Interview with Wizz Clack
Wizz started her career in a riding school.
In 1996 she was one of 30 of up and coming trainers from the UK to be selected for the British Dressage Trainers Scheme.
Wizz got to train with a Dutch medallist and through sponsorship received a brand new Oakley supreme horse box with her name all over it and a monthly cheque from Ford.
But in 2000 Wizz was diagnosed with ME, also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and lost everything.
In 2006 she was offered a small yard and after 27 years of working and struggling to get to Grand Prix, it was finally within reach.
She competed in 10 Grand Prix and finished in the top five in eight of them.
Welcome to today’s podcast, Wizz.
Hello. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much for being here.
To kick off this podcast interview, we like to start off a little bit differently.
I would like to know something about you, an interesting fact or something weird about you that most other people would not know.
It does not have to be horsey related, just something a little bit different that maybe might be classed as a little bit weird.
I’m completely mad about old country houses. I love them.
If I see park land or a lodge, I’m absolutely obsessed, and I have to try and get a view of the house.
I’ve no idea why but my parents are a bit like it as well. I don’t know if I’ve inherited it from them.
You’ll have to come and visit me. I live in a house that’s four hundred years old.
My goodness. See I’ll be there.
It makes you feel very drunk sometimes though because all the floors are very uneven.
My living room is a little bit, like, on the side.
Yes, our house is a bit like that as well.
I much prefer the old houses to the new builds. I must prefer how they look and the little chocolate box appeal.
Yes. Well, it’s the great stately piles that I love.
They always tend to be the most expensive ones as well.
Yes, and a bit impossible to run these days so I think that plan will have to wait.
Let’s move on a little bit.
Give us a little insight into your personal life at the moment. What does a typical day look like? Are you married? Do you have any children? Is it just horses that you’ve got, or do you have any other animals? Let’s have a little insight.
I am very, very happily married and I am very lucky to have the most delightful husband. He is a real gentleman, Joe.
It’s just us two, no children and no time for children.
You’ve got horses, who needs children?
Absolutely. We’ve got four terriers.
Wow, busy, busy household.
It is, especially if someone comes to the door then it all goes completely bonkers.
If at any time in this podcast you hear some dogs barking, Wizz has just had a visitor.
Give us a brief summary of your dressage career.
Obviously, we know you got up to Grand Prix but what did it actually take for you to get there? How did you get into horses in the first place? When did you start riding? Let’s sort of whizz up your whole career.
From as far back as I can possibly remember I was always drawn to horses, and my grandparents – my family is not at all horsey so everyone is a bit confused as to where it came from – but my grandparents really understood it.
My grandfather loved horses and when we went to visit them in Christchurch near Bournemouth, there were ponies you could ride on the quay.
I was so desperate to get on at aged two, that my grandparents had to persuade the people with the ponies to let me on for a ride.
My grandfather helped me on and I haven’t really looked back since then.
So, aged two that I started and then I used to spend a lot of my summer holidays with my grandparents because they took me riding.
I went to a trekking centre near Christchurch and I used to walk miles every day leading horses and ponies for a ride at the end.
When the ponies went back out in the field at the end of the day we were allowed to ride them out so I used to work incredibly hard just to get that ride.
I mean, I used to fall off all the time.
You bounce as a child though, don’t you, when you fall off?
Yes, you do. It doesn’t go so well later on, does it?
No, as soon as you start getting older falling off becomes a whole different ball game, but as a child, it just didn’t matter, did it?
No! I have to say it does build character falling off at speed like that.
It used to be a flat-out gallop, bare back to the field and there was a river there and sometimes we would swim them in the river when it was hot.
A flat-out gallop, a few minutes in the river and then slip the bridles off and away they went, but it was great fun.
Actually, I have to say, it made me realise that it really was something that I was desperate to do, because if you fall of how many times at that sort of speed, you are either in or you’re out at that point, aren’t you?
