Armand Leone – a blast from the past

Thirty years ago, Armand Leone was a regular visitor to Australia where he married Aussie team member, the late Susanne Bond. Watching Armand ride was fascinating, interviewing him AMAZING! He was simply the most articulate jumping rider I had ever met. Nowadays, Armand also has a law degree and runs a equine law firm, check out the website, there’s great information to be had on

Now back to 1986, and I’m at horse show, watching Armand warm up Secret Keel for Susanne…

The horse is the big Warmblood gelding and the warm up is smooth and impressive. Quietly getting the horse on the bit, asking him to bend, to come under and carry himself. It is the first time the young American has ridden the horse, but he is no novice to the game of fine tuning jumping horses.

Eleventh in the World Cup on Jonker…

In 1986, Armand competed at Berlin, to finish eleventh in the World Cup.

The warm-up is unhurried, but is gradually getting more demanding, the canter circles are getting tighter, the horse being asked to flex to the inside and the out. The rider is winding the gelding in, that tight circle becomes a half pirouette, out on a straight line, pirouette, again and again, asking and getting the response. The instrument is handed to the owner, the tuning-up is complete.

Time for the promised interview. I learnt a while ago that American showjumping riders were not only master technicians in the saddle, on the ground they talk with – if this is possible – even more flair. One attempt to follow the flow of words from the doyen of American riders, William Steinkraus, with a note pad and pen had already prompted the purchase of the little tape recorder. It’s primed and ready to go, but still I barely get time to hit the record button, before the torrent of words, concepts and images begins. As he touches down in the chair, Armand is off and firing – the interview is underway …

“The reason I was doing those pirouettes and stuff is that I had the good fortune to be trained by George Morris. He is our trainer, but with me working, and him away showing, and my showing, I don’t really get a chance to work out with him so often. Maybe four or five times a year now.”

“When I was seventeen I rode with George Morris all the time. Mostly hunters and equitation. I love George and respect him. He has a system and a methodology that is incredible. His genius is to be able to see a horse and a rider and their problem. And not only to be able to say, yes they have a problem, but to be able to fix it.”

Touring Europe with George’s team: Armand, Betsie Bolger, Debbie Malloy and George

“He made me work on pirouettes, that was the new exercise for my Grand Prix horse. The new exercise was figure of eight, small voltes with the haunches in. I do a lot of dressage work. First of all you can’t jump these Grand Prix horses. Once they know how to jump, they jump at the horse show and maybe one school before. You can’t jump their legs off – they become too precious.”

“George taught me to do this figure eight with the haunches in, and through the transition, the canter change. Figure yourself, you arc in a small volte now, haunches to the right, now you come onto the figure eight line, and as you do your change of lead, haunches in to the new circle. The haunches really come across first and everything else is coming with the outside leg and the outside hand. He changes behind first, and as the haunches are moving across.”

“Specifically with that horse I was using the pirouette to solve a problem. Susanne has two nice horses, but no horse is perfect. All horses get rusty, they have the intelligence of two-year-old children. They have a good memory for things they don’t like, but they have a short attention span. I watched her ride yesterday, and it seemed to me that she had to work too hard on the turns in the jumpoffs. She was pulling them around in the turn.”

“So if I can help today to sharpen, to make that horse more crisp to the outside leg, that may help her tomorrow. I want him to turn straight with impulsion. Now that horse is not a cutter. You can get the cutting problem when they throw the shoulder in. They get quick, they cut in, and they’ll have a fence down because they are on their front end.”

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“So that is what I was doing. If I was riding this horse for six months, or a year, I could plan out a program over that time. I am basically involved with this horse for two days, you have a pick a little battle you can win, a little project that you can complete. You can’t build a bridge in a week, but you can throw a board across a creek.”

“So today was a practical lesson to get that horse turning from the outside leg, with the idea of the short term result – the horse shows on Sunday.”

“With my own horses I have a repertoire – and this probably sounds like a bag of tricks – of various exercises. I have a basic system, the Hunt Seat system as taught by George Morris. He is my prime teacher of equitation. Bertlan de Nemethy is probably my next best coach. I worked with him for two years and did a European tour with him. He had different exercises and different things. They would take the same balance and describe it a little differently, but each one has specific exercises and patterns. Maybe serpentines, figures of eight, shoulder in, two track, half turn and reverse, volte.”

“One talks about make a little bending and straighten, the other will talk about apply the leg, contact with the mouth and release them both. George talks about leg to hand exercises, Bert talks about bending exercises.”

“So one maybe stresses latitudinal work, one maybe stresses longitudinal work. On a given day with my Grand Prix horse -who basically can do everything in my Dressage manual so to speak – we will do just a few of those exercises, you can’t do it all. Given that everything is alright, he is not having a particular problem in a specific area, you orchestrate a certain series of exercises. Like an aerobic’s teacher would do. He is an athlete, by working his hind end, by making him do all sorts of flexions and bendings, collections and extensions, I can exercise his back, his legs, his neck, as much as jumping, and I can make that horse sweat.”

Armand and Sombre, from George Morris’ book, Hunter Seat Equitation – George comments: A terrifically competitive pair when going for time. Don’t worry if a few things slip when riding fast; they will. Armand is shown making a sharp right turn in the air. And meaning it!

“I can really make him work, and not get out of the trot – and not be brutal. Oh no! If you just make them do what they didn’t want to do. You don’t practice what they are good at, you practice what they are not so good at – then you reward them by doing a little bit of what they like. You can’t beat them into the ground mentally – you have to take care of the spirit of the horse.”

“I have a collection of exercises, then jumping gymnastic exercises, no stride bounces, eighteen foot gymnastic in and outs, and quadruples and pole, vertical, pole. In any one year you might do each one of these exercises once. Maybe at the beginning of the circuit, with my Grand Prix horse, I’ll take two schools and maybe do an eighteen feet in and out with a canter pole coming in nine feet in front.”

“By that time you are starting to show, and you are jumping at the Grand Prix on Sunday, now your schools become more specific. Maybe you are jumping more horse show oriented courses, course simulation. Over the years from George Morris, Bertlan de Nemethy, Frank Chapot, Billy Steinkraus a little bit, Sullivan Davis, Hans Winkler, Malcolm Pyrrah, those seven people have given me various exercises.”

“When you are riding around and everything is perfect, no point in doing that any more – try another exercise. If he does that perfect, fine – go on and try something else. When you find something he is not too good on, well work on it a little bit, you’ve found a project.” ‘My preparation for horses is really a collection of things you pick up from the genius’s all over the world.’

“You always have a weak spot, it’s like a sea wall. It’s like putting a wall up against an ocean. You build it and carefully lay all the foundations and you teach them all the things, but as time goes on, certain areas get weak. You don’t pay enough attention to that area for a while and it starts to erode. They are not so responsive say to the outside leg, and you go to a horse show one day and you have a problem in the course because he didn’t respond. You went to turn around and he bulges out and you get to the oxer a foot further out than you wanted and unfortunately it was six and a half feet wide, and you lost the Grand Prix. Next day you start working on the outside – well it’s too late.”

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“You keep continually checking with your good horses. Young horses don’t know too many tricks. A young horse maybe only knows four things. So you go out with your young horse and do your four things and if he does that well, you start teaching him a fifth. Then you mix back in to one of the other four and back to the fifth. And when he understands five, you start with another.”

“You keep playing them, you may get up to twenty, thirty, forty different patterns or exercises you can do. My preparation for horses is really a collection of things you pick up from the genius’s all over the world.”

Are you ever worried that with all those concentrated dressage exercises that you will rob the horse of his fire – his initiative?

“Am I worried about losing the killer instinct? No, not one bit. We are talking of doing this at home, or we are talking in the morning. We’re very different to you Australians – you guys are like the Californians. You guys want to jump big jumps, come to the horse show, get on the horse and jump. I like to get up early and work. Let’s say I have a competition at two in the afternoon, or eleven in the morning. I take the horse out at about around seven thirty in the morning. Do thirty, forty minutes flat work, not jumping. Work on his head.”

“People talk about a horse’s jumping head. Unfortunately with the dimensions and the lightness of the rails on today’s courses, and the related distances, horses have to be thinking. They cannot be fighting the rider when he is trying to ride the course. You can get away with it on single jumps – but you can’t get away with it at the Olympic Games. You can’t get away with it at the World Cup. Fifteen years ago you could keep them wild, and spirity, and fiery, you need more control than that today.”

“I’ll work thirty, forty even fifty minutes in the morning. Not to jump. Then he comes out for the class and I get on ten minutes before and we set up basic exercises. Not picking any fights. If I’m going to fight, or pick an issue, I’ll pick it in the morning. Let’s say I want to get him to the outside leg, if I’m going to work on that, I’ll work on it in the morning. But at the horse show for the warm up you don’t pick any fights.”

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“When you go in the ring, you don’t think about shoulder in and all that -you ride the course, that all becomes instinct. You forget it, it becomes reflex and instinct. You practice these things so the horse doesn’t think about it, he doesn’t understand why. You ask for the bendy bends, you ask for the cutty cuts. If you kept doing it, he would start doing it all the time, any way. But no, in the morning you go out and do different things.”

“Basically you try to do all the communication work and the intricate work in the dressage, so that in the ring, in the excitement, and when their blood is going, when everything is four sheets to the wind, all those hours you put in are there … if they are there, OK, they just happen.”

Nautilus – the one you couldn’t flat – with Hugh Wiley

“I will concede that there are one or two horses in the world at any particular moment, that cannot be ridden with understanding. One was Nautilus, the palomino horse, and I believe this because Bert de Nemethy told me that you could not school the horse. At a horse show the rider would just get on and do one vertical and go into the ring. That’s the way the horse rode. At home the groom would ride him, but you could not train him. Bert could not train the horse.”

“Because of that story, yes I do believe that there are some horses that you just can’t train, that are freaks. More times than not they are just horses that are difficult, and people do not have the depth of understanding – because it takes years, and unfortunately these days, money. If you have the time, and the money to get to work with people like Frank Chapot, or George, then you can deal with the difficult animals. I had a horse that I thought you couldn’t ride on the flat. I went to Bert de Nemethy and I rode with Bert for three weeks and at the end of the three weeks he was doing it all. He was round and bending, doing his two track work. .. and yes, Bert, you are right! He is not bucking and kicking and racing, he is nice and round and you can read a book while you ride him.”

“Some horses are very easy to ride classically, and anyone can do it. But you get a hot horse that doesn’t like leg – the answer is not – to not use leg. The answer is to use a constant gentle leg. But you have to know that you are doing right. You have to believe in your soul that you are doing right, because he is not going to like it at first. At the walk – the leg stays there. It doesn’t get more, it doesn’t get vindictive, it doesn’t get punishing. It just lives there. It may take a week, it may take a month, it may take just half an hour – but eventually, just like any constant thing, all of a sudden you stop noticing it.”

“It’s typically the hot horses that people say can’t be ridden. Yes it’s more difficult, but once you get it, they are the best, because they don’t run out of gas. At the horse show you think left, and they’ve gone left. You don’t have to do the sort of work I was doing with the Warmblood horse today on a hot Thoroughbred. If I had been working one of the Australian bred horses, I’d have been working on inside bending, soften him to the inside, because they cut.”

How did you first get to train with the jumping genius of the twentieth century – George Morris?

“We went and asked. I’d been riding for eight, ten years on the equitation scene, he’d seen us. We were intimidated by him, we thought ‘he won’t want to know us’. Finally my father went and asked him and he said ‘I’d be delighted, I’ve always wanted to work with them’. So I went with George on his first trip to Europe. I rode two horses and I won three Grand Prix! We had a fabulous circuit. I was eighteen, nineteen that trip. George has never forgotten that.”

“I’m a great student, like I’m a doctor. My parents would never allow me to make horses my business. I was the oldest son, and they are doctors, I was going to school. But the deal was if I went to school and was good, they would get me a horse. When we started riding with George, I had always been a good student. One, because I always wanted to cut out early so I could go ride my horses. I’d miss a week because I went to Florida for the horse show, so I had to be extra good at school because I didn’t want to be there.”

For more information:

“What you do is soak up what you can. I rode with George and Bert and they were the same. I remember riding with George at seven o’clock in the morning, in the vineyards in Bordeaux, and he is talking about the classical and the French leg aids, about Jessica Newberry, about dressage. It’s kind of a blast, you never know what you are going to discuss in a lesson. I remember him that morning saying that riding is like high school, college and doctorate training.”

