All Right, who had two plus 68% elementary wins at Belmoredean affiliated dressage last month, was Sara Simmons’ competitive driving trials horse for five years. Sara said: “In September 2014, as a nine-year-old, he got to the world championships in Hungary as a single horse and we ended up the best of the British-based horses. We beat the Australians and the Irish. Nine is quite young to get to that level and doing the journey to Hungary drained us physically, emotionally and financially and I needed to take a step back.
“Driving trials are a massive commitment. You are working them so hard from February to September and it takes its toll on you and them. And it is especially tough for a single horse doing the marathon. Being in a team is easier because they are herd animals — single horses have to be so brave. Sirus became very good at the marathon [see top of the page] but he had done as much as he could as a driving horse because his paces aren’t flamboyant enough to get top marks in dressage phase internationally. He is not active enough behind and hasn’t got a big enough extension — whereas at the level I’m doing BD dressage the judges are quite happy with what he can do.
“I’m not sure if I’ll take him back to competitive driving. It is a year since we started ridden dressage. He’s enjoying it and has progressed all the time and his way of going has got better and better and I’m enjoying training with James Rooney. I’ve found the judges are very positive about him. They always want more suppleness over the back but they will give him the marks if he doesn’t have a spook and a silly moment — I’ve struggled to cope without blinkers.
“I still drive him once a week, it will either be a troll round the village or in summer, round the woods — or we’ll do a driving demonstration. He took Santa Claus to the local school at Christmas. I do a bit of jumping with him, too. He and horses like him are so bright you have to keep challenging their brain. While Sirus is bright and clever he’s not all that confident, so if James and I tried to take him too fast in his dressage he would become over-faced and go backwards. Challenging him in other ways keeps him from getting up to mischief.
“I’ve worked so hard to get round the spooking but competing today (Belmoredean, 21 January) I actually felt I was able to ride the test. I had time to think okay, ‘leg-yeld now’, and how I was riding the corners. It was the first time he didn’t do anything to spoil his tests. So it was a massive step forward. We’ll go as far as we can in dressage and it’s a new challenge for me.”
Note: All Right is a Dutch Tuigpaarden harness horse (which is different from the true and usually heavier and leggier Gelderlander). The Tuigpaarden gene pool benefited from the British hackney stallions — among others Cambridge Cole who was awarded the Dutch keur predicate in 1981.
© Celia Cadwallader February 2016
Driving action photo, top, courtesy of Adam Wyllie