Yes, if you’re prepared to keep getting back on and you still enjoy it, even though you’re going home with half your face scraped off, it does say an awful lot about the sport, doesn’t it?
Yes, I’ve eaten a bit of dirt, I have to say.
Its part of it, isn’t it? It’s part of horse riding.
It is, yes.
What happened then? When did you go ‘I want to start riding’ and how did you start getting into dressage?
The dressage was never what I was going to do. I was always going to be an Eventer.
I had a careers talk at school, as you do, and I said to him ‘I know what I want to do’ and they said ‘no you have to stay and do your exams’ and I hated it so I had a small rebellion.
I refused to do my schoolwork.
I did one exam early and then refused to do anymore so at 16 when the results came through I wasn’t popular at home.
My parents insisted that I go back and get some proper qualifications because if I was going to do horses, then I at least had to do it properly, and do my British Horse Society (BHS) exams.
I had to do my AI (Assistant Instructor).
When I left at 17, having done my retakes and got enough to do my BHS exams, I went to Bradbourne Riding and Training Centre at Sevenoaks.
I used to catch the train with my dad who was on his way up into the city and I hopped off at Sevenoaks and walked to the riding school where I worked.
I had a fantastic time there but it wasn’t enough for me.
I stayed for two years, I learned a lot, I was painfully slow to start and, as is the way on all yards, they took the mickey out of me fiercely for being slow, but they were absolutely wonderful to me.
I really had a super time.
I was very lucky when I left to go into competition horses.
Peter Felgate said to me ‘if you don’t like it you can always come back’ so I left knowing that I could always go back if it didn’t work which is a really big bonus.
I went to do a working pupils job for Dane Rawlins when he was at Bassett’s Manor with Linda Whetstone; Bassett’s belongs to Linda and Francis Whetstone.
Anyway, I went there but obviously I was a working pupil then so I had no money, so I got myself a job washing up at night, three nights a week in a pizza restaurant.
On the yard I did around 7:30 to 8 in the morning until about 5 to 5:30 flat out riding, mucking, grooming and all the usual stuff, and then I’d run in, run through the bath, get tidied up, out the door, into the car, drive into Tunbridge Wells, work all night until midnight to one in the morning – I used to dread getting a Saturday night because that was nearer to 1am – then back to the yard into bed and back up and do it all again in the morning.
It was a bit mad and my Mother -I told my father I was doing this job and he said to my mother ‘she can’t wash up in restaurants, it’s ridiculous’- and my mother said ‘it’s good for her, let her do it’.
So, I did.
I washed up and I got promoted to a waitress on my three nights a week and they did offer me a management thing but at that point I had improved enough to get paid for horses.
I think one thing that people need to understand – if people that listen to this that have never probably done a working pupils job; I was a working pupil at one point – they are hard days.
You are on your feet, you are working, it’s physical work all day, and then to stay on your feet and continue a physical job at night, it is so demanding on your body.
I bet you had mornings where you woke up and you were aching because of the amount of work that actually takes.
Because I was a lot younger then, it was exhausting but the passion to get up and ride and do horses was just so enormous that it didn’t dent me if you know what I mean?
You managed to get up in the mornings.
Yes, I did. Morning is never my best, I have to say.
Morning is not my best either but for some reason when you have a horse you have to get used to it, don’t you?
Yes. I shared an out-house with two other girls and I was always the last up, I have to say.
They are both lifelong friends and I think that is also another big bonus in the horse world because you are thrown together.
You work together, you live together quite a lot of the time, so you make great, great friends. And that has been a theme throughout.
You struggle together, don’t you?
I think the horse world is a strange community.
I think the reason why it is so strange, and people can make these friendships and these bonds, is because we do have to be a bit of a strange breed to do what we do.
Oh, raving mad!
The amount that we have to give to these horses. The amount of time, the amount of money and the amount of commitment.
You have to be a certain type of person and to meet other people like that, you do have that gel and that connection.
