Thursday, April 16, 2015


By Francesca Prescott

Roland Tong and Pompidou, at Windsor
The idea of organising a dressage clinic at my stables began to form sometime last year, after I attended a two-day course with Rafael Soto, the famous Spanish silver medallist on Invasor at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, and now trainer of the Spanish team. Rafael Soto was great to work with, and Qrac and I came away with some great suppling exercises to use in our daily warm-up. Rafael was charming and friendly and down-to-earth, and I would happily attend another clinic with him.

That said, I'm not sure I'd want to go back to the place where it was held. Okay, so everyone was very nice, and once we were safely inside the indoor arena, all was well. The problem was that Qrac had to walk down a wonky, slippery, twisty-turny cement and stone staircase to get to the indoor arena. Seriously. I almost turned the trailer around and drove back home when I saw what we were expected to do. In fact, looking back, the sensible thing to do would have been to turn the trailer around and go home. But nobody else seemed to be making a fuss about it. Peer pressure got the best of me, and luckily Qrac didn’t freak out and fall over and hurt himself. As I said, I'm not sure I'd go back there. Not even for Carl Hester.

But to have Carl Hester come and give a clinic at my yard? How amazing would that be? I put the idea to the owner of my stables. Yes, having Carl over here would be amazing. Let’s do it!

So I wrote Carl an email. In my humble opinion, it was a good email, one that would attract his attention, make him want to fly over to this pretty part of Switzerland and spend two days teaching a bunch of friendly, motivated people in fabulous, state-of-the-art facilities. If it had been technologically possible, I’d probably have scented the email with, well, not Eau de Qrac as that just sounds wrong, but with, say, Eau de Swarovski, my friend Josephine’s horse! Naturally, I expected an answer within minutes, so was rather bummed when after ten days or so Carl hadn’t enthusiastically accepted my proposal, given Charlotte and Valegro some tips on how to further improve their tempi changes, and hopped on the first orange plane headed for Geneva. Yep, I’m naïve and optimistic like that.

Impatient for news, I contacted a friend who is well connected in the British equestrian world, wondering whether she might do a little investigating for me. Pretty soon the answer came back: Carl Hester was terribly sorry, but he was simply far too busy. Which is fair enough. I mean, the man is an equestrian rock star, so it figures he’d have more interesting things to do than come over here and sort out my flying changes. And my half-passes, and my bouncy trot, and my extended trot, and my rein-back, and my… well, you get the picture. And that’s just me! There were going to be eleven of us, not all of us dressage riders, all at different levels, all with different personalities.  And the more I watch clinics and trainers, the more I realize that to be a good trainer, you also need to be a decent psychologist too.

Anyway, so Carl Hester was a no-go. However, my friend with the UK contacts suggested we organize a clinic with a Grand Prix rider she represents, Roland Tong. To be honest, I’d never heard of Roland Tong, who rides for Ireland and and had represented his country at the World Equestrian Games in Caen, France in 2014 on Pompidou. I did a little research, found all sorts of super interesting information and videos of him, and then spoke to the owner of my stables who was favourably impressed and told me to go ahead and organize the event.

Roland Tong and Ambience, aka Alf
Roland flew over in early March and the Ecuries de la Ruche in Founex enjoyed a fabulous, incredibly motivating weekend clinic with this friendly, down-to earth, super talented rider and trainer who also happens to have a great sense of humour.

Roland Tong exceeded all our expectations with his individually tailored lessons. His energy and enthusiasm never flagged during those two crazy-long days. Everyone rode out of his lessons with a big smile and the feeling of having achieved something they’d never achieved before. He pushed us all, yet had the utmost respect for our horses and for what they were capable of doing. He even got on a couple of horses, including mine, and got them moving in ways we could only dream of getting them to move. Why oh why can’t I get Qrac to trot like that? Why can’t I achieve that rhythm and reaching and suspension while keeping him relaxed? Sure, I can achieve it for a little while during a session, but getting it consistently? Riding a full test with that impulsion, that lift in the shoulders and that swing? We’re working towards it, but if it came so easily I guess I’d be a Grand Prix rider, too.
Qrac and I working with Roland Tong, March 2015

So there was some monkey business, too!
That said, I must admit that when I watch my videos of the two lessons I had with Roland, I’m extremely pleased with what I see, despite wishing (of course) that it looked a whole lot better! Physically speaking, Qrac looks nothing like the gangly, extremely green 7 year-old Lusitano I bought four years ago. His shoulders are massive, his bum is rounded and muscly, and while his neck was always impressive (he was a stud stallion back then), it’s nothing like it is now, so I must be doing something right. Going through your video records works wonders in reminding you how far you’ve come when you’re feeling frustrated and discouraged and pathologically pathetic and wondering whether taking up macramé might be a more fulfilling occupation.
Qrac, March 2015

Qrac and me, four years ago

What struck everyone who took part in the clinic was how personally involved, how encouraging and motivating Roland Tong was. He’s one of those trainers who makes you feel like he’s riding with you every step of the way. Over those two days, Roland walked miles, striding up and down the arena, his body language in sync with his verbal instructions on how to achieve whatever it is we were working on. Everyone made progress, everyone felt things that had previously eluded them, everyone wanted more.

My friend Caroline Rieder on the fabulous Kayal with Roland Tong
Lucky for us, Roland Tong enjoyed his weekend with us too, and is happy to come back and train us for two days once a month until the end of the year! Our next clinic is scheduled for mid-May, and we’re all super excited about working with him again. Yes, Roland Tong has a little Swiss Fan Club! La Ruche is rooting for him as he works towards the European Championships later this year, not to mention towards qualifying for the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016 with his new horse, Ambience, aka Alf. Go Roland! But come back to Switzerland soon!

Have you come across trainers you have found particularly motivating and inspiring, no matter what discipline you ride? What was it about them that made the difference?



Promise said...

That sounds like an amazing weekend! And how cool that he wants to come back through the end of the year!!

Francesca Prescott said...

Hi Promise, yes, we're super lucky! Such a lovely person, too. Thanks for reading and commenting :) xx

Judith said...

I train with Roland here in the UK and love every single minute of the lesson.

Roland has an enormous amount of energy!!!

Laura Crum said...

That is such a lovely story. Thank you!

Alison said...

Admit it, are you stalking this handsome guy, I mean horse?
Always love your posts!