Lead Photograph: Toy Story
Maria, you immediately came to mind when we were talking about dressage Arabians in the UK. Where did it all begin for you?
“Having worked at a number of dressage rider’s yards in the past, including Jennie Loriston-Clake, Isabell Werth and Mark Ruddock, I had the bug for dressage but also a love for the Arabian that was founded when based with Mandy Burr from the age of seven to 18 years old. There I helped her with the Arabians, travelling to shows with her. I fell back into riding for Mandy when I was about 25, when I started riding the Anglos and part-breds Sunray Superstar (Somerset Morn x Karitzi), followed by Spice Girl (The Paradelle Shadow x Her Ladyship) and Toy Story (The Paradelle Shadow x Crowstone Storyteller). It was Toy Story that really kicked off my ‘Arabians doing dressage’ thing and it has stayed with me ever since.
“I have been championing Arabians and part-breds as performance horses for many years now, focussing particularly on affiliated dressage, and have had horses competing at Regional Championships and Area Festival finals at the British Dressage (BD) Winter Championships. I tend to show my horses alongside their dressage and have proven that it is possible to do both. In my opinion, having more than one ‘job’ keeps the horses fresh and interested and prevents them becoming stale in any of their disciplines. I focus on dressage primarily in the winter months as it can be difficult to fit it in during the summer while the shows are on, but I try and combine the two as much as is practicable.”
What are your thoughts on the breed’s capabilities, and the public image of ridden/dressage Arabians?
“I aim to continue to work with top dressage trainers to bring out the best in my Arabians and compete successfully alongside more ‘traditional’ dressage horses. In that way I can help show the outside world what the Arabian breed is capable of with correct training. I want to show people that you don’t need to spend vast sums of money on a 17hh warmblood to do dressage. Horses of Arabian breeding are more than capable of getting to advanced level and holding their own.
“To do this though you have to compete in open competition and achieve visible successes so that the ‘non-Arabian world’ can see what these horses can do. If any of my horses get a write up or mention in publications such as Horse and Hound I always try to ensure that the breeding is mentioned in the report, alongside promoting their dressage successes on social media.”
Training must be huge commitment; do you have a secret recipe that works for Arabians in particular?
“Training an Arabian for dressage is the same as training any other horse, but you may need to use some different exercises to account for the different build, movement and conformation when compared to other breeds. For example, some Arabians are a little croup high and can find it more difficult to get their hind leg underneath them and take weight behind to allow them to lift the front end up. You don’t want to overload the hind legs so you need to be mindful of the horses’ conformation. For example, be careful not to collect the horse for too long a period of time, and not to ask for too many small circles or too steep angles in lateral movements.
“Think about doing lots of transitions, transitions within a pace, shoulder in and travers, for short periods of time and putting the horse straight in between. Build the horses’ muscle up with hacking and hill work and raised poles. These kinds of simple exercises will help develop the right muscles and suppleness to make the work easier for your horse and reduce the chance of injury.
“I am very lucky to have the ride on a number of horses that are either owned by myself and Mandy Burr, or owned by friends, so I know them well. Most of them are horses that I’ve backed and then brought on through the dressage grades with help from my good friend, dressage trainer and List 1 BD judge, Mark Ruddock. More recently I’ve also had guidance from Jo Bates, showing producer and successful dressage rider and trainer.”
Meet the horses
Toy Story (The Paradelle Shadow x Crowstone Storyteller)
Part-bred Arabian, bred by Mandy Burr
407 BD points
“Toy Story is owned and bred by Mandy and was the first part-bred I affiliated for dressage circa 2003/2004 following a successful showing career including winning at the Nationals in Malvern. ‘Gromit’, as we call him at home, had grown bored of showing. We had been doing some unaffiliated dressage most of his riding life but when he was about eight I started working with Mark with the aim of going up the grades with him. Gromit quickly showed a great aptitude to learn, as you so often find with Arabians, but also had great ability beyond our expectations.
“My aim originally was to get him to Prix St George (PSG) but he actually showed an aptitude for piaffe/passage and tempi changes and he exceeded our expectations by making it to Grand Prix. Gromit and I went through to the BD Winter National Championships on a number of occasions in the Petplan series, from medium to Prix St George. Gromit is now 20 but I still take him out competing occasionally. He still loves it and BD judges make lovely comments about how great it is to see him out still, and how good he looks. I’m so proud of this horse and the impression he has made on people in the dressage circles in our area. It’s lovely to know that the little orange part-bred Arabian has stuck in their minds.”
Fattan (D’Albret x Vermeille)
Pure-bred Arabian, bred by Sheikh Mansoor Bin Zayed Al Nahyan
277 BD points
“‘Fats’, as he is known, is a great example of a performance Arabian and has proven that the breed has the ability to be successful in so many disciplines. Not only did he race, but he will jump a 1m track, has had success showing including top five placings at the AHS Nationals, British Arabian Championships (BACs), UK International Arabian Horse Show (UKIAHS) and Royal International (RIHS) but he also does dressage primarily in the winter season. He is currently competing at Advanced level with a view to going PSG shortly.
“This year he represented Arabians at the BD Winter Championships Petplan Advanced Medium final. I think, as far as I saw, he was the only pure-bred competing there; I have asked BD if they can confirm this, out of interest. He has qualified for the Pet Plan semi-finals and BD regionals at Advanced Medium again.”
Perriland Politician (Harroway Mr Harlequin x Morning Magic)
Part-bred Arabian, bred by Jenny Barrow
222 BD points
“Our coloured boy ‘Gordon’ has had huge success in the show ring including going to Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) five times in the coloured section, top three at RIHS and CHAPS championships as well as British National Champion part-bred and multiple championships under saddle at AHS affiliated events. Alongside all this he’s been doing affiliated dressage since he was five. He has competed at the BD Winter Champs Petplan Medium final and at regional championships up to medium level. In 2015 was selected to be part a lecture/demo with Michael Eilberg to demonstrate his training methods.
“Gordon is now competing at Advanced Medium and has qualified for the Petplan semi-finals at Medium and Advanced Medium level. He is already showing ability for piaffe steps and has great trainability. This year I have decided to step back from showing him so that we can concentrate on his dressage as it has always taken a bit of a back seat. Needless to say this charismatic skewbald chap turns heads and gains admirers whether he is showing or doing dressage!”
Blue Kismet (Shadow Blue x Bint Bint Kezarah)
Pure-bred Arabian, bred by Liz and Roger Titterington
149 BD points
“’Paddy’ is another pure-bred showing great ability at dressage, currently competing medium and qualified for the BD Regionals at Elementary and Petplan semi-finals at Medium level. Paddy is very definitely an Arabian so he really stands out from the crowd at dressage competitions but so many people in the dressage world that come across him, from my trainers to judges and other competitors, make a comment about how much they love him.
“He has great ability; super rhythmical paces, an active hind leg, trainability, and he finds it easy to collect and sit. I have great ambitions for Paddy going forward but already he is helping to change the mindset of dressage folk who claim that they “don’t like Arabians”. Not only is he a beautiful Arabian, but he is beating the warmbloods at their own game. In fact I would say he has more natural ability for the higher level movements that any of my other horses so I am super excited to see where that takes us. I would love to one day be competing Grand Prix on a beautiful white Arabian with, to quote one recent dressage competitor, the most beautiful tail she’s ever seen!