ANYONE who takes their riding seriously, especially those hooked on dressage, will tell you that right after the health and happiness of their horses, access to good training is central to their enjoyment and fulfilment. Few venues in the area offer training facilities and access to a range of trainers to compare with Four Elms Farm, near Edenbridge, Kent, as Out and About Dressage discovered this month.

CHOOSING A TRAINER, or perhaps a couple of trainers who may come at issues from slightly different directions, often means finding someone you feel empathises with your individual needs and goals — and who “likes” or “understands” your particular brand of equine. Do you want to enlarge your toolbox of schooling exercises, to improve your competition performance and test riding — or perhaps need someone prepared to support and mentor you in acquiring the knowledge and skills for a career in the equestrian industry?

The centre’s proprietor, Jane Manley, above, explains: “We like to offer something for every horse rider — from those who want improve their skill to increase their enjoyment of riding as a past-time and the local Limpsfield Riding Club — to people who are focused on affiliated competition.”
One day of most weekends, Four Elms hosts Limpsfield Riding Club training and competition activities. Limpsfield RC chair Alex Bonnell comments: “Four Elms has lovely facilities and the people there are very welcoming to the riding club. All our training clinics, including the Justine Sole training weekends, are open to non-members.” Visit Limpsfield Riding Club website  

Mette Assouline, Douglas Hibbert, Mary-Anne Horn and  Leanne Wall (click on blue bars for trainer profiles) all hold frequent clinics, while Olympian Emile Faurie also visits the centre when his international diary permits. The monthly pole work days run by trainer Emma McGurk (click on blue bar) are hugely popular. For more cross-training or for those who show-jump or event, Janine Lamy (blue bar) puts the centre’s set of show jumps to good use in seasonal jumping sessions. Training offered is available both to riders based at Four Elms and to those who box their horses to the centre.

The clinics are usually held in the 46 x 36m Martin Collins Ecotrak-surfaced indoor school which has training mirrors and a gallery viewing area. The centre also has a full-size 20 x 60m outdoor arena, surfaced with a sand/rubber/fibre mix which also has training mirrors. All yard facilities, can be accessed via mud-free, hard-surfaced yards and walkways.

Around 15 boxes in the centre’s indoor barn stabling are available for full livery. Jane says: “All of the horses, whether mine or belonging to an outside owner, receive the same high standard of care and the service is tailored to the individual horse’s needs. For example, we are happy to take in horses recovering from injury — and if a horse needs cold boots on three times a day, that is what it will get.”

She adds: “My sister and yard manager Sam Babington enjoys rehabilitative care, and we have all the facilities required on site, including a Monarch five-horse covered horse walker, restricted movement turn-out paddocks and a solarium. Our vet Tony Warr, who specialises in sports horses, comes to the yard one day each week and works through a ‘to do’ list and can always check a horse if an owner is worried about the slightest thing. He’s brilliant at picking up incipient problems so that we can take action to ensure they don’t get worse.” To contact Sam for livery enquiries, tel: 07730 038747.

Another key member of staff is Hayley Pile, head girl and rider of the Four Elms competition horses. Seen left, she is riding Take That, a five-year-old Danish horse that she has produced, on his first outing earlier this year. Training liveries are among Hayley’s responsibilities and she has the benefit of being able to discuss any schooling issues with one of the visiting senior trainers.

The farm, including woodland, extends to around 100 acres. Most is professionally farmed for cereal and grass. Some of the latter is divided into small paddocks. Four Elms Farm produces the hay consumed in the stables and it is all barn stored. The straw from cereal production is used for bedding, although shavings are offered as an alternative when required.

Four Elms Farm, located between Edenbridge and Crockham Hill, Kent, offers superb opportunities for hacking. Staying on the farm itself, riders are able to take their horse away from the training environment for a stretch and some relaxation or they can subscribe to TROT toll rides, and so have access directly from the farm to miles more off-road hacking as far as local National Trust beauty spots.

Livery Bernadette Briggenshaw, right, moved down from Buckinghamshire to live in Tunbridge Wells in Autumn last year with her advanced medium part-Friesian dressage horse Ravels Balero, ‘Olly’, 19, and her youngster Bellucio. She volunteered: “This is the best livery yard I could find and the one with the best facilities”

Bernadette explained: “Most important for me in deciding to come to Four Elms was the horse care and because it was so good I found that as an owner I could relax quite quickly. I felt able to go away for a three-week holiday, knowing I was leaving them in capable hands. Olly has a sensitive tummy and Sam, the yard manager keeps a close watch for any signs.” Bernadette takes advantage of both on-site training and hacking opportunities as a subscriber to TROT.

