In The Saddle: Never too old to learn new tricks

Anita Marsh
Anita Marsh

My non-horsey friends always find it strange that even though many equestrians have their own horses, we still take lessons.

They liken horses to cars and say ‘if you can ride and own your horse, then why take lessons? But, unlike a car, every horse is unique and partnership between horse and rider can always be improved.

I have been riding many years and still find it beneficial to have lessons. My instructor is able to assess us both from the ground objectively and fine tune my skills to ensure April and I get the best out of each other. So, what makes a great instructor? For me, I love that she is regularly out competing, and her knowledge is then passed on. She’s the top of her game but also has a unique skill in being able to teach effectively and passionately.

Michelle has more than 25 years experience with horses, teaching or running a busy livery yard in addition to training and breaking her own horses to give pleasure for others – and it shows. After owning her first pony at the age of twelve, the passion has remained as strong as ever and she has never looked back.

She recently turned her focus to one day eventing with her beautiful eight year old Gelderlander horse, aptly named Yella Fella, due to his creamy yellow palomino colouring.

Already a national title holder in British Dressage with her previous home-trained horse My Rubicon in 2010 – since sold to Para Dressage Champion rider Edward Chanin – Michelle’s latest win at the prestigious Frickley one day event follows hot-on-the-heels of a string of impressive placings throughout the summer.

ODE is not for the faint hearted. It’s hard going on both horse and rider in terms of both mental and physical agility.

It is often said to be an equestrian triathlon because it covers three disciplines – dressage, showjumping and cross country, either over one or three days.

The first phase Michelle had to compete in was dressage – an exact sequence of movements marked out of a maximum score of ten. The judges are looking for balance, rhythm and suppleness and, most importantly, obedience of the horse.

The second phase is show jumping which tests the technical jumping skills of the horse. In Michelle’s case, the course was set to 80cm. Show jumps can be knocked down and different penalty points are awarded. In addition, penalty points can be awarded for not achieving the optimum time.

In the third and final stage, Michelle had to jump a cross country course. I’ve jumped cross country and my biggest fear was that, if you come off, it can mean bad injuries. It takes courage and bravery on both the horse and rider to jump stone walls, logs, ditches, banks and drop fences.

Amazingly, she completed in the optimum time of 435m per minute – the only one out of 93 to do so to qualify for the national British Eventing Championship later this month.

Drop me a line on Facebook or Twitter and I will pass on Michelle’s details.