I had exactly the same thing when I did my working pupil job and when I look back at the time now, and I was exactly the same as you, I didn’t get paid anything and the number of hours was horrendous, but the number of laughs we had every day was incredible.
I look back at it and it was just a pleasant experience. I look back at it now and smile.
I couldn’t agree more. It’s the same for me and I got such an insight into everything really at that point because I was working for Dane Rawlins.
I got the job through a great friend and because of that, I had learnt a lot.
I had some international horses there that we had to take care of and it was such an interesting and fantastic experience for the fun, for the depth of knowledge that I acquired at a rate, because, obviously, coming out of a riding school and shifting into competition horses, and top-level ones, was such a shock to the system.
There was a stallion they had there who was about 17 hands and he was a proper serving stallion and he was very dominant.
He just knew that I knew nothing about stallions and he used to go for my knees, he used to attack me every time I walked through the door.
Then I had to start riding him and I actually had to really have a real face off with him and at that point, he backed off, but I didn’t feel I could do that to start with.
It was a very, very steep learning curve but one I was delighted to have, I have to say.
Where did you go after this then?
You’ve been working on this competition yard, you’ve got all this experience, when did you go from working on the yard to competing?
I had done a little bit, a tiddly bit in the riding school but I was always going to be an eventer.
It’s ridiculous, I don’t know how I ended up with Dane other than through this friend.
It wasn’t on my path of where I was meant to be going, but Linda Whetstone used to have a lot of horses. She used to have some ‘money box horses’, and she had three daughters and her daughter’s horses, and they all used to either bloodhound or event. When they were away at school I rode their horses.
I went blood hounding and I went eventing for her in exchange for some tuition for my BHS (British Horse Society) exams with one of the members of her staff who was training to be a fellow.
I used to have to eat lunch in about five minutes flat, run down to the barn, sit in with Patty, do my BHS books, come out and ride a load more for Linda then run back up the hill to Dane’s yard and finish off there.
It was a mad dash.
Every single day was completely bonkers but fantastic fun and I was learning at an absolute rate of knots.
When did that start to change? Obviously, it says here that you were selected for the British Dressage Training Scheme, how did that all come about?
There is quite a massive gap in between that.
I had a damaged spine and went out for two years. They said, ‘your career is finished; you cannot ride anymore’.
I did it doing the most ridiculous thing. By putting a bucket handle on when I worked in the riding school in front of a horse that had a bar at the door because it pawed a lot. I didn’t really think of it, and I was in range, and it struck my fifth lumbar and knocked it in.
Then, as I went on through the time at Basset’s Manor with Dane and Linda it got worse.
The more I did, and the more competing I did – and also, I used to event all the young horses, so they inevitably will make a mistake, or I would make a mistake, and we’d end up in a heap every now and again.
It’s just the job really and then it got worse and worse until I was told that my career was over and I had to stop riding.
I went to London because I couldn’t bear to be anywhere near the horses, so I moved in with a friend I met after a breakfast party, moved into her house and got a computer inputters job – which was just like pulling your teeth out slowly.
That’s the complete opposite of what you were used to. Every day being out in the fresh air to then sit on a computer and type every day.
I hated it.
I had to sit near the window and I had to have the window open – which in midwinter it bothered everyone else in this open plan office.
I felt almost trapped by it and then I just couldn’t bear it any longer and I begged a friend to sit on her horse.
She said, ‘no you’ll end up in a wheelchair, they’ve told you’, but anyway I persuaded her.
I’ve said ‘listen, you’ve already worked him, so I’ll be fine’ and anyway I rode him.
Then I went to another friend and I said, ‘can I ride?’ and she said ‘of course you can’ so she gave me a couple to ride.
I went to an osteopath’s appointment wearing my breeches and they really told me off. They said, ‘why are you wearing breeches? You’re not meant to ride anymore’.