She concluded: “I don’t need to travel the horses anywhere. There are little competitions here for youngsters and, because of the clinics and club events, they get used to things happening around them.”

Mette Assouline: people who train with me are ambitious

Mette grew up in Denmark and has represented her home country across Europe. In recent years she has become a well-known figure on the British Dressage circuit riding horses that she has produced including the grand prix international competition and breeding stallion Forrest Gump. Mette has been based in the UK for many years with her husband Michel. Together they run Assouline Dressage, near Colchester, where they are both involved in training able-bodied and para riders.

Mette told Out and About Dressage: “My training approach is more driven towards the competitive, sport side of dressage rather than improving a combination’s dressage for its own sake. I like to analyse their performance and pinpoint where and why there are problems.

“I want to help riders learn what to do, what not to do and have an understanding of ‘why?’ I like to delve under the surface so that solutions to problems are achieved in the right way” 

Mette continued: “When you don’t see people regularly or frequently it’s important to me to know that when I point out why something is not working, say a walk pirouette, they appreciate the reasons, and are prepared to try a different approach. Otherwise you keep going down wrong the avenue.

“I don’t move on in the training unless a basic understanding has been achieved, otherwise people feel more confused and defeated”

“I give a lot of positive comments about what I see, so people leave with a feeling of achievement — but at the end of the day I’m a competition trainer, I’m not there just to give the rider a nice time and make them feel good. People who come to me are ambitious because they want to progress in their training to the highest level that they and their horses can achieve.

“You have to be aware your own capabilities. I’m involved with a lot with para riders and often they are not as physically able but willing to use their intelligence to find a way that works for them. You tell them what to aim for and what the judges want to see.

“Some of the ladies I teach may not get high scores, but they are interested in understanding the training process and the progression of training. They are interested in both the intellectual and physical exercise aspects of riding. That is what makes dressage interesting to lots of people.

“You become hooked by dressage when you start to become aware of how complex it is. You see it as a challenge but you’re not defeated by the challenge. The ones who allow themselves to become defeated are the ones who give up”

“Dressage is often a matter of trial and error but there’s no point in asking for something if bio-mechanically the horse can’t do it in a certain way. I want to be able to explain to riders the skills of training in a way they can understand and accept, and know why we follow ‘scales of training’.” To book a place on a Mette Assouline clinic, contact Jane Manley on 07771 634995.

Douglas Hibbert: inspiring confidence in riders' ability to improve

The name Douglas Hibbert also inspires a great deal of affection among the people he trains — as well as a lot of respect. He boasts neither UKCC nor BHS certificates, jokingly instead offering “Cycling Proficiency and 50m backstroke”). What he does have is a top drawer “on the job” education as a man who entered the equestrian industry as a teenager in the mid-1970s.

A major influence was Monica Goode, who herself trained with a former Swiss cavalry officer Captain Edy Goldman. Monica established the Ivy House Riding Academy in Northamptonshire. Douglas says he still hears echoes of her many dictums, one of which was, “We don’t pull on the inside rein at Ivy House”! By his late teens Monica was popping Douglas on difficult horses needing re-schooling and in return attending to his higher equestrian education with skills such as performing piaffe riding side saddle. Ivy House was in his spare time before or after a day’s work at his first job which was at the hunting/pointing stables of the famous Weatherby racing family. There he learned the correct (old-fashioned) way of running a yard efficiently and how to get horses fit.

Douglas’s first love was eventing. He told Out and About Dressage: “Most dressage horses are not fit enough and do far too much stable-to-the-arena, stable-to-the-arena. Horses must have variety in their lives. They must work on grass and over undulating ground. I don’t say they have to go hacking —  it’s not about endurance riding but…

“I do feel that if the horse won’t hack because it’s naughty or frightened, or whatever, that’s going to come out in its dressage because that horse isn’t fundamentally confident in you its rider and glorious leader and doesn’t have an understanding of the aids. If you say go, it must go. If it won’t pass something, it’s not about the ‘frightening object’ — the horse is not truly obedient which is what we are trying to achieve”

“I want to train people to be confident that they can be a better rider. A lot of us trainers are often also teaching people to train their own horses. It’s not like a riding school where you are teaching them the basics of rising to the trot. They need to learn how to ride and be better riders first but they are obsessed with being able to compete — they have to ride a half-pass or a flying change.

