Posted by: rstor | March 8, 2012

Sarah Millis talks training, safety and beating Michael Eilberg!

This month, International Grand prix dressage rider Sarah Millis, of Millstones competition yard in Sussex, shares her latest news in Local Rider’s March issue…

A successful visit to Addington
We recently had a very successful trip to Addington for their High Profile show at the end of January, where I was thrilled to win the grand prix special with Katja Kuistila’s amazing horse, HP Frontier. I have been campaigning him since last summer, and we improved on our previous scores to win the special with a score of 68.889%. This was just a little bit higher than our previous personal best at the Grand Prix Special at Drachten CDI, Holland, where we scored 67.77% in January, coming sixth in the grand prix special. Furst Rubin also did exceptionally well, winning the Advanced Medium test; we just pipped Michael Eilberg to the post, with his ride Half Moon Dynasty.
Meanwhile, my pupil Emily Cousins scored 69.03% to finish second in the Intermediare II, and 70.03% to finish third in the Grand Prix, riding Solo. She also found out that weekend that she had been selected to compete at International U25 Grand Prix in Vidauban, South France, at the end of February. This is an amazing accomplishment and we will let you know how Emily gets on!
Melissa Beer, another pupil, scored 63% in the Young Rider Test with Leo at Addington, a really promising and pleasing result. It just goes to show that hard work and perseverance do pay off!
Head first into safety
I have been really interested to see that one of the world’s top dressage riders, eight-time Olympic medallist Isabell Werth, from Germany, has taken a stand and will now ride in a helmet at all times, including in competitions where normally it is accepted to ride in a top hat. She helped design the new Uvex dressage helmet after being presented with statistics from Germany’s Federal Institute for Occupational Safety (BAuA), stating that 30,000 accidents happen in equestrian sports in Germany each year. 85% are women, with young riders most at risk; in these statistics, girls under 14 made up 40% of all accidents. We don’t have similarly detailed data in the UK, but presumably the figures may be comparable. Uvex has also released statistics stating that the proportion of head injuries with fatal consequences obtained when riding are between 57 and 83% in the European Union; a shocking figure, if it is accurate.
“As an athlete in the public eye, with my responsibilities as a mother and as an employer, I see accident prevention as one of my obligations. In dressage, in particular, helmet wearing is still almost a taboo, even on the competition circuit, and there is a clear need for action,” said Werth.
While I always recommend that anyone I am training wears a hat, like many dressage riders, I do like the freedom of choice afforded to us with regard to wearing a helmet. My personal hat of choice is a GPA skull cap; it is lightweight and comfortable. I also like the RS-tor riding safety aid (, especially if I am on a green horse; it is handy for flatwork training, as an alternative to a neckstrap; it allows the rider to keep their hands up and mobile, instead of low and fixed. I do believe each rider must make their own choices, where safety is concerned.
Top training
Despite the cold weather and snowfall earlier this year, we tried to maintain a normal regime as much as was possible at Millstones. I really enjoy training, as it is very rewarding – I particularly enjoy helping young riders like Emily and Mel achieve their goals. As a trainer, I firmly believe in praising what the horse finds easier, as it helps build their confidence, rather than working on certain movements just because they are in a certain test, or level of training. You mustn’t make it seem too difficult for the horse, so I like to include lots of different types of exercises, and bursts of forward-going canter. We also have ‘play days’, where the horses go for a hack, and aren’t asked any difficult training questions. Discipline should be used to help the horse’s training, not as punishment! Now that spring is approaching, we are all looking forward to some more relaxed riding outside.


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