I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend 5 days at the famous Talland School of Equitation, the UK's premier teaching and examination centre. Talland is a family run riding centre and is also "the" place to go whether you're looking for a career with horses, or if you want to brush up on your skills, no matter what your level. They offer lessons with loads of different but very qualified instructors, day courses or even week long tailored courses for different levels of riders. I'll put a link to their site at the bottom of this page. Sorry it got long but there was just so much great stuff to tell! This is my diary of my time there, I hope you enjoy the read!
It goes without saying that I was very excited during the long journey to Cirencester from Yorkshire, and this soon turned to apprehension as the daylight faded, a blustering snow storm set in and I was dropped off in what felt like the middle of nowhere. It was cold and dark, and I could only watch as mum’s red tail lights faded into the blizzard. Claire the yard manager was so friendly though, she showed me around and as it happens my arrival was well timed, it was dinner time. The canteen was warm and smelled divine and was full of students chattering in groups, but they looked friendly enough. Claire introduced me and once I had my food and turned around I saw smiling faces motioning me to join them.
The food was delicious and I chatted happily with Cara and Kate. I went to bed quite early and as I lay in bed tapping on my phone I felt so happy because many of the students complained about the Wi-Fi but I was in the room closest to reception which meant I got the best Wi-Fi (which we all know for me is a MASSIVE win). The rooms at Talland are shared but I had one to myself, and you can even take your own bedding. I had found out from the students that they were to be up at 6:30 in the morning to muck out. As a paying guest I had a choice, I could lay in bed until my first lesson, or I could get up and jolly well muck in and have the whole experience, so that's what I decided to do.
Day 1 – Clothes Pegs and Cheesecake
On the yard by 6:30 I helped out until 8am, quick breakfast and had to be tacked up by 9am. For my first group lesson with Toby the instructor I was riding a pony called Rembie who is trained to medium level. Toby asked us to have them stretching down and forward to begin with, and if your horse wouldn’t stretch you had to put more leg on. Then in a circle we had to do shoulder in and travers. Once we got the hang of that we did it alone for 5 minutes to see if we could improve the quality of the trot (which it did and is definitely something I’m going to be trying at home). Rembie was a lil' monkey and was the sharpest of the lot, he spooked with me three times and made me laugh.
Next, I enjoyed a really interesting lecture with Emma showing us how to check if our saddle fits and I am so looking forward to checking everyone’s saddles at home!
After lunch I helped on the yard for a while then it was time to fetch Boris a big grey for my individual lesson and I chose to tack him up myself, I just liked doing it. I was with Mike who asked me what I wanted to work on. I told him that I wanted to work on my insecure lower leg and lengthening the leg so he took away my stirrups (cue me crying). Mike had me pull my ankles back as if I was stretching to go on a run and when my legs pinged back when I let them go that’s where they had to be. He had me go off doing serpentines in sitting trot and I kid you not I felt like one of those wooden clothing pegs. When I said this Mike explained that because I was so tight in the hips I was going to feel like that for a while but the more I do it the more my body will adapt over time so I was like okie dokie thanks Mike for the torture. I untacked then helped feed the horses before dinner which was korma and rice and you could have sponge cake or one of the girls brought in awesome CHOCOLATE ORANGE WITH KINDER CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE !!! and everyone was so friendly to me. I was so tired at the end of my first day, but I’d loved every second of it.
Day 2 - Pancakes and Flying changes
I decided to start my day off on the yard again with the students, then back to the canteen for breakfast before it was time to get ready for that day's lessons.
In my 9am lesson I was moved to a slightly more advanced group. Riding the lovely Timmy, who was schooled to medium we had to get counter canter then do shoulder in. Timmy was a well-educated horse but he was quite happy to stay behind the leg if you didn't ask him properly, so staying in canter at all for me was a great trick at first! I actually felt quite accomplished when I got the knack though. Then Mike asked everyone change rein aaaand flying change!! Oops! "um how?" I asked. Mike replied don't worry just pick up counter canter on the other rein and we'll work on it later. Then we had to do shoulder in which I thought I was pants at so I said “erm not entirely sure I’m getting this right” and Mike said don’t worry, you're doing well and with that he took away my stirrups again. I was dying but that’s fine, I didn't call him Mike the Monster in my head, I promise!
After seeing to the horses and sweeping we had FAJITAS for lunch (heaven) I had two (very big and very messy I'm a disgrace I know) but I was working up an appetite. It was soon time for my next individual lesson and this time I was riding Tommy, a beautiful grey 24yr old ex Grand Prix horse which was soooooo awesome. Mike was my instructor again and he soon had us doing the FLYING CHANGES I’d asked about in the morning, they actually ended up really easy, especially on Tommy who's a bit of a changes specialist, because it’s just swapping your canter aid around and then we tried the shoulder in I'd struggled with too. Mike said I had to stop twisting my pelvis and had to think of the aids as if I was asking for canter but outside leg softer so he doesn’t actually canter and he had me doing that in trot and canter which was really fun. Mike explained how my hollow back and grippy knees might take months to fix because it was muscle memory and strength so that was something I had to accept wasn't just an easy fix, but we could make a start.
