Leg Yielding by Christian Thiess


Leg yielding is the most controversial movement in the gymnastic development of dressage horses. In part one of this two part article we look at some of the historical controversies that have surrounded the movement…

I must admit, that as a trainer with a few decades of experience behind me, I value leg yielding as a helpful tool for the horse preparation. Yet, I know that raising this subject and expressing my opinions, pits me against very prestigious horsemen of the past, such as the former Director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, and bronze medal winner at the Olympics in Berlin(1936), Colonel Alois Podhajsky.

In fact the controversy of whether the leg yield is a beneficial, or not such a good exercise in horse preparation, has a long history. The leg yield doesn’t belong to the school movements originating in the ‘de la Guérinière ‘ era (nearly 300 years ago).

Actually it was ‘invented’ in newer times and was much appreciated by the Germans. They adopted it right from the beginning, considering it to be an important enough aid that they added it to their cavalry instruction book in the past, and since then in all the official instruction books of the German National Equestrian Federation. This, surely, speaks for itself.

At the Spanish Riding School, on the other hand, their traditions remain unaltered since de la Guérinière: leg yield is hardly used, and then only to teach the young stallion to respond to the sideways aids. It is not used as a preparation exercise and here is where the conflict begins.

Louis Seeger (1798 – 1865) ‘inventor’ of the leg yield…

Louis Seeger, (Gustav Steinbrecht’s teacher), described leg yielding in detail in his Guide for Systematic Preparation of the Campagne Horse written in 1837, considering it an important tool. Since then leg yielding has been mentioned and described, with very few exceptions, in the most important equestrian books.

Leg yielding was treated separately as a warming up (loosening) and relaxing exercise executed on two tracks, but it was not considered as a lateral pace from the classical riding art point of view; for the classicist, collection is the main issue. And this is the point we have to keep in mind; leg yielding is not a collected exercise, and therefore its utility and purpose is different to the lateral movements, which of course means that our expectations for exactly what this exercise accomplishes must be different, too.

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As I mentioned before, leg yielding’s main characteristic is, that it is a relaxing, loosening exercise for the horse and if correctly executed has a great influence on the horse: firstly in teaching obedience to the rider’s leg, and secondly as a gymnastic exercise, it will improve suppleness and strength and the horse’s ability to take more weight in the hindquarters.

Let me share with you my experiences with using the leg yield in training of both rider and horse and the reason of my personal belief in the value of this movement as an equestrian tool.

But first we should analyse some of the objections raised against leg yielding:

  1. Some trainers believe leg yielding causes the horse to stiffen.
  2. Others consider leg yielding of no gymnastic value, because the hind legs are stepping laterally, and not enough forward, and therefore, not stepping in the direction of the horse’s and the rider’s centre of the gravity thus allowing the horse not to carry the full weight with the hindquarters.
  3. Another major objection is that it favours the horse falling over the outside shoulder.
  4. During the execution of the leg yielding, the horse may knock his forelegs against each other and hurt himself.

As you might have guessed, I disagree completely with these opinions, because the leg yield performed correctly – I underline performed correctly- relaxes the horse, teaches it not only to step sideways, but also to bend and engage the hind legs (especially the inside hind) in a soft, but efficient manner, while the firmer outside rein controls the outside shoulder, preventing an exaggerated bend at the neck. In this case the horse cannot fall over the outside shoulder nor knock its forelegs. And I repeat, this presupposes that, the correct angle is maintained, i.e.: the leg yield is asked for, and is performed correctly.

There are some more advanced riders who consider leg yield to be an exercise only for beginners and of no use for their level.

At clinics I often meet riders with horses ridden at medium or advanced level, but without the necessary relaxation, who show utter amazement when I ask them to ride leg yield. Surprisingly despite the level they have reached, most of them were unable to ride it correctly.

I also would like to mention the hesitation of some riders about leg yielding based on the theory originating in one of Colonel Podhajsky’s statements, that it is not necessary to teach the horse this movement (to flex opposite to the direction it is moving) because it will cause difficulties in teaching it the half pass later in its training.

What I would say to this is, would you believe that you should not teach your horse shoulder-in, because by doing so, it will not be able to learn travers or half pass; because in shoulder-in the bend is in the opposite direction the horse is moving?

In fact, leg yielding is the first step in teaching the horse shoulder-in; and shoulder-in is the foundation, the mother of all lateral movements. In my opinion, and by all means I am not the only one, leg yield is an invaluable exercise, with great benefits, for both horse and rider.

benefits for the horse follow


For the horse, leg yielding is one of the most important loosening and relaxing exercises and at the same time a movement which supples and gymnasticises its whole body.

The pushing sideways of the horse’s inside hind leg by the inside leg of the rider will teach the horse to respond to the sideways influence and the crossing over will prevent any tendency of the horse to stiffen the leg, will gymnasticise it, and will contribute to the loosening up of the muscles of the rib region on this side.

The position of the head, loosens up the poll and in taking the outside rein, the horse accepts the bit evenly, chewing on it actively and relaxed. (It relaxes the mandibular muscles and tongue muscles, which both have connections to the neck muscles and muscles of the poll area where the head joins the neck, from where the relaxation is spread out chain-wise to the neck, chest, shoulders, back and hindquarter muscles. In fact to the whole body.

A horse which doesn’t relax the mandibular and the tongue muscles cannot be entirely relaxed. That is why it is so important that the horse accepts the bit, and the sign of that is the actively and relaxed chewing.

As for the rider it helps them to round the horse and push it from behind into the bit in an efficient, encouraging manner thus increasing obedience to the rider’s aids.

So, to sum- up, leg yielding teaches the horse:

a.- to respond to the forward sideways driving aids of the rider.

b.- to step more under its body and to bend and engage the inside hind leg, a consequence to be followed by the outside one.

c.- to take and accept the outside rein and therefore the bit evenly and as a result of that, to loosen up, to relax.

d.- to get accustomed to the various leg aids, i.e. to engage the inside hind leg, through the inside leg aid of the rider, encouraging it to cross over and sideways of the outside one, and in the next moment through the guarding influence of the outside leg aids, rather to step forward and sideways than to fall out with the \ outside hind leg.

Thus the leg yield teaches the horse to move laterally, which actually makes it easier for the introduction of shoulder-in, the foundation of all the lateral movements.

It is vitally important that leg yield is only performed at medium walk!

It can also be used at working trot, but I don’t advocate this for the following reason, if it is done at the trot you will be confronted with a loss of impulsion. This is because of the increased angle leg yielding is normally executed – 45 degrees. Think about it with me, the impulsion is the power, the energy, the swing created by, and originated, in the horse’s hindquarters at trot and canter. This produces the moment of suspension.

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If the horse is working straight, or performing any of the classical lateral movements, such as shoulder-in, travers, renvers or half pass, where the bending through its body will not, or at least should not, exceed an angle of 30 degrees, this impulsion will flow from the hind legs through its swinging back, then through the relaxed neck to the mouth and via bit and rein will be transmitted to the rider’s hands.

This impulsion is literally ‘captured’ by the rider’s hands and transformed into contained power.

This contained power is then redirected back in the same way (via rein, bit to the horse’s mouth, then through the neck, back) into the hindquarters, thereby increasing the power of the impulsion. In this case the rider will experience in their hands the feeling as if they are holding a taut bow.

At leg yielding, as I mentioned before, due to the increased angle (45 degrees) the impulsion will not be transmitted through the horse’s body, but will be directed on a path near it and be wasted. The horse will ‘fall out’ through the outside shoulder and without impulsion flowing ‘through’ the danger of losing the forwardness of the movement is increased (loss of carriage_and cadence).

In addition to that, executed at trot, the leg yielding, because of the increased lateral drifting action of the hindlegs, may put unnecessary pressure on them, especially on their joints. There is also the possibility of the forelegs crossing over and knocking into each other, causing injuries.

Performed at walk, the walk being a pace without impulsion, you have nothing to lose or waste: you cannot lose something you never had!

For a better understanding I would like to clarify this point. Perhaps you have read some articles about impulsion at the walk. Unfortunately, the author has confused impulsion, which is the power or energy produced by the horse’s hind legs pushing strongly into the ground (at trot and canter creating moments of suspension in these paces), with the forward urge and industriousness which has to be present in a forward-ridden walk.

I would also advise to use leg yield as the best correction for horses that have lost the quality of the walk through lack of correct riding (horses that were ‘pulled together’, i.e. the rider has used proportionally more hand than leg supported by the seat).

A horse performing a correct leg yield (ridden from behind into the outside rein and accepting the bit evenly) can’t amble or jog, it can only step clearly in a four beat walk.

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And now, let’s look at benefits of leg yield for the rider.

a.- Firstly it helps the rider to improve their fine riding feeling by learning the application of how much leg to how much seat and how much hand. In other words, as a rider, it helps to develop the proper proportion in the co-ordination of leg, seat and rein aids: it helps you to fine tune your aids to any particular horse.

If you use too much leg, the horse will overreact and increase its angle until it turns around or stops. If you don’t use enough leg the horse will not perform any lateral movement.

If you use too much hand the horse will shorten the neck, will come behind the bit, cease to move forward, get tense and some will even step backwards or fight against such a mistreatment. If you don’t use the right proportion of rein aids the horse will come above the bit, hollow the back and drag the hind legs.

If you don’t sit on both seat bones putting just a little more weight on the inside one, you are not supporting your leg aids properly and the horse may not step under or laterally well enough.

b.-Leg yielding also teaches and trains the rider to apply the alternate leg aids, at the correct moment and in connection with, and as a part of corresponding half parades.

c.- Leg yielding teaches the rider to apply lateral aids, improving their ability to push the horse with the inside leg into the outside rein and therefore to ride it evenly into the bit. It also teaches them to use the outside leg in a forward driving, or depending on the horse’s reaction, in a guarding manner.

d.- Leg yield helps you as a rider to get tuned-in to any horse you ride for the first time, in the most efficient way.

Now that I have without doubt convinced you of the enormous value of this movement, let’s move on and be clear about its finer points.

Leg yielding together with the turn on the forehand is one of the first and easiest to execute gymnastic exercises for the horse on the scale of movements that are arranged in a successive order from their degrees of difficulty in the dressage preparation, culminating in this progression with the most demanding, as Piaffe and Passage, followed by the airs above the ground (Pessade, Levade, Ballotade, Capriole, Croupade, Courbette).

Want to see the best Dressage Horses in the World? You can, come to the WEG in September 2018 – for information: http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/2017/04/travel-with-us-to-the-weg-next-year/

The moment to begin to use leg yielding in your everyday preparation is when the inside leg of the horse is ready to carry more weight through the previous preparation performed on one track i.e. through properly executed turns (riding correctly and deep enough through corners) or circles of different sizes. The turn on the forehand is a good introduction for leg yielding.

The leg yield is a movement performed on two tracks and four lines, i.e. each leg is moving on its own track line. The horse has to be straight in itself, being slightly flexed (positioned) at the poll against the direction it is moving. Leg yielding belongs to the lateral movements despite the fact it isn’t a collected exercise and has to be done at medium walk. At the beginning it can be ridden at a shortened walk, aiming to help the horse to understand what is required.

It has to be done on long, diagonal and circle lines and never on the short sides of the arena. These short sides should be used to refresh the medium walk, driving the horse more forward, using the forward urge created in this way to maintain the energy and activity necessary for performing the next leg yield down the next long side.

The angle of the horse to the track line it is moving along, has to be between 30 to at most 45 degrees, because it has to move more forwards then sideways, while its inside legs have to step over and in front of the outside ones. If the angle becomes more than 45 degrees, the horse will step more sideways than forwards, and as a result will not be able to engage its hind legs under the body to carry weight and it will cease to take the outside rein (and therefore the bit properly), and as I mentioned before, the gymnastic influence of the leg yield exercise will be lost. If this happens you have to interrupt the exercise, straighten the horse on the track line, ride forward at medium walk and try leg yield again focusing more on the restraining, guarding influence of your outside leg and rein aids.


