The competition season is now underway and our riders have got off to a promising start, which brings us nicely to Part II of our two-part blog special in which I want to talk about the disciplines of dressage and jumping, and how the focus at George’s Ranch this year will be less about competing and more about perfecting.
Without doubt, our riders enjoyed phenomenal success last year in both disciplines, but perhaps our proudest moment came when Cyprus won the FEI World Dressage Challenge and all three equestrians chosen to represent the island came from George’s Ranch. As you can imagine, this was not only an honour, but a huge source of inspiration – both for me personally and for many of my students.
As a result, I have since taken the decision to attend this year’s national shows as coach only because I also have goals to achieve and it is now time for me to take my young horses to a higher level. In order to do that I have sought the expertise of internationally-renowned trainers such as FEI 4 Star International Judge Peter Hansaghy and Amy Woodhead, who works for dressage legend Carl Hester. So for me, as a rider rather than a coach, my priority at the moment is the training rather than the shows. But that’s not to say I don’t share in the competition excitement!
Last weekend I was thrilled when Wendy and her boy Vinnie gained 63% in their very first outing at medium level during the First Round of the Pancyprian Championship. What makes this result even more satisfying is that it has taken a lot of hard work and commitment from Wendy to make this happen. When Vinnie first came to the Ranch he was very stiff and very sore and as a result he was also very naughty. But gradually we’ve managed to make him supple, more elastic and gymnastic. By slowly working on Vinnie’s muscles we have got him to the point where he can carry himself, which means he feels a lot more comfortable and happier in his work. As a consequence, Wendy and Vinnie have risen four dressage levels in two years, which isn’t bad going at all.
Like most trainers, I clearly lean towards one discipline more than the other and dressage is always the one I’ve favoured because I think it’s the hardest of all the disciplines and you have to have a really good partnership with your horse to make it work. If done right, flat work is the true suppling of the horse and a necessity to get the horse moving correctly and loose. Only then, once your horse has become supple and strong, can you move up to the next level, and that’s the other thing I love about dressage; there are no shortcuts, the work has to be done correctly and with precision. As I’m a perfectionist, it suits me quite well.
Of course, a lot of people are more interested in jumping because that’s where the excitement is perceived to be, but don’t be fooled – jumping may look harder, but ask any rider and they’ll tell you that dressage is the difficult one. Not that I haven’t enjoyed the thrill of jumping myself, and I know that’s what a lot of our younger riders enjoy most. However, every year jumping gets more technical and more complicated and show jumping has essentially become flatwork between fences, meaning your horse has to be super controlled, just as it would be in a dressage test. Jumping requires discipline and precision, and it’s not so easy to correct mistakes within a competition environment, which is why we held a jumping clinic at the Ranch this weekend to give riders the chance to not only compete, but also to learn from their mistakes with immediate on-the-course coaching.
So here we are, seeing in another competition season, but taking a different view of it than usual. For many of us at George’s Ranch, this is a time of transition as we look at ways to progress in our chosen disciplines. However, this is not an elitist ploy to distance ourselves from the sport in Cyprus, far from it. We are as passionate as ever about developing good horsemanship and equestrian sports on the island, which is why our specialist clinics will not be a closed shop. In a few weeks’ time we will be welcoming Amy Woodhead to the Ranch for four days, and anyone interested in booking a place with this talented trainer is welcome to do so for as long as we have spaces available. For more details, keep an eye on our Facebook page or contact Michelle. In the meantime, to everyone competing this season, the best of luck to you all. Enjoy it!