Today’s lecture was with Toby, we had to naming different pieces of tack and I learned a few I didn’t know. I helped with brush offs going around brushing off all the horses that had been ridden, swept the yard before feeding then we went in for food ourselves. Hallelujah! We had PANCAKES for desert oh my goodness they were so good. I had seven but I also had a bowl of peas and carrots so I am a very healthy being and deserved those pancakes.
Almost in a coma I headed for bed. I was so tired I truly believed they'd broken me, but my day was completely brilliant! I had learned to do my first proper flying changes and even though I hurt I knew I was learning a lot.
Day 3 – Rocky Road and PAMMY!
Up early and on the yard before breakfast again, I was so tired I had my shirt on backwards, but I was enjoying the whole experience too much to lay in. This was the day I was to have my first jumping lesson with Hilary another one of the instructors. I was given a pony called Solly who was a sweet black mare, We had to do our jumping positions in trot and canter and I got told off so many times for dropping my reins and being too "dressagey" in my back, so I had to lower my shoulders and stick my bum out to fix it and get a more secure seat
After lunch I was told that my next lesson was with PAMMY. I was allocated the lovely Advanced Medium horse Dui, I tacked up and jumped on him ready.
WELL I did think I was ready at least! I have a fierce mum, I have a fierce coach and have been surrounded by your “strong independent women” types all my life. I thought I knew what I was walking into but Pammy was pretty intimidating. We started the lesson by having me in sitting trot and getting Dui forward, then Pammy talked me through feeling my first ever collected trot and it was just amazing. Next, she asked me what I had learned since coming and I told her about the aids for the shoulder in, the travers, the flying changes, making myself have a heavier waist so I sit down in the saddle and don’t wobble around and then she asked me the all-important question; why are you here? So, I said what I felt, that I wanted to leave a better rider than when I came and Pammy replied "Good answer". Phew! We carried on working on my seat then she had me halt and told me to hollow away from her hand on my back and then relax into it. I had to keep that position but not get too tense and my seat was starting to actually come together and I was having so much fun trying to sit “like an old lady” on different reins and doing flying changes across the diagonal and guys did I feel the BOMB! Goodness does Pammy know how to teach.
Later I had my lesson with Hilary on Tommy (Grand Prix horse) which was really good. Both Hillary and Pammy stole my stirrups that day owwwwww, these people exist to torture me. I practiced lateral work on Tommy, doing leg yields and shoulder in and really focusing on keeping my hands lower down because I kept bringing them too high. One really important lesson I had to learn was that I may have been taught how to do a movement one way but in the end you need to do that movement to the horses taste because they have different buttons and different ways of going, something really good to take home and use with my own horses.
I untacked and by then it was dinner time and we had curry which was gorgeous and this to die for rocky road, honestly the food was so good. In just a few short days I was making so many friends and having so much fun, I felt like I was becoming part of the Talland family.
Day 4 – Side Saddle and 4 lessons
Once again out on the yard early before breakfast then it was time for my group lesson which I was excited for because I was riding Timmy who is honestly awesome, he's so supple and it just feels like all the buttons are in just the right place. We were asked to do a 6 circle exercise which I was pants at because everyone knows my sense of direction is faulty at best but the aim of it was to supple up the horses, by doing one 10m circle in the corner one way, moving to the middle and doing another circle the other way, and basically moving around the arena doing that with the circles going different ways each time, a fantastic exercise that I've taken home to my horses to not only get them more supple but to get them more balanced and wrapped around your inside leg. This got us ready to do leg yield and I really had to focus on keeping my hands as a pair because Mike called me out on my wayward left hand a couple of times and guess what? They took my stirrups away again and it showed how when I get worried about my balance, my left hand creeps up, but Timmy was such an incredible dude, he used to do FEI and it so showed.
Next up I was riding Tommy (have I mentioned he’s a Grand Prix horse wink wink) with an instructor I hadn’t met yet called Richard. In Richard’s lesson we started looking at half pass, I was so excited! He had us doing shoulder in down the long side then switching the aids as if I was asking for travers but pushing him over with my outside leg which was now further back, it is easier said than done. Trust me. Once I’d got the hang of that he had Tommy and I going across the diagonal changing leg THREE times and wow was that cool! I mean I only learned how to do them all of two days ago and now it’s just like standard procedure.
Then I had a gap to grab a quick lunch before my SIDE SADDLE LESSON. I managed to get broccoli soup confused for sour cream (??? I was tired okay) and put it on my kebab wrap, gaining plenty of laughs but I was not wasting that and genuinely guys it wasn’t bad!
Emma who was to be my side saddle instructor came and put the side saddle on for me because I looked at it and was just plain confused. The very first thing that I had to do was put my right leg over this stick out bit on the saddle so I was officially sideways and then put my weight into the toe of the leg that crossed over and it was so difficult. My whip was a substitute for my leg and honestly, I do not know how people make side-saddle look so easy, everything was based on core strength I felt like I was going fall off. As the lesson went on though my seat became better and that silly left hand started staying down which was awesome, as it showed I was improving. Almost none of the steering comes from the reins it all came from your body, which got slightly easier as I began to get the flow of it, however I fear it was not very graceful. I was so excited to try, and I think with another few lessons I’d have really gotten the hang of it.