Travel with us to the WEG next year – September 10 – 24, 2018

Why should we be so excited about the next WEG?

Because it is only the second World Equestrian Games to be held in a state-of-the-art purpose built equestrian centre (the other, of course, was Aachen, and we know how fantastic that was…)

The Equestrian Centre at Tryon has already hosted top level dressage, showjumping and eventing (course designed by Captain Mark Phillips) and it should be the perfect venue…

But!  There’s always a ‘but’ – accommodation in area is almost impossible to find. Kerrie O’Dea from our travel partners, Organisation Unlimited, loves a challenge, and she has found the perfect resort / hotel just half an hour from the venue, and has secured every room for our tour group. Go Kerrie.

Why travel with THM/OU? Because we have been running WEG tours since the first one in 1990, we know what to look out for, and how to make things work. We do our homework. Kerrie has visited Tryon twice putting the trip in place. We take care of all the fiddly details – like how to get to the venue, to the competition arena, and back each night to our resort. And with Kerrie, expect the unexpected, she always finds somewhere unique for our WEG celebration dinner.

Oh yes, you also get all the info we can snaffle from the press room. Start lists, results, and a happy hour debrief every day. When there is nothing happening at the WEG, there will be day trips organized. Really, all you have to do is ask someone who has been on a THM/OU trip before…

  • Chris Hector

North Carolina

North Carolina is a treasure chest of historical towns, battlefields and folksy mountain hamlets. One of the great things about North Carolina is that it offers a taste of everything for travellers and especially a chance to sample Southern Hospitality.

These are friendly people, who know they live in a very pretty part of America. Drop the diet to feast on Carolina barbecue and fresh seafood, washed down with a few pints from its impressive craft brewing scene.

Tryon, North Carolina

The quaint Village of Tryon is located on the first rise of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tryon is known for its wonderful people, outdoor activities, mild climate, small town shops, great restaurants and a rich equestrian history.

Typically, quirkiness is regarded as intangible, but in Tryon’s case, it is palpable. The friendly, offbeat personality is a big part of what makes Tryon special.

It’s a pretty amazing mix – quaint village on the first rise of the Blue Ridge Mountains – and state of the art equestrian centre! But you will find lots to enjoy in the cute village Tryon itself. Tryon is known for its hospitality, small town shops and great restaurants, here is a chance to sample real southern hospitality, to enjoy the rich cultural heritage of a charming town…

The Equestrian Centre is the brain child of billionaire, Mark Belissimo, the man behind the amazing Florida showjumping and dressage circuit. Tryon has already hosted top class dressage, showjumping and eventing, it’s ready and waiting for the WEG.


Flat Rock, NC 28731, USA

For the WEG 2018 we have secured out very own retreat where THM travellers will have exclusive use.

We must confess that for a while we were looking just a bit desperate. Tryon has great equestrian facilities, but accommodation is going to be at a super premium – then we found it. A friendly, welcoming place, in a superb setting, and just half an hour from the action. It’s an unbeatable combination…

Poised atop 26 scenic acres on a private lake in the town of Flat Rock in Western North Carolina, this is the ideal base for our WEG. It has everything we want – and the food is good.


 24 hour front desk – Restaurant – Swimming pool – 26 acres to explore

and if you are feeling adventurous – 40 acres of lake with canoes and kayaks

Organic garden growing herbs and vegetables

Laundry facilities on site and all the regulars, ice machine, coffee / tea maker, hairdryers, iron and ironing boards…

For more information ring Organisation Unlimited on (03) 9926 3555 or email, ouequestrian@organisationunlimited.com.au or if you would like to talk about the trip with Roz or Chris, phone us on 03 9421 3320…


The National Eventing Champs at the Paul Pace Country Equestriad.

Story – Chris Hector                               Pix – Roz Neave and Rodney’s Photography

In the week leading up to the Equestriad in Camden, we published an article I’d written about a school with the late Tina Wommelsdorf, back in 1986. The article obviously struck a chord since it rapidly went viral: 61,070 views and 235 shares. Tina’s message was mind-bogglingly simple, you can’t ride if you can’t ride: the basis of everything is a secure, sympathetic seat, independent hands and an ability to use the aids discretely and accurately. And for the riders who hadn’t got to this first base, Tina’s solution was simple:

Cross the stirrups, tie the reins, and get someone to lunge you until you can sit.

But thirty years down the track, it would seem Australia’s riders haven’t got the message – or that was the sad conclusion I drew after watching a dozen two and three-star riders school their horses at Camden on the day before the official action commenced. Out of the twelve riders, there was one (1!) who sat adequately, easily into the saddle, soft to the movement, sweet (and STILL) lower leg, and soft, independent hands, and her horse was of course the only one that went nicely.

Ah, wingeing, grumpy old man, what would you know, those riders have won big classes, they include some of our best. But the trouble is, our best are not good enough. Australian eventing dressage is lagging far behind the rest of the world, and this shows in the scores. The winning score in the three-star here would be flat out making the top ten at a big international competition, and find it difficult making the top 20 at a championship. And Tina is still right, until our riders are prepared to bite the bullet and get someone to lunge them regularly, then they are not going to get any better because the way they sit, sets off a whole set of chain reactions: horses with tight backs (and yeah, that makes it even harder to sit), horses that come above and below the bit, horses that are bridle lame (I saw one horse at Camden that was so blocked that it was showing three types of bridle lameness at the same time) and most importantly of all, horses that are not relaxed and supple enough to show what movement they have.

                                           Katja and her first ride, Flamboyant

Luckily all the three-star horses were not included in my dreadful dozen, and there were a few decent tests in the class, decent, not great. Katja Weimann on BP Flamboyant was oh so close, but the occasional grab at the bit and loss of rhythm pulled the test down. And why oh why do horses come into arenas in Australia with their necks lathered with sweat? It ain’t a good message to the judges.

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Don’t miss out on this great offer from Ariat

Katja is headed to Germany to work with German team eventer, Dirk Schrade, and is taking three horses with her: Cosmopolitan, Escapade and Flamboyant. Three horses that Katja bred herself, and all by the Hanoverian stallion, bred in Australia by Remi stud, Triathlete, that Katja evented successfully.

                          Another bred and trained by Katja, Cosmopolitan

Is this your last event in Australia for a while?

“Yes, I’m off to Dirk’s, leaving at the end of May. Hoping to compete at Luhmühlen, hopefully at Aachen, and then I’m not sure after that, we’ll see how we go.”

Why Dirk?

“I spoke to a couple of people. Bettina (Hoy) said I could go to her, but she is busy now with the Dutch team and she doesn’t have turn out. She said, Dirk might be a really good place. I met him when he was over for Equitana a couple of years ago, speaking to him on the phone, he sounds lovely, very funny.”

He’s quite a horse dealer so I guess you will get more riding opportunities with him…

“I hope so. Three horses is very quiet for me, I have anywhere from eight to ten in work at home, so hopefully I’ll be riding some of his.”

No limits on when you come home, just see what happens?

“I’ll stay there for at least a year or more. Once you’ve taken them over there, it seems silly to bring them back too soon. I’ll see if I can prepare for the WEG over there. It’s going to be a different experience, I’ve always wanted to take horses overseas. I’m not sure if I’ll stay in Germany, I might go to the UK for a bit, it’s an adventure, it should be good.”

All three are by Triathlete, but are they related on the dams’ side?

                                    Katja’s Escapade, youngest of her three

“All different. Flamboyant is out of the Star Kingdom line Thoroughbred mare, the dam of BP Gallantry that I used to ride. Cosmopolitan is out of a Connemara / Warmblood cross mare, he’s the over-grown pony, and Oscar (Escapade) is out of a Thoroughbred mare by Esperanto. It’s quite nice to have got them all to this level, seeing as Triathlete didn’t have the chance to go three-star because of his health problems.”

Cheaper than buying them…

“True, but it has taken an awful long time to get them there.”

You’ve walked the course, what is your impression?

“It looks good, the going looks good. The course is much the same as previous years, it flows nicely – we’ll see how it rides when we get out there.”

Next we talk to Megan Jones

Megan Jones has been out of the limelight for a while, steadily moving through the lesser grades with a couple of home bred youngsters and Megan’s mare, Kirby Park Impress, really is impressive. This is another test that is oh so close to being stunning and the problem is, I don’t know who is supposed to add the polish and take our riders to the next level.

I did suggest that EA approach Bettina Hoy, on the grounds that she was strong in her dressage, and also had huge experience at big international shows, two things sorely lacking in the Rio management team. No interest, and now she is coaching The Netherlands, and the Australian team management is now made up of a part-time Chris Webb, who doesn’t pretend to know anything about dressage and Gina Haddad, whose CV includes a stint as the State Pony Club Eventing coach and heading up the equestrian program at New England Girls School. As Gina Harp, she competed three-star and was tenth in a selection trial for Atlanta. I’m not sure how much Gina will have to do with the senior riders, since Chris Webb told me she would mainly be involved with the younger riders coming through. Gina comes from the Heath Ryan school of eventing dressage…

For Megan it is a welcome return to the big time…

“It has been a while but it doesn’t bother me, because I just love the sport for the sport and if you are always trying to get on those teams, and that is the thing that consumes you, then you are going to send yourself crazy. I knew I had two good horses coming through. They were a bit weak in the two-star so we took our time. Jester was retired and Allofasudden was sold to a young rider in New Zealand, so you just refresh, stay happy with the sport, and start again.”

  Another rider to breed and train her own, Megan and the elegant Kirby Park Impress

“It’s nice, we bred both of my three-star horses. They are stock horse / Thoroughbred crosses. The mare, Impress is out of a Mustern Lake mare, by our stock horse stallion, Nantamboo, and the gelding, Invader is from a Salmon Leap mare – quite old fashioned Thoroughbreds. They are just beautiful horses to work with, but very different. Freckles (the gelding), he sees everything, he is spooky. A tarp attacked him at Camperdown one year, part of the trade stand. He is just really scared of spooky stuff. Adelaide in the two-star, he saw the big TV screen and he absolutely lost his mind. So we thought, what can we do? We couldn’t go back in there, couldn’t work on the side of the arena where he could see the screen, the stewards kept sending me away.”

                                  Megan and her spooky one, Invader

“So we went to the shops and bought balloons and blew them up and tied them inside his stable, put them on the ground in his stable, bandaged him up and closed the top door and walked away. Left him to deal with balloons around his legs and in his stable – next day he was de-sensitized, nothing can be worse than my stable, get me out of here. From that point on his paddock was covered in tinsel and bunting, and safety tape, Christmas decorations on his gate, by his feed bin, in the stable – we just keep bombarding him the whole time. He still looks at things, like yesterday, he wouldn’t walk out of the arena, because there was white paint on the ground.”

And the mare?

“A unicorn. A chestnut mare unicorn. You just ride her with your mind, she is amazing, you think whoa, you think go and it happens. She’s my slowest horse and my fastest horse because you never have to touch her cross country. She is big in her movement, it has taken a long time to get her to sit on the flat and carry herself. She always looked flash but she really wasn’t because she was so wide behind and long, and over tracked a bit too far.”

“But they are both nine now and coming together really well.”

It must be nice, it is the first time you’ve had two horses level pegging so you are not totally relying on one…

“Exactly. Things are changing, James and I bought a property, and we moved last week. Not far from Kirby Park in Woodside, I am still teaching at KP a few days a week. So we have our own place, it is kind of terrifying but exciting, finally moved out of home at forty!”

I guess you are thinking about the WEG next year?

“I am doing Sydney on the mare, and Werribee on the gelding, and from there to Adelaide.”

So you are looking to be selected out of Australia?

“Absolutely, especially now we have bought somewhere, we can’t afford to go overseas. I still believe that we should be able to be picked from here and I am not going to cave in. I don’t want to go overseas, we’ve got good events here, good support teams, we can do it out of Australia.”


Tim Boland sits nicely and at the end of the day, he was sitting pretty in first place on GV Billy Elliot with a score of 41.5. Megan and Impress were second on 44.4, with young rider – tackling her first three- star – Gemma Tinney riding Annapurna, third on 46.7. Adelaide winners, Hazel Shannon and Clifford were 6th on 50.5.