They sent me back to a hospital in London and they re x-rayed me and I was really lucky. My fifth lumbar vertebrae that was pulling on my spinal cord, which was making me lose feeling in my feet, had stopped.
Your bones ossify really late as a person, which I didn’t know until then, and it stopped it travelling so I was back in business.
I then married the wrong man in St Paul’s Cathedral which is a whole other story.
That’s a whole other podcast isn’t it, that one?
I moved to Canada and rode out there.
I got lots of freelance going here and some competition rides, but I had to give those all up and went to Canada.
That didn’t pan out at all and I came back again a couple of years later and really got stuck into my career here again which, you know, its home, isn’t it?
I then started making my way up slowly but surely.
Then I had a small yard, which was a really big mistake and I would advise anyone in the middle to early stages of your career not to do that.
Don’t get your own yard. That’s where you get lost.
I should have made a beeline for Germany to the best trainer that would take me and really develop my skill set.
Where, actually, when you ride alone running your own yard, you don’t that. You could actually get lost.
When you get to a higher level, you can do it as long as you see your trainers regularly, but the name of the game is training.
It’s all about training and knowledge and guidance, but you have to have good people.
I think it’s so easy when you’re on a yard to get lost in the business, isn’t it?
And to get lost in the day to day running rather than the actual training, I suppose. Is that what you found?
Yes, absolutely, but it is about having the eyes on the ground.
The trainers that are really watching you and not let you slip.
When you ride with your trainers you are riding for that top end quality all the time, and when you are riding alone, if you’re a metre or half a metre late for a marker, if you’re running through a test, you don’t really pull yourself up on it.
Also, you slip into little tiny habits that you don’t actually notice. I didn’t notice that I was riding into the corner and out of the corner making a titchy half halt before starting a shoulder in.
I didn’t notice I was doing it, and you have to have, anybody starting out, go for the best people you can get.
Don’t train with anybody who’s less than Prix St George.
If you want to do top-level dressage, you’ve got to have Prix St George trainer or above. Years ago, I would have said that’s ridiculous but actually it’s so important.
You need people with that level of experience.
I was having almost the exact same conversation.
Obviously, as people listen to this, I’m not a top-level dressage rider. But I work with a various amount of Grand Prix riders and list one judges and I was talking to somebody the other day and she said the thing that made her career was her trainers.
Not every instructor is created equal in terms of their experience and what they have done and what they can see and pick up on.
She said to go for the best trainer that you can afford to get.
I absolutely agree with what you say.
It’s almost buy cheap, buy twice.
A lot of times you will get not such good information from someone with less experience.
Everyone with less experience is going to have a hate campaign for me on Facebook now, but please don’t!
If you are trying to get to the top go to a really good trainer. Even if it costs you twice as much than you would like to pay, try it, because there is a very good chance you will get twice the information.
It’s better value for money more often than not. Not every top rider is a marvellous trainer, of course, we know that, but that pursuit of knowledge is key to riding through and past all the gremlin moments, where the gremlin pops into your head goes ‘that’s rubbish’.
That knowledge that you gain gives you that opportunity to not have those negative moments and to ride to be the very best you can be, which is what it’s all about.
Yes. That is dressage, isn’t it? It’s the pursuit of perfection, isn’t it?
Absolutely, but when you really ponder dressage, the early levels of dressage are really only circles, straight lines and corners.
To ride a good corner is actually quite difficult and takes a good bit of information. But you ride a good corner in a test the marks go up because you are showing the geometry of the test which is really important.
You have to think what the judge sees and give them what is written in the test, not clip the corners off so you’re always on the circle line, as an example.
We see that quite a lot with our dressage tests and it’s something that we always say to our members. Accuracy is such a big part and they should know what a circle is and what going large is; there is a difference.
As soon as they start putting these bits into practice, the judges that come into to judge for us notice such a difference and their scores just automatically go up. Simply by knowing what the difference is between going large and riding a twenty-metre circle.