”You start with the ponies and you are in grade school. You go along and you get to the hunters and equitation and you are in high school. You get to the jumpers and you are maybe thirty, forty years old, you are in college. Past that, you get to fifty, sixty and become a master and you become a dressage artist. Dressage is like the post graduate training.”

“Of course I was trying to have a bit of a good time in Europe. You have a bit of a late night and you are sitting there in the vineyards, and even though it was true and I loved it, but I started cracking up… I didn’t laugh out loud of course… but it’s great, he keeps you into the art. He keeps you in tune with that part of it. And if you can enjoy that part of it, you’ll never get tired of it.”

You are naturally the sort of rider who enjoys that sort of intellectual approach of thinking through problems?

“I am. I’m not as bad as my brother. I like to do it, but just like with an old horse, if you do anything too much it is bad. When you go into the ring, you’ve got to be able to stop. When you are getting ready for the horse show, you have got to be able to deal with practical things. If you have to give him gymnastics, or school for water, or lay a stick on him. All the bending and everything is nice, but you have to deal with the problem first.”

The Leone brothers – Peter, Armand and Mark

“I am not as overly intellectual as my brother Peter, but I am more intellectual than my brother Mark. Mark has a little more natural talent. He’ll have the groom ride the horse in the morning, maybe trot the horse, then go in the ring. Peter will ride on the flat for an hour and a half and just do trot pole cavaletti, and if he gets a little rub in the schooling area, that’s enough. I’m somewheres in the middle.”

“Susanne is good for me. She gets me to tone down a bit. You get to the point when you are doing post mortems – it’s too much. You have your round, discuss what you thought, look at the video once. Then there is a time when you have got to quit all that analysing.”

“I think video is too forgiving. Great rounds only look good, and horrible mistakes don’t look so bad. I think video is good for counting strides, or seeing where you turned, or remembering a course when you are preparing. As an analysis of riding, for some people it is very good, for me it is difficult.”

At the moment what horses are you campaigning?

“All purses have a bottom, with the prices of horses today. My brothers are younger than me so they have two or three good horses. I have one right now, Jonker. A Dutch bred horse, a good horse, not a great horse. He is not a Calypso, or a Touch of Class. He’ll jump any course. We jumped in Berlin and he was eleventh overall for the World Cup.”

You didn’t try for LA?

“We have too many professionals. They call themselves professional amateurs but we have too many professionals. Any way, I was busy with my Radiology Specialist training. I’ve been a doctor for four years, I finish my radiology specialty training in June. I couldn’t stop going to school and I love the riding too much to give it up. I thought I was going to have to give up riding, but I didn’t. I love horses and I like medicine as work. Maybe the balance will swing from month to month or year to year. For the next six months, finishing my residency is the most important thing.”

“For the latter half of 86, I want Susanne to have two or three nice horses, and me to have a pair, and we are going to ride with George Morris in Europe. Hopefully George will come. We’ll ride in Europe for three or four months, together. If we don’t want to ride for two or three months, and Susanne wants to go to Africa for a Safari, which is something I’ve always wanted to do, we’ll do that.”

“I’ve got tons of years to ride, and I’ve got news for you – this game doesn’t change. The game is the same on this continent as it is on any continent. I stopped riding competitively for a year, and I came back and I am riding better than ever. The physical end you get back in a couple of weeks or a month. Then it is getting your mental game back, and that’s experience. So our idea is to ride a bit at the end of the year, but if we change our mind – that’s OK”

You dont want to ride at the Olympics?

“I don’t really care. For the United States it is impossible, basically because we have too many professionals. I can’t afford to spend two or three million dollars to buy two or three horses to have a thirty percent shot at making the team, and then have to go to six Olympic selection events, risk injury or breakdown, and then get to the Games and not know until two days before if you are going to be the four out of the five who gets to ride.”

You wouldnt consider trying to make an Olympic horse yourself?

“Let’s put it this way. If you told me that you want me to go out and go to the World Championships next June, my friend you can’t go out and find a greenie and get it ready and do it. If we are talking ’92 Olympics we have to talk percentage. You give me one hundred well-bred horses. Give me enough people to break them and train them as yearlings and two-year-olds and three-year-olds. We trim down to fifty at three. At four we get down to twenty five and we campaign them all for a year. Then we get down to a group of six, and these six we say are the best. Then we take them up to the Grand Prix and we are already talking four years, six years down the road. Out of that we find the one that is a world class horse. We can do it that way – but do you want to bet the farm on it?”

“We’ve made some. We have two we bred ourselves. We have two expensive horses. We usually take problem horses. Not bad horses, but the horse that maybe has a little stop, or a little problem. Over the past four years, we have had maybe twelve Grand Prix horses, I’d say six were horses that were difficult, either they were too hot, or they would stop or they were difficult to ride. We bought them for a modest price. What’s a modest price? $60,000. We had some cheapies. We had some we bred ourselves, one happened to be my equitation mare’s foal, and I think it will be a nice horse. But it’s not going to be a free horse, really. What’s it cost – four thousand a year to keep a horse? He’s already five years old, so that’s twenty thousand dollars already.”

“We have two horses that we bought for my brother because he was trying to make a bid for the 1984 Olympics, and yes it was his turn, and yes we spent two hundred thousand, something like that. Too much money as far as I am concerned. But in all seriousness, he wanted to go and try for the Olympics. You can’t go in a Grand Prix car race with a Volkswagen. Especially when all the other guys are professional drivers and you might not be so professional.”

“I’ve learned on lesser quality horses, and the mistakes are the same – it’s just that the vehicle you damage isn’t priceless! I think it is better to wait and plan to make that special purchase at the time it is right. The time when you are ready for it. When you have decided this is what you want to do and are prepared to put six months into building for that. For me now I have one good Grand Prix horse and I can compete anywheres in the world. I might not win every day. Maybe four faults in jump off, but he’ll be tenth, fourth, fifth – win a thousand, four thousand, three thousand. I’m in the groove. He is safe to ride. He is classical. When the time comes… you change the vehicle underneath me.”

“I enjoy just what I was doing today, just schooling a horse. Sure, I’d like to win the King George V Cup, I want to win the Bond Derby one of these years, I want to win Aachen Grand Prix, someday I will – maybe not all of them. I’ve learnt that there is no rush. It is not going to change. Horses have been like that for hundreds and thousands of years. They are not going to change. We are all worried that they are going to change, but they are not.”

“They are going to get more expensive, but that’s about it. They can’t make the jumps any bigger. They can’t make the poles any lighter. They might get smarter. In the States they might go down to one horse per rider, and it will become easier.”

“Something like the Olympic Games you plan for. Set a goal and go about it. When we are talking Olympic Games we are talking about a plan for a rider over a period of four years. We may be talking about three horses and a proper progression for that one rider. When is the right time to purchase horses to win the selection events? When do you want to purchase the horse for the Games? The ideal way is to have a horse that you become selected on, and have another horse that you are going to use in the Games.”

“The most brilliant horse I have ever ridden was the mare I took to Europe with George – Encore. She was a very difficult Thoroughbred mare, only 15.3hh, but very hot and incredibly fast and cluey. She was a terror, but a winner. I loved her for that.”

The most brilliant – Encore

“The horse I am riding now is the most classical horse I have ridden but the other one just knew when it was a big day – this one either doesn’t know, or he doesn’t care sometimes. I’ve never had what I would call a world beater.”

“My brother has two that are really nice. I think I may at the end of next year, with my family, try to purchase a horse for myself, because if you want to get sponsors involved, and you want it to get world class, you have to have world class performances. You can’t just do it in the backyard. You’ve got to be able to go and compete anywhere in the world.”

What have been your best performances?

“Just to hit a quick run down, the first year I went to Madison Square Garden I was leading National Rider in ’77. I won two classes, I’d never won a class before in the open jumpers. 1978 I went to Europe and won three Grand Prix. In 1980, I went to the Alternative Olympics, won the Puissance at Wembley, won double clear rounds in the Aga Khan Trophy.”

Winning the Aga Khan on Wallenstein 

“That was special, I had to go first for my country. The training of George Morris made all the difference in the world. When I got over the last fence the timer was ten metres away, and I heard the echo of George in my head ‘Gallop!’ When I landed I put my spurs in and made him gallop. I knew we jumped clear and you want to pat him, no I made him gallop to the timers, and I was under in one hundredth of a second! One hundredth of a second and we would have had a quarter time fault, and we’d have lost.”

“Next time I came out I knew how tight the course was so I made it up in other places. But if that hadn’t been drilled into me as a junior, as an amateur jumper with George standing at the end gate, shouting “Turn, gallop”, if that hadn’t been instinct, we’d have lost a Nation’s Cup!”

 “We always have this thing in the United States about selections for the World Championships, that they should be points. Whoever wins the most points should be selected. George said, they always say that, but it’s never going to be that way. Because it doesn’t matter just jumping big jumps. It doesn’t matter if you can go out and jump back and forth all day over a six feet vertical, or if you happen to be good in your backyard.”

”You need to have the foundation and the training that when there are eighty thousand people in the stands around you, and it has been raining all week, and you are going to jump the biggest course in your life … don’t come to me telling me it’s too muddy, or you don’t like the schooling area, or it’s too deep, or you don’t know how your horse is going to jump. You better have the foundation, and the fortitude, and the belief in the system that you can handle it”

“And that’s what I feel I have got. I can go anywheres in the world and I don’t care where it is and what it is, I can cope. But you can’t take a team of four riders with ftve horses to the Olympic Games or the World Championships and have someone not being able to cope. Experience is important. Yes, current performance is important but it’s not the only thing.”

“For me that double clear in the Aga Khan was a fantastic moment. I’ll never forget that. But if I hadn’t had that training it wouldn’t have been a brilliant moment… One of the other guys on the team did have a half time fault. After the first round we were in second because another team had double clear. He felt terrible! Luckily they had a pole in the next round and we had double clears again so we won it. In ’82 I was leading rider in Rome. I won a class at the World Cup this year. But mainly in the last few years I have been trying to finish up my medical training.”

And one day you are going to put on the top hat and take George Morris’ final step, dressage?

“When I get too scared to jump … ”

Breeding jumping horses? Consider Light My Fire, a young excitingly bred Celle stallion, available in Australia from International Horse Breeders, just one from the range of top European stallions, see them all:

Gerd Heuschmann: The NEW book

The famed defender of the classical principles has published a new book – Andrea Heller previews this exciting new publication.

“When I look at the question, what is classical dressage or better – classical riding – because for me, classical has nothing to do with the discipline. For me a classical rider is able to train his horse for what he wants to do, without damaging the horse’s body or mind. A good cowboy can be a classical rider, if he is a good cowboy…”

Dr. Heuschmann gives us this example: “I was visited by a cowboy from Montana a few years ago. He was out of the USA for the first time. He is a great horseman, and has spent his life with his cattle and his horses. This Cowboy worked my horse on the ground, and, I saw he is doing exactly the same thing as I do, which my biomechanical explanations, say that I ought do:

What happens that makes lateral steps in walk?

What happens to the back?

What happens to the shoulders?

What happens to the poll?

He’s doing the same things I do– working with his rope and he says, “now we open the poll”, and he says “this brings the mind to the ground.”

I say, “oh! he stretches the upper muscle system and the neck”.   At the end we recognize that we are both right. When the horse relaxes the muscles and starts chewing, his mind gets ‘to the ground’ – this is why we should talk more with horsemen from different disciplines.”



Ten years ago, Dr. Gerd Heuschmann rocked the equestrian world with his international bestseller Tug of War, a searing indictment of modern training and riding techniques that are sometimes used to the detriment of the horse.

Dr. Heuschmann trained as a Bereiter (master rider) in Germany before qualifying for veterinary study at Munich University. There he specialized in equine orthopedics for two years before accepting a post as the head of the breeding department at the German FN, which he eventually left to start his own practice in Warendorf.

He has been an active member of the ‘hyperflexion’ (previously referred to as Rollkur) debate, weighing in at the 2005 USDF National Symposium and the 2006 FEI Veterinary and Dressage Committees’ Workshop. His book Tug of War and his DVD If Horses Could Speak became international bestsellers. In fact, according to the publisher, Trafalgar Square Books: “Tug of War is one of the most-often referenced books by serious horsemen looking to improve equestrian sport.”

“In the mid-2000s the German veterinarian Dr. Gerd Heuschmann, working with German Olympic dressage champion Klaus Balkenhol, created headlines when they publicized the findings of Heuschmann’s anatomical and biomechanical studies of hyperflexion,” writes Jennifer Bryant in “Rollkur: Dressage’s Dirty Word.” Heuschmann said that hyperflexion not only fails to develop the proper musculature for upper-level dressage, but the exaggerated flexion can also restrict the horse’s airway.


