To compete or not?

To compete or not?

In 2013 I was asked to write a guest post for a dressage blog that would raise some kind of debate. With hindsight they were maybe thinking more of a debate on which aids to use for a movement or which noseband worked best…they asked the wrong gal! This is the blog I wrote.

Rest assured I’m not sitting in judgement; I have no perfect answer because as always it really should be the horse that stands as judge.

It’s many years since I’ve competed; in fact I’ve had a whole ‘other’ life in France and returned since I last entered the competitive dressage arena. My current P.R.E. horses have been spared the terrifying judges box/car, they have never known the horse eating flower monsters nor the horn of doom.

Call yourself a…?

Call yourself a dressage trainer but you don’t compete I hear the cry! It isn’t that easy though, at least not for me and the thing is that I’m not really sure when this all happened. I’m pretty sure it’s a number of, perhaps, random things that have conspired against my competitive spirit, battled with it and beaten it good and proper to the ground but maybe it’s actually a path I was destined to take all along.

Trudi Dempsey Equine Trainer and Behaviourist
The 90’s with Eite the Fabulous Friesian, me the brainless idiot not wearing a hat!


I really should come clean at the start and mention that I am an Interdressage judge. The Interdressage system allows competitors to film their dressage test at home and submit their entries for judging online. There are a number of online dressage test sites all offering the chance to compete without the stress of leaving home or indeed the expense. I also undertook training as a British Dressage judge before departing to live in France. So you can already see how tricky it is for me to move my derrière from this rather wide fence I’m perched on.

Early Days

If I go back to my childhood with ponies it was probably quite a typical horsey upbringing; I hunted, jumped (show jumping (badly) and cross country, and entered gymkhana events plus the occasional showing class. I would hack for hours to a meet, pony club rally or riding club show and make the return journey after competing. I coveted the big red (or sometimes blue) rosette of first place and would almost burst with happiness when, on the rare occasion, I was awarded one. I sulked when my pony refused the first fence three times and red faced I left the arena, my Dad’s encouraging (oh yeah!) cries ringing in my ears.


I was very small when I attended my first horse race with my Dad and not much bigger when I picked my first winner at a point to point. I lived for some years in a racecourse heavy area of Surrey where (with my husband) we indulged our passion for picking a winner, or at least trying to. The Epsom gallops passed our garden and Derby day was a major celebration. I still recall in 1991 Generous winning the Derby and the fabulous meal we ate afterwards to celebrate. This fence I fell off some time ago and I no longer support racing.


Trudi Dempsey Equine Trainer and Behaviourist
Sam, Gelderlander with his ears on Inger Bryant List 1 Judge

I  spent countless hours sat in horseboxes waiting, stood in collecting rings putting up practice fences for my husband. I have plaited manes, committed tests to memory and driven myself to equestrian centres- that is until one little mare made me sit up and smell the coffee in the canteen!

The mare in question was on livery with me and had competed at novice level with varying degrees of success. The first time I took her out to compete was at Addington Manor, a large venue with indoor and outdoor arenas with all the madness of horses moving between the two. Warm up was indoors and entering the arena she just exploded into piaffe (something I may have been delighted with at home) and instantly dripped with sweat. I hastily left the warm up area amid tuts and head shakes from beautifully made up ladies on big bay warmbloods (my mate Chris and I used to joke that we would never win unless we wore more makeup!).

Plan B was a warm up hack which went pretty well…until we returned a minute or so before our ‘enter at A’. On riding up the centre line the tension returned and she ignored every pleading aid I could offer. After a 20m circle in a wall of death canter I finally admitted defeat, took polite leave of the judge and returned to the lorry deep in contemplation. The first hand was proffered from beyond the comfort of the fence!

Life in France


Living in dressage droughtville in France (the Limousin prizes its cows rather than its horses) took me away from the competitive world and into a burgeoning world of forums, blogs and online information. The internet saved my horsey sanity at the start of the noughties exiled in France and the free exchange of views brought me into contact with some rather diverse opinions such as those polarized views of Alexandеr Nevzorov, the anti-equestrian sport guru who is definitely not perched on any fence in these matters.


My own choice of equine partner may ultimately have tempted me to leave that fence or, if not, at least made me question some of my long held beliefs about competing with horses. The P.R.E has energy and character in abundance and they are truly a joy to train but the energy is too easy to misdirect and tension results. I was told many times when competing warmbloods that you should train them deep so that the tension at a competition would bring them up into an ‘acceptable’ self -carriage.  Training deep is not and never has been my thing but training my sensitive boys has made me even more aware of how tension can manifest itself and how unhappy it seems to make them.

Just because we can?

In these days of global horse competitions is it fair to expect horses to literally travel those extra miles for us to win that coveted red rosette?

Is it acceptable to keep competition horses wrapped in cotton wool and without regular equine companionship other than over a temporary stable partition?

Does the modern equine athlete enjoy his frequent trips in the lorry or is it just something he must learn to cope with as part of life.

Is it building a partnership when kids gallop round a cross country course, pony ears pointing the way?

