhythm in balance and accepting the contact so as not to spill any of that precious wine! Better balance equals better carriage. If the poll gets too low or if the horse’s nose is drawn back behind the vertical (creating a V shape under the neck instead of a U), then the wine gets spilt! (And lets face it, that would probably be a greater travesty to many of us than losing a mark! 😜) Jayne stressed that the judge is ALWAYS watching the riders balance and how she breaks the rider up into three separate Lego blocks, namely the head/neck/shoulders, middle and pelvis. The rider has a big responsibility to sit in balance because the horse tries to catch the balance when we don’t. If the horses neck is overbent because we aren’t sitting in balance on a circle (where the horses head and neck should be in line with the shoulders) or in a leg yield or half pass (where only the horses eyelashes should be visible), then be prepared for your mark to drop to a 6.

Mhairi Niven and I LOVE YOU TOO PC

Balance is also the key to developing suppleness (both laterally and longitudinally) and a supple horse is going to be able to perform movements much better. It’s key to the contact too. Riders should never draw the neck in with a backward hand, but should always ride the hind legs forward into the contact, with the horse lifting its back and drawing the neck out. Jayne used the analogy of the horse reaching forward for a bucket of carrots to demonstrate her point. You want to feel like you have two-thirds of the horse moving forward out in front of you (because another thing the judge doesn’t want to see is naggy legs from the rider!) Tellingly, when I have a chat with Jayne during the intermission (see below), she tells me that one of the most common mistakes riders make during a dressage test is using too much hand to balance the horse. The inevitable effect being that you draw the nose in and kill any flow of energy from behind. A bit like driving a car she says, you need to find the biting point between the accelerator and the clutch. If you’re all clutch and not enough accelerator, you’re going to stall.

Victoria Gladwyn and Sonnersted

The judge is also looking for an even contact in both reins too because any uneven pressure in the mouth will reflect in the body. Jayne asked each rider to assess how heavy/light the horse is in each rein and then set them various exercises designed to make the hing leg step into the light rein and even the pressure out. Talking about the legs, Jayne also explained how judges look for ‘air time’ when marking the trot and canter. For example, a canter that you could only fit a sheet of paper underneath is not going to score as highly as one that could fit a sheepskin rug under it. The judge is looking for the horse to jump off the ground like a spring when assessing the quality of the canter.  Higher up the levels, when one time changes are required (or any changes between or within the pace), Jayne explains that it should be as clear and sharp as switching a light on or off (and not a dimmer switch!) The horse needs to be adjustable. This prompted an audience member to ask a question about the importance of the horses breeding in dressage. Jayne replied that the degree of athleticism will always be dictated by the quality of the horses base pace, but that a less athletic horse should not be marked down as long as it is balanced.

Fenella Ross and Creatzo (Sorry folks about the image quality! It was taken by a #teamcountryways spectator)

Throughout the demo, Jayne was at pains to emphasise the importance of getting the basics right. If there is a problem with the basics, then you won’t progress. Simple as that. She explained that training for a dressage test is akin to running a restaurant. All the prep work should be done behind the scenes and the finished article presented at the test. Dressage is not magic she continued, but blood, sweat and tears. It’s about dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. Basics, basics, basics. Over and over. After all, as Jayne concluded, you have to learn all the letters of the alphabet first, before you can string a sentence together.


At the intermission, I grab a quick Q&A with Jayne…

Q: How do you find the balance between being a coach and a judge? Do the two compliment each other?

A: Yes, they go hand in hand. As a coach I am there to train the riders to perform the movements correctly and as a judge I am there to act as a video camera to tell the rider what I see.  Being a coach makes me a more sympathetic judge as I appreciate the hard work that goes into the training.

Q: Do you ever give out those elusive 10’s?

A: Yes, but not often. It has to be very special where you can’t imagine the movement done any better. Something that gives you goose bumps!

Q: What’s the biggest mistake riders make during a dressage test?

A: Allowing their nerves to rush the horse out of balance and using too much hand to try and balance the horse.

Q:What’s the best piece of advice you would give for riding a test?

A: Ride accurately and make sure you know your test to start with! Follow the scales of training at all times and ride the horse you have that day.

Q: How can riders ensure they have the best warm up that allows them to translate the work they do at home into a test?

A: When warming up, have a system. Know your horse and what works for it and stick to it. Don’t change everything up just because you are suddenly in a collecting ring and not at home. Follow the scales of training at all times and always let them set the tone for your riding.


Don’t miss our next event: A Dressage Master Class with Daniel Watson. Sponsored by Coutnry Ways and Ardene House Equine Vets. Tickets are still available. Please visit our facebook events page for details.

In Conversation with Cecilia Gladwyn: The Celtic Dressage Championships

Cecilia Gladwyn is a name synonymous with dressage. So when I was invited to have lunch with her to talk about her new initiative, the Celtic Dressage Championships (sponsored by Country Ways), I jumped (or do a small hop because I have a bad back and a dodgy knee) at the chance!