“Riders have to have the foundation before they can go on and get the competition results. Firstly, I teach the rider how to approach training the horse and to understand that it is ‘us’ that wants to do the half-pass — what motivation does the horse have? We have got to make his job as easy and pleasurable as possible”

“If it doesn’t feel nice to us as a rider, it can’t be feel pleasant for the horse, so why should he do what we are asking?

Above, Jane Lavington and Boston Deluxe showing off their piaffe in a session with Douglas

“It doesn’t matter to me if a rider doesn’t want ever to go to a competition. I mean that. All I want to do is help somebody enjoy their horse. If they don’t enjoy it, the horse doesn’t enjoy it. We all forget at times that we do this because we love horses. That gets missed a lot: why we ever got into it in the first place!”

For bookings on Douglas’s clinics, email Sarah Craighill  at sarah.craighill@outlook.com 

Mary-Anne Horn: I enjoy mentoring riders

 Mary-Anne is a well-known and much loved trainer and UKCC3 coach. She is also a respected and long-serving List 1 and FEI 4* para-equestrian judge. She has been involved with a number of young riders who have established careers in dressage. Among them, List 1 judge and BD Young Rider Selector Leanne Wall names her as someone who helped her along her career path. More recently Mary-Anne has helped Josh Hill, who is making a name for himself at National competition level — and Hayley Pile, who currently has an important role at Four Elms as head girl and is also establishing herself as both a trainer and competition rider.

“I’m the kind of person you can phone up and say, ‘my medium test didn’t go very well’ and I will discuss it.“Riders often need more consistent and frequent guidance and support. If occasionally you see a trainer at a clinic once one or two months, sometimes that isn’t enough and the rider wants and needs the regular input of someone who will support them.“It’s not just the training. It’s the support system as well”

Talking to Out and About Dressage, Mary-Anne reflected: “There is a good standard of horses available nowadays and there are a lot of good riders at the various levels but, whoever the rider may be, their responsibility is for their horse to be a happy athlete. For me that means finding a trainer who will consider the whole package — not just give you a lesson but be willing and able to discuss with you, for example, the horse’s welfare and feeding. I’m amazed when I ask people, ‘what do you feed your horse?’, that they haven’t got a clue!

“And riders also need an understanding of the biomechanics of the horse — I don’t quite know how you can get on a horse and not know how it moves. It’s not just about riding, it’s about understanding the horse, observing it on the ground and working it on the lunge.

“When I ask people, ‘do you work your horse on the ground?’ and I hear that they don’t, I wonder, how do you ever know what he looks like?”

“For me the most fascinating aspect of training a horse is that every one is different. As a rider, you not only need to get inside your horse’s head and understand him and his physique, but you also need to understand yourself as a rider. And, because every rider is different, too, that individual requires a different approach from a teaching perspective. The challenge for their trainer is to understand how both learn.”

Mary-Anne Horn teaches every Tuesday at Four Elms and also organises the clinic days of Olympic rider Emile Faurie at the centre. Commenting on her approach when she is sitting at ‘C’, she says: “As a judge I am really passionate about seeing good riding with good training.

“I believe dressage is an art form, and although we live in a competitive world, I look upon test riding as a performance, not necessarily as a competition. Our system lends itself to a lot of competitions and — if you’re not careful — it can end up with people chasing points to qualify”

“When competition takes priority, training can get a bit lost. Competition should be a test of your training and be used as an indication to the rider of how their training is going. A test is not the end of a journey — it’s a pathway to wherever you want to go, whether it is to do a good elementary or to reach grand prix.”

Mary-Anne herself when training took the BHS route, starting at Moat House, Benenden, Kent, when she was 17. After taking her BHSAI exam she stayed on as a junior instructor. Continuing to train while working at various other yards, she later achieved the Teaching and Stable Management sections of the BHSI qualification. Due to hip problems, she was unable to take the jumping part of the ‘I’ exam.