Should we limit the stress our equines are put under, perhaps leaving them in a field to while away their hours pulling grass and rolling in the mud?

Is there an answer?

I think the answer, as in so many things, is probably to find a balance. I have had many, seemingly small, invitations to step down from the fence but I have resisted taking the huge leap to being absolutely against all equine competition. If we are able to curb our ego and consider the welfare of the horse above ALL else perhaps there is a way forwards. Or is there? Can we really justify our human need to win when it relies on the horse doing most of the work?

Did I mention my comfy fence?

Losing Confidence

equine behaviourist Trudi dempsey

The path to my door

Many clients find their way to me when they have lost their confidence. I’d like to think that’s because I am perceived as someone who is reliable in offering calm support. A sane and sensitive advisor who has been there and smelled the roses. Of course often one of my clients will recommend me as someone able to nurture nervous riders and handlers. Sometimes I’m approached by riders for whom ‘Classical Dressage’ is a last resort. Perhaps it’s  ‘you’ve tried the rest, now try the best’. But often just that I’m last (or close to) on a long list of approaches that searchers might try.

I  work with horse behaviour change applying science to enable humans to live with and share better the company of their horses. This begins with helping humans to understand why horses behave in the way they do and how to improve their daily lives so that they can lead happier more contented lives.

Recovering your confidence

Grow in confidence around your horse.
Trudi and Moralejo sharing air!

A big part of recovery from diminished confidence appears to hinge on identifying how the confidence was lost in the first place. Reasons can be diverse! Traumatic falls, feeling vulnerable due to decreased mobility, having children, lack of skill the list goes on. Maybe there is no incident that we can put our finger on, no culprit to blame. But it doesn’t make the lack of confidence any less debilitating, it looms each time we think of sitting on a horse or maybe even just standing by a horse.

Our brains are incredibly complex but in simple terms we need to rewrite history, change the paths that are laid down within it and that cause us to panic. We do this in the same way that we work with a horse that has lost confidence; in small steps. No actually not small but minute steps that take us gradually to confidence, calm and relaxation around previously traumatic triggers. It doesn’t matter what trauma, how obvious or seemingly invisible, led us to lose our confidence- what matters is taking tiny steps to recover it.

The first step to recovering confidence is to understand why horses do what they do. What triggers behaviour and how we can help avoid those triggers and build resilience to them. It’s often said that we should dream big. I recommend you dream small. Dream of being with your horse, dream of breathing together, share air together and let your dreams grow as you learn more about each other and what it means to be a human in a horse’s world and more importantly a horse in a human’s world! Did I say small- heck I meant huge because it truly is!

Get in touch

If you’d like help better understanding your horse and building your confidence around them please get in touch for a chat. I offer person to person coaching, small group interactive talks, clinics and workshops where we can work on a more confident future together. I also offer remote consultations and training. Visit my web site here. Or my Facebook page here.

A Fresh Start

Equine training and behaviour offers for spring 2018.

In the UK this is the first week that has truly shown any spring-like promise for us equine lovers. It therefore seems fitting to be making a fresh start with my business just as everything comes to life after what has been an awful long and wet winter.

This blog is now part of my brand new website please go and check it out!

What’s New

To my wonderful clients who have supported me through the last six years I’d like to say a huge thank you. I literally couldn’t have done it without you. So what will change for my clients? First of all I  now offer behavioural consultations for anyone struggling with unexplained or unwanted behaviour. I am now a qualified and insured behaviour therapist. As a result I also offer clinics, talks and workshops based on behaviour.

Contact me in confidence if you want to know why your horse behaves in a certain way and want to adopt force-free methods to improve behaviour.

Equine training and behaviour

Summer talks, clinics and workshops

My diary is already quite full so do get in touch if you would like to host an event. I travel within the UK and  always strive to offer good value; dressage, in-hand, clicker training and now behaviour.

I’m pleased to be presenting a talk at Lynmouth Pavilion, hosted by Exmoor National Park on 2nd June.

Lynmouth Talk 2nd June 2018

Two Special Equine Offers


special equine training offer

As part of my relaunch I’m offering two special offers. Take advantage of an online video assessment completely FREE of charge! Usually priced at £30 this offer is available to anyone who has not used my online service previously. I am offering two free assessments to two lucky people who have first liked my Facebook Page and second shared this post and commented on here or on Facebook by 29th April. I am happy to assess ridden dressage, test riding, in-hand, clicker training and of course bitless. Winners will be informed on 30th April. Videos of up to 10 minutes will receive in depth voice over assessments with exercises to improve.

In addition I’m offering two behaviour consultations at half price! As the usual price is £90 so that’s a special price of just £45!  Travel will be charged for distances in excess of 10 miles from my home in TA22. The first two new clients to get in touch will receive this special price.

What’s up next?

Over the coming weeks I will be sharing more of my website content on FB. There’s lots of free content already with newly formatted articles and I will be adding new blog posts here. So do take a look!