It’s completely different.
Anyway, let’s get back into your story.
You were back training and you were back on the horses, what was happening after that?
I got a small yard which had a very poor school, and then I was offered Frogpool Manor which is a big saddlery in Chislehurst, which was lovely, and I loved my time there, I really did.
I was there for quite a few years.
I missed the seasons because it’s very much on the edge of London and Joe and I were living in Farningham, so it wasn’t far from us then.
It was a fantastic yard because it was a huge saddlery and feed merchants and it was mental. It was so busy. I was really lucky.
There were a lot of people always passing and I met a lovely chap. He and his wife bought a lovely Dutch horse for me to compete and they got me my sponsorship with Ford.
They also bought the brand new Oakley Supreme lorry which, at the time, was worth more than our house which was quite amusing.
I trained then with Peter Storr. I got selected for the trainer’s scheme which, again, was fabulous because I trained with Ellen Bontje, who is a Dutch team medallist and Dutch team rider, and that, again, gave me a lot more insight into the higher levels, which was always where I was trying to get to.
I also started to see more of Fiona Bigwood, who is now one of my absolute dearest friends, and her mum, Penny, and they have been absolutely fabulous to me.
I train now more with Penny, who stands out there come rain or shine with me, and they gave me a Grand Prix horse, well loaned me one.
I was really lucky.
I have been quite short on luck in my career and whatever anyone says it does take a bit of luck.
That was my hugest bit of luck and they took me under their wing and trained me.
In amongst that, I’ve got ME so I lost everything and that was just before getting the Grand Prix horse.
I lost absolutely my whole business.
I was riding as many as 11 horses a day… (and no I don’t think you can ride 11 properly, looking back).
Needs must sometimes, don’t they?
…to not being able to climb the stairs at home.
It used to take me sometimes two or three stops just to get up the stairs.
I was, on the face of it, I was mega, mega fit and strong.
It started with a cold in the December, which I didn’t get colds and I don’t still as a rule, and then I just went spectacularly downhill.
Can you just give a bit more background information? It’s ME and it’s also known and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. There are probably some people at home that don’t actually know what it is – I don’t think I understand fully what it is.
What does it mean for you as a person? How does it impact your life getting diagnosed with this?
It was enormous because it came on so strongly that they thought I had a brain tumour and I ended up having to go through the MRI scanner, and I couldn’t stand up reliably.
If I stood up I would often fall over backwards.
I don’t know why I always went backwards.
I insisted – and it took all my strength just to get out to the car – that Joe, my husband, drive me up to see the horses.
I was walking with him across the car park and then just keeled over. Lucky for me he caught me otherwise I would have cracked my head on the concrete.
I tried some weeks later to go up and see the horses under my own steam. Definitely should not have been driving, but anyway… I drove there, and I was insisting on helping my head girl, Karen Heath, who was an absolutely amazing person.
I tried to turn one out and I couldn’t do it.
I had to go through one paddock to get to another. I had to hold the horse in one hand and hold the fence in the other hand and go around the edge to get there. And that just wiped me out.
She said to me ‘Wizz, I’m taking you home now’ and I said to you her ‘you’re far too busy’ and said I would drive myself and she said ‘Wizz you’re not safe’ and I insisted on driving myself because I couldn’t put extra time on her day.
I drove home, and when I got home I was so exhausted that I didn’t have enough strength to turn the key in the door.
I just had to sit on the doorstep until Joe came home.
I bet he wasn’t particularly happy with you when he came back.
Not impressed, no.
That finished me off for about another week, I couldn’t do anything.
In total, I was like that for two months.
Obviously, I had to send the client horses home and give up my whole business which was devastating.
Once you’ve worked so hard for something, to then just watch it all go all at once, almost.
I was flying, I had a young horse, I had a sponsored really smart little Dutch horse.
I was rocking and rolling but it just came to the most abrupt stop and I was barely able to stand.