I had an hour and a half break before my next Pammy lesson on Dui (small confession, all of the horses are amazing but he was my favourite) so I spent that extra time sitting next to Pammy watching her teach and just soaking up the information.
For my lesson Pammy had me lengthen my reins and make Dui deep and round. I was very worried of course, have written in the past saying how I'm strongly against rolkur and I was worried that if I got this wrong it could look like that. Pammy explained that this was very different from rolkur as it comes from the give in the hand not the pull, and it allows the horse to stretch over its back by asking the horse to coil up and then releasing it like a spring so that it stretches to it's full potential and come through, although Pammy put great stress on how this doesn’t work on all horses. She explained Dui is naturally uphill and inclined to poke his nose in trot and canter, so encouraging him to be deep and round a few strides at a time gently was not going to tip him onto the forehand nor cause stress. Once Pammy was content that Dui was swinging through his back she told me to go sitting trot (ow) and honestly in just a few days my seat had improved so much, my back is steadily getting softer after being so hollow and stiff for so long, my hands STAYED LOWER HURRAH and honestly proudest moment of my life, there was this super stylish awesome Scottish rider in there and she was talking to Pammy who suddenly said “this young girl is only 15” and this Scotswoman just belts out “woah no way” it was so awesome Pammy Dressage God Hutton was pleased with me.
After four lessons in one day I fell into bed after dinner, it was an amazing day but already I was sad, tomorrow was to be my last day.
Day 5 – Party Tricks and goodbye
On my final morning it was up and at 'em at half six again. Then in my 9am lesson I was riding a 148cm pony called Bailey, for a course jumping lesson. To my horror I watched Adam (our instructor) whack up the jumps to 95cm, a daunting height on only a small pony that I wasn’t familiar with, so I was just blindly trusting this boy to clear it. Actually, Bailey was amazing and flew it, I should have known he’d be great, and I aced my lines into the jumps too. We worked on lengthening and shortening the strides so we could get the stride just right and I actually wasn't too bad. I really enjoyed the lesson and it was kinda cool to have stirrups for a change.
Next I had to get Dui ready for my group Pammy lesson (cue excitement) I was scheduled to be riding at 12:00 but Pammy says to be five minutes early which really means I had to be ten minutes early so that is what I jolly well did. Pammy had me to work on really collecting Dui’s canter and asking for more than one flying change down the long side which wasn’t easy because Dui is very forward and with my weak core I had difficulty holding him, however once I managed it, it felt amazing and he literally seemed to levitate off of the ground every stride! I also sat really down in the saddle and was EVEN comfortable to take away my stirrups (we knew that was going to happen right?) Halfway through my lesson my mum turned up which meant I got slightly stiffer as I wanted so badly to impress her, but I got a hold of myself pretty soon and worked on relaxing my lower back so that it flowed with the horse’s movement. All too soon the lesson finished, just one lesson left.
Today I was told I’d be riding Tommy in the double bridle and I was unsure how to put it on so I had to have one of the other girls help me which was really nice of her and it turns out everything’s relatively easy. In my last lesson we worked on some pretty awesome party tricks, attempting sequence changes (and also how to hold double bridle reins lol) and it was so difficult! Even on Tommy, the most educated horse on that yard there were miscommunications! He much preferred doing the changes in his own time and it took a lot of work to get him on side. Still, we got there, doing fours then threes then twos, which was so cool. It turns out I needed to make my aids much more exaggerated for the change and keep him forward but collected when coming for the change.
After I untacked I headed on over to my lecture taught by Adam about lunging, part of the students’ exams and it was super interesting learning to be firm but kind. We were tested to see if we could pinpoint where the horse wasn't quite level and nearly all of us said front and it turned out it was actually the back, telling us all that we certainly needed that lecture!
Finally- finally it was time to leave. No more waking up so gosh darn early. No more sweeping or hay. And I’m going to miss it. I'll miss the people, the horses, learning and riding all day every day and going to bed boneless as you were so tired, but you just knew that you worked hard and you got where you wanted to be. As a client you aren’t expected to join in the yard work or tack up and other clients did go off and do different things, just for me it was all part of drinking in the experience as much as I could, and I loved every minute.
This place is a family, where all the people are so genuine and ready to help and where the horses are talented and amazing. This place is fabulous, where riders can learn to be amazing themselves. I cannot wait to go back to Talland School of Equitation. I can't thank everyone enough, the instructors for coaching me through my multiple blonde moments, the students for accepting this new kid straight away into their family, the chefs for feeding us so well, and Pammy for not strangling me when I was being particularly thick headed haha!!
I was so sad to leave, but I count down the days until I head back to Talland, filled with a fierce fire to try even harder and do even better!
You can check out Talland's site here - The Talland School of Equitation
Have you read my blog on rolkur? Wind Your Neck In
Or visit My Blogs page to read my other blogs