                     Tim and Billy Elliot, sitting pretty after the dressage

In the run up to the Equestriad, EA released the Australian squad for the Trans Tasman to be held at Werribee. Not only did the list include the truly diabolical but it also left out a couple of names you would have expected to be there – names like Tim Boland and Megan Jones…

I asked Tim, did you ask not to be considered for the Trans Tasman team?

“No, I was told I wasn’t on the short list last night, then I was told you needed to apply. I’m not a real devotee of social media so I was completely unaware. I would have thought you just select the best team from results and that’s all there is to it. You don’t apply to be on an Australian team, we all want to be on an Australian team and that’s why we do it.”

It’s the weakest lineup I’ve ever seen, I would have thought you might find a place there…

“I’ve no intentions of going overseas this year, so the Trans Tasman has been my target all along. I would love to be in the team, and I still haven’t given up hope. I genuinely got a shock when I was told last night who was on the list.”

Billy has had a history of soundness problems…

“Up and down. It’s very well publicised that he’s had two leg injuries and he’s come back from those leg injuries well. He did a full season in Europe both times, it’s not like we are battling old horse problems. He’s had two injuries and we’ve been very careful how we managed him back. I’ve got him back in good shape, and aside from a disgraceful display in Adelaide, he’s had two starts this year and couldn’t have gone better. He went to Sydney at the beginning of the year and won there, great dressage, double clear, and then had a hit out just last weekend at Quirindi in an open/intermediate, great dressage and double clear and ran second, just had a canter round. He’s in tip-top shape. I was happy enough with his dressage here – he was quiet, he could have had a lot more expression in the canter, but everything else was good. There’s a lot of canter in that test and he’s got a terrific canter, I just under-played it. I should have shown off his terrific stride more but that’s why we come to these events, to get better.”


When I ask Chris Webb about Tim not being in the squad, he says that the riders have had to apply to be selected for a long time, and that Tim as rider rep on the National Eventing Committee should have known the procedure. Then it degenerates into a he said / he sent / no he didn’t/ squabble. I guess really Chris has to decide whether he wants perfect procedure, or the best possible team for the Trans Tasman.

               Still in first place after the showjumping, Tim and Billy Elliot 

The showjumping did not alter the placings greatly. Tim and Billy Elliot, Megan and Impress, Hazel and Clifford, all clear, as was Katja on BP Cosmopolitan, to haul herself up the leader board after being 11th after the dressage.

          Katja and Cosmopolitan move up the leaderboard after the showjumping

Before the cross-country even began, the field started to fall away. Tim Boland said he wasn’t going to ride his two, Billy Elliot and Napoleon, over bad going, while Hazel felt that the ‘going wasn’t too bad. I just don’t feel like I need the run. I just did Albury and he felt fantastic and made time easily.’

This year at the Equestriad, the Australian Eventing Title was up for grabs. In the past the Eventing Championship has been shuffled of to all sorts of out of the way places, and there are a few names on the honor roll that you’ve never heard of. Bringing the Championships to Camden was a good move, but it seems that something might be needed to give the title a little more allure – at Adelaide last year there was an odd event called the crown of somethings, which paid a cool 10K to the winner, who was probably the only person to notice that it had happened. Transfer that $10,000 to Camden and the Australian Title, and watch the competition boom.

              Katja and Flamboyant, early to go cross country, in the sunshine

                     Katja and Cosmopolitan, second place, up from 11th after the dressage

Who would be an event organizer, or an eventing photographer? After brilliant weather all weekend, just as the action reached something of a climax in the three-star, one mighty cloudbank rolled in, and the leading three-star horses made their way home through the rain and in the dark.

                 At the end of the day, rain for Megan and Impress

In the end it was Gemma and Annapurna who came home with just 14.8 time to take the Oz Title. Katja was second on Cosmopolitan, 10.4 time, while Megan and Impress were third with 23.6 time…

I suggest to Gemma that it is too easy, you just rock along to your first CIC three-star, win that and along the way collect an Australian Title…

“I wouldn’t say it was easy, but I’m really happy with the result and with how Annapurna went, to win the class was the cherry on top of the cake.”

You copped the worst of the weather, the gloom and the rain, did that make it harder?

“It was difficult, but the last time I was at the Equestriad and did my first CNC three-star, it poured down with rain so I’d been on that course in those conditions before, it was just a matter of focus. It was a bit slippery and I didn’t have the right studs in, but it all worked out well.”

More from Gemma below

You seem to have an incredible empathy with your mare…

“We do get along really well. She’s a really nice mare, not difficult at all and she goes so well for me.”

She doesn’t seem to be as quirky as her big brother (Annapurna is out of the same mare as Stuart’s Olympic ride, Pluto)?

“They are different and they have their own ways and their own little quirks…”

What are her quirks?

“She can get a bit hot, so when I go into the dressage, I ride her around the outside on a loose rein to keep her calm. She’s a very fit horse and has lots of energy so I just stroll into my tests with a long rein and it seems to work well.”

I watched you and Stuart when you were walking the showjumping course, and your Dad obviously plays a big role…

“When I am in that sort of environment, I want him by my side the whole way so I can get the best performance that I can. I’m just grateful for his help.”

You are listed in the Young Rider Trans Tasman team at Werribee, what are the plans between now and then?

“I’m going to do the CIC*** at Sydney and then off to Melbourne.”

And being the perfectly brought up young eventer that she is, Gemma took time out to thank her sponsors, Horseland and Bates saddles, plus a big thank you to owners of Annapurna – John and Jane Pittard.

Catching up with the hyperactive Shane Rose at the best of times is difficult, but when he is running a show with 650 entries, and flying out of the country to compete in Badminton, just hours after the final horse jumps at Camden, then it gets really difficult, but I did pen him down long enough to ask about the genesis of the event…

Did you always work on the basis of having 500 horses in the lower level classes, to finance the fancy end of the Equestriad?

“Not really. When we first did this, I just felt that people could be a bit more expressive in how we ran shows, like what they do in Europe. People go to Aachen, or Badminton or Burghley and don’t actually see a horse. And I thought we could try and bring some of that here. Later on today, we’ll have face painting for the kids, a jumping castle and a petting zoo. Things that are unrelated to the horse show. I also wanted to bring in the big screen and give that experience to our horses, experience we haven’t had in the past except at Adelaide. Quite often when horses see the screen for the first time, they don’t react well and as they get used to it, they get better at it.”

      Of course Shane had to find time to ride home-bred Swiper in the Two-Star

“That was my intention, how I was going to fund it, never entered my mind. It’s a bit like most things, you start and then you figure out you have to earn more money. If you create a good framework, then people want to come to the show, by people I mean the elite riders, put on a good show, and they bring all their horses and then the people who are just enjoying the sport at that lower end, want to come and ride with those good riders, come to the event and have fun and be part of it. Then it snowballs.”

But 650 entry fees must provide a reasonably substantial economic base for you to play with…

“At this CIC we run a fairly big budget, certainly not as much as Adelaide and Sydney, but big – we throw a lot of money away in the hospitality tent, hiring the big screen, things like that, because that creates our atmosphere. We are lucky that it is such a good venue that we can spread it out in three different areas so while there are close on 700 horses here, it doesn’t feel manically busy. Having said that it’s always a thing that grates a little with me, the idea that the lower levels fund the sport. I personally think I put more money into the sport than any of those individuals, but it is the collective of those lower level riders, the sheer numbers, the fact that we can have 700 here, does fund the sport.”

“My intention was that I wasn’t going to run a horse show for the rest of my life. When I first started I just wanted to show people that it can be done…”

“I been lucky with the people involved. When we started we had a bunch of riders who live in the area and I said, come on guys we can do a better job of running an event.”

more from Shane below

Will the Equestriad be long term viable – we’ve had wonderful shows in the past, all the product of one mad genius at the centre, and they go brilliantly until that key person burns out and the show disappears…

“Yes – absolutely. What we are trying to do here, and our committee is growing, which is testament to the fact that the people on the committee are easy to work with, and we try to have a fun environment to work in. Our philosophy is that this is not about any individual. It is not about me, it’s not about anyone on the committee, not about the ground jury, or the technical officials, it is about us as an organizing committee and the technical group, putting on a show for the riders.”

“When we have our working bees, we have 20 or 30 people turn up, I think there are a lot of committees that would love to have that level of participation. We try to make that fun too, a beer at the end of the day, lunch is provided, so there is a good group of people who enjoy each others company. As the show gets bigger, we are fortunate to have more people come into the committee. And whilst people think I am a control freak, I am quite happy for other people to take on the responsibility.”

And that poor stray dog that no one wanted, the Australian Eventing Championship – does it finally have a good home?

“We’d love to keep it but that is Equestrian Australia’s call. We’ve certainly got it for next year and hopefully we do a good job. I’m a little biased but I think this is a great show, and the Australian Champs fits well in that format – and we’d love the opportunity to give it a home. But it is not just the championship, I think if you can win this event, then you can win Adelaide, and the stats will prove that. You don’t have to do this event to win Adelaide, but I think the track is tough enough and if you can get around here, it puts you in a really good place as you head to Adelaide.”

And Shane and Nikki and the quartet of Rosettes grabbed their bags and headed to the UK, and the next Shane Rose adventure – Badminton. Watch this space.

RodneysPhotography         Specialising in Equestrian Photography

*Eventing *Showjumping *Dressage *Show Horse        Onsite printing available

Contact us – Email: info@rodneysPhotography                        Phone: 0415 555 565

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Chris Hector takes a lesson with Tina Wommelsdorf

We published this story back in 1986, it is a sobering thought that 30 years down the track, the same fundamental problem shows itself over and over again in the dressage arena…

You’ve probably witnessed the conversation a hundred times.

The horse has disgraced himself.

The offence may vary. Perhaps he cantered too fast, or too slow, or refused to canter at all – the post mortem often has a depressing sameness: Perhaps he is sore, maybe you should try BTZ? Do you think his teeth might need attention? Have you tried him in a mechanical hackamore? I had a horse that wouldn’t canter and my chiropractor had him right in ten minutes! It’s his breeding, those XYZs are always a problem…

And on and on goes the list, and all the time the cause of the problem is sitting right there (literally) in front of them. The rider simply cannot ride well enough to expect the horse to perform!

The horse has not yet been born that will continue to function with the rider bouncing, gripping in the saddle and pulling on his mouth. Sure, you can bang a double bridle on his head and hide the problem for a while. Or get one of the fix-them-quick experts to do an instant ‘re-education’ job on him – to bash him into submission for a while, but eventually the truth will out.

Eventually he will run through the most severe bit. Eventually no amount of bashing will cower him into submission. And then we are back with that original, inescapable conclusion.

The problem lies not with the horse but with the rider… and it is a case of rider heal thyself.

Of course there will be some who take the other option. Sell the horse as a hopeless case (he probably is by now), and start in on wrecking another. That this sort of process is repeated time and time again all over the land, is a everlasting condemnation of those instructors who are more interested in telling their clients what they wish to hear than offering them a simple and surefire solution:

‘We will just have to get your position right. On the lunge, with no stirrups or reins, until you are secure in your seat.’

It is not such a pleasant experience, but a month or so on the lunge can be the beginning to a lifetime’s enjoyable riding, for both horse and rider, and surely is not such a price to pay?

Of course there are some instructors who will not absolve the rider and blame the horse. Instructors like Tina Wommelsdorf. Tina has travelled the length and breadth of Australia spreading the message that riding starts with the rider. Go to one of her schools – as I was fortunate enough to do recently – and the message is hammered home.

The horse’s problems are problems caused by the rider. Until the rider learns self discipline, no success can be achieved.

It is not a fashionable message, not a welcome one to many, but Tina has seen fashions come and go. She has seen the gimmick trainers with their instant solutions come, and just as quickly go… and nothing in their routine of miracle cures has caused her to deviate from the principles she learnt in ten years at the German Riding School. Principles that were re-inforced and hammered home by the late Franz Mairinger, The principles by which Tina trains her own horses, and. the same principles that produce the greats of the dressage world, like Dr Neckerman, like the present day superstar, Dr Klimke.