The Gift

Before Christmas one of my lovely Baroque competitors, Julie de Joncaire Narten, kindly  sent me a gift of Antonello Radicchi’s book Do You Speak Equis; the subtitle is Communicative Interactions Headcollar and Bit. The book has been translated from Italian by Julie.

In common with some other dressage works this book isn’t primarily a ‘how to’ of dogmatic methodology; it assumes a certain knowledge, posing a number of questions to the reader at the same time noting many observations. I was touched by Antonello Radicchi’s  honesty, he doesn’t portray himself as some guru who has always known the correct path to take but rather as a seeker of solutions.

With most books of this genre I find myself head nodding and shaking in equal measure but here I found myself nodding in appreciation pretty much all the read- just one exception.

It is a big exception but it in no way spoils the read- Antonello doesn’t believe that decontraction can be taught without the use of a bit. For this reason his route to bitless (headcollar) riding is via the bit with its use being gradually diminished until the horse is completely able to decontract and work in légèreté.

The  book focusses on doing the best thing for the horse- it is ethologically sound and feels very personal. The art of riding with double reins, one set to the headcollar and one to the bit, forms part of the route to légèreté; the links between the work of Philippe Karl are visible in the words on the page and in the photographs- certainly no obsessing with over-round horses and fixed positions- such a pleasure to see.

This quotation is typical of the writer, here he talks about the feel required for the double rein contact:

‘Therefore we need the ability to correctly interpret what we do, what we feel and what we see. I don’t wish to be a hypocrite in telling you this will be easy. It will be complex. Particularly until we manage to understand the correct associations. From that moment the work will take on an unexpected fluidity, with enormous gratitude on the part of the horse. It is a sacrifice, but if we love him that much, we should be willing to do it.’

I intend to read the book again (and probably again) so that I can absorb the nuances- so many appear, on first reading, to be akin to my own; as the book is marked as Volume 1 I am hoping there will be more to come!

I am no great traveller abroad these days but if I should venture towards Italy I know I will have to visit Umbria.

Thank you Julie and  Antonello for the gift.


find more here


The Digital Dark Ages (shine a light on creativity)


I am sitting in my wonderful new home following the least stressful move I think I’ve ever experienced; now in double figures so I have plenty of house move history! The only fly in the otherwise unspoiled ointment is the lack of phone line and internet connection: soon to be remedied.
This apparent return to the digital dark ages has resulted in some rather pleasant experiences- reading the Sunday Times from cover to cover is usually a rare indulgence reserved for holidays- and on the whole has been an uplifting time. The obvious lack of our friend Google to settle trivial spats and the inability to order new things for the house have been frustrating but not exactly impossible to cope with.
In terms of work I will be cramming a fortnight’s judging into a few days once I (hopefully) get back online and apologies to anyone who has tried to contact me regarding video feedback; normal service should (by the time you read this) have resumed.
Writing a blog entry ahead of its likely publication is a new one for me, I wouldn’t say I am disorganised but I am rarely ahead of my game. It feels liberating to be sat at the laptop with nothing but the thoughts in my head- no checking with Google if my facts are straight- I just need to organise them into something coherent enough to publish!
Satisfyingly this ties in with some of the thoughts that I have been having about the internet and the myriad of dressage/training groups there; particularly centred on Facebook. I’ll admit to finding some of these groups interesting; like-minded people searching for similar answers to me. Some I belong to because it is the only way to keep up to date with horses and riders that I have known in the cyber world for many years. A few groups I have joined and left quickly as they seem to be an excuse for humans to berate other humans and score points rather than help each other to learn and progress.
The groups that I remain a part of ebb and flow in terms of interesting topics but in general are kindly towards those seeking answers and support; I remain amongst the numbers there, not to offer advice but to keep in touch and keep myself grounded. Not perhaps a necessity for everyone but being based on a small yard on Exmoor can leave you woefully out of touch.
Many of the names pop up on all of the groups; some seem rather too fond of offering advice whereas some crave recognition for having made good training choices (I’ve probably fallen into both camps on occasions when time has allowed me to be involved) and most (me)just read and either like or ‘tut’ out loud. I honestly don’t know how some find the time- appearing to be serious trainers or riders with hours to spare writing advice and, often, deeply involved explanations of equine behaviour and physiology. Sometimes it makes me feel decidedly lacking when I read detailed explanations of, say, how the equine skeleton moves during locomotion and how the rider can influence this; only to be uplifted when I see how abysmally that person actually rides in ‘real’ life.
Riding and training horses is about feel, it is about abandoning yourself to the horse and the moment; feeling your way through with patience and consideration. You cannot learn through Mr Google or the internet experts alone even if you can pick up some fancy lingo to blind those less (blissfully) aware than you. I’m not saying that everything learned via the internet is a bad thing, far from it or I wouldn’t have created my own business and web site. I just think we could all do with periods in the ‘dark’ in terms of the internet, coming into the light via the feedback offered so generously by our equine partners. Learning to trust my own ‘gut’ feeling is something I fully intend to hone further before turning to Mr G and the innumerable experts out there!