As the months passed I winched myself on and did the best I could with the two horses – I moved three to a friend and then had to send another one home, so I had one client horse and young horse of ours.
It was horrific. Absolutely horrific.
But you went on to ride ten Grand Prix tests after this. How do you actually come back from that?
That must have been an ultimate low point.
Penny Bigwood to the rescue.
She said to me, ‘right Wizz, bring your horses up to my yard and our staff will do them and you can ride if you feel well enough, and not if you don’t. You can do whatever you like but you need to get well’.
I would go up to the yard when I could and the rest of the time I just rested at home.
Gradually I got stronger and stronger, but you need that support and you know where your friends are when you’re in that mess.
I was so grateful, and I got stronger, and then Fiona had an older Prix St George horse and she said ‘would you like to ride him? I don’t want to insult you because he is a bit old now, but he is fit enough to do some Prix St Georges. We don’t know how long it will last but at least it will get you going again’.
I had him, they paid for him, and I had a lovely time. I said to Penny, ‘please will you train me?’ and she said ‘I can’t train you’ because she’s not really a trainer. But her skill-set is enormous and her observational skills are fantastic.
Where Fiona is completely amazing on getting the horses trained to the highest most sensitive level, as proved by her European medal just recently, Penny is extremely good on rider stuff, so I was so lucky to have both.
Then as the time passed I got offered a small yard which is five-minutes-walk from the house.
Penny and Fiona gave me Nectar, who was former world number one.
I have to say that he is the most enormous blessing, but very, very sharp.
You did not block your hips for one moment, you stayed fluid, you stayed quiet and the aids were so tiny that you almost just had to think it.
When Fiona and Penny bought him, a few international riders had tried him and he was a bit tricky because he was so sensitive.
He was easy to upset but a more generous horse you couldn’t hope to meet.
The owner loved the way Fiona rode him and sold him to the Bigwoods and then when he couldn’t do the internationals anymore Fiona said to me, ‘do you want to try Nectar?’ and I said ‘do bears poo in the wood? Yes, please’.
I had him and, well, that was my best bit of luck.
Amazing. Absolutely amazing.
We had so much fun. I just smiled through so many Grand Prix it was ridiculous.
I couldn’t get the grin off my face.
I did concentrate, obviously.
I think you need to give yourself a little of credit because someone could give me a Grand Prix horse, it doesn’t mean I could go and ride Grand Prix.
You see so many people that buy these top-level dressage horses and it’s not just that horse. There is so much relying on the rider.
My goodness, no.
A lot of good international riders have tried that horse and not been able to get along with him, and although he was fabulous for us, he is not an ‘everybody ride’ at all.
Because he had wear and tear from doing the big internationals and stuff, I was very limited with my warm up to keep the mileage off him and I purposely – he was an extremely generous horse and he would give you the moon but then the risk of him breaking as a result of that, was too great.
I had to ride with about a third of the power off all the time.
He was trying to give it and I’m trying to keep the lid on the enormous amount of power, and it was extremely tempting, but I wanted my friend to go again with me and not burn out and get one storming win if you see what I mean.
It was quite a clever balancing act but what a delight.
Staying on in the car park was always interesting. That was always scary.
I was very blessed to have another good friend, Leah Gardiner who came with me and helped me a lot.
She has got such a good, calm but ‘in charge’ way with animals, it’s fantastic.
She is actually a top-level dog agility trainer.
She got Nectar completely sussed and she would literally hold him just long enough for me to put a foot in the stirrup and as I swung my right leg over, she’d have to let me go.
I couldn’t put my leg on to start with or touch the mouth at all because that would have resulted in an enormous explosion, I really just had to sit there and go wherever I went.
I almost shot up Fiona’s ramp on one occasion.
He wanted to go home, bless him. I’m done.
No, he is just raving mad, but fabulous.