“The problem lies with the rider’s body,” says Tina, “because the body reacts to what the horse is doing instinctively, and not at the rider’s command. The riders are not aware of what is happening, so they get stuck with their hands, which is the worst thing. Or they don’t push – which is also bad. In other words, their body is just reacting to the horse instead of being told what to do by the rider’s mind, so that they can train the horse.”

“Even riders who can sit quite well, don’t seem to be in control of their hands. The hands can wreck everything. If you surrender both reins, if you have a loop in the reins to teach yourself not to hang on – then you can’t hang on, and you have to ride forward instead of sideways. It doesn’t matter how well they can sit, if their hands are not under control and they jam, then they cause a jam in the horse. You can’t isolate the jam in your own hand, if you have a jam in your hand, you have a jam in the horse.”

“Unless the rider is completely in charge of the hands and is able to ride the horse into a forward reaching hand, he will create a jam in the horse, and then the horse cannot perform to the best of his ability – in fact, usually the horse will not be able to bend to one side.”

“The rider must concentrate on position. Your position is everything. If your position is wrong, then the horse cannot go. It is technically not possible because you are causing that famous jam.”

“You will even see it in the higher tests. Riders are stuck on one rein, and it is usually the side that the horse is naturally bent to. The horse does a lovely half pass to one side – and next to nothing to the other, because the rider is holding the horse on that rein. The horse can’t bend the other way.”

“The best way to overcome this problem is to surrender the contact on both reins, so that the rider’s body cannot involuntarily take up one rein and hold it. While the rider’s hands maintain contact, the body is just so quick in instinctively holding one rein that the rider is just not aware of it. Particularly since the rider has probably been doing it for a long long time. If you surrender both reins, if you have a loop in the reins to teach yourself not to hang on – then you can’t hang on and you have to ride forward instead of sideways.”

“The rider is inclined to do all the corrections with the hands, when the riders should be doing the corrections with the seat and the legs.”

more wisdom follows

Right through the school, Tina emphasised the importance of correctly riding forward and into a corner – rather than trying to pull and steer the horse onto the line.

One youngster was so spooky in the indoor school, that his rider had come equipped with trotting blinkers… and still he attempted to shy out of the corner!

“No, don’t pull, just ride him straight into the corner straight, forward,” came the command.

“Impossible,” came the reply.

“I will show you.”

Tina positions herself a few yards in from the corner. The rider rides straight ahead, the horse comes to a halt, deep in the corner, his chin practically resting on the wall of the school.

“See, it works.”

“But you were standing there … ”

“OK, I will stand back, now do it again.”

Tina is well and truly clear of the corner and the horse still goes deep and comes to the halt. And to drive the lesson home, Tina gets on board, and rides the horse dead straight into the corner with a half-moon loop in the reins! The rider is impressed.

“You can demonstrate to the rider when you make them ride straight into the corner and stand next to the wall, they CAN get there if they ride forward. They will wobble all over the place if they try to ride sideways! Once the rider goes straight into the corner, they get the feeling of riding forward, instead of trying to hold the horses out. Then they can transfer this same feeling to riding on a curved line, also forward, then they get the idea of forward riding.”

“If you can make the horse go forward, then the hands will not be tempted to act incorrectly. I want the rider’s hands forward reaching so you are bringing the horse to the bit – not the bit to the horse. If you start with the head, you are not riding the horse, you are jamming it in. You must bring the horse to the bit, so he is engaged and carries himself.”

“The head position occurs all by itself, it falls into your hands. The horse’s nose will not poke out if you can push him sufficiently to take more weight on the hindquarters. He will automatically round himself if you have an amiable contact with him.”

Christopher and Cedar contemplate the mystery of the forward reaching hand…

Perhaps I am a bit thick, but for a long time I had problems understanding Tina’s ‘forward reaching’ hand. Somehow I had it in my head that the hand had to actually move forward at the moment of the push. What Tina was talking about is far simpler. The forward reaching hand simply means that the hands are positioned well in front of the body, making a straight line from the elbow to the bit.

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Tina would demonstrate over and over again that if you let the reins go long and the hands come back to the body, then that forward going impulse is lost. The immediate worry was that by shortening the reins you would shorten the neck, but it soon became apparent that with the hands in the correct position, Cedar could still travel in a long outline and on a relatively short rein.

But the horses were not expected to rush around the arena with absolutely no contact. Once the rider’s hands had learnt the lesson of the no contact position, they were expected to half halt/check (remember most riders back then had no idea what half halt meant) over and over again…

“You can’t keep on pushing without checking. Otherwise the horse gets faster, faster, faster. You have to have half halts to maintain a tempo that is yours – otherwise you can’t push. And unless you can push, you cannot train. You have to keep on checking the tempo of the horse so that you can push him, and when you push you can engage the hind legs correctly, and then his position will follow. He is light in front and he will round himself.”

“Very often the half halt is completely misunderstood by the riders. Or mis-executed! Instead of checking and easing off, they are checking and getting stuck, and it becomes a halt. If you read Reiner Klimke’s writings you will find that he says it is the most important thing in your riding – and that if you get stuck with your hands, you are not riding the horse anymore, you are holding it.”

“The rider should say to himself: ‘I am taking my hands back only reluctantly, to slow the horse down. I will immediately allow them to go forward again, so that I can ride into a forward reaching hand’. The rider must control himself before he can control the horse … and must maintain that control.”

“That is the most important step in your riding is that you can control yourself, and that you know at all times what your hands, seat and legs are doing. You are aware of yourself and your actions.”

“If the rider cannot control his body, then he must go back to the exercises to promote an independent seat. Once the seat is independent, then the arms and legs are independent. Until they have that seat they must go back onto the lunge. No reins, no stirrups· until they learn to sit because they are balanced and not hanging on. If they are not balanced they grab with the legs, and they push the horse inadvertently, and then they grab hold of the rein to slow it down. It is a vicious circle. Or they hang onto the reins for security and that is backwards riding. They are holding the horse instead of riding it.”

 “Forward is the most important ingredient in all your riding. If you listen to the Old Masters, they always say ‘Forward is everything’. Ride your horse forward and straighten it. That is always neglected, no-one wants to listen to it, they all want to hear about indirect, opposing reins, and God knows what complicated expressions… when forward is everything. If they follow that forward principle they could ride!”

“It is really sjmple. All collection should be forward, everything is forward. The minute you get a problem, forget what you are doing, just ride forward with both legs, until you have the hindlegs correctly engaged. Then try the exercise again.”

“The great riders are forward riders. Look at Dr Neckermann, he is absolutely the embodiment of forward riding. I have watched him time and time again, and he does all his corrections forward. When his horse won’t stand square and well at the end of the lesson – he rides forward out of that halt time and time again. He never corrects a horse standing still, he rides forward and out to correct. There is no backwards correction, it is all forward.”

“All movements are forward movements. The flying change is a forward movement, and if you don’t ride them forward, the horse will swing the quarters and you don’t get a straight . line. People seem to think that they want to change from the left to the right. Really the horse must just canter on, either on the left leg or the right leg – forward, not side to side.”

“People don’t seem to want to admit that it is so simple. Perhaps because carrying it out and learning it is not so simple for the rider. The body is basically frightened, self preservation plays its part. When someone gets on a big seventeen hand horse, the legs want to grab so you don’t fall off, the hands want to hang onto the reins so he doesn’t get too fast… To set yourself completely free and say ‘Yes, you may go, I want you to go forward, I will make you go’ takes a lot of self discipline. But that is the only way. When you ride a horse forward, he doesn’t want to run. he horse only runs when he is on the forehand.”

“It all starts with self discipline. With the rider! You ride as you live.”

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Finding your perfect horse at Verden

The next Hanoverian auction is in May and the Hanoverian Verband has  prepared this guide to help you find what you want…

How will I select my horse in Verden?

There is an opportunity to purchase a horse at a Verden auction almost every eight weeks. The collections are compiled to ensure that everybody finds his or her perfect match. There are dressage, show jumping or event horses, for professional riders, ambitious amateurs or pleasure riders. The horses are pre-selected, have a high health standard and can be inspected and tested over a period of 10 days.

But how to find “my horse” in a collection of perhaps 100 horses?

Here is what our new buyer discovered…

The customer advisors of the Verden auction team provide assistance. They helped me to gather all the necessary information on the horses. They determined my requirements and tried to assess what is especially important for me, and then recommended some horses from the collection. There are customer advisors for potential customers from Italy, Spain and France, answering all questions on the horses in those languages  – and of course, in English.

I soon recognized that the customer advisors could tell me everything I needed to know about the horses and way the auction functioned. I was particularly interested in the horses’ backgrounds and character traits. It is possible to also talk to riders and grooms, and I appreciated their frankness to honestly answer my questions. Now I felt safe and confident enough to choose some horses for test riding purposes. Riding all the horses under the same conditions made it easy to compare, but still I needed some time to decide, and the closer the day of the auction approached, the more the insecurity I already thought had vanished, increased again.

How to make a bid? Do I have enough money with me or how do I have to pay? I was especially wondering what exactly happens after having won the bid?

The customer advisors are there to provide answers to these question, too. I am pretty relieved that I do not have to have such a huge amount of money with me on the day of the auction, but that I will receive an invoice. After having paid the invoice, I am allowed to pick up my new horse in Verden. The auction team will of course continue to care for my horse, and it will be covered by insurance for another six months after the auction – I can then decide whether I want to take over the insurance contract or not.

All my questions are answered, I know my personal favourites and the auction can start.

Verden Auction May – Sport Horses and Foals

Are you planning to purchase a horse? The collection of the Verden Auction on May 6 features stars of tomorrow, and friends for a lifetime. We will be happy to present an exquisite collection of dressage, show jumping, eventing and pleasure horses! The collection includes 45 riding horses, carefully chosen, test ridden and vet checked – for you! The collection will be complemented by brilliant foals with international performance pedigrees.

Welcome for the Verden Auction! Take your seat in the Niedersachsenhalle, attend the auction training from April 25 – May 6 and arrange a test riding date with our customer advisors. We will find your perfect match!

Vale – Tina Wommelsdorf

As a tribute to one of the real pioneers of dressage, and a gifted and articulate proponent of the classical principles,  we re-print this article that first appeared in THM in 1986. Tomorrow we go to one of Tina’s clinics…

Tina Wommelsdorf has long been one of Australia’s most successful riders, dressage trainers, instructors and judges … but for Tina, her arrival in Australia was somewhat of a rude shock. So much so, that for several years after her arrival in Australia, Tina did not ride at all! Competing instead, and placing at a National level in Snow Skiing.

Tina came to Australia complete with a superb equestrian background, having spent ten years at the German Riding School, where she trained with both Felix Burkner and Albert Rother.

“After the War, Albert Rother was considered the best man for work in-hand,” Tina recalls, “He had an accident and damaged his pelvis, and could only ride sidesaddle. As a child of twelve or thirteen, I was given the opportunity to ride his top horses astride for him. It was my good fortune to learn in his stable on both showjumpers and dressage horses.”

“We came to Australia on a business trip and I looked around and the existing riding schools were so bad, that I couldn’t bring myself to ride. After several years, I decided to buy a horse. My main interest was in cross country and jumping. I didn’t even know Franz Mairinger existed.”

“Of course, in Germany we had to do dressage before we were let loose on the jumping horses, but I was not wrapped up in dressage. I wanted to jump Trossach, the mare I had bought, but the jolly thing had such an uneven temperament that I had to do more and more flat training… and we ended up competing at Dressage- winning the two Top Tests at Sydney on our first time out. So our career was decided for us.”

Tina took the mare, Trossach on to the Intermediate II standard, and was Horse and Rider of the Year – despite problems with the mare’s temperament.

Tina and Jackpot – they won the first Australian Grand Prix

But it was on her second horse, Jackpot, that Tina competed in, and won, the first Grand Prix Dressage Test ever held in Australia … and went on to win Horse and Rider of the Year for two more years. Tina also won the top tests at the Championships and Sydney Royal, on both horses.