I have never met Cecilia before but I know of her by reputation of course. Mum to Victoria, an accomplished rider and trainer in her own right, Cecilia is a force to be reckoned with on the local and national equestrian scene. Her newest initiative is the latest in a life spent working and volunteering in the equestrian community. At least her life since having Victoria! Because as Cecilia explains, that’s where it all started…

Sonny 12 Apr 2019 (002)
Cecilia with Sonny 2019

Having come from a completely non-horsey background herself, Cecilia was somewhat surprised when Victoria showed all the tell-tale signs of being completely pony mad from a very young age (she had been bitten by that dreaded bug that sends shivers down the spine of many a parent!) Having cut her teeth initially on her rocking horse at home, Victoria then attended riding lessons at a local riding school, before being bought her first pony at 6 years old. This was the catalyst that lit the torch paper for Cecilia’s equestrian career. She explains that everything she has achieved started because she had a daughter who was obsessed with horses. That and the fact she had a real drive and willingness to learn. Perhaps in part because she was completely new to everything, so there was indeed a lot to learn. She explains how at Victoria’s first jumping competition for example, someone asked her whether they were going to walk the course? Neither Cecilia nor Victoria had any idea what that meant, and so Victoria went straight in with no idea where to go!

But their horizons were soon broadened, as so many are, by the Pony Club. Cecilia made sure to attend their lectures and became a stickler for making sure things were done correctly. She explains how Victoria was responsible for cleaning her own tack from a young age and she would only step in and fix anything once Victoria had went to bed. The lesson being one in work ethic and that it’s the effort which counts. She recounts a story of Victoria competing in cross country where she stopped and got off at a fence. Cecilia had no idea what her daughter was doing, until the fence judge told her that Victoria had been looking for the rubber fastening of her safety stirrup that had pinged off because she had better find it before her mum did! She laughs as she tells me that the story probably sums her up pretty well! 😂

Victoria and Sonny (002)
Victoria Gladwyn and Sonny

This is something which is keenly apparent from my conversation with Cecilia however.  That it’s the effort which counts. As long as people try their best and work hard, that’s what really matters at the end of the day.  It’s telling that when I ask her why she felt a particular affinity with dressage, she replies that it’s the effort required to discipline the mind when it comes to dressage that she is so impressed with. This discipline is something Cecilia herself has applied to her own experiences. She explains for example that it doesn’t matter that she has never ridden a horse before herself, for knowledge in anything is something that can be gained if you apply yourself to studying the subject intently.

But it’s also about making an effort with other people as well. Cecilia explains how she always made a special effort with new Pony Club members to make sure they felt part of the family (and to make sure they knew how to walk the course! 😉) Indeed making a difference to others is the legacy of Cecilia’s equestrian endeavours. An accountant by trade, her first official ‘horsey role’ was as Treasurer for East Aberdeenshire Pony Club. She was also responsible for setting up Ythan Riding Club in 1991 and more recently, spent the last 12 years until her retirement as BD’s Regional Development Officer for Scotland. Although with so much still going on and the establishment of the new Celtic Dressage Championships, it certainly doesn’t sound as if she is retired! 😉

Indeed the Celtic Dressage Championships (CDC) is really what I am here to talk to Cecilia about, though she is such great company and so knowledgeable that I could talk to her about all sorts for hours! The Championships are being sponsored by Country Ways, in association with The House of Montar and Pikeur, with the winners of each section going forward to be considered for the prize of becoming a Country Ways sponsored rider for a year! Wow! What an incredible opportunity! And I’m not the only one to think so if the amount of interest in the event already is anything to go by. As Cecilia explains, Scotland, and especially the North of Scotland, is seriously disadvantaged when it comes to access to Championship level competitions. Extensive travel is usually required, often to England or to the South of Scotland at least. The CDC is an attempt to address this imbalance, but that’s not the only impetus behind it. Crucially, the event is unaffiliated. As Cecilia explains, she wants every dressage rider in Scotland, not just ones defined by a particular organisation, to be able to take part. This is dressage for all. The desire for inclusivity is further extended by the fact that rather than beginning at Prelim, an Intro class will also be included, because, as she so empathetically observes, “everyone deserves the chance to be a Champion”.

Celtic champs

That this is the premise of the Championships speaks volumes not only about the event itself, but about Cecilia as a person. But having spoken with her at length about her experiences, it doesn’t surprise me.  This is a woman who values hard work as the leveller of the playing field (or dressage arena in this case). The sport should not be the privilege of the elite few. Nor should people feel intimidated to take part. Dressage should be there for us all to enjoy. And for every horse to enjoy too. For this is also a woman who values all horses of every shape and size and has a lifelong and heartfelt devotion to her own ones. She explains how many times horses have come to her and Victoria as short term projects and ended up staying with them forever! After all, every horse, no matter it’s capability, has something to teach it’s rider.

The Celtic Dressage Championships, embodying as it does Cecilia’s beliefs in not only hard work and discipline, but also in equality and inclusivity, is therefore a step towards not only changing the geographical landscape of the discipline, but the social and cultural one as well.

For more information about the Celtic Dressage Championships, please visit the event facebook page below, or email Cecilia Gladwyn at

By Lynne Clark