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in Praise of unsung heroes

The names and faces of many of the UK's top trainers and riders are familiar to most of us because of the frequency with which they adorn the pages of equestrian magazines or appear In equestrian sports coverage on television.

Whether they are helping a talented horse and rider reach the top of their chosen discipline or putting in a foot‑perfect performance at an international competition their skills have captured our attention and invariably won our admiration.

Image from article in 'Absolute Horse'Yet, at grass roots level, there are hundreds of unsung teaching heroes. There is a reliable army of highly skilled teachers out there, responsible for helping 'ordinary' riders hone their skills, build their confidence and repair their shattered nerves, to ultimately realise their goals and compete at a local Riding Club level. It takes talent, training, serious commitment and an aptitude for communication to teach successfully and many of our grass roots teachers deserve praise and recognition for doing their job so well. Take Juliet Penwarden. A BHSSM and BHSII, and a successful dressage rider who has competed to Advanced Medium level, Juliet moved from Brentwood in Essex to North Suffolk a year ago and has such a loyal following that several of her liveries categorically insisted that their horses moved the 90 odd miles with her!

Ciara Gourley, a veterinary receptionist from Chelmsford in Essex has owned her eight‑year old, Welsh x Thoroughbred Theo since he was an unbacked four‑year‑old. Ciara admits that she doesn't know what she would have done without Juliet's assistance in backing and bringing on her horse. Since Juliet moved she regularly joins her clinics in Essex and has already booked Theo into Juliet's livery yard in Suffolk when she goes on holiday later this year. She says: "Juliet has given me such confidence and self‑belief. The things she has got me doing with Theo are amazing ‑ last year we qualified for the Prelim Area Festival finals and we are now working at novice level. We are having great fun with our jumping too. With Juliet there's no such thing as 'I can't'. She makes every aspect of riding fun."

Rochelle Withey lives in Harold Wood in Essex and works in London. She has owned her pretty purebred Arab mare Brooke since she was a foal and has relied on Juliet's equestrian expertise and support for the past eight years. When Juliet moved to Suffolk Rochelle felt there was no option but for Brooke to go too. She explains "Although I see her less I know I never need to worry about her care because Juliet is so reliable and her standards are so high. I still manage to get up to Suffolk to see Brooke a couple of times a month. Juliet has been so encouraging and has motivated me to compete up to novice level in dressage. I love the way she produces her horses so professionally, without gimmicks or gadgets and I love to watch her ride Brooke, who is now working at medium level in dressage".

Horses have played a major role in Juliet's life since she was a pony‑obsessed five‑year‑old. From weekly visits to her local riding stables she progressed to become a highly disciplined and competitive Pony Club member with Solly, a talented all rounder. He was bought for Juliet as a green four‑year‑old when she was just 14 and she went on to event him at intermediate level and also to show him at county level.

Following two years as a working pupil with the List 1 Judge Judy Harvey FBHS, where she trained for her BHSAI and BHSII, Juliet went to Writtle College to gain an HND in Equine Studies. More recently she passed her BHSSM. She also managed to squeeze in a stint working at local equine practice House and Jackson before fulfilling her ambition to set up her own competition yard, livery and teaching business. She has been running this with great success for the past 15 years. Her skills have transferred smoothly to Suffolk where she has already built up a strong clientele and runs an immaculate livery yard, but she regularly makes the trip back down to Brentwood where she is still in much demand at clinics with both old and new students.

Juliet says: "I love teaching at all levels but I think I almost gain more satisfaction in helping everyday riders over come their fears to build a strong partnership with their horse than I do in teaching a gifted competitor who finds riding easy."

Based at Brook Farm near Halesworth, Juliet is a regular dressage competitor and is advancing swiftly through the levels with her powerful young Warmblood 'Rodney'. She has recently won the Area Festival and has also been competing her Thoroughbred cross Irish Draught 'Henry' at Advanced Medium level.

Juliet runs a modern and efficient livery yard with excellent, custom‑designed facilities. She is an NVQ Assessor and takes students on placement from Writtle College. In fact, her current student also insisted on moving up from Brentwood to remain with her. The livery owners and students of this unsung hero have certainly voted with their feet!

Reproduced from Absolute Horse September 2006 with permission of the publishers

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