At the first National Dressage Championships, Tina won the three top tests, and again, in ’78, prior to her planned departure for the World Championship. In fact, Tina won 76 FEI tests in the years she rode her mare Trossach and Jackpot – until the poisoning of Jackpot ended her victorious road.

While Tina was still working Trossach, she met that great horseman, Franz Mairinger, who could explain things in a nutshell. Learning from Franz in those days was not easy. Just getting a lesson was difficult enough.


“I had to beg the EFA for a few private lessons, and never had more than three. Franz was always being sent here or there. It was sad that he was wasted on schools that other people could have easily taken. One time, at the opening of the Bowral Training Centre, we had an Advanced school, and when only three top horses came, the class was filled with Pony Club mothers and Franz spent all his time with a mother who couldn’t canter on the correct lead… ”

Jackpot was a five year old New Zealand Thoroughbred when Tina acquired him. He was broken in by top New Zealand race horse trainer, Eric Ropeha. Tina’s friend, Duncan Holden, President of the New Zealand Horse Society, saw him, “and sent me a telegram saying that he was the horse I should have as he had just so much movement, so I bought him unseen.”

“Jackpot was from a particular line of New Zealand Thoroughbreds that are all great movers, but all great spooks – God, he could shy! I literally rode him backwards from the stables to the arena for three months. If you got stuck into him, he could really buck – he was a fighter of the first order. I didn’t mind riding him backwards, as long as I won in the end, I don’t believe in fighting a horse. I seek his co-operation, and that is what I did.”

“Jackpot was a great natural mover. I’ve seen him, and the mare, Trossach, in the paddock, just playing, doing flying changes every stride.”

It took time, but eventually, Jackpot settled down to the job in hand:

“I’m a great believer in making their work fun. I’d take him out around Kuringai Chase, jumping little logs, down to Smith Creek, and up again- a drop of 600 vertical feet, and excellent exercise. I wouldn’t ride a top dressage horse in eventing, but they must pop over a few little logs for fun. Any self respecting horse has to have equal schooling in the basics of all three disciplines.”

“Jackpot was always so well balanced that he never slipped. Jackpot raised literally thousands of dollars for RDA with his demonstrations, and at some demonstrations, even in deep mud, he could do Piaffe and canter pirouettes. I think it helps their balance to work over undulating country – having to work things out for themselves.”

In the last few years Tina has not been so lucky in her choice of horses. Two prospects are now in the paddock on permanent holiday. “One from New Zealand turned out to be buckjumper; the other raced for six years and he couldn’t get that out of his system – he was dangerous. So we are looking for some new horses,” Tina says.

But while Tina Wommelsdorf may not be competing at the moment, she is still very active helping other riders and their horses. Tina recently visited Victoria at the invitation of Paul Johnson to take a school at Ambrodie Park in Coldstream.

Tina is not only an extremely knowledgeable instructor, she also has an infectious enthusiasm, and that rare ability to get the message through to her pupils of both the two and four legged variety. The message is deceptively simple.

It is a message that is at the heart of every horseman’s program: The horse must move forward!

Again and again, Tina cajoles her students: “Don’t jam, keep it alive, keep it alive. Forward is that line that goes from your elbow to the horse’s mouth not just up. Make sure you ride him into the bit. Make sure you keep the engagement- because that is everything.”

The horses are being asked to relax and go long, but not to fall on their forehand, “When he comes too low, push him forward, don’t correct with your hand – only half halts, so you can keep on pushing. Say to your hands, ‘Don’t interfere’, don’t make heavy weather of it. Get him to relax with the bit. Fiddle with the bit, move the bit without moving the horse’s head – let the horse chew the bit. Don’t saw the mouth, gently talk to him through your hands … ”

“Push the horse so he carries himself a little higher, so that his ears don’t disappear. The moment he comes to you, ease off. Acknowledge that he has come and make it comfortable for him.”

“All your aids must be indications only- not getting stuck.”

Woe betide the rider who rode the horse sideways rather than forward:

” If he is falling in, push him forward, don’t use the inside rein sideways. If he wants to go sideways, ride him on- towards his ears. HIS ears, not your ears. All corrections have to be ridden forward!!”

As a horse shies, Tina calls out: “He can go anywhere as long as he goes forward. Don’t worry where he goes. Don’t hold him- just ride him forward. If you hold him, he can resist you. If you can make him go forward, he can no longer run sideways – it is as simple as that.”

“Keep your hands even. If you ride with one hand up, it indicates that you want to ride sideways. Sit in the middle of the horse and ride with both hands. Everything should be symmetrical. Check with both. Ease off with both. Be generous. We can start talking about inside rein, inside leg and all the finer things when your horse goes forward, but only then!”

“Just look at his ears, just ride towards the ears – that’s all you have to do. Where his ears are, that’s forward! Don’t ride him sideways to the line, ride him forwards to it. It’s not speed that we are concerned about, he doesn’t have to go fast, just forward.”

“If the horse drops the shoulder and goes crooked, that tells you that you are not riding enough. The horse cannot drop the shoulder if he is going forward.”

“Look at his ears and you can see immediately which way his neck is bent. You can see the hand that you have jammed on. We must eliminate the subconscious reactions of the body.”

“Riders going into a corner, take up the inside rein to hold him out, and even take it across the wither and the horse goes more sideways. It is useless. Make the horse go forwards then he can’t go sideways, then he has to stay on your line. When the horses are bent and crooked they have to fall in on one side and fall out on the other. Don’t try and hold the horse on your line. Indicate where you want to go and ride him there. Keep him on the line by riding him onto the line, not by steering.”

“Don’t steer him. Don’t hold him. Ride him. Put yourself again and again in the position to push by half-halting him.”

“Always be aware of your hands. Know when they want to go sideways. Once they go sideways you can’t ride forward any more. Try it yourself, look down at the ground sideways. Now can you ride forward? No! Look to the side and your desire to ride forward is no longer there.” ‘

“All corrections – absolutely all corrections – have to ridden out forwards. Don’t try to correct the horse backwards.”

Unfortunately, it seems that the easiest way to get a response from a horse is by using our hands. It may be the easiest way to get the response, it is also the surest way to get the wrong response. Throughout her school, Tina stressed the importance of that forward reaching hand. Even with the horse that has the tendency to stick his neck in the air and go upside down, the message is still to relax the hands:

“Stop him jamming. Move the bit in a nice way in his mouth so that he chews the bit and you can see the muscle in the neck relax. But whenever he gives to you, you must not take back the slack he gives. In fact, your hands go a little bit forward and you push him into the bit with your seat and your legs. Bring the horse to the bit – not the bit to the horse!”

The basis of a relaxed hand is a steady hand; a hand under control:

“Think that you have a glass of French champagne in your hand, don’t crush it! Relax your hand and learn the wonderful feeling of a relaxed hand. Learn that lesson and you will be comfortable all your life, and so will be all your horses, comfortable and relaxed.”

“Everybody – let the tension go out of your hands. If he wants to dive down onto the bit, push him on with your seat and your legs. Don’t correct with your hands.”

Lightness in the horse is not sufficient proof that the rider’s hands are relaxed:

“The horse was light, but you yourself didn’t have that lovely giving attitude in your hand. If your hands move up and down with your body the horse cannot come onto the bit because your hands are moving and make the bit move in a jerky way that is most unacceptable for the horse.”

“Try not to let the reins get too long, because immediately the rein gets long, the hand gets backwards moving. Let the hands move forward. Make sure your hand is a forward reaching hand when you push – never pull back when you push. Make the reins a little shorter, so you are more willing to go forward with your hands- forward towards the mouth.”

“I like to use webbing reins. If you have leather reins and they get sweaty, the horse can just pull them through your-hands and you have a long rein again, and with it, a backwards acting hand.”

“Try not to get stuck with your hands, because you are loading the forehand when you get stuck. Try not to have a jammed contact. It might be light, but it is still jammed. If the reins are long, one isn’t very willing to relax the contact – and if your hands are not relaxed how can his mouth be comfortable?”

“Don’t make the horse carry your · hands. Don’t flop your hands down on the reins and put the extra weight on his mouth. Carry your hands, otherwise you are loading his mouth with the weight of your arms – a backward action again.”

Throughout each working session, Tina was trying to develop self carriage in the horses. Push, check, ease off- let the horse carry himself. . . and you could see it happen! Suddenly that sloppy big horse that had been dragging himself around on his forehand would wake up, come round through his body, start to carry himself, start to go light in front. Instead of pounding along the track, the horse starts to develop the moment of suspension, to develop cadence. It is a lesson that is obvious to those sitting in the grandstand watching the lesson – it is even more obvious to the rider, suddenly he or she is actually riding the horse, not just a passenger…

“Push the horse so he carries himself a little higher. So his ears don’t disappear. Check with both reins. There is nothing one sided. He can’t be comfortable if one rein is harder- everything is symmetrical. You can check, you must check and push, but you mustn’t hold. Check, ease off, push. You may indicate with one rein that you wish to turn – but you must never let it get stuck.”

“Let the horse carry more of his weight on the hindlegs so that he can elevate his front. You don’t want to carry him, let him carry himself. Make him take more weight on the hindlegs, make him bend his hocks.”

“The most important thing in your life is that you are pushing the horse, and your hand is only checking. Then you can ride the jolly thing, and you don’t need a steering wheel when you ride.”

“You want to feel that the horse is travelling uphill, not digging holes in the ground. Check. There is a big difference between check and hold. Make the check very quick, so he hasn’t got time to take the bit and lean. If you check and hold, he can take the bit and then you are supporting him. You have given the horse a fifth leg. Made him drop on the forehand – digging holes in the ground.”

“While you are learning to control the reactions of your own body, you can drop the rein. It is not important to keep the contact all the time when you are learning the feeling of pushing him into going forward. If you have a prolonged hold on the horse’s mouth, then he must end up on the forehand. People say ‘the horse is hanging on,’ but it is always the rider who makes it possible by holding him, instead of checking. He can’t hang on without you providing the other end, it is a man-made problem.”

“We are looking for a horse with a wet, relaxed, chewing mouth. Don’t force him onto the bit, push him to the bit. It’s not a question of strength. You all want to do too much with your hands. Don’t support him, he’s got to carry him own head.”

“Don’t just hold; fiddle, keep the bit alive. Ride him up in front, don’t jerk with your hands, push him forward into bending his hindquarters. That is why we start work in the sitting trot. In the sitting trot you can push better. Make him carry his own silly head. Make him carry himself – only then, can you make him dance.”

“Ride the horse up. The ears must be the highest point, don’t let the horse go behind the bit. The moment that the ears disappear, you must check, ease off, and push. Don’t make him frightened of the bit by trying to bring him up with your hands. It can’t be done! It does not engage his hindquarters, but has quite the reverse effect.”

One of Tina’s strongest criticisms is of riders that just sit there, that let their bodies react to the body of the horse. They are just passengers …

“Always keep the tempo so you can push – so that you can ride- not just sit there like a passenger. Check them so you can push with your seat and legs.”

“If he goes so fast that you can no longer push, it is no good. Keep the tempo down so you can push. Control the tempo with half halts. You can check the tempo as often as you like. Check five hundred times in an hour if necessary. I don’t want speed. I want engagement.”

“The horse must be listening to you, the rider. Once your body is reacting to what the horse is doing, you are no longer riding and you can’t go forward. You have to slow, so you can push Once you can’t push, you are just a passenger, you can’t teach the horse anything.”

“Check/Ease off/Push/Check/Ease off! Push. Keep on reminding the horse that you are riding him, and he is not to go by himself. All your schooling hinges on your ability to push. Drive towards the ears with both legs. Check, ease off, and push! It is not for free – you have to work for it.”

“You must become absolutely obsessed with the idea that we must push our horses, and we only use our hands to slow the speed, so that we can push some more.”

“Who ever said that dressage was a piece of cake? It is jolly hard work- you will have to ride every inch of the way – one step at a time, as your next step is the only one you can influence, and if you do this, you must succeed. So why don’t you push?”