In 2017 Dr. Heuschmann released this follow-up book: Collection or Contortion? Exposing the Misconceptions and Exploring the Truths of Horse Positioning and Bend.” This is a critical examination of two concepts—flexion and bend—that are necessary to understand in absolute terms when the goal is to achieve collection on horseback.
In this new book, Heuschmann cites the many masters of classical dressage who wrote essays and even entire books about flexion at the horse’s poll and longitudinal bend of the horse’s body. Dr. Heuschmann strives to fuse the often complex classic literature with the results of his own studies as an expert in equine anatomy and biomechanics.

He meticulously describes various movements used, their desired effects, and the truth behind the rider’s role in each. In addition, he unveils his recommendations for dealing with the horse’s “natural crookedness” and “false bend,” providing basic guidelines for schooling that ensure correct gymnasticization with the end-goal of a more athletic, collected horse, and happier, healthier horses in the long run.


The False bend: The neck is never to be “bent” more than the trunk (body) of the horse: The first illustration shows an incorrectly bent horse. The vertebral column kinks to the inside in front of the shoulder. This gives the illusion of a correct bend. Why is the neck so important? Gerd explains: “If a horse has an unstable, loose, or wobbly neck, in front of the withers, he cannot be ridden in the proper balance, nor can he bend, straighten, or collect. Only a neck that grows with stability out of the shoulder, and is stabilized by the muscles in front of the shoulder can contribute to the correct bend of the trunk. As seen is these illustrations, the incorrectly bent horse has an unstable neck. The second Illustration shows a correctly bent horse, with the neck properly supported and stabilized by the muscles in front of each shoulder.


Illustration by Susanne Retsch-Amschler from Collection or Contortion? courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books

Furthermore—according to Heuschmann, “Flexion at the poll is an absolute prerequisite for developing correct bend of the trunk. Without flexion, there is no bend!” The effect of the rider’s inside leg, that encourages the horse’s hind leg (on the same side) to step under, is what ultimately creates the flexibility of the poll in the same direction (bend of the poll and flexion at the poll).


In this book, Dr. Heuschmann explores a multitude of topics, with the overarching message: “A training philosophy that diametrically opposes one of two partners can never lead to harmony. Imagine a dance pair where the leader wants to force harmony and suppleness using muscular strength against his partner and, when necessary, devices to force an unnatural position”.

One chapter is about Straightness. In this chapter Dr. Heuschmann explores the causes, and remedies for “natural crookedness”. Each horse is naturally better going in one direction or the other, similar to “humans” being either right or left-handed. In the illustrations below, the horse that is hollow to the right has musculature that is less elastic on the hollow side. These hollow horses tend to fall over the outside shoulder and resist or avoid bringing the inside hind leg underneath their torso, over their center of gravity.

Illustration by Susan Harris from Balancing Act courtesy of Trafalgar Square Books 

In this book, Dr. Heuschmann describes Horizontal Balance and Vertical Balance. Without Horizontal Balance, a horse cannot be vertically balanced.

Horizontal Balance: The horse moves rhythmically (Rhythm), swinging (Suppleness) and with consistent contact with the rider’s reins (Contact). Then the horse develops Vertical symmetry: the horse lets himself be straightened, and flexes and bends equally in both directions. He accepts diagonal aids. The horse loses resistance (stiffness) in the trunk, poll, and haunches. He increasingly stays attuned to the rider’s supple seat aids. The quality of the balance steadily improves.


This provocative and ground-breaking dvd, If Horses Could Speak, takes a step further into the examination of the horse’s “riding experience” and see just how specific kinds of movement and posture impact the horse’s skeleton and musculature.

Through the magic of amazing 3D animation—as never-before-seen in an equestrian video of this kind—viewers are shown how the horse’s limbs, muscles, and ligaments interact at various gaits. In addition, live-action examples of riding, both good and bad, demonstrate the effect human beings have on their equine “partners.”

If Horses Could Speak includes interviews with professional riders, veterinarians, and academics who specialize in the study of the horse’s anatomy and how riders can best work with it, rather than against it.

His lecture:

Dr. Heuschmann paints the skeleton, tendons, ligaments, and muscles on a horse and then explains in detail how they work and how easily they can be damaged. The demo horse is then shown at the walk, the trot, and the canter.

No matter what discipline the attendees/riders are interested in, the BioMechanics lecture applies to them, because it is all about the Horse. Yes every horse is similar in this regard, no matter what discipline they are used for. Everyone wants a balanced horse: Jumpers, reiners, trail riders, and of course, dressage riders.

Many of today’s injuries like suspensory problems are completely man-made, and can be avoided by correct, classical training and riding, according to Dr. Heuschmann.

Gerd explains the secret:My ideas are to bring back the classical approach to training, this is built on the Horse’s Nature (instincts), not human interference. We have the training scale, we still discuss suppleness, but in riding, training and competition, we often see the opposite. What I do, is not new. But it is a renewal of the Classical approach.”

“The first step is to convince people in their minds and their hearts that there is a different ideology to horse training.” Gerd explains: “Riding is an art, and art needs education. Training takes many decades to learn. There is no quick fix. The well-being of the horse comes first. It takes years and years to become a horseman! Only then you can start to examine the back, the mouth, the mind, of the Horse.”

Kurt Albrecht Von Ziegner (World renowned Dressage Trainer and author of The Elements of Dressage is a good closing for us, with his commentary on Gerd’s work: “Horses have served humans for thousands of years with their blood and sweat. They have earned being treated with respect and fairness. We should keep watch that their health and well-being always stand ahead of other considerations—both in daily work and in competition.”


Dr. Heuschmann will be appearing Oct 21-23, 2017 in Florida, where he will present his Equine BioMechanics Lecture and Demonstrations. Other clinic locations are WA, CO and NC. Please contact Andrea Haller for further information on this symposium.


Dr. Heuschmann’s books and dvd’s can be ordered directly from the publisher at:

Learn to Lunge with Malcolm Barns

What gear do you need to lunge your horse safely?

I always feel that when we are lunging it is necessary to use side reins if we are to really work the horse, and there is quite an art in attaching the side reins so that they have the desired affect. Attach the side reins at about the rider’s knee level and you need to make sure they can’t slip down, so use a two strap girth, or secure with string.

Your stirrups need to be put up out of the way or taken off so they don’t hit the horse when he is moving. Put them up like you do when you dismount, then you take the leather to the front, and back through the stirrup iron, and pull it tight, you’re really tying the leather on itself above the stirrup iron, and it won’t slip down. Or you can take the stirrups right off.

If you are going to put a rider on the horse, it always gives them confidence to know that if something goes wrong they can control the horse, they want to have the direct contact. This is a good safe way to put the reins out of the way. You put the reins over the horse’s neck, and then over again. A rider can reach the reins, whereas if they’re tied up, or knotted with the throat latch, or whatever, it gives the rider less confidence.

You can lunge in a headcollar, properly designed lunging cavessons are expensive and hard to find. I like to fit the headcollar low so it gets purchase on the lower part of the nose. If you have it up high, they can really learn to pull away because they’re too strong there, so I drop it down a little bit.

I attach the lunge line to the inside of the headcollar, not underneath. I like to be as mild as possible, and if they’ll work like this, that’s great. Take care if you are using a lunging cavesson, because if they hit you with a cavesson, you haven’t got too many teeth left.

more on lunging safely follows

If you are using a lunging cavesson, you must remove your cavesson noseband, but a dropped noseband won’t get in the way. Put the cavesson underneath the cheek pieces of the bridle. The jaw stop must be tight, and fitted on the jaw, not like a throat latch. This stops the cavesson from slipping around onto the horse’s eye on the other side. The nose piece should be quite firm too, and as it is padded, it can be. It mustn’t be loose or it’s going to twist around. It should be fitted like a cavesson noseband, two fingers below the cheek bone, and two fingers above the lips so that it doesn’t jam. If it’s down too low, the lips get pinched between it and the bit.

If you’re just learning to lunge, a cavesson gives you more control, because if the lunge line were attached to the bit, you could do damage, and you might lose the horse with a headcollar, so a cavesson gives you more control, and you can’t be rough on the mouth at all. With the lunging cavesson, attach the lunge line to the inside ring, for more control use the middle ring, but even though you’ve got more control, it tends to twist around on the horse’s head, so it’s better to be on the inside.

If you have a horse that evades you by putting it’s head to the outside and really pulling away from you in a headcollar, use a cavesson on the centre ring, or attach the lunge line to the bit because they must not turn to the outside. The side reins help to stop that too, because the side reins keep them straight. So if they turn their head to the inside and run at you, or turn their head to the outside and run away from you, they meet that other side rein which helps to stop them from that evasion.

If you’re lunging a rider, don’t lunge on a head collar – the horse must accept being lunged from the bit . If you’re lunging a rider for one reason or the other, they may do something that might upset the horse and set it off, and you’ve got to be able to stop it before it gets going. They could really pull away from you in a headcollar, or even in a cavesson, so I really believe if you’re lunging a rider, a beginner rider who is learning to sit, or an advanced rider who is having seat correction, then you lunge on the bit. Then you’ve got the horse, because the comfort of the horse is secondary to the safety of the rider. The first thing is that you’ve got to stop that horse from running away so that they don’t have a fall.

If you really have trouble holding a horse, thread the lunging line through the bit ring on the near side, over the top of the head and clip it onto the bit ring on the off side – vice versa when you are lunging on the off rein. That is the most severe method – and sometimes it might be necessary – but I always try it out in a milder way, and then come right back to the head collar if possible … but with the rider, always a bit!

more follows

When we are first lunging the horse, the side reins should be so long that the horse just doesn’t meet them at all. They are just working on the weight of the side reins, and there is no contact at all. Keep working them long until they accept that, it is always better to be too long than too short with the side reins. Err on the long side if you have to. Gradually over a period of time, which might be a few weeks, shorten the side reins bit by bit.

I like both side reins the same length – although some people like the inside rein shorter, I find that creates problems. Gradually shorten up the reins, a hole at a time, until ultimately when the horse is at the halt, he is just behind the vertical. This is the final stage, and not the stage for a young horse. The side reins are always the last thing clipped up, and the first thing undone, so the horse can stretch his neck. NEVER lead the horse in side reins, they can get a fright and rear and flip right over. Clip them together over the horse’s neck.

The trainer lunging the horse must wear gloves – so you don’t get rope burns and don’t get your hand caught in the lunge line. You must lunge in an enclosed area, preferably a round yard with a diameter of 39-42 feet or about 14 or 15 metres. A comer of a small paddock will do, then you can use the fence at the corner to stop your horse if it gets going. An indoor school is great – the main thing is that you need a wall, because often you have to squeeze the horse between the whip and the wall to push him forward. If you haven’t got that fence or wall there, then when you try to push the horse forward, instead of going forward he just goes sideways. You could make yourself a nice round yard with bales of straw, or forty four gallon drums and rails – that would be ideal. When the horse sees that it has no chance of running away, it is easier to get it on the circle and lunging.

With young horses, or difficult horses, or horses that have been taught to lunge badly, if you put them in a big area, they have the advantage because they have all the evasions.

Lots of horses are not too keen to start lunging – and it is an art. Sometimes you might need an assistant on the outside, walking to get the horse started gradually. And make sure your assistant helps you get the horse going both ways. Start in the centre of the circle and stand back towards the horse’s hindquarters with the whip a little bit raised so you are driving the horse forward.

So many people stand in front of the horse and crack their whip and wonder why they go backwards rather than forwards. You must drive the horse forward onto the circle.

Robyn has the loop in the lunge line so and is standing well behind the mare, so that it is easy for her to drive her out. If the horse is free moving you hold the whip a little more forward, almost to the lunging line – if the horse is not so free you might have to move the whip back to drive it forward. It’s called a forward whip or a backward whip.

With the lunge whip, the lash is always too short when you buy them – so I remove the cracker and just put two or three metres of clothes line cord, the sort you can buy at any supermarket. Your whip must be able to reach the horse, otherwise they soon find out that they don’t have to go. You must be able to touch them, you shouldn’t be cracking and cracking. I like to keep the vocal commands to a minimum and use very distinctive tones for each command so it is easy for the horse to understand what you want.

When I am lunging I like to put boots on the horse’s front legs, but not on the hind legs when I’m lunging a rider, that can be dangerous if the lunge line gets caught in the boots. We want the horse to take a bit of contact – I would like the horse to take the weight of the trainer’s arm, so that · the horse is not too light and travelling on nothing. Rather we should have an elastic contact and the trainer has to push the horse so that it doesn’t stop when she puts that bit of weight on it. When you are riding a horse it has to take a bit of weight and push into it, so when you are lunging you should be preparing the horse for that.