There is more information about Mary-Anne on this website, ‘search’ Mary-Anne Horn — horses in her life …and also see “Dressage is about the whole package” To book on a Mary-Anne Tuesday clinic, email maryanne_horn@hotmail.com or text 07824 639144

Leanne Wall: I like to encourage riders to be independent

Leanne Wall, UKCC3, BHSI and a Junior and Young Rider British Team selector as well as a List 1 judge, is a trainer full of motivating enthusiasm.

Her lessons are a dialogue between rider and teacher. In a training session she may well ask a rider to analyse what they’re feeling — what reactions they’re getting from their horse — suggest a correction to a problem and then ask what result the rider perceives in terms of the change in their horse’s performance.  She explains:

“I like to know that a rider understands what they are doing and why they are doing it and I like to give them a repertoire of exercises to be able to improve things as and when necessary, so that they develop an ever-expanding toolbox. Whoever I teach, I try to encourage the rider to be independent in their thinking.”

She adds: “With younger riders I think it’s important that they have fun and are in an environment that they feel confident and comfortable about. I want them to feel they can talk to me.

“I’ve found that very often mothers want to contribute if I ask a child a question. That’s fine, but it’s important to hear what the child has to say: I need to know if they understand what they are doing and if they’re happy with it or not — or if they’re scared or nervous. I like to be open and encouraging so that they can ask me anything, no matter how small.”

Leanne’s clients report enthusiastically about her ability to video their sessions with her. This means that the rider can watch and review their lesson and hear again the trainer’s advice on their mobile.

There is more about Leanne on this website, including Leanne’s Basics, her series of guides to riding basic novice and elementary movements — and the profile, Leanne Wall: a teacher of drive and enthusiasm. Also see the series of articles about BYRDS (British Young Riders Dressage Scheme)

Leanne’s sessions at Four Elms are booked through the Limpsfield Riding Club website. 

Emma McGurk: pole work develops horses' core strength

Emma McGurk, a BHSAI and UKCC2 coach, holds monthly pole work clinics at Four Elms that are hugely popular and book up fast. A series of sessions for small groups usually fill a whole day at the venue. She says: “You may have a dressage horse and not want to jump it, but it is important to be able to give dressage horses some variety and improve their athleticism.

Polework is good for horses’ core strength. We often talk about ‘top line’ but it’s as important for horses’ stomach muscles and core strength to be developed as it is for their riders’.

“When horses are asked to use their hind legs to step over a pole, they have to lift their stomachs to step under and forward. It also develops the strength and suppleness of the hip, stifle, hock and fetlock joints — and in all three paces. It develops the horse’s rhythm and the rider’s rhythm awareness and understanding, too.

Emma says: “I adapt the work to whoever is in a particular group and we have lots of fun.“People at all levels are welcome to take part: it doesn’t matter if you’re a happy hacker, or someone with a competition horse you want to improve”

“I like to keep my pole work groups thinking and inspired by constantly introducing new pole patterns and sequences and different challenges for the riders over the months. Frequent turns for example, develop agility and co-ordination — a long line develops swing, while poles on a circle are useful for comparing performance on either rein.

“Riders can be a bit nervous to begin with but by the end of their session they are attempting everything, so as well as everything else, pole work improves the confidence of horse and rider.”

Emma McGurk pole work sessions are booked through the Limpsfield Riding Club website.

Janine Lamy: jump training for gymnastic ability, confidence and competition

Janine Lamy, who has a background in the training of young event horses, is a UKCC registered coach and a Pony Club B Test Examiner.

Her clinics at Four Elms from October until March are aimed to people at all levels who want to jump including people competing affiliated up to BE100. She offers both half-hour private tuition and one hour group lessons for up to four people.

Janine competes her own horse Ehrentag in British Dressage competitions and together they are just about to move up to PSG. And she notes: “Jumping is a good opportunity for dressage riders to give their horses variety in their lives and enable them to learn to use their bodies in a different way which helps to improve overall gymnastic ability. It also helps to develop the confidence of the horse and rider and in their partnership.”

She adds: “It’s a lovely atmosphere at Four Elms and I’m able to offer people affordable lessons. We use the centre’s show jumps, have a quality surface to work to work on and have a roof over our heads in bad weather.” To book a lesson, email: jlamy666@hotmail.co 

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