2001  170 cm Black

Breeder – Herbert Schütt

The 2016 Hanoverian Stallion of the Year title went to the black stallion, Desperados.

He has certainly proven himself an exceptional competitor with his young rider Kristina Bröring-Sprehe. Desperados won team gold and kur bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and is currently the FEI/WBFSH World Dressage Breeding number 1 ranked dressage horse.

Desperados FRH is born on 2 June 2001 at Herbert Schütt’s yard in Hemmoor, Germany. He is by the world’s number one dressage sire, De Niro, out of a mare by the best son of Weltmeyer, Wolkenstein II, out of a mare by the French Anglo Arab, Matcho, which perhaps accounts for his lovely black coat.

Two years later he presented the black colt at the Licensing, but like so many of the very best Warmblood stallions, he was rejected.

(see http://www.horsemagazine.com/thm/2010/11/salon-de-refuses-the-stallions-that-almost-werent/)

Desparados became the most expensive, non-licensed stallion at the auction and sold to Gestut Sprehe  – the stud in owned by Kristina’s father and uncle. One year later Desperados was licensed at the approval under saddle in November 2004. He also received a premium then. He completed his 70-day performance test in Schlieckau.

Desperados at the Bundeschampionate

Desperados went on to win the 2004 Bundeschampionate as a 3-year old and got bronze at the 2005 Bunderschampionate. Trained and competed by Falk Rosenbauer, he moved up to Grand Prix level and won the 2010 Hamburg Dressage Derby. In 2011 Kristina Sprehe took over the ride and they became the Otto Lorke Prize recipients. They won medals at the 2012 London Olympics, 2014 World Equestrian Games and 2013 and 2015 European Championships.

As a breeding stallion Desperados received the Grande Prize in 2012. Desperados’ son Destacado won the 2016 Bundeschampionate for 3-year old stallions.

Destacado at the Bundeschampionate

Desperados has sired 8 licensed sons so far of which five were Hanoverian premium stallions. Daughter Doris Day was the 2010 Hanoverian Mare Champion and Bundeschampion winner in the 3-year-old mare class.

Desperados at Rio

The 2017 Hanoverian Stallion book records Desperados’ personal winnings at €547,299, while his 280 progeny in competition have won between them €75,358, with 10 of them competing at Advanced level. He is the sire of 13 licensed sons.

On the 2016 German FN breeding values based on young horse classes, he has a value of 134, on the basis of open competition results, 120. He has a Hanoverian dressage value of 126 (82 for jumping) and a value of 137 for type. On the Hanoverian topliste for dressage stallions with a value of more than 120, he is in =23rd, while he is = 9th (with Sandro Hit)with a value of 137 on the topliste for Type. He has a value of 134 for his canter, 125 for his trot, 120 for walk, and 111 for rideability.


You have to make them feel secure…

Above – Johannes and one of his Bundeschamp stars, Wolkentanz

Christopher Hector meets the German Young Horse specialist, Johannes Westendarp who presented the Saddleworld Masterclass at the 2017 PSI Dressage & Jumping with the Stars.

Roslyn Neave took the photos

The beginning? Ponies of course.

“Like a lot of breeders’ kids in Germany, I started with ponies at the age of five, my brother and sister did the same. We were playing with the ponies and then we went into the pony sport a little bit, but then I switched over early to Warmbloods. My first Warmblood horse I got when I was ten. He was unbroken, and with a lot of Thoroughbred blood from Cardinal…”

Beautiful horse Cardinal…

“I loved him typewise, and his offspring were really incredible. So right from the beginning I learned to come to an arrangement with a hot horse. I really liked the energy, it was not so easy for me in the beginning because I was not so experienced but we came together finally. First I jumped with him up to 1.30m classes, and then he started to be really really hot and then I tried him with dressage and he showed good talent and we went to the Small Tour.”

“I had the opportunity to go to Willi Schultheis, and that was good because he was also used to Thoroughbreds, he was very helpful.”

Willi Schultheis and his great Thoroughbred, Pernod

I get the feeling he could teach, ride and train like he did then, today – and be successful…

“That’s absolutely right, in the end, after all the experiences I’ve had, I figure there is really only one classical way to train – I think it is really important that the riders learn to follow a really straight line so the horses feel secure – not one day trying out this, and one day trying something else. There is only one classical way.”

I didn’t ever see Mr Schultheis in action, but when I look at the photos, it seems to me very attractive the way the horse is a little more open in the gullet – a little in front of the vertical…

“That’s right and they were very uphill, so they had the chance to come under, they were never running on the forehand, that’s what I really like, and they were always very active from behind.”

Johannes got his first big break when at the age of 20, when he won at the Bundeschampionate in 1994, on the stallion, Alabaster. “I was an absolute no-name and there were riders like Rudolf Zeilinger on Livijno, Alexandra de Ridder on Chacomo, as well as Isabell Werth and Nadine Capellmann.”

Johannes and Alabaster – the first big break…

“Then I started my own business at the age of twenty one. We had a normal farm with cows and pigs at home. My father died about then and because my passion was the horses we went more and more in that direction. I was lucky, I was asked to be part of the Oldenburg Auction rider team at Vechta at the Elite Auction. So step by step, I grew into that…”

But we have gone from Willi Schultheis, to a very different style of riding – auction riding…

“It’s not really, no it’s not what the people think. Auction riding has changed a lot because the people want a rideable horse. It’s a lot of stress for the horses in the auction when different people try them out, therefore it’s very important to give the horses a very good foundation. That means they have to feel secure, they have to accept the outside rein – it is not only the big extended trot because in the end, people decide to buy the horse when they sit on the horse and have a good feeling and a good connection to the horse and it doesn’t matter if it is a little bit bigger, or smaller, in the trot and canter.”

So not leaning back, driving the horse frantically in front…

“No, it’s not like it was in the olden times. It changed, I was a part of this process. I did this for sixteen years alongside my regular work at home. There I also met my wife…”

You breed horses?

“Yes, each year we breed six / seven foals, then I buy six or seven from the local farmers in our area, so each year we are dealing with a group of twelve foals. We are looking for really rideable, modern types – like everybody. We are very focused on sport so for our bloodlines, we look for stallions that have been proven in the sport.”

more follows below

Competing at the Bundeschampionate with Wolkentanz II

“My career with riding and working with the stallions started with Wolkentanz II. I bought him as a foal, three days old. I took him to the licensing, then we did the whole young horse program, the Bundeschampionate and rode him at the World Young Horse championships. Then we started the small tour, as a seven-year-old he won seven Prix St Georges with scores of over 70%. He had a lot of energy, and I think he could have gone on to Grand Prix but he injured himself, that was a shame. Now we have some mares from him that we are breeding with and they are very good.”

“Then we found Fürstenball for clients of ours, as a foal. He grew up with us and my wife Ines started riding him. He won the Licensing, he won the Bundeschampionate, he was twice at the World Championships, and as a seven-year-old, won at Prix St Georges. He is very talented for piaffe.”

Ines Westendarp and Fürstenball

“So we cross this line with the Wolkentanz II mares, and one of the foals we bred went on to be the Champion mare in Oldenburg. My daughter, Alexa competed her and they are in the German young rider team now. We have a fifteen-year-old son Matthias, and he has gone into the jumpers, and so now we buy jumper foals too! I had good luck with my first jumper foal. He was licensed and we sold half of him to the Sprehe company, and he has just completed his stallion performance test.”

Do you concentrate on the young horse classes?

“Absolutely, what I like as a rider is that you can follow the process. The development with the young horses is quicker, you can see the development from week to week. If you have a Grand Prix horse, you have to work on these really small things, day after day.”

“At the moment our own riding career takes a little the back seat, because we are more concentrated on the kids, because that is the future – and we try to let them ride the young horses. It was nice here in Australia to see two young girls riding in my clinic, there is a lot of potential and talent here.”

You’ve sold a number of horses to Australia…

“It started with Ferrero Rocher, the stallion. He also came to the young horse classes here. Then of course there is Diamantina – I was lucky to meet up with Maree Tomkinson, and she imported several horses and had good luck with them.”

How did you find Diamantina?

“She came from a breeder of ours, for training. Even as a young horse, she gave me a really good feeling, she had something special right from the beginning, and I am happy that such a good rider got her.”

Diamantina and Maree – now that’s a find!

Are there now two breeding streams in dressage – one for pretty horses for the young horse classes, and one for Grand Prix…

“I don’t think you can breed for Grand Prix and why should a Grand Prix horse not be pretty? Even as a young horse they have to show the talent to take weight, and they have to be quick behind.”

A lot of the star young horses don’t go on to the big sport – and a lot of young horse stallions are not breeding Grand Prix horses, but the stallions that competed Grand Prix, are…

“Finally, it depends a lot on which stables they land in, which riders get them. If you have a fantastic young horse, and an amateur buys it and does not have the ability to bring the horse up to Grand Prix, then that’s it for that horse. The Grand Prix rider / professionals, they cannot afford these high quality young horses and therefore they have to look for a little bit lower quality but they have the potential to make the horse go on to Grand Prix.”

You think they way of riding and showing the young horses has improved?

“I think it has improved a lot but we don’t have to make the mistake and judge only for the rideable horse that is calm and comfortable. It’s normal that a young horse is looking, and jumping to the inside when it is a little bit scared. When we judge them, we really have to see the basic quality of the horse and not just looking for one or two mistakes in the test. That’s not the priority, our job is to look to the future, and judge more the potential. They don’t have to be mean, you can see if a horse is scared or nervous – or is against the rider. If you have a transition from canter to walk, it is normal for the horse to be a little bit tense in the beginning, especially with the atmosphere. So I think we should give these horses a better chance because we need this energy and power for the future, and we don’t want to stop at the small tour.”

Leading in Windhill LA…

Certainly this approach was evident in Johannes’ Masterclass, especially with the first horse, Windhill LA who was proving quite a handful for Kristy-Lee Brilliant. The five-year-old, by Lauries As was being lead by Johannes, up the long side, past the scary little dog boxes.

“I want to show you how to teach a horse to trust the rider,” he told Kristy-Lee, and the audience. “Don’t leave him alone, have him on your inside leg, on the aids, don’t let him look all around him. The priority is that the horse doesn’t feel alone. Steady contact on the outside rein and keep him between your legs, he must learn to feel secure.”

Now he starts to relax…

The crucial factor in the gaining of security was the outside rein:

“On the circle, thinking of shoulder in, and stay on the circle until he is honestly looking for the outside rein.”

“I first saw this horse two days ago, and he had a tendency to open his mouth. When I looked at the bit, it was much too deep, hanging in the horse’s mouth, and the noseband was too loose. The bit and the bridle have to fit, not too tight, not too loose so they can open their mouth and play with their tongue.”

Suddenly Windhill does a little prop in the middle of the arena: “I could see that coming, the horse is not enough into the outside rein. You have to use your legs and a good contact to make the horse secure and confident. The rider has to have a plan and clear signals make it much easier for the horse.”

Given the obsession in the past to ride young horses much too deep and much too behind the vertical, it was refreshing to hear Johannes ask for a higher neck.

“I want him more free from the shoulder, you have to bring him up in front, send him forward, more uphill, more from behind.”

Even at the end of the session, Johannes was determined that the horse not lose confidence:

“On the circle, stretch round and deep without losing the connection, don’t throw the reins away and make the horse insecure. Keep an honest connection and the horse thinks, this is the outside rein, nothing bad will happen to me, and as the confidence builds, you go from there.”

more horses to come

It was a brave move to concentrate entirely on young horses for the Saddleworld Masterclass, but it didn’t make for riveting entertainment because really the message remains exactly the same. Thus with with Tamara Campain, and her four-year-old Bon Chance, it was:

“The horse must learn to wait for your legs. Really light and supple on the inside, steady on the outside. I want more spring, more out of the shoulder…”

“If the horse is upset in the trot, try the canter, the tempo doesn’t matter, it is still the inside leg to a steady outside rein. When you feel the horse is more happy, come back to the trot.”

