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Coreen Abernethy: Image
1. How did you get into horses?
My dad had a horse from just after I was born so I went up with him regularly to see his horse and my passion for horses developed right from there. By the age of 6, I had started lessons at Lessans Riding Stables and when I was 11, I was fortunate enough to get my own pony. The rest is history!
2. Have you ever done any dressage yourself?
Yes, very low level during my riding school years - I think I managed to win a couple of novice classes at Pony Camp ha! I then got back into competing in 2012 and was heading up towards Novice level when my horse was found to have sacroiliac issues so that put an end to his dressage journey. Unfortunately, life and work and weight has got in the way of competing over the last few years but it's definitely something I want to get back into.
3. Tell us about your background and qualifications
I'm a list 6 Dressage Ireland judge and also a trainee British Dressage judge. I've no other formal equine qualifications but have had horses for over 40 years and have had the privilege and honour to have learned many valuable lessons (good, bad and painful!) from all of them.
4. What are the most common mistakes you notice when judging dressage?
Inaccuracy is the most common one. Square or triangular 20m circles are very common. Cutting corners and not riding from marker to marker. Starting a movement early which can affect the score of the current movement that a rider is in but also negatively impact the score of the next movement.
5. Dressage used to be the equestrian sport reserved for those at the higher levels. Why do you think it has gained so much popularity with riders if all levels over the years?
Dressage, when I was young, always gave the impression that it was only wealthy people or elite people who could compete. Nowadays it's much more for ALL riders at ALL levels. There's much more support for low level dressage and much more support for those who want to have a bash at it. It's encouraged through unaffiliated venues and through Pony Clubs so that even the youngest of children can have a go and this then carries on through their riding careers, where they learn that dressage helps how the horse goes and how beneficial the flatwork is to cross country and show jumping (which most children and young people find much more exciting!). Dressage nowadays is much more promoted as an overall sport to help develop the horse and the relationship between horse and rider, rather than an elitist sport.
6. In your opinion, how can dressage improve the horse’s way of going?
For me, primarily it's a great way to develop a rider's relationship with their horse. Dressage is team work - if it's rider versus horse, neither do well. The rider/horse team need to work together and to understand each other. On a physical basis, for the horse to work correctly through dressage training not only improves the dressage test but keeps the horse healthy by using and conditioning the muscles correctly and helping minimise damage to the soft tissue structures such as ligaments and tendons. Strength in the horse's core and hindquarters also helps with other disciplines like SJ and XC. It's a good basis for keeping working horses mobile and supple.
7. How have you and your yard coped with a year of lockdowns? What has been the biggest drawback?
I've been incredibly blessed that it has not affected my yard. There is only me at the yard so there were no issues about the yard closing or only being allowed up at certain times. I have sole responsibility for the care of my horses so it was business as usual for me! I really felt for the horse owners whose yards closed and they haven't been able to see their horses for some time. Horses are an integral part of keeping us sane (and broke!) and do so much for our mental health and I've been very blessed to have had a normal horsey life during lockdowns - although I'm quite sure my horses wouldn't have minded a few days off from me ha!
8. What online services do you offer?
I offer a test riding service whereby riders can send me their test and I will review it and give them feedback as to exactly what the judges are looking for. I provide written feedback, going through the test and all the scales of training and recommendations that the riders can then take to their instructors to help them on their dressage journey. I can also judge the test if the rider wishes. I can also chat with them about what the comments on their score sheets mean.
9. What would be your favourite school exercise and why?
Anything on long lines. Long lining is absolutely invaluable to horses of all ages and levels and soundness. It's a fantastic basis to teach your horse any movement without the added stress of a rider. Once the groundwork is established, then the horse has more of an awareness of what the rider is asking once aboard.
10. Any advice for keeping motivated during lockdown?
Just keep going. One day at a time. If you don't feel like riding, don't beat yourself up but at the same time, try not to abandon your routine completely. Keep your horse in some kind of work - one that benefits you and that benefits the horse so that when lockdown ends and shows start again, it's not a mad dash to build up fitness and suppleness. Most importantly, just enjoy your horse/s and the time you spend with them.
11. What are you most looking forward to at the end of lockdown?
Getting back out to shows
12. What has been your career / riding highlight?
Winning my first red rosette with my own horse is my riding highlight. I'm honoured to have won a few red rosettes over the years but to win my first red with my own horse was something incredibly special. My career highlight so far was passing my judging exam in 2019. Although I had been judging as a trainee since 2016, to actually pass and know that I had met the standard of judging required was both a shock (self-doubt is a terrible thing) and a delight!
13. What do you think are the benefits of competing with an online dressage platform like Dressage @ Home & International?
It's fabulous for riders who have no transport or for those riders whose nerves play havoc with them on show day. It's also great for developing ringcraft without the pressure of other horses and riders being all around. And it gives riders something to look forward to during the lockdowns and something to aim towards, should they want to get out to actual shows when they restart. It's also great fun with no stress and no pressure but with the added benefits of a test judged by listed judges with constructive feedback and of course, lovely rosettes!
Coreen Abernethy: Text
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