You can use that little bit of contact to draw the horse forward, when you want to canter or move on a little – use the whip to drive, and the hand to draw the horse a little bit forwards. Don’t do much walk with the side reins attached, because the side reins are going to restrict the walk. Just enough walk to get the horse out onto the circle and then it is far better to move fairly quickly into your trot work and do mainly trot work. Not too much canter, perhaps later on when you are more experienced and the horse is going better, do some canter work then.

At the end of your work, unclip the side reins, and walk your horse without the side reins at all, so that it can use its full length of neck and really stride along. We use two hands lunging a horse. If you are going to the left, the right hand holds the loops and the whip, and the left hand does a lot of adjusting. It shortens and puts the spare loops back into the right hand, if the horse is coming in, or it feeds out the loops if the horse is going out on the circle.

You do really anchor the horse with that right hand, and the left hand is much more flexible. You don’t take the contact away from the right hand you keep a certain amount of contact with that hand, so that if you have resistance from the nose, you take that resistance with both hands – not one. If you just use one hand the horse might find that it can get on top of you. It is a bit like riding – you use both hands, not just one.

If you have the loops and the contact in the one hand and the horse comes in to you, you’ll find you have a whole lot of spaghetti at your feet. If it pulls away, then you will be walking all the time to keep up with the horse. It is much better to feed out and wind in, using the two hands. When you change your rein, you always put your hand in from the same side. You don’t come from the back and end up tangled around the lunge rein.

more lunging tips follow


When you want to stop the horse, as the horse comes round and is facing the fence, then you go to the fence to and turn the horse into the fence and say halt. You cut the horse off. Don’t pull the horse into the circle – the horse must halt and stay out on the circle. Otherwise it will learn very quickly to turn into the circle every time you come back to a walk, and then it is hard to stop a rider out on the circle without the horse coming in all over you.

The lunge whip should be rolled up and then hung up by the end – otherwise it will get a bow in it if you stand it, and it is not so nicely balanced in your hand. I always like my horses to be lunged before I work them. It’s a great help for any one, especially if you only have limited time to spend with you horse – and anyone can learn to lunge. So if you have a mum or someone with a bit of free time, enlist their help to get your horse worked.

If you like dressage, there’s 100s of articles with the world’s top trainers just a click away….

Rudolf Zeilinger – Master Trainer

Rudolf Zeilinger represents a living link to one of the all time greats of dressage, his mentor, Willi Schultheis. Rudolf has been a hugely successful competitor in his own right, and a highly successful trainer of international riders and teams.

Chris Hector interviewed Rudolf Zielinger in 2012 at a demonstration at Boneo Park

Guess what Mr Zeilinger reckons dressage is all about?

It’s that boring old training scale again: Rhythm, Relaxation, Impulsion, Straightness, Collection. And how do you achieve these qualities? With the first horse, he worked on response to the aids:

“You don’t need your leg, he should react to your seat bones – if he doesn’t, then use your legs. Forward and back, soft hands, just with your seat. Now the horse is much more uphill, much more in self carriage.”

“We have the horse more sensitive, more listening to your legs. That is what we want every working session, the horse more focused on the rider. Not just going round and round, get the transitions, get the horse listening, and the transitions will make the horse more athletic, they will build the muscles and the power from behind.

It’s a bit like that old Pete Seeger song, When will they ever learn… Top professionals regularly fetch up in Australia, and they are all singing from the same hymn book, you must work on your basics, but we can see by what happens in the competition arena, the riders are not listening.
 Rudolf worked with a series of riders and horses of different ages and levels, and while the basic principles remained the same, the application differed from horse to horse:

“The first horse was very steady in the contact, maybe too strong, so we work to get it loose. With the second horse, we had to look first to establish the connection. People ask me, how much can you do with a five or six or seven-year-old – the horses will tell you what they are able to do. With the five and six-year-old horse, you should play with different things, always have in the back of your mind, in four or five years we will need piaffe ready at a high level. That is horsemanship, not thinking, oh my horse has done Prix St Georges, now I will teach piaffe so we can do Grand Prix next season. Go into the horse, and find out what is possible – play and give yourself enough time to be fair to the horse.”

next Rudolf works 2 horses with opposite problems

And if Rudolf spent time with one horse developing a more uphill outline, with the the next, it was the reverse, stressing that you can’t train a horse in a competition frame: “let him out, not short in the neck, let him be supple.”

“Come here, let me loosen the curb chain, I think that will be better. Riders start to think training a half pass for a nine, but you have to develop a half pass at the highest level. Maybe you ride a half pass with no bend to develop the crossing of the legs, or even a half pass bent to the other side. You don’t ride a half pass like you would in a perfect test from the beginning.”

On to the half steps…

“Have the neck lower and longer in training. Don’t stress the horse, don’t try to do 200 steps, five steps bending the horse with low hands is fine at the beginning. Not too much leg, use your seat. He’s in the right rhythm for piaffe, and moving diagonally. Stay on a small circle and let him open up his back. Move out in a supple trot. Also in canter, soft and let him out, not short in the neck.”

Once again, there were no surprises in Rudolf’s display, we saw a horse that had been properly educated in the basics finding it quite easy to respond to the aids of a strange rider: that really was the aim of dressage, to produce a horse that any educated horseman could get on and enjoy the ride.

Willi Schultheis and the Thoroughbred Chronist

Rudolf is a legend in his own lifetime, as a competitor and a trainer, but he is also the best known graduate of the school of one of the great trainers of all time, Willi Schultheis… But his story started before that, as the son of pony breeders:

“I started riding ponies from the same time as I started walking, it was only for fun, my parents were pony breeders. My real riding career I started when I was 16 or 17 years old with a German bereiter education. After two years, I had the big possibility to move to Willi Schultheis and so all my dressage knowledge and career really started. I must say he was my big mentor and it’s built from him. I spent ten years with him and then during the last three or four years with him I also did my own business with 15 horses in training. In 1992 I finished working with Willi Schultheis and made my own business, and then from there on it grew up from 25 horses to now having 40 horses in my stable in training. Now I have my own place, my own training facility with two big indoor riding arenas.”

Thinking back to Mr Schultheis, what would you say was the essence, what’s the main thing of his way of training and riding horses?

“He was a natural artist/talent. His way of riding was more art than a craftsman. He had a big feeling to think very quickly into a horse, to see what is the point, the problems there.
The great thing was through the influence of his riding, he could moderate almost all horses to work on his side. He loved especially the Thoroughbred or Trakehner horses, horses that were a little bit more hot in their temperament. But remember that our Warmbloods are much more different to the horses they were riding in the 60s or 70s. Our breeding now is so much influenced with the Thoroughbreds and much lighter and more refined than the warmblood horses then.”

If Mr Schultheis came out and competed today would he look competitive or would he look old fashioned?

“Ok, everything develops, the whole sport developed, the breeding developed, but I still think those old masters would be the best ones. If you only see the pictures from 40 years ago and think, that’s only how they rode then, that’s a little unfair because it looks old fashioned. But they were so great they would ride today’s horses. Also if I see horses today, I see how much easier they make it for us.”

Today’s horses are easier because they’re better bred?

“Exactly. They have much more capacity, much more from the conformation, much more basic rideability. So for training
it’s much easier than those old masters.”

So have you had to change your way of training 
much from the way that Mr Schultheis trained?

“I don’t think you change it too much, you go with the 
time, you want to be competitive, you look at what other 
ones are doing, you look at top level of the sport and you continue, I mean if you stand on your same level, it’s a step
back, you always have to look forward and to think what’s new and to put new ideas in the whole system but not the basic 
way of riding.”

So it’s still the same?

“Yes, absolutely.”

And what are the new things?

“The new things for me are a lot of things with horsemanship, welfare of the horses, feeding of the horses, veterinarian points, it was harder to train the older horses, but we have now different problems. The horses back then were much harder than the horses are today. Maybe one reason is today’s horses have more capacity than the horses then, the strides are now higher, bigger, much more the cadence, and that is harder for the bones. Plus if you want to ride on a top level, you have to score around 75- 80% or more so these horses must be really on the limit of their possibilities. So we have little different problems to what they had, but in those times the horses has less movement so it 
was harder for them than it is today.”

“But the basic things like the schedule of training with the six points we have, the basics seat of a rider, the training of the rider, the training of the horse – these have not changed so much.”

Rudolf Zeilinger and Livijno

Breeding a modern dressage star this season? Look at the range of top European Stallions available from IHB. Go to





A Tribute to Hazel Pither from Maggie Dawkins

Vale Hazel Pither

Hazel Pither passed away last week. The family said, “it is an end of an era, with a life well lived.”

Hazel’s legacy lives on, especially through her, and husband John’s, Oakdale prefix, as breeders of Connemara ponies and Connemara x’s in Western Australia.

A young Clayton Fredericks cleaned up in the hack ring at the Perth Royal Show with monotonous regularity on his pony Oakdale Penwood, known in the family as “Woody”. The dapple grey gelding had great movement. Clayton went on to win an eventing team silver medal at the Beijing Olympics of 2008 and currently coaches the Canadian eventing team.

Clayton Fredericks and Oakdale Penwood

Olympian Scott Keach rode his first Gawler 3DE as a 17-year-old on a Connemara X TB Oakdale Arran Isle placing 2nd in the Intermediate class in 1982.

No doubt Clayton and Scott’s riding success was due in part to having an Oakdale mount!

THM was alongside Hazel, when surrounded by friends, she proudly cheered on her granddaughter Gabby Pither to win the 2* at the Melbourne 3DE in 2014.

The entrance to the indoor arena at the Western Australian state equestrian centre is named in her honour and Hazel is a worthy recipient of an OAM for her service to equestrian sport in 1996.

Hazel had grown up with horses and was a member of a mounted reconnaissance unit in WW2.

Her other achievements included: Classifier and judge for the Connemara Pony Breeders’ Society with life membership bestowed upon her, driving force for the establishment of Riding for the Disabled in WA and life membership, FEI show jumping course designer and judge, and a dressage judge, representative at every level of the Pony Club Association in Australia, representative at every level of EFA and a life member, member of numerous other equestrian committees and breed societies too many to mention!

Hazel Pither genuinely loved doing all she could for equestrian sport. Her commitment and involvement is an inspiration to all. Pauline Fredericks, Clayton’s mum, remembers Hazel for her generosity in taking the time to encourage riders, by offering feedback and advice to enable them to improve, for next time. Vale Hazel Pither and thank you for making such a difference!

Maggie Dawkins






Flying Changes with Christopher Bartle: Part Four

Bartle Opener

Christopher Bartle turns his attention to the canter

Flying changes represent for most riders the most dramatic or most difficult part of the dressage horse’s training, other than the piaffe passage and the canter pirouettes. Teaching horses the response to the flying change aids is not the difficult part. The art is to retain or enhance the quality of the canter and the flying changes through the work, rather than to compromise for the sake of obtaining the change of leg. The secret as ever lies in concentrating on the basic principles as explained in the whole of this series of articles.

Quality of the change

The quality of the flying changes is reflected in the expression, the length of the change, the straightness and the quality of the canter before and after the change. When riders talk of changes having expression, they mean that during the stride of the canter in which the change is executed, the canter has a definite moment of suspension. This enables the horse to bring the new inside hind well under the body and to reach out with the foreleg. Expression should not be confused with tension. A horse which is relaxed in its work and yet carrying itself with the passive tension that a horse in collection must have, will cover the same amount of ground in the change as in the normal collected canter.

The straightness of the changes is as important in the change as in the preceding canter. In the earlier articles in the first series, the straightness of the canter was stressed as one of the main priorities. The horse has a natural crookedness which causes most horses to have the quarters to the right and the shoulders to the left This means that in canter right, the horse tends to curl around the rider’s right leg too much and to cut in with the quarters through the turns and circles. On the left rein he comes against the rider’s inside leg and is reluctant to offer the lateral flexion to the left If the canter preceding the changes is not straight, the flying changes will not be straight. In addition, the length and expression of the change will be adversely affected because if the new inside hind is stepping slightly to the side as it comes through, then it will be less able to step well under the horse’s body.


Quality of the Canter

The quality of the canter before and after the flying change is also a measure of the quality of the change itself. If the horse is tense in anticipation of the change, he will tend to stiffen the neck and back and so shorten the stride. This tends to lead to a stilted change. An equally common fault in the flying change, especially at the beginning of this phase of the work, is the tendency to take hold of the bit and take charge after the change. Of these two faults, the first is the more serious and should be corrected as soon as the tension is felt rather than proceed with the changes.