So, you competed in ten Grand Prix with this horse and from what I can see you had a fantastic success rate – you finished in the top five in eight of them.
Yes, well actually I had ‘second-itis’ for a long time and I had some thirds as well, which was always because I was behind Fiona and Anna, so you don’t mind following two enormously talented international riders.
I don’t mind being third to them. It was great fun.
That’s such a massive achievement.
How did it feel when you first rode your Grand Prix?
I just- oh, the words! Crumbs. It was just fabulous.
I couldn’t stop smiling for about a week.
I think it’s a feeling that most dressage riders aspire to have.
They want to come down the centre line on their first Grand Prix and finish that test and salute the judges and walk out.
I was second in my first one and both Penny and Fiona were competing internationally and were both away, so I did it with Leah and another good friend was around as well. So, I was really lucky.
It was a small one and I rode, I think, with about half the power off because I was terrified of breaking my friend Nectar, but it was such a blast.
It was such fun.
Actually, I think because it had taken me 27 years of really hard, hard graft to get there, I made damn sure I enjoyed it while I was doing it.
I think after all of that wait, I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to savour every moment of this’.
And I bet you were even more thrilled to find out you got second in your first Grand Prix.
Yes, I couldn’t believe it, and then I went to another one and I saw Kyra Kyrklund there.
Fiona and Anna weren’t there so I thought I had a sporting chance of trying to get this win.
My clients from years before had given me a bottle of Dom Perignon and I said I’m going to savour this for my first Grand Prix win, I didn’t even have a Grand Prix horse at the time.
This blasted bottle is still unopened.
On that occasion I did actually manage to beat Kyra which was a bit – obviously, she was having an off day, I think.
My dad came back to the lorry and he said, ‘Penny says to tell you, you’ve beaten someone called… ‘and I said ‘Kyra?’ and he said ‘Yes, that’s it!’ and I said ‘Kyra Kyrklund?’ and he said ‘Yes’. I then said, ‘You are joking?’ and he said, ‘Penny said you would say that’.
What is the single piece of advice you would give to any aspiring dressage rider?
It can be anything you want. It could be training based; it could be motivationally based.
There are obviously a lot of young riders listening now, and they might only be at intro and prelim, but they’ve got dreams of getting to Grand Prix, what would you tell them?
Right, there are certain things you have to know.
Two of them are; it’s about horsepower, don’t kid yourself for a moment if you are wanting to go to Grand Prix, there are many stepping stone horses in between, but don’t kid yourself that you don’t need that top end, loads of money horsepower, because you do.
Don’t do what I have done and make the big mistake of not managing the business side of it; being a brilliant trainer and rider will not do it for you.
You have to do the business side of it, and I have neglected that and struggled and relied on luck to get horsepower.
Horsepower is one thing and training is the other which we’ve touched on before.
You need to have the best trainers.
The best that you can get hold of, that’s what you need to do.
Other things that I would also say about it is; plan your short-term, medium-term and long-term goals.
We know the long-term one is aspiring to Grand Prix is, of course, but you need to say if you are doing Elementary now that your goal for this year, horse willing, is that you are starting on the Medium work before Christmas.
That’s short term.
A medium one would be to be competing Medium by April next year and do your training.
Get out there; wind, rain, hail or whatever it just get out and do it.
Know that your body takes a pounding.
My nose has been broken five times. I broke the kickboard in the school a year ago June and I still have the bruise on the back of my pelvis, and it’s always the horses you don’t expect.
Always the sharp ones you’re ready for.
You live and you learn.
I have a friend who is extremely wise, and she loves horses, but she is nothing really to do with horses other than her daughter’s and she is a yoga person.
I said to her ‘why can’t I?’ and she said ‘Wizz, until you learn to ride with a quiet mind you’ll never ride your best’ and I had to do a lot of thinking about it and I said, ‘how do I do that then?’.
Inherently, we are determined, full of drive and motivation and when you sit on a horse and try your hardest, that’s when you mess it all up, because the overtrying sends scrambled transmission to the horses.