“When he is arguing in front, keep him busy from behind, not with the hand, use your legs and bring him up in front without losing the rhythm…”

Or with Charlie Welsh and another four-year-old, Horizont de Jeu:

“This horse is more focused on the rider, looking around but waiting, and Charlie has very quiet hands and steady legs, the horse is really between her legs. It is nice to see the rider not over riding the trot…”

And finally, Tayla Desmet and another recently imported four-year-old, Zaubermans:

“This is a good example of how steady it can be with a young one. In the early sessions with this pair, the mare was dropping her neck, now she is looking to the bit. Just lovely!”

It was indeed lovely. Four very exciting young horses, four very nice riders – not one leaning back and water skiing, and a tactful and sympathetic trainer – the times they are a’changing.

Fürstenball is available in Australia through IHB – for more information on him and  the wide selection of stallions IHB offer, go to www.ihb.com.au Scroll down for pix of Fürstenball winning at the German Championships, now competing at Prix St Georges level.



John Fahey – Aussie Original

Chris Hector reviews: The Master: The John Fahey Story by John Fahey and Joy Ringrose

This is an amazing story of an exceptional horseman, a story so well told that it leaps alive from every page. John Fahey is the quintessence of Aussie horsemanship, the kind they don’t make any more… alas.

As for his father before him, horses were both work and play. Essential tools in the day-to-day business of taking care of cattle, of farming the land, of getting from A to B. A rich source of play in everything from smoke the cigarette races to jumping to bush racing and campdrafting…

Yes gentle reader, in those far less politically correct days in the 1940’s, Tom Fahey competed in a race requiring contestants to gallop to the end of the arena, dismount, light a fag, then re-mount and ride back again. In those days, jumping was the Hunting Event, three or four fences around the arena, to be jumped twice. The score was out of 50.

“Twenty five points for the horse’s conformation and twenty five for qualification, which was speed and control. Riders were also given a score out of ten for each jump. Each jump had a steward. Pulling a rail meant points taken off at the jump steward’s discretion. The steward would signal to the judge if a horse had touched the jump. He would touch his hand for a tip in front, which meant a loss of two points; and touch his ankle for a touch behind, the loss of one point.”

Tom taught John’s pony to lie down so he could get on, and at the age of three he collected his first ribbon.

It’s blue – John and Goldie at Wingham show, 1947

By the time he was four, John was helping his Dad muster cattle, at one stage being left to hold the mob together while his Dad and a mate went in search of strays – they returned empty handed in the late afternoon, the four and a half year old ringer had been keeping his cattle together for eight hours!

And of course, Tom taught John how to break horses: “He taught me to be patient, which I think is one of the most important things when you are breaking in horses. You can be firm, but you don’t want to be hard. You don’t want to be cruel. Some horses will accept it and go to what you want them to do easily and others will get a little bit sore in the muscles and start to resist. The more they start to resist, and the more you try to get them going, the more you create a habit. Dad said if you get a problem with a horse after a week or so, take the gear off him and put him in the paddock for a week or ten days. Let him forget everything, let him get over his soreness, bring him back and start again, and usually nine times out of ten the horse will do whatever you want him to do.”

In a time when it was common to cut the corners of the horse’s mouth to make him ‘light’, John worked out that he could teach “these horses how to steer and go with just a head collar on. I eventually put the reins onto the bit and the horses just mouthed up beautifully. They weren’t sore, they were very tractable, just mouthed up lovely… You just had to be soft, especially with Thoroughbred horses.”

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Out showing, the horses were expected to be versatile: “At Taree Show I went in the Pony High Jump on Miss Luke. If you couldn’t jump six foot it wasn’t worthwhile going in the Pony High Jump because they nearly always went up to six foot. We jumped that height and won the class. The Dad went out on her a couple of hours later and they won the Maiden Campdraft.”

John left school at the age of fourteen and a half: “When I left school Dad said, ‘You’ve got to learn to work. Here’s a mattock and a brush hook.’ I was set to cleaning areas around the farm. Dad had a good friend who had a property with a lot of lantana and bracken fern growing on it. He needed a hand. Dad said I could go and work for him, but he added ‘Don’t take what he offers you.’ He was offering three pounds a day. I told him I would start for four. He agreed.”

“I used to ride a little horse, and put it in a paddock halfway up the mountain, getting there just on daylight. I worked from daylight to dark, then would ride home in the dark…”

One of the themes in this book is the clashes with authority, particularly the ham-fisted, authoritarian, and half witted EFA (now EA though it seems really only the name has changed), but he also had his problems with Sydney Royal, they kept trying to make rules to stop John winning so many classes, but he would just enter extra events.

“I won every event there that could be won with my pony Valentine. He won Station Pony eleven years straight, he won Polocrosse Pony; Pair of Pony Hacks; he was Reserve Champion Pony Hack; Round the Ring Pony Hunt, a showjumping event, and won the World Championship Campdraft.”

In 1950 the horse that would bring John international fame, Bonvale, was born. A natural jumper, he terrorized the neighbourhood, jumping out of paddocks at will. The Faheys purchased him in 1956 for five hundred and fifty pounds.

Alas perhaps for the future of Australian showjumping, John decided that dressage was not a possibility with Bonvale, but he certainly could jump, twice clearing 7’2″ with 15 year old John in the saddle.

John and Bonvale winning the high jump at the 1958 Taree Show, jumping 7’2″ –
 Photo from The Master, reproduced with permission.

Horizons expanded and John and Bonvale competed at Brisbane and Melbourne Royal shows. No doubt Tom Fahey was a knowledgeable horseman, but some of his solutions were less than classical. “Tom observed that Bonvale had a habit of dropping his offside hind leg, which sometimes caused him to pull a rail. To counter this problem John shifted his weight to the left when going over a jump. This caused his right leg to kick up. To stop this from happening John tied his right leg down to stop his body from moving too far to the left. John did this for many years when competing Bonvale.”

In 1964, twenty year old John riding Bonvale won the final Olympic selection event, at the Sydney Royal Easter Show and suddenly the country boy was in the team to go to Tokyo for the Olympic Games.

read on below

And here’s where to find a stockist

“I was almost twenty-one. Training to go to the Olympics was a great privilege. Just after the Australian Championships a short list-team was selected: Bud McIntyre (Hyem), Barry Roycroft, Peter Winton, Stan Fear, Kevin Bacon and myself. We trained at Bowral in NSW where two Europeans, Franz Mairinger and Karl Jurenak were based. They were two professional instructors employed by the EFA.”

Sadly for John, and again, perhaps for the future of Australian jumping, John was not able to take part in Kalman’s dressage sessions because Bonvale wouldn’t trot, and John spent flatwork training time sitting under a tree watching on…

It was time for the EFA ‘aristocracy’ to enter the picture. John made the ‘mistake’ at a training show of beating Bud McIntyre, on her team horse, Coronation, riding his second string, Rocket. “James Barnes, the president of the EFA, came to me and said, ‘You’re not to ride that horse ever again against the Olympic team horses.'”

After the eventing team’s gold medal performance at Rome, the eventers and their entourage were to fly to Tokyo, while the showjumpers enjoyed the rigors of sea travel. Luckily for us, young John was a dutiful and talented correspondent, and his letters give us a unique feel for the young man as he set out on his first great adventure:

“By gee it was hard, seeing you all standing there, waving us goodbye. I will never, ever forget it. It makes me realize what a Mum, Dad and sister mean to me. I lost some tears, Couldn’t say how many. When we got out of sight Kevin (Bacon) and I went down and had a big SCOTCH to revive us.”

At the actual Games, the EFA once again ‘starred’. “On the day of the event each member of the team was presented with a sheepskin saddlecloth, a luxurious item, for their Olympic appearance… John sensibly objected to using this untried gear. He had asked to try out his saddlecloth before the event and was told, ‘No, we have to keep them clean and fresh for the competition.’ John believes this determination robbed him of a silver medal.”

The pair were clear to the 12th jump, when the saddlecloth moved back “and as Bonvale went to jump the water the saddlecloth came over his tail and just took his attention.” Two fences down. Crucial faults as it turned out because John and Bonvale ended after the two rounds, equal third with Britain’s Peter Robeson on Firecrest, and then missed out on the bronze medal when he lost the jump off…

There goes the saddle cloth – J Fahey loses out on a silver medal…
Photo from The Master, reproduced with permission

After the Games, John headed off to England and quarantine, sharing the ship, and the accommodation when he got there with Bill and Barry Roycroft. John and Barry did not get along, if John is to be believed, Bill and Barry did not get along, still the Brits jumping circuit gave John Fahey another option to show that he could mix it with the best in the world, and how!

read on below


At Hickstead, Bonvale collected firsts on the first three days, and seconds on the last two – by winning an international competition three days running, John and Bonvale established a record that is yet to be matched. A championship win (over 1.83 metre fences in the jumpoff) at the Three Counties Show followed then a win in the Puissance over a 6’1″ wall and a 5′ by 5’7″ spread…

At the end of the season, Bonvale had accumulated eight wins, four seconds and five thirds. Barry Roycroft, the youngest of the team, won five with Genoe, with three seconds and six thirds. Bill Roycroft had once again demonstrated what a consummate horseman he was with results in top level showjumping (on his eventers), in steeplechasing and two top level eventing wins. Peter Winton’s Brahmin, who missed a start at the Games and was the least experienced, ended with a win and two seconds.

Time to go home. And time to pose a question. How is it that the Australian horses at this time were so competitive, and would be right through to the mid-70’s, and would then drop so far behind the rest of the world? In Kalman de Jurenak we had a trainer with the same experiences at Bertelan de Nemethy, yet de Nemethy was able to produce a team of perfect stylists – while our Australians, lead by Kevin Bacon, were throwing themselves wildly out of the saddle. As William Steinkraus, the ultimate stylist in de Nemethy’s squad, remarked, I would have been sad never to have seen Kevin Bacon ride, but it would have been better for the horses…

I cannot imagine de Nemethy letting a Kevin or a John ride in one of his teams until they fixed their position – perhaps an American deference to learning (and the legacy of a French and Italian influenced Cavalry School that only closed in 1948) made for a receptiveness to the classical principles that would lay the basis for continued improvement…

The trip back to Australia was another adventure, brilliantly chronicled by John, and yes, there was another major EA stuff up. John had left his horses in New Zealand, flying back to Sydney – ‘That was a bad mistake’.

Despite promises that there would be experienced horse handlers on board, there were none. Bonvale got down in his very narrow stall and was left there for three or four days: “He had scars on his hip and his side where he had been lying. It was all scalded. Also his legs were lacerated. He never grew hairs back on his hip and carried these scars until the day he died.”

But wait, there is worse to come…

The horse was stuck in Melbourne for another two weeks while his trip home was organized. “During that time not only was Bonvale not treated for his injuries, he was also neglected by being underfed.”

When John and his father collected him in Maitland: “He was so undernourished and scarred. We didn’t think he would be able to survive the journey home. Dad and I drove as fast as we could to get him home that afternoon. We unloaded him at the house, and as soon as he was unloaded he lay down on the front lawn. I propped him up with bales of hay, and he lay there for two days before he was able to get back up onto his feet.”

Three riders were selected to go to the Mexico Games – John, Sam Campbell and Kevin Bacon. Once again the team was disadvantaged when EA decreed that they should not compete in the months prior to the Games for fear of injury, while the other nations had been competing in the weeks prior to the Games.

As it turned out Australia finished in ninth place, but worse, Bonvale had damaged a check ligament, as was revealed when it snapped when John jumped him at Madison Square Garden.

John was frantic with worry about Bonvale. The heiress Marion Du Pont offered to take care of the horse at her property but, you guessed it, the EFA said, no, the horse was to travel to Canada with the rest of the team. A twenty four hour road trip. Then on to England, where they finally managed to get Bonvale’s injury properly treated, and after eight weeks of expert treatment the lumps in his leg were down to a reasonable size.

The team traveled on to Germany where Sam Campbell’s April Love starred and John’s second string, Maestro picked up a couple of placings. Back to England, more placings and off to Australia. Maestro and April Love stayed in the UK, with April Love going on to be selected as a reserve for the 1972 British team.