Before starting the work of teaching the flying changes, the quality of the canter should be well established. The horse should be thinking forward, should accept the slowing and collecting aids and should be laterally submissive. The horse should be straight in the canter.

Once the horse has learnt changes it is more difficult to straighten him as he will find it easier to change rather than straighten. The counter canter must be well established. The horse must be able to perform the counter canter without losing the elasticity of the back and without becoming crooked. The work on collection must have commenced through the smaller circles, the pirouette type turns and the response to the collecting actions of the rider. As the canter is collected, the moment of suspension should not be lost as this is the moment at which the change is executed. A shorter moment of suspension will mean that the flying change will lose expression.


The simple change through walk is not only a good exercise to collect the canter, but is also a good preparation for the changes. The horse should be able to come directly back to walk from canter and then proceed from walk to canter without any trotting steps. The transition to walk should be executed with the hind leg well engaged and the horse remaining ‘up and out’ in front. A common fault is the stiffening and straightening of the hind legs which causes the horse to become ‘croup high’ in the transition. The serpentine of five loops with simple changes on the centre line as performed is a very useful exercise.

The simple change, although a good preparation for the changes, is not the means by which the horse is trained to understand the aids for a flying change. The flying change involves a change of lead through the canter stride. Riders who use the simple change to teach the horse the aids for the flying change will have difficulty in obtaining free forward changes.

Teaching the Aids

If the quality of the canter is established, the rider will be able to maintain the rhythm, the balance, the straightness and the ‘jump’ in the canter without difficulty whether in true canter or counter canter. It is at this moment that the work on the flying changes can commence.

Obviously in teaching the horse the response to a new set of aids, there will be some loss of relaxation, some tension caused in anticipation, but if the rider concentrates on the basics and returns to these whenever necessary, the horse will learn to perform a single flying change without tension. Not all horses will have brilliant changes just because not all horses have it in them to show a really good canter, due to conformational and other difficulties, but this should not mean that the rider should not go on to teach the horse flying changes.

The preparations for the changes are as important as the aids themselves and the timing thereof. The preparations basically involve checking on the priorities in the canter and working for the lateral submission to the side to which the change is to be made. Once this is established the rider can apply the aids to ask the horse to change. The aids for the change should be just a change of the position of the seat in the saddle which affects the positioning of the hips and places the new inside hip in front of the outside one. The rider should try not to slip to the outside during the change.

The signal/stimulus for the change is given by a combination of new inside leg at or in front of the girth and new outside leg just behind the girth. In the earlier work, the role of the inside leg as the signal for the canter strike off was emphasised and so too in the changes it should mainly be the stimulus of the inside leg which asks for the change while the outside leg stays at or just behind the girth so that the horse does not jump to the side. The rider must above all make sure that, in applying the leg on one side, the other does not come away from the horse.


In all training, the rider should endeavour to teach the horse to respond to the most discreet of aids. The perfect result is a horse which appears to the spectator to respond to invisible aids. In the case of the flying changes this is all the more important. One frequently sees riders swinging the outside leg well behind the girth almost to the point of the stifle which then causes them to leave the saddle with the seat and to pivot on the knee. Once series changes start, this becomes all the more important The inside hip and inside leg should move in sympathy with the horse’s inside hind leg/hip.

Of course at the start of the work on the changes the stimulus needs to be sharp enough to cause a reaction. This will differ from horse to horse and with some horses will be a mere suggestion while with others it will be accompanied by a tap of the whip just behind the outside leg. It is unusual for the horse which is just learning changes to react to the first stimulus and so the rider must repeat the aid until the change occurs. The repetition of the aid should be every other stride rather than every stride and can be gradually applied more sharply with the support of the whip.


The timing of the aids is of course crucial. Once the horse is ready for the flying change and the rider has made the necessary alterations in his position in the saddle to ask for the change, then the stimulus from the leg and inside hip must come at the moment which allows time for the message to travel to the horse’s brain and back to the horse’s legs so that the change can be made while the horse’s legs are off the ground during the moment of suspension. As the horse’s training progresses, the time must be altered slightly because the flying change will be done as a reflex act in response to the rider’s aids and the message to the brain will be short circuited. Initially then, the stimulus should be given as the leading foreleg is about to come to the ground. Gradually the stimulus will be given a fraction later until it is given at the start of the moment of suspension.

Bartle - Caption in text

During the stride of the canter in which the change is executed the canter has a definite moment of suspension


As in much of the schooling work, the use of exercises helps to produce the result one wants. As mentioned in earlier articles, the rider should always be inventive. The exercises described below are useful at the very start of the process of teaching the horse the correct response to the flying change aids because they tend to predispose the horse to change. One exercise is no better than the other but different horses respond differently and find one exercise easier to understand than another.

Exercise 1: The horse is asked to turn down the centre line in canter and then to execute a half pass towards the track. Approximately two metres before the track the horse should be ridden forward straight while the lateral submission is obtained towards the new inside leg and then the rider starts to ask for the change repeating the aid every other stride and supported by the whip if necessary. The priority remains the straightness, the rhythm and the lateral submission even as the strength of the stimulus is increased.

Exercise 2: The horse is ridden in counter canter up the long side. The aid for the flying change is given between the first quarter marker and is repeated until just before the end of the long side or until the flying change is executed. If not successful, do not continue to ask around the short side but rather repeat down the next long side and perhaps support with a tap of the whip. Once again the priorities remain the same and the aids for the change must always be secondary to maintaining the basics. If the horse changes in front but not behind then the rider should continue to ask every other stride until the horse changes behind, rather than come back to walk and start again. The horse must learn to come through more quickly behind rather than come back to trot or walk.

Exercise 3: The horse is ridden in collected canter deep into the second corner on the short side and then ridden out of the comer on to a shallow loop approximately three metres away from the track. The rider then asks for the change at the moment of straightening to ride down the long side. This exercise is useful with horses which appear to show no inclination to ‘have a go’ at a flying change but the timing of the aid just at the moment that the horse is ridden straight and out of the shallow loop is crucial.

These exercises are but three of the many which are possible. The exercises must be used in relation to the horse’s temperament and schooling problems and should not be thought of as each being relevant to every horse. At the start of the work the horse will often respond by changing late behind, or, less commonly, late in front. Partly this is a result of the timing of the aid and the fact that at the start of the work the horse’s brain is involved in deciphering the message and partly as a result of a lack of collection which causes the horse to disengage rather than engage during the flying change.

As the horse comes to recognize the preparations for the changes and even gets to the point of anticipation, it becomes easier for the rider to collect the canter during the preparation and to maintain the engagement through the change. In addition, the response becomes a reflex action and therefore the flying change will happen more immediately at the moment of the application of the stimulus.

Consolidating the Movement

Consolidating the single flying changes with most horses takes quite a few months and with some at least a year or more because they find it so exciting or difficult. In general the bigger the horse’s canter and the more volatile the horse in temperament, the longer it takes. The work mainly consists of working on the basics particularly as the horse anticipates the changes and in so doing stiffens the back, blocks the lateral submission, stops going forwards or conversely does not accept the slowing aids.

The more inventive the rider can be in terms of where the changes are executed the less the horse will be inclined to anticipate. It should be possible eventually to perform single flying changes at will anywhere in the arena and from true canter to counter canter. It should be possible to perform the single flying changes on a circle as well as on a straight line.

The quality of the canter before and particularly after the change will provide the indicator to the rider as to when the horse is ready to start series changes. In general the horse can be said to be ready to start four-time changes if after performing a flying change he is able to come back to a good, straight, balanced, collected canter within three strides. For three-time changes, then it should be two strides and for two time changes there is only one stride. So by then a horse should be remaining correct in the canter during and after each change.

The main point to remember in all the work on flying changes is to be prepared whenever necessary to go back to square one to re-establish the basics before building up to the changes again. The most common fault for the rider, is to apply stronger leg aids, swing in the upper body or swing the leg more and more when the changes do not happen correctly rather than to analyse what is wrong in terms of the priorities and to correct those first.

Top dressage stallions available from International Horse Breeders this season for more information go to

Stallions like Vitalis

Sir Donnerhall

Jonny Hilberath – The Transformer

Brett Davey and his New Zealand partner Andrea Bank have only recently returned from three years at Jonny Hilberath’s busy dressage stable in Germany where suddenly they were in a whole new world of dressage…

Rebecca Ashton tells the story                      Photos: Libby Law and Rebecca Ashton

Andrea took her licensed Hanoverian stallion Doringcourt to Jonny’s barn and the training they received was nothing less than transformative. Andrea explains, “I didn’t get to compete Roy (Doringcourt) in Germany because of an injury later in our stay, but before that I delayed competing because Jonny totally changed my way of training. He taught me how to ride from my seat. I’d never been taught that your seat was such a massive aid. It’s so sad, isn’t it?! The Germans learn that from when they’re little kids. I’d never been taught that but he taught me; he changed everything. I wanted to do Grand Prix but I wasn’t in enough harmony with Roy.”

“When I first rode in front of Jonny he said, ‘Andrea, there’s no language between you and your horse.’ I said, ‘I know!’ but then that’s why I was there; to learn everything. Roy’s a really tricky horse because he’s super flexible. Too flexible. There’s so much detail into getting that horse through. Sometimes Jonny would sit on him and I’d ask him what he was doing, just so I could understand. I’ve learnt that you actually need some tension in the horse’s body, so it can hold itself. My little mare, she has that, but Roy was just this big, floppy, loose horse. We had to teach him how to have a bit of tension and eventually he became very athletic. He could actually buck and he couldn’t do that before! We were excited because that showed he was starting to move his body differently. He hasn’t got a nasty bone in his body but we taught him how to play.”

“Jonny started teaching him all that with in hand work. It was amazing how he went about it. I was on him and Jonny would be on the ground with a whip. He wouldn’t hit him. We were never allowed to ride with whips, no running reins in the stable, nothing like that at all. But he would have this whip and play with Roy. He would wiggle it in front of him like you do with toys in front of cats and Roy would start playing with him. That’s how he taught him to passage. We were all laughing. It was a game. Jonny taught me that you have to give your horse confidence rather than force them to get a movement. They have to play and want to do it.”

Brett agrees, “I think that’s one thing I will never forget. I used to love talking to Jonny about methods and the thinking behind it. He never trains or rides with a whip, even the high movements. You see so many people train the piaffe or passage with a whip and the horse will go, ‘Yeah, yeah, ok, I’ll do it because I have to,’ but Jonny wants it to be their party trick and that they enjoy doing it so that when they’re in a big atmosphere, they don’t think, ‘Oh no here we go, I’m going to be kicked and pulled until I do it.’ Instead they think, ‘Here’s my chance to shine and play and for everyone to look at me, I can do that.’ I think that’s such a good way to look at it.”

It was an eye opener for the couple to see one of the world’s best trainers preparing riders for WEG and Rio, to see what it takes and the attention to detail involved. Despite that, Hilberath has established a supportive training facility filled with riders from all over the world who dig in and help each other. The trainer also always has time for people. Andrea relays their meeting at WEG, “He was training riders like Helen Langenhanenberg in Normandy, but on the day of the kür, he’s ringing us up to come and have a drink. Then he was, ‘Ok guys, I have to go now. I have an important job to do.’ We were nobodies, but he still had time for us despite his schedule.”

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Brett’s skill as a breaker and handler of youngsters came to the fore as well while overseas. Andrea tells the story, “There was one really naughty horse that threw Jonny off like a beauty. He got up out of the sand and walked out past Brett saying, ‘Brett, that’s a horse for you.’”

“And I don’t mind those sorts of horses,” continues Brett, “If they’re talented, I don’t mind. I enjoy getting in their heads and working through things in the right way. You can’t bash them up. If they’re naughty they have to be put in their place, but you have to become their friend. They end up becoming really trusting and confident.

“The work snowballed at one stage with the dressage horses and breakers because I was working them like I do here; lots and lots of ground work, lots of driving. I like them so that on their first ride, they should walk, trot, canter in a frame, on the bit. They really should. If you haven’t got that, you have to go back a few steps. I saw some methods in Europe that were quite dangerous. I might take a few more weeks to do it but at the end you’re months ahead. So, I would do all this ground work with the young ones, ride them once or twice and then I’d ride them out around the property and down the roads. The Germans loved it but they just thought I was the craziest Aussie ever because so many of them don’t even get their Prix St Georges horses outside, so for them to see me taking these breakers outside was absurd.”

more follows“But for us in Australia, that’s nothing. It’s what we have to do. I saw an English girl at a stable over there, the horse’s very first ride was up and down the stable aisle, on bricks with all the horses’ heads out. I told her you couldn’t pay me enough to do that. She asked where I would do it and I said in the round yard to which she replied, “Oh, the round yard’s outside.” So, I guess, we have a slightly different way and perhaps it’s because of our upbringing. The first time at a show, our horses have to tie up to a truck; they’re competing in what equates to a big, open paddock.”