If you can think clear and quiet, the horses – I don’t know how people say they’re telepathic, I don’t know – but they pick up the information from you.
I think it transfers from your own body when you think really purely about whatever it is that you’re doing.
Let’s say it’s a shoulder in or a half pass. If you are thinking and prepping for that, and really setting it up, and flowing on in it, and focusing on the rhythm, and focusing on the length of every single step, you will be able to do it.
If you are thinking ‘I must get this, I must get this’ then it goes wrong.
I’ve had experience of that quite a few times.
We all have, yes.
I think we all know, don’t we, that when we get on a horse and we are stressed and we’re tense that goes through to the horse. We all know that happens.
Absolutely, but controlling it is the trick.
I said to her ‘how do I do it?’ and she said, ‘make your mind a blank screen’ and I thought, ‘Oh my God!’
Have you any idea how hard that is to think of nothing? It’s quite extraordinary.
Obviously, you went through some massive ups and downs in your career.
The ME, your Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, was probably the lowest point and the most difficult point for you to get through. But there will be people out there now who have been trying, possibly for years, to get to Grand Prix, or to get to a certain level or a certain point of their dressage career, and they keep feeling like it’s just not working.
They keep getting problem after problem after problem and hurdle after hurdle after hurdle.
What little bit of advice would you give to them?
Don’t give up.
If it is your goal, then hold it as your goal and chase it hard.
It only takes a little bit of luck but don’t forget to be a decent human being as well, because with people, the ego can come into the sport and actually everybody around you has a talent.
It may not be for your sport, but they have a talent for something. So, if you’re respectful to people, they will always try and help you.
I have been so blessed with that, and that help has come in all sorts of ways. When I’ve been struggling and I’ve arrived at the yard and it’s completely mucked out and spotless.
Be nice to people and they will help you.
You never know where the next little speck of luck is going to come from. It’s very often from a completely out of the clear blue sky.
I mean, the lovely Dutch horse I had and competed, and the lovely Oakley that went with it and the sponsorship, I honestly would never have imagined that.
I wouldn’t have guessed that that person standing in front of me would have given me all of that. A nicer owner you would have been hard pushed to find.
Not a typical dressage owner, you would think, but actually totally into it. Absolutely loved dressage, and so, be respectful to the people around you.
As high as you fly with horses, you will come down.
Either actually in the dirt or because their career has ended and you have to start again with another horse – which I’m trying now – and so it’s really important to be a decent human being and try your best and don’t give up.
And wear sunscreen.
Great advice, especially on the sunscreen.
Okay Wizz, so if there was anyone within your dressage career that you think was responsible for your success and had a really big influence on you, who would it be?
I think I would have to dedicate it, first of all, to my husband, Joe, who has been absolutely amazing.
I’m gone early, back late, never around at weekends and he never complains.
He is absolutely wonderful.
He offers second to none loving support and has always believed in me and he has always helped me.
He is absolutely fantastic.
It would be him.
If I was allowed any extra ones it would be to Joy, Rose and Dale, who for nine years I have been in her yard, which she owns. She doesn’t have any horses anymore, but she has given me complete freedom, she supports me, she offers excellent advice and absolutely wonderful support, and always allows me to do whatever I want to do at her place and never, ever complains at all.
I would say I dedicate my podcast to the both of them and also to Penny and Fiona Bigwood, who I mentioned earlier have been fabulous to me.
What’s the best way for people to connect with you Wizz? If they want to hook up with you; lessons, training etc. Have you got a Facebook or Twitter website or something like that they can just share?
I would like to thank you very, very much for your time and for sharing your story with us today, Wizz.
It’s been very inspirational and hopefully, there are a lot of dressage riders that can take a lot of information from that to help them progress with their dressage career.
Thank you very much for taking part.
Thank you and good luck to all of them.
Thank you very much.
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