You’ll never guess what happens next…! Bonvale did his quarantine in Melbourne, then – another starring EFA act – disappeared.

“It took me weeks and weeks to find out where he was. We sent numerous letters and made numerous phone calls and the answer was always the same, ‘The horse is in transit.’ Eventually I was at Newcastle Show when a friend of mine who had been to the races asked, ‘Has Kevin got Chichester back yet?’ when I replied ‘Yes’ he said to me, ‘There’s a black horse over at the Broadmeadow Racecourse that looks like your horse.’ I went over and sure enough, it was him. They hadn’t even notified me to tell me where they had dropped him off. He’d had no feed or water for days. I asked an old man there how long he had been there. He said, ‘A couple of weeks, and no-one has come to pick him up.'”

The horse almost died and finally pulled through. The EFA refused to help with the veterinary bills on the grounds that the horse had become sick while back in Australia.

After a couple of months, Bonvale recovered sufficiently to jump clear at a local show, but he didn’t feel quite right, and John retired him on the spot.

The next section of the book delivers chapter and verse on that legendary horse kidnapping and subsequent helicopter chase and shoot out on the Nullabor as Kevin Bacon attempted to make off with Billie Slater’s horse. Want to read that? Buy the book.

1972 and John was once more selected for the Munich Games with his new Australian champion, Warwick, when a new EFA lease was thrown at him at the last minute. If the horse was sold, all expenses were to be deducted from the price, okay said, John, but then there was another clause, 25% of the price would go to the EFA:

John told the EFA, “No! There was no way in the world I was going to give the EFA 25% because they hadn’t contributed anything to the cost of me producing the horse.”

The lease was further refined to ensure that the EFA bore no responsibility for injury to the horse, that the EFA could decide what competitions the horse entered outside the Olympics AND they wanted the power to put other riders on the horse – and take control of veterinary treatment over and above the wishes of the owner. The lease made it clear that the EFA was not obliged to transport the horse back to Australia, but that the horse would be either sold at auction or sold to the highest bidder within twenty-four hours of the finish of the Games.

Not only did John say no, Kevin Bacon let it be known that he intended to retire Chichester to Australia, and would not be signing the contract. The EFA then announced that no showjumping team would be sent to Munich because the horses were ‘not up to international standard’.

Chichester had already proven that untrue on the European circuit, and Warwick was about to, with a vengeance. John, who had paid his own way to the UK, was soon jumping Warwick on the British circuit and beating horses bound for the Games in the process. After he was crowned Leading Rider of the Show at the Bath and West County show – which also happened to be an Olympic Trial for the Brits – John saw the vice president of the EFA, Sir Alec Creswick sitting in the stand.

“I met him as he was coming out of the grandstand and I asked him about my chances of representing Australia in Munich. He said, ‘Sorry son, I can’t help you. You’ll have to eat humble pie.'”

In Germany, John finished third, behind Warwick Rex and Alwyn Schockemöhle, the combination that went on to win gold at the Games.

John and Warwick competing successfully at the Oxfordshire Show
Photo from The Master, reproduced with permission

“At the show I met the Australian Ambassador who said, ‘I’ll see you in Munich.’ I explained why the EFA wouldn’t let me go. He asked to see the contract… On seeing it he said, ‘Nobody could sign this! I’ll write to the EFA and the Olympic Federation and see if I can get you there.’ He did just that, and sent me a copy of the letter. He didn’t even get a reply from either body!”

John and Warwick starred in Dublin, Amsterdam and Olympia. They were genuine and proven medal chances, but with his first child on the way, John sold Warwick to Tony Newbury who rode the horse in Nations Cups teams for Britain, and headed home.

Back home John decided to turn professional – remember this is in the ‘amateur’ days when talented riders like Art Uytendaal were denied the chance of Olympic participation because they OPENLY made their living out of the sport.

“I was absolutely disgusted with the EFA at the time, because I had been sitting in Europe with an Australian Championship horse, had been to two Olympic Games, and had the best chance of going really well for the country. The horse was jumping brilliantly in Europe, and Germany and in England. I didn’t get there (to the Games) so I was pretty upset, pretty annoyed with the EFA. When I got back I wrote a letter telling them that I had had enough of the politics of the EFA, and of being an amateur, so as of this day I was going to get some sponsorship and I was going to be a professional. It was not long after that that they changed the rules.”

                      Australian Champion in 1978 with The Fall

There were to be more horses, many more, but never another that looked truly international. Tony Barlow (yes, John got his sponsorship after turning pro) Sorrento was unbeatable on the Australian circuit but John himself, acknowledged, the gelding was not an international contender. Sorrento was bred by John’s father, Tom, and was rich in the heritage of the Australian stock horse – by Master Luke out of Bay Lady, he carried Radium blood on both sides.

John and Sorrento – the horse dominated the Australian jumping circuit
Photo from The Master, reproduced with permission

At first John was unsure about the little gelding, but by the time the horse was eight, and 16 hands high, he was ready to go and won his first World Cup in 1986. Sorrento won the Olympic Trial for the Seoul Games in 1988, but John decided that the horse was not of Games standard. He also declined an invitation to compete Sorrento at the first WEG in Stockholm. Sorrento won the World Cup Pacific League in 1991, and this time, went to the final in Del Mar and proved John’s earlier assessment, they finished 33rd. Still no horse was ever so successful on the Australian World Cup circuit – 19 wins! Add to that, the Australian Grand Prix in 1988 and the Australian Championships in 1993. The horse was retired in 1997 and the rider, retired five years later.

more follows

It really is a puzzle. Throughout the 80’s, WA swindlers, Laurie Connell and Alan Bond poured millions of other people’s dollars into showjumping, not just in the West but also in the East, where the only lasting legacy was killing our still best ever show at Wentworth Park. The prize money had never been higher, the shows never as glamorous, or so tasty (one major sponsor ran a fish wholesaling business), and since Bond owned Channel 9 for a while, the media attention never as gushing – and all the while the standard of the horses and riders grew less and less competitive on the international stage. Or maybe they just stayed the same, while the rest of the world got better, and better and better, as the Australian riders enjoyed the good life, stars in their own little pool of self adulation. Dressage? Who needs Dressage? Look at Sorrento, another glass of champagne please, and pass the oysters.

Obviously this is not the whole picture, by the end of the 80’s George Morris was winning a group of dedicated pupils who very soon found that good flat work was very much the basis of good jumping And in the mid-80’s Goerge’s star pupil, Vicki Roycroft with Apache had a great season on the European circuit before the horse was sold to Alan Bond,  but aside from Apache (a freaky Thoroughbred), and to a lesser extent Mr Currency, Eros and Jox, who all went well enough flying flags other than ours (sadly right now Caracas, Aussie born and raised, and trained by Jamie Kermond is also following this route) it was not until the emergence of Laurie Lever’s Drosseldan and Chris Chugg’s Vivant (and later, Chris and Gabi Kuna’s Chrystalline), almost 30 years later that Australia again produced jumpers that were internationally competitive. All three Warmbloods, and purpose bred, two of them in Europe.

Perhaps the tide is turning, at this year’s Sydney Royal, seven of the horses in the Grand Prix had a European campaign under their belt, and the cream of European breeding is available right here in Australia…

It is a measure of a book like this that it not only entertains, and it does that richly, but that it provides us with the chance to reflect on what might have been, and how it could have been done better.

Of course John Fahey’s life – and the book – doesn’t end with the retirement of Sorrento. There’s more, a fascinating discussion of campdrafting, training racehorses, John’s own journey in the direction of chiropractic and alternative therapies, and the Warmblood breeding program of the next generation of Faheys. Buy it.


Champion Gentleman Rider at Sydney Royal with Tony Barlow Focus

Copies available from www.rosenbergpub.com.au or sales@rosenbergpub.com.au or phone 02 9654 1502



Meet the Saddleworld Horse of the Month – Johnny Johnson to his friends

This month’s Saddleworld Horse of the Month, is the Young horse Champion of Champions from Dressage and Jumping with the Stars, Iresias L (Johnny Johnson to his friends). Christopher Hector interviews his rider and trainer, Gina Montgomery…

How did you meet up with your very lovely horse?

“For a little while now, we have been searching the internet trying to find a young stallion and we missed a few, just because of the distance between here and there. Well actually, it was my best mate, Lisa MacDonald who did the hard yards trawling the internet, studying the breeding and she loves Dutch horses and tried to steer me in that direction. We have owned horses together forever, going back to our show horse days.”


“Last year we decided to get on a plane and go searching, and Johnny was one of the first ones we saw…”

“When we saw him it was quite funny. We were at Platinum Stables, where Kirsten Brouwer is – he was actually her boyfriend’s horse. He’s a showjumper, and they bought him as a foal.”

“We were looking at some of the other stallions, and there was this one horse that was going a bit crazy in the crossties up the other end of the stables, and I thought, god, I hope I don’t have to look at that one because it looks a bit nutty.”

“Of course, when we finished looking at the ones we were supposed to look at, they started walking us up to this guy, and I thought, oh great! The second we got with him, he relaxed and behaved himself. The boyfriend explained that he had only ever been on the truck twice before and that this was only his second time away from the property and he was just a bit nervous and scared. He said, do you mind if I lunge him for a minute…”

“He put the jump saddle on and the second he went around on the lunge, he was completely relaxed. I just liked him because even though he started out quite hyped up, he switched off very quickly. He rode him for ten minutes and I hopped on in the funny little jump saddle, and I instantly clicked with him. He was just a really really nice horse to ride.”

He’s brilliantly bred, by Johnson out of a Ferro mare from a famous mare line…

“Brilliantly. We’d been looking at a Johnson twelve months earlier and missed him, when we saw his breeding and his mother line, it was all the breeding we wanted. Ideally when we first went there we wanted a Dutch stallion over a good German mare, I get a bit worried sometimes that this guy is full Dutch, whether us Aussie riders are good enough to ride them, sometimes they are a bit hot and sensitive, but I did have such a good feeling from him, that I rang Sarah Hanslow who was looking for a stallion, and said, I really like him, and he is a really good price – what do you think? Sent her a little video footage and she said, yeah.”

“He arrived on the ninth of August, he has been brilliant, as has the Bordeaux stallion we bought at the same time. I’ve got a two-horse float and they are next to each other the whole time. They mated up in quarantine and stayed mates. When they arrived, I gave them a day off, and then lunged them five minutes each way and rode them straight away. To be honest, they have been really fantastic.”

“The Johnson is a definite boy, he knows what it is all about and he’s already interested in the girls even though he hasn’t done any serving yet. We were a little concerned, not about the rideability but whether us being girls, and getting old, whether we could manage him on the ground. In my stables with all the horses that are here, he is completely fine but as soon as lesson horses drive in, he’s like a watch dog, screaming and carrying on. So we’ve done a lot of work with him on the ground, trying to socialise him and he is just getting better and better.”

“The first time we took him to Clarendon for a training day, was a bit terrifying, his reaction when he saw the other horses, and we were worried if we would ever be able to switch that reaction off. We’ve had some good help from Aaron Quinn, who was with Kristy Oatley for years, and the last couple of years, he has been working with Ulf at PSI. He just arrived back in Australia with perfect timing, he met us at Clarendon and pretty much pulled him into line. He worked with him two, three days in a row at Clarendon and it was a massive turning point for him.”

“So Johnny Johnson has just been getting better and better since then. I just make sure I take him out places all the time. I go to different places and ride.”

Is he going to combine a riding career with a breeding career?

“That’s the plan. The idea was always that he would stand and pay his air fare, get a little bit of money back that way. There is always the option to geld him if it is not working out, but we will try it.”

Does he give you the feeling that he can go all the way to the ‘big sport’?

“He’s got such a good brain, so rideable, so trainable, so brave. I haven’t trained a horse all the way to the top before, but he ticks all the boxes so far. It’s a long way from here to the end, but the few people who have had a ride on him, and who have worked with him, say he feels like he has it…. hopefully.”