Doringcourt’s injury while overseas was one of the factors influencing Andrea’s decision to move back south when she did. “It was an emotional roller coaster, making that decision. Poor Brett and my parents! I was very back and forth about whether I should come home or not but once I made the decision, I never looked back. Roy had been injured for a while by then, so I guess it wasn’t really so hard a decision. Before I left, I had a really nice talk to Jonny and he said, ‘Andrea, it’s rubbish what has happened, but you’re lucky it’s happened to you at such a young age. You’ve got through it and it will make you a stronger person. I know you’ll be back here in Europe to ride. Roy will probably come back stronger.’ That gave me the drive to come home, get the horse stronger with hill work and swimming and all this lovely work we can do outside to really get him going again. I think I’m quite strong like that. When something bad happens, it makes me more determined.”

“When I went to Germany, I was really outside of my comfort zone and it made me grow up fast. I was getting a bit bored in New Zealand and I wanted to be thrown in the deep end and have a new, big challenge. I was craving it so I had no problem going over there and being absolutely no one. It was a steep learning curve both personally and professionally but an awesome experience. I would definitely go back to Europe again but to campaign for a big event. The horse would have to be Grand Prix and we now know what it takes to be successful. I wouldn’t go over unless I knew I could crack 70%”

Brett, 33 and Andrea 30 never planned to stay in Europe forever. “We can’t afford to live there. I think it’s only possible if you’re very wealthy or so completely dedicated to the sport but the latter is very, very hard. I don’t want that. Life’s too short,” says Andrea.

The two met well before any sparks flew when the Kiwi was 14 and the Aussie 16. Brett continues, “I was riding for Australia and Andrea for New Zealand in the Pacific Challenge at Werribee. I just need to add that Australia won that competition!” Poor Brett kept trying for a while, but to no avail until five years ago at the Sydney CDI, Andrea saw the light and the rest, as they say, is history.

Maybe it was meant to be with the two riders having similar opportunities as teenagers. Although Brett has done a bit of everything in his riding career, his big break came when at 16, while training with Shaun France, he was offered the ride on her Grand Prix horse Barrington Ock Tedi, the ride of Rozzie Ryan at the European Dressage Championships two years earlier. Andrea was also given a wonderful opportunity at 15, riding Grand Prix on Bill Noble’s stallion Icarus Allsorts and she was long listed for the Athens Olympics.

In what initially felt like a “what have we done?” moment, setting up stumps in the NSW town of Broke, they’ve settled back into Australian life and are slowly developing their boutique dressage barn.

Contrary to Brett’s explanation of, “We drew it out of a hat,” the real reason Broke, in the Hunter Valley was their chosen destination upon their return to Australia has deeper roots, “My family were part of the first settlers in the area and the house was built by my great grandfather. My grandparents lived there and my Mum grew up there and it’s where I first learnt to ride. Pa had cows, fruit and veggies and grew a lot of lucerne and did that well into his 80s. I think Mum and Dad had the idea that I should live here, but I was against it. However, it really grew on us.”

The decision to move to Australia rather than Andrea’s home country of New Zealand made the most sense to the Kiwi as well, “We had to start somewhere and we couldn’t afford our own property. Before Europe, I lived here for six months and it felt like it was in the middle of nowhere and I thought I could never live here. After being in Germany in a flat and with horses and people everywhere, you crave your own place and so now we really love and appreciate this property. Also the sport is bigger in Australia and you get to compete all year round. It makes more sense to be here.” Although Andrea misses her close knit family, she admits it’s easier than being in Germany and she goes back home to teach every four to five weeks.

The couple have incorporated a lot of the ideas they picked up in Germany into their daily dealings, but have also kept what they love most about Australia and the way things are done here. They’ve taken their German trainer’s playful methods into an outdoor setting. The quiet surrounds of their property allow the horses to be ridden to the local park and around the country roads which supplements the dressage training. There is also a river down the back of the property where Doringcourt loves to swim.

Brett uses a little chestnut he’s bred, Bluey (Charmeur / Wolkenstein II) as an example, “He’s had three rides, but his last ride was down to the park. I think it’s the best thing for them. They have to do that from day one with Bessie (Brett’s shadow of a blue heeler) trotting alongside them. You want a young horse to go more forward? What’s better than to take it down to the park where you can go more than 60 metres? You can open it up a bit, you can stand up in the stirrups and let them travel and you’ve taught them how to go forward in one or two rides and it’s not from driving them around the arena for weeks and weeks. You obviously need to be in the arena sometimes, but you need to find the balance. We’ve also been swimming Roy all summer. He would basically do three days on the road walking and trotting, swimming two days a week and a day off. We want to do that for all of the horses. You don’t have to spend five or six days in the arena to produce a dressage horse.”

Breeding is another interest the couple share. Brett enthuses, “I’m really passionate about it and it’s a great opportunity to produce some good horses. I’ve tried to get the best frozen semen that I can and match it to the mare. We’re about four or five generations frozen semen so it starts to get interesting now and I think they’re as good as anything overseas. It’s just up to us to produce them. I really enjoy looking at mares’ strengths and weaknesses and matching the best stallion for them.”

“We were also lucky to go to so many auctions and stallion licensings over in Europe. So that was really interesting from the breeding side of things, seeing all the different traits from the different mares and stallions. I think the Germans need the Dutch influence as much as the Dutch need the German influence. I don’t think you can say, ‘Oh I only use Hanoverians, or I only use KWPN’.”

They currently have youngsters by San Remo, Ampere, Fürst Romancier and Johnson. Andrea took her home-bred mare, Dakira (Doringcourt/Bellissio) over to Germany for a few months during her stay. “She’s only little but Jonny really loved her because she’s well put together. And that’s another thing that I think we learnt over there; the mentality is changing a bit away from the big moving horses. They would much rather see one that is very correct with correct training rather than a big, flashy, loose mover with no connection. That’s a change that I’ve really noticed over there and I think it will come here too.”

“It’s also how you train them and how you go about getting the movement. That’s what needs to come over here a bit more as well. The basics. People want to know all the secrets that you’ve been taught in Europe but really, it’s just basics. Basics, basics. At the good stables, that’s all it’s about: good training. I remember when I first went over, seeing Jonny on a horse doing piaffe and then patting the horse and making a real fuss over him and I thought, ‘Oh, that looks a bit average.’ The next moment, it was a bit bigger. He pats him again. And then again it’s even better. The horse was just growing in confidence and wanting to do it for him.”

Brett concludes, “All the tricks and gadgets, they are around over there, but not at the good stables. I think people sometimes get surprised with that.”

Jonny competing on the stallion, Wenckstern…

It might be a big step from the centre of dressage in Germany to Broke, but Andrea still has Jonny’s voice in her head every time she rides, “It’s always saying make sure there is a language between you and your horse! Is your horse straight? Can you put your hands forward and your horse stays on your seat? Also when I compete I will never forget what he said to me, he was referring to making a team for the Olympics or a big event, but I always think about it. He said if you go out and get 80% then you’re on a team. No excuses, don’t talk about it, just do it. So that is my inspiration. The Germans just get on with it, no excuses!”

Brett and Andrea have the drive, determination and now also the knowledge to make their new stables work. They both admit to being stubborn and competitive with each other, but the couple work very well together. “We’re both on the same page. Andrea’s a little bit OTT with the horses and I’m really laid back, so it balances itself out!” smiles Brett. They’re each other’s eyes on the ground and sounding board for ideas. Andrea sums up their approach and hopes for the future, “I love the sport but I love my horse more. We want them to be horses and I guess that’s what we’re trying to do at our new place. We’re trying to keep it small so we can really do lots of different things with them and have the time to do that.”

With family, friends, a solid breeding programme, good sponsors (Prestige, Hygain, Equi-Ice, Moore Riding Wear, Syncroflex HA and Peter Horobin) as well as Brett’s fledging German equestrian product import business, Flaneur Equine behind them, the dressage couple are well on their way to success.

Kiwi Secret Weapons: Jock Paget and Penny Castle

Jock Paget is back in New Zealand after seven years in Europe, and already his influence is being felt on many levels. Jock not only won the Saddleworld Melbourne International 3DE, he was busy helping taking care of the Kiwi Young Rider team as well…

It seems you’ve got two rôles this weekend – riding in the Open team, and helping the Young Rider team…

“I’ve been employed by Equestrian NZ as the performance development coach, so I’ve been working with these young riders all year, and I’m the Chef for the Young Rider team. I worked with them before at Taupo a couple of years ago as Chef of the Young Rider team there. It’s good to get another opportunity to work with them.”

How much exposure do the young riders get to you?

“We have two squads. We have the development squad, and they get quite a lot of exposure – so I work with them in their own environment about once a month, and then at competitions, and as much as they want in-between. Then we have the ID Squad, at the squad schools and at the competitions they get support, and I try to get around and see them a couple of times a year in their home environment, as well.”

It’s a unique situation in New Zealand… We’ve had riders who have gone to the UK and gone well, but they have never come back to Australia while they were still competing at the top – but New Zealand has you, and Clarke Johnstone, back home and still at the top of your game. That must lift the standard…

“I hope so. I think it is important to have people in the environment that you are performing in, that make you extend yourself. If you can win on a 60, then there’s not a whole lot of reasons to get better, but when you’ve got to fight for every point, then obviously the standard stays sharp.”

Jock at the cutting edge with Clifton Promise at the London Olympics in 2012, Jock discusses staying at the top next…

Is that going to be a problem for you and Clarke, keeping that cutting edge…

“I think it’s a problem, whether or not it becomes our problem, depends on the discipline we can have. I’m happy now with our training and the way we perform. Clarke and I are going to work together at home and at competitions to make sure we do keep the standard up. We talk about it a lot and we know it is an issue, so it’s our job to make sure we don’t drop the ball.”

How many years were you based in the UK?

“Nearly seven.”

What do you think are the major things that you bring home from that period? What changes in your thinking, your training…

“To be honest, the quality of the work I was doing in New Zealand, before going to England, I can’t say has changed a whole lot. I think that you learn to compete better. By that I mean, in Australia and New Zealand, it is easier to play things a little bit safer. Maybe more in New Zealand than Australia because you’ve got a lot of world class riders in Australia, riders that go overseas and do very well. So it is maybe a little sharper here than in New Zealand where we don’t have the same pool of riders. You could do a smart test, and a good fast clear across country, and clear or one down showjumping, and probably win in New Zealand, whereas in England, you’ve got to do a mid-30s to high-30s dressage and then you’ve got to take all the risks cross country and pull it off, and showjump clear – because somebody else will. It just comes back to standards.”

You look like one of those incredibly natural riders – there are some people, like Bill Roycroft, Mark Todd, who always look in balance, is that you?

“Not really because I feel like I’ve worked very hard to get where I am. I’m quite tall so I have to be very careful with my upper body and I’m quite a forward rider naturally, so I have to work to not get too forward – that’s something I’ve had to think about a lot in my riding.”

“I was trained by – in my opinion – one of the best horsemen in the world, Kevin McNab. I did my time with him and I still train with him and do a lot of work with him now. When I went to New Zealand, I started training with Eric Duvander, those two are very similar, a very classical way of training the horses and the riders. I think I’ve been very lucky with the people I’ve trained with. I don’t think there are many better than Kevin McNab to learn to ride to a fence, he’s the master of getting into two point and just traveling and jumping.”

Kevin’s another Tony Manca graduate, and they all ride well over a fence…

“Absolutely. They learn to sit still in front of a fence, and with that, comes a good eye.”

At Aachen in 2015 with Clifton Lush

What is the future for you? Do you need to go to Europe before next year’s WEG to tune up, or could you go to the States from New Zealand and be competitive?

“Where I am with this horse, we are very unproven, so I need to prove that the horse is good enough to go and deserves a spot in the team. I think I need to go to Adelaide and go well and I need to go to Badminton and do well, if I am going to take a spot. That would be my plan for him, and if all goes well, to the WEG.”

“For Tokyo, I’d like to do my preparation and campaign from this side of the world because I do think it can be done, especially with our relationship with Australia, being able to come over here easily enough. I think Clarke could probably prepare from New Zealand, I don’t think he has to prove anything now.”

