Richard Davison Talk – November 2019

“Take the pressure off” – more on that shortly!  Avoiding putting air filled saddles on a flight, in case they blow up? – more on that later.

On 12 November 2019, the audience at our Wimbledon Village Stables (WVS) event was treated to a wonderful entertaining talk from Richard – and we raised over £1,000 for his charity of choice, World Horse Welfare.  That is a win-win and Richard is a winner.

Four times Olympic top-level competitor, dressage team captain, world performance manager, mastermind behind the British team’s gold medal successes, adviser and trainer, Richard took us for a view round the course.  We saw idyllic pictures of his training yard in Staffordshire, the dogs training (much easier to achieve in Richard’s view) and key moments of Richard’s journey in to the horse world.  Rather than follow the family’s business of marketing, it was in the boldness of youth that Richard set out to do what he wanted; the horse business.

“Hunting species and herbivores had fundamentally different brains”…”The hunter needs to predict behaviours not only in its own species but for other species too”…”The horse is quite different, it’s a flight animal”…”When there is trouble, they are out of there”…”Or sometimes they freeze”.  Richard explained how the horse is thinking.  We thought about all those top-level competitions, the excited crowds, the noises.  What do they mean to the horse?  So many thoughts are applied by humans to the horse but often that is how humans would be thinking.  It’s the wrong approach.  “What are the horse’s needs”?  He looked at this when dealing with negative behaviours.  How do we stop accidentally reinforcing negative behaviours? eg rearing accompanied by dropping both reins.  We keep one rein tight and turn the horse to the side.  “We don’t make the horse comfortable for behaving in the way we don’t want”.

On the other side, there is the problem of “habituation”.  The horse can become desensitised to our aids, so, “Take the pressure off”.  We studied pictures of the leg aid and spurs.  In an emergency, yes by all means put the leg on as firmly as it looked in the picture – but when the horse is reacting how we want, make them comfortable, take the pressure off.  That rewards them for doing what we want.

Richard was trained by the classical dressage riders.  He gradually learned that it was best to speak up in lectures.  Everyone was nervous to ask the leading experts questions.  It was best to speak out.  In the riding school in Vienna the dress code was very strict.  Getting Lipizzaners around the school, whilst wearing a thick hunting coat in warm weather was hot – really hot.  Then there was the leg yielding/ not leg yielding debate; he would get caught in the cross-fire of that.

He was a late convert to the value of the horse simulator.  The thing which attracts him most is the accuracy, by pressure and placement, of the leg aid.  Less than a centimetre makes a difference.  The simulator has great value for training the rider to position to this degree of accuracy.  Richard always has an eye for detail.

We saw pictures showing the horse’s strains and injury risk points:  jumping, landing on one leg; and dressage positions, pasterns over-flexed and strains during lateral work.  Then we had a quick look at the air filled saddles! – and heard about the attempts by the maker to perfect his normal saddles.  Next it was on to Questions & Answers.

Suppleness or flexibility? – what’s the difference.  Richard explained the need for judges to record what the eye can see.  Flexion of joints is a visible recordable finding.  To him suppleness seems to say something about muscle tone but how is a judge to remark on it.  The audience joined in the debate; the problem with the terminology may be the use of language, particularly in the translation from German to English.  Other questions concerned Richard’s times whilst training and his coaching.

Richard’s final picture showed a horse lying down sleeping soundly in their stable – with a book!  No we were not humanising the horse really!  After a wonderful evening, we went home to our beds too – but not until after a very entertaining couple of hours’ conversation with Richard, our staff and members in the bar afterwards.  Thank you Richard for a wonderful evening.  You are always welcome at WVS.