It’s going to be tougher with the dumb decision, three in a team not four…

“Yeah, but again, we are all in the same boat there, you’ve just got to make the most of what you can out of the situation, there will be opportunity somewhere in it. It’s up to the selectors now, they’ve probably got the most pressure.”

Tell me a little about Angus Blue, the horse you won Werribee on…

“He’s a New Zealand Thoroughbred and I bought him as a four-year-old from Kate Cavanagh on the South Island. She’d taken him out and done some showjumping on him. She got him off the track – she’s a very clever lady, she knew she had a good horse. I tried him as a four-year-old, and I remember cantering to a fence – at four years old you can’t feel a whole lot, they are a bit weak and all over the place – but with him I felt like I could just keep putting the fence up. Other times you get on a young horse and you put it up three times and you get to a metre and think, okay that’s enough, with him, I found myself at 1.20m and it was, okay he’s done enough and he can obviously jump.”

“I really liked him and we took him to England. He’s owned by Joe and Alex Gianamore, great owners of mine in England, and we kept him there for about four, five years. He got to three star, did a couple of CICs and a CCI, and then we brought him back with me. I could only really bring one horse back and I wanted it to be a horse that was young enough that I could still have plenty of time with. I really wanted to bring back this one because I’d always had a soft spot for him.”

What’s his strength?

“He’s not great at anything but he’s just good at everything, if that makes sense. To me he is a very good eventer by being good at everything. He’s never going to wow people when he trots by, but when he goes into the ring, he’s got a certain elegance about him and he allows you to position him and ride a correct test.”

“Cross country, he’s cat-like, he likes to jump the jumps and he is incredibly fast. I never got anywhere near his top gear on the Werribee track. Showjumping, I typically have one down but I am looking for a clear round today because I need it (and they got it at Werribee). In two years, if he stays sound and just keeps cruising through the way he has, I think he’s going to be an exceptional horse.”

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What did you think of the Werribee track?

“I thought it was a good three-star. It was definitely up-to-standard, had I got a track like it in Europe or the UK, I’d go, good, this is how it is. The questions were good. There was lots of variety, the distances were great. Ewan Kellett is very good at giving you a good distance to create the right feel. There were a couple of places where we had to gallop for 40 seconds without a fence, and then he gives you a distance to suit that at the end, so I think he’s a clever course builder. Well positioned fences, plays with the terrain – it was challenging, it was a good course. I know the scoreboard looks like it was a bit easy, but if you look at the people who made time, they are all very good riders on good horses.”

So what happens how – home to prepare for Adelaide****?

“I’ll give my horse a break. I got him in December in New Zealand, he was a long time in quarantine. I wasn’t going to bring him here, and Clarke put the pressure on, he said I’m taking my horse, so I prepare mine and Clarke stays home, but he has really stepped up. I’m glad I’ve done it. I need to give him a pat, put him away and let him relax for a few weeks, then I’ll start preparing him for Adelaide.”

Even five years ago, New Zealand eventing dressage looked pretty orangoutang but everyone who came out in your team here looked neat, focused, classy, is that because they have been competing against you and Clarke?

“The program in New Zealand has had a lot of effort put into the younger riders, and we are now starting to see that work unfold in the way that we hoped. I think all the credit has to go to ESNZ and the people who are making the program happen. Penny Castle, our dressage coach, has been grinding it out with these riders for the last few years – not just getting them through the next competition, she has been teaching them feel, she’s been teaching them what on-the-bit is, what throughness is all about. She is very passionate and she puts the time in. She goes to places that lots of coaches wouldn’t, because it is not as much fun. Instead of just getting through the lesson, she will make sure the kids have actually learnt something. She will put them on her horses, she’s making sure these kids can ride.”

“She did the same for me before I went to England, it was a real turning point for me, to understand what on-the-bit actually is. She is the master of that, and what you are seeing has been a very long project for Penny but it is starting to come out.”

“Both of us were having a ball in the warm-up here at Werribee, watching all the kids come out and put their horses on the bit. They go straight, they go off the leg. Penny is a great horsewoman, she used to event, she rides Grand Prix dressage – a very competitive rider, she’s been competitive here in Australia, and now she is a trainer, and she is our performance leader in New Zealand.”

With that, dear reader, there was no other option, I had to interview Penny…

Are you coming to the World Equestrian Games in Tryon USA in September 2018? 

You can – for information go to:

Every time I talk to a New Zealander about how is it the Kiwi riders are looking so smart in the dressage arena, one name comes up – yours!

“I think it is more a team of people, and since Hong Kong we’ve really worked hard to create the right program and putting the right things in place. As with any business or any sport, it just takes time, now we are getting our rewards. We just have a lot of good things in place, a lot of good coaches in the right place. We’re all talking from the same page and we are starting to see the dots join together.”

Virginia Thompson on Star Nouveau was fourth in the three star

Jock was saying that instead of just patching up the performance for the test, you actually try to teach your riders how to put their horses on the bit…

“That is a classic question of mine – Is the horse on the bit? If you are a rider with feel, or good instincts, you can truthfully say, no it’s not. Another great saying we have is can you close your hand around the rein, and still finish the circle? In other words, if you close your hand, does the horse finish the circle and give, then you can give back to the horse. We are talking about real throughness. The kids are starting to understand real throughness…”

Jackson Bovill riding Visionnaire for New Zealand in the young rider team

But that hasn’t been the style, certainly in Australia, eventing dressage coaching has tended to be more patch up, cover up, and I can think of a few of our top level riders who have never ever had their horse on the bit. It’s an adventurous strategy, because there must be some kids going well, faking it….

“That’s the standard you have to reach these days. Part of our program with the big guys being up on the top of the world in the UK, ESNZ has sent me up there every year and if you want to compete on the world stage, that’s the standard you have to reach. So when I come back to New Zealand I say, this is the bar you have to reach and we either go there, or we fail. We are trying to lift the bar, percentage by percentage, every year.”

Vicky Cole-Browne and Eli for New Zealand

How long have you been involved in the eventing rider program?

“A long time, twenty years probably. I’ve helped most of these athletes, Jock I’ve done a lot of work with him. There are some really great up and coming young riders in New Zealand now that you haven’t even seen, like Amanda Pottinger, she’s another one.”

She rides better flat than her mother?

“Tinks might not agree, but yes.”

But not as good yet as her grand-mother, Tiny White…

“Tiny was gorgeous, one of my idols. I remember the first time I beat Tiny at a show, it was the highlight of my career, I was about twenty one, and I think it was only because I had a good day and she had a bad day.”

Penny winning the Grand Prix on Magnus Spero at the Horse of the Year
(Photo – Libby Law)

You compete Grand Prix, who have been your mentors?

“In the beginning in New Zealand, it was Tiny White, Eric Ropiha who I spent so many early years working with him. Gay Withers and Merran Hain, they were the people that I used to sit on the Normandy Bank and watch. Then, I am very like Jock, I am a very analytical person, whoever is at the top, that’s where I go. I was at Edward Gal’s for a while. Carl Hester is just so giving, every time I go to England, he can never help enough. The better the athlete, I’ve found, the more they help you. Eric Duvander and I were best friends and we’d just analyse dressage to death. We are always trying to lift the bar.”

Dressage has become a lot nicer since Carl and Charlotte came to the top…

“Yes, and that’s a little bit what we were trying to deliver at Werribee. Nicoli Fyfe one of our top judges, came into our camp at the beginning of the year and we did some quite tough performance judging. It’s all about having the energy, plus the harmony, trying to get those two in balance.”

I think it has happened in eventing dressage as well as straight dressage, we are not looking for that crazy, extravagant movement, more for harmony – Ingrid Klimke can come out on a pony like Braxi, with no movement, and win the dressage..

“As does Michael Jung with that one he had at the Worlds. That just gave me so much hope. Watching him at Caen, I thought, wow, if he can do that, we can do that too.”

“I was so proud of all our athletes here this weekend, they produced pictures of polish and harmony. I was very proud.”

It must be a real boost to your scene to have Clarke and Jock back to set a benchmark…

“It’s fantastic, they’ve come home and lifted the bar right up here. You kids have not arrived just because you’ve won a couple of competitions. And I’ve been talking about it all the time with Jock, he’s got to keep his bar high and not settle for what’s here. We have to be super critical all the time. If it’s a 7, how can we make that into an 8 or a 9. Having them home has lifted the professionalism, it’s all positive.”

I don’t think it was helped a lot this weekend by the judges – there was no outrageous judging, they got it about right, but they could have given the good ones better scores, and punished the bad ones…

“As long as they are the same, that’s dressage judging right around the world. I have my eye, and from where I was, I thought a couple of them were 42, 43, but it doesn’t matter, the best came out on top but they could have been a bit more generous.”

Are you paid by your Federation to work full-time with the riders?

“I’m part-time, I give a week a month. I go to key events, we have camps through the year, we have a lot of one-on-one at their homes. We are always evolving the program. Jock is employed there now, and there are another two coaches employed. We’re part-time but we all work as a very tight team and it’s all about bringing them forward.”

Where-ever you live you can buy a foal from Paul Schockemoehle International.  Why not take part in their first online foal auction, it’s on now – June 15-25. Foals by Diarado, Vitalis, Feinrich, For Romance, Balou du Rouet and Big Star are just a few for sale. Click to see a selection of foals:  – click the English language button. 

Saddleworld Melbourne International 3 Day Event

Dressage leaders in the Pryde’s EasiFeed 3*, and members of the winning team for New Zealand,  Samantha Felton and Ricker Ridge Pico Boo

Christopher Hector reports on the Three Day Event at Werribee

Roslyn Neave and Julie Wilson took the photos…

Why do people feel obliged to fiddle around with Three Day eventing? The real attraction of equestrian sport, is to a large degree, that it is so old fashioned. In a day and age of instant-everything, working with horses takes us back to the rhythms of the seasons, to knowledge that has been passed on from generation to generation, to a realisation, that important things can’t be rushed. And when you get a day like we had for Sunday’s cross country for the Trans Tasman battle, what we have is just fine – kindly leave it alone.

Werribee Park was full of enthusiastic fans, enjoying the action and the sunshine, and encouraging for the future, a fair proportion of the riders, especially in the lower grades, came with their own little cheer squad of young supporters, running around the course with their heroes and cheering them as they came off the track.

And if you noticed the use of Trans Tasman instead of the Oceania Intergalitic Superkaladosius Whatever, that somebody with no feeling for the sport, or its history dreamt up, it is deliberate. As long as it happens to be a contest between New Zealand and Australia, then Trans Tasman is a perfectly good and accurate description, and one that recognizes that the event has history and tradition – two of the things that make Equestrian unique…

I did suggest in my report of the Equestriad at Camden, that the selectors had left some of the most likely combinations out of the Australian team to contest the Pryde’s EasiFeed CCI 3*, and so I decided to nominate one of my own, well before the first dressage test and in front of reliable witnesses. The official EA team was Stuart Tinney and War Hawk, Robert Palm and Koko Story, Andrew Cooper and Evergem Perfection and Hazel Shannon and Clifford. Now I’m all for giving new faces a chance to shine, but they need to be knocking down the door to get there first, so my team ran: Megan Jones and Kirby Park Impress, Rohan Luxmore and Bells n Whistles, Tim Boland and Billy Elliot and Sonja Johnson and Misty Isle Valentino.

THM team member, Megan Jones and Kirby Park Impress

THM team member, Tim Boland and GV Billy Elliott

Rohan Luxmoore and Bells n Whistles, part of Team THM

Fourth Team THM member, Sonja Johnson and Misty Isle Valentino

read on below

There was – especially after the big kids were trounced – a lot of talk about the winning Young Riders being the future of eventing for Australia. I’d like to think that, but history tells us, investing in Young Riders produces a very poor return. This time it might be different, Gemma Tinney is purpose bred and I hope her team-mates buck the statistics, still I would prefer to support riders who have made it to open competition. I understand that Prue Barrett (until recently Oz Team Manager) has suggested that first and second at Adelaide 4 star, be financed to spend a year or two in Europe, but then return to Australia.

Certainly coming into Werribee I was thinking about how Clarke Johnstone and Jock Paget had returned to New Zealand at the top of their game, and what a wonderful influence that must be. The Australian riders who made it OS have all moved there permanently, while the ones who didn’t make it, returned to Oz to grow African Violets, or become EA eventing selectors.

Dressage day was perhaps not all that exciting, and the judges seemed to think so too, the best score came from a newcomer to the Kiwi team, Samantha Felton riding Ricker Ridge Pico Boo but she was only 5.6 in front of the 10th placed, Napoleon with Tim Boland.

Leaders at the end of day one, Samantha Felton and Ricker Ridge Pico Boo

I was having a quiet little rant about judges not separating the scores, when Barry Roycroft, fresh after judging about a hundred horses in the one-star class, made the point that sometimes the design of the test doesn’t allow separation. He pointed to the first movement of the one-star test – a trot on a straight line, which most can do, and that even with the bend at C, the scores range from 6.5 to 8, even if you are looking to hand out big scores. Same with the next movement, the leg yield – which produced a bit of variety – but that is merged with a 10 metre half circle, which again reduces the chance of going high or low. The flattening effect is not only on simple movements, some were done so badly, that they too narrowed the range. Ninety horses for two square halts and two or three competent rein backs, means the judges are working on a 6 and below, again no separation.

Barry – who has judged at all the greatest 3DEs in the world – felt that the higher level tests were also suffering from the same tendency, the three-star test was a culprit, the new four-star test, worse. Barry was an interested observer at Badminton earlier this year, and pointed that there were 30 horses under 40 – again the test ‘doesn’t make for good separation.’

“Most of the field were under 50 and while people think the judges award lower marks in Europe, it’s not true, I saw crappy tests getting good marks at Badminton,” Barry observed.

Jock Paget and Angus Blue, into second

The interesting thing was just how well the Kiwi team rode. Okay we expect Jock Paget to turn on a class act, and he did with the NZ Thoroughbred, Angus Blue for a 46.9 to go 2nd, but Virginia Thompson was another cool, precise performer on Star Nouveau for a 47.1 into 4th, just behind Tim Boland and Billy Elliot on 47.0.

And yes dear reader, after the dressage Team THM was leading Team EA with a total of 149.1, to the EA total of 156.2, with their best score coming from Hazel and Clifford on 49.7.

Hazel Shannon and Clifford, best score for Team EA

read on

Poor Hazel Shannon was eliminated early on the cross country course when she fell, and Team EA was down to three – still they were going well enough to grab the lead from Team THM. Stuart Tinney had moved from 14th to 5th, clear cross country, clear time, while Robert Palm did the same on Koko Story, up from 21st to 7th, while Andrew Cooper climbed from 22nd to 9th on Evergem Perfection with another clear clear.

Stuart and War Hawk, up to 5th after the cross country for Team EA

Robert Palm and Koko Story, going well across country 

Megan was the best of my lot, with Impress another double clear to move from 20th to 8th. Sonja added 2.8 on Misty Isle Valentino to jump from 18th to 11th, while Rohan picked up 8.4 time on Bells n Whistles to drop from 6th to 12th. Tim and Billy Elliot collected 14.8 time to drop to 14th.

Double clear for Team THM, Megan Jones and Kirby Park Impress

Sonja Johnson and Misty Isle Valentino, another good performance for Team THM

Rohan Luxmoore and Bells n Whistles, members of Team THM

Team THM members, Tim Boland and Billy Elliott

read on below

Team EA was down to three, but 5.6 in front of Team THM going into the showjumping and I was still quietly confident of scoring bragging rights. Then disaster for the EA team, Andrew Cooper’s horse managed to get through the final trot up, but was not fit to showjump. Team THM had won the contest, but being the sort of fair minded sporting chap I am, I suggested to EA chair of selectors, Georgia Widdup that I’d add the average of her two remaining riders to make up a score and keep the contest alive. It was a gentlemanly but dumb move… a lot less than 1000 penalties that the FEI adds to team scores in a similar situation.

Again Barry was his usual perceptive self and he had been thinking about penalties in the recently announced new Olympic format. Just what are they going to do in Tokyo now that the FEI has introduced the disastrous three-a-team rule? Disastrous for two reasons, one it puts incredible pressure on every team member to complete, even if it would be better for the horse to pull up, and two, because its specific aim is to get more teams from countries that really aren’t up to the standard, into the competition, with no doubt ugly results. Sadly only 11 countries had the guts and gumption to vote against the proposal at the FEI Assembly, although they did include four that know a bit about equestrian sport (France, Germany, New Zealand and The Netherlands). Sadly Australia joined the other 96, (which includes a good number that don’t currently stage even one official equestrian competition in their countries), in rolling over to the idiot demands of the non-equestrian bureaucrats who call the tune in Lausanne. Just what will they do when a good proportion of the teams are down to two come showjumping day in Tokyo – let the eliminated ones jump? Barry says he has been unable to find the answer to that question.

next showjumping

Back to the showjumping at Werribee, and Stuart added just one time on War Hawk, Rob, 8 jumping faults on Koko Story, and the theoretical 3rd team member was on 57.75 for a total of 173.75 but when Sonja – who I was counting on for a clear, decks three on Misty Isle Valentino – Team THM racks up a 176.9 total to leave the official EA team in front by 3.65.

Really our little Aussie sideshow was just that, a sideshow as the Kiwis march ahead to victory. Jock Paget finished on his dressage score of 46.9 to take the title with Angus Blue.

Jock Paget and Angus Blue, clear/clear cross country

Second to Samantha Felton and Ricker Ridge Pico Boo, who collected four time on the cross, and went on to showjump clear.

Samantha’s horse is by the Belgian bred Pico Bello, who was imported to New Zealand as a five-year-old, and later campaigned to World Cup level by David Dobson. The stallion is interestingly bred for an eventing sire, by Calvados, the very good Selle Français sire that stood for the Nijhof family, and out of a mare by Joost out of a mare by the Thoroughbred, Abgar, the cross that made Stal Roelofs famous. Pico Bello is 58.2% Thoroughbred, and Samantha’s gelding is out of a Thoroughbred mare by the Spectacular Bid son, Spectacular Love. That is 78.7% ‘blood’.

Virginia Thompson was clear/clear on the cross country but decked a rail to finish in fourth spot behind Andrew Cooper riding his non-Team horse, Tasman Park Ovation.

Virginia Thompson and Star Nouveau, clear/clear cross country

Then the Aussies, Stuart finished 5th on War Hawk, with Megan, 6th and Rohan, 7th.

It was a stunning victory and one that should cause any amount of anguish to Australian eventing fans. In Christopher Burton and Sam Griffiths, we have half of a Gold Medal team for the WEG next year, we just need to find two more, quickly.

Gemma Tinney and Annapurna lead the Aussie Young riders to a win!

Team Advisor, Will Enzinger multi-skills, leading our young team in singing Advance Australia Fair – left to right – Gemma Tinney, Tayah Andrew, Olivia Barton and Shanae Lowings…

Happy – first time in a team, great win?

“Annapurna has been so so good since we got here on Monday. We’ve been here almost nine days and she’s been fantastic. Dressage was pretty solid, cross country was awesome, now we are running second place.”

The two star was won by Andrew Barnett – who also coaches the One Star winner, Grace Kay. Andrew was riding the solidly dressage bred Bradgate Park Fonzie (by Falsterbo). They finished on their dressage score of 41.9. Gemma was the best of the Young Riders in the class within a class, also finishing on her dressage score, 45.7, to lead the Australian team Gemma, Shenae Lowings, Olivia Barton and Tayah Andrew to a decisive victory by 65 points over the Kiwis.

Dressage bred, but the winner in the Two Star,
Andrew Barnett and Bradgate Park Fonzie

Gemma, was there any moment on the cross country course when you started to go, oh, oh…

“Not really, I had it all together, I knew my distances, my lines, very well. I walked the course with Stuart (her dad) and Will (Enzinger who was helping the Australian teams). They helped me heaps, I was very confident with the course, it was a good course that rode really well. So yep, we came back clear and under time.”
The dressage was fine – do you have areas you can work on to get it even lower…

“Yes, there were sections where I did lose marks that I can improve on, which is perfect because I love to work on things, and get the best I can out of the mare. I’ve to practice my half passes and she needs to be a bit more up in the poll – she loves going long and low. It’s a work in progress.”

The cross country is just falling into place?

“It feels better almost every single time I go out there. She feels better and I’m getting much more used to her, because I haven’t been riding her all that long. Only a year and a half, which I don’t think is very long. I’m getting much more confident with her.”

And the showjumping?

“I showjump a lot of other horses but Anna goes out as well. I’ll do 1.30s on her, she’s a good showjumper, I just have to have that trust really.”

What happens next?

“Oh what is next?! Not Adelaide because I’m not qualified to do the four star. I’ll do the 3 star at Wallaby Hill at the end of the year, and that’s pretty much my plan.”

Is it too early to think about a WEG team?

“I’m always going for the best I can do. I’d have to qualify for the WEG which means I’d have to do very well at Wallaby Hill and very well here at Melbourne again… I’m young, I don’t know if they’ll want a young one on the team, they like the oldies, the more experienced ones! I’ll try, I will try.”

Is a trip to Europe with the mare on the horizon?

“Not as of yet. I’m still fairly new to the three star. We’ll see after Wallaby Hill…”

Our winning Oceania Championship Junior team members, Gemma Tinney and Annapurna

Olivia Barton and APH Bertie Bad

Tayah Andrew and Silver Force

Shanae Lowings and Venture Sky High

Going to breed a top eventer this season? The PSI stallions are available in Australia through International Horse Breeders, stallions like Diarado – go to 

And to find out more about Diarado:

International Animal Health Rider of the Month – Grace Kay


Regular readers of THM will have met Grace Kay many times, but Grace Kay the dressage star, not Grace Kay the up-and-coming eventer.

Grace has starred in many of our articles with her trainer Miguel Tavora and it is one of the great delights of my life to sit in Miguel’s indoor and watch the two work. You can see Grace working with Miguel with her new eventing star, Celerity Park Farbege if you click.

Grace won the Aachen Challenge at the Victorian Festival of Dressage a couple of years back with her dressage horse, Karingal Jamiroquai. When she made to trip to Aachen, THM arranged for her to train with Wolfram Wittig in Germany  and Johan Hamminga in The Netherlands, and they both wrote to us saying what a delight it was to train such a beautifully trained and correct rider. Now with a win in the Off The Track CCI one star at the Saddleworld Melbourne International 3 Day Event, Grace and Fab are off in a new direction:

“He’s a clever boy. He is nine now and starting to come into his own. I’m having an absolute ball riding him.”

You have been spectacularly successful since you decided to go eventing…

“We started about 18 months ago.”

Dressage at Werribee

Has he had a cross country fault?

“He has, most of them have been when I’ve buried him in something, or shot him out at something (I need to point out that Grace not only has the most amazing smile but that she tends to laugh a lot) but nine times out of ten, if I get him somewhere where he thinks he can manage to get over it, he’ll do it for me.”

Have you won every dressage test?

“We’ve been top three every time, there have been a few when we’ve been second, and once, third, but yes, unless something drastic happens, he is always up there.”

You have always combined showjumping with his dressage career, what level was he showjumping?

“When I decided I didn’t really want to go down that path, we’d just finished our Young Riders, so 1.30 was where we decided to play with the eventing.”

Grace and Fab tackle the Werribee track…

And what level dressage?

“He’s had two Prix St Georges starts but he’s got most of the Inter 1 stuff – we play around with the piaffe and passage, but it is more just to give him something to do, not to push it.”

and conquer it, to stay on their dressage score!

What made you decide to go eventing?

“I’d always done a bit with my project ponies. I’d go out low levels with the young horses that were really spooky and offended by a lot of atmosphere – going to a Scone ODE where there are 600 horses in the warm up can be a really good thing for them. Then I took Fab out to some cross country schooling with Andrew Barnett, for that reason, a bit spooky, and we found that he was actually quite bold when you point him at something and went from there.”

And yes, they showjumped clear!

Are you brave?

“I wouldn’t say I was particularly brave but I have a large amount of trust in Faberge and a lot of respect for him as a horse and I know if I get him into a difficult position, then he is going to try and get me out and if he can’t get me over it, he will take me somewhere else, but safe.”

Who is helping you with the eventing?

“I’m still training with Andrew Barnett. We are in the same area, and he’s got a great set-up. He helped us a lot to begin with, and especially coming up to this event, he put in a lot of hours with us. It’s been very good.”

And you still train with Australia’s best dressage coach?

“Absolutely, every time I go to Miguel’s, there’s new things that I find, we chat about stuff, and it is always such a nice experience. I love going down there.”

How far do you think Fab can take you in the world of eventing? The WEG next year?

“I don’t know about next year, I think I need a bit more experience, but I am looking at Tokyo. I probably need another horse, and more experience, but I definitely have belief in Fab that we can do it.”