Arthur Kottas Dressage Clinic in Guildford

“What X r u back today? Need to talk to u.” When you get this kind of text from Tina Layton you have either done something very wrong or you are being given the opportunity to train with no one less than Arthur Kottas! (by any means you should act quickly!) I was meant to go home to Germany for the weekend for an Ingrid Klimke training symposium all around training the young horse up to grand prix. Typically the Arthur Kottas Clinic was meant to start Monday morning and travelling with a young horse for the first time shouldn’t be done last minute. But at Contessa we know how to make the impossible possible when it comes to training horse & rider! Flights were rebooked, pickups from the airport were arranged so that I was just on time to load the horses. Super Competition Groom Lucy Naish supported by the brilliant Contessa team had already organised our new lorry for a 3 day trip to Guildford. 4 year old Sir Sandokan (friends know him as Monty) slightly hesitated when he realised he was meant to go into this stable on 4 wheels, but his Lusitano friend convinced him to say Yes to an adventure and off we went. After a few teenager moments and Tina kindly saying “He better stops this Wanda..” the horses settled and Zak and I could focus on playing “Stadt-Land-Fluss” (I still need to find the English translation..).


Having arrived in Guildford reality hit us. We were meant to train with Arthur Kottas in less then 12 hours. Arthur is one of the world’s great authorities on dressage training. He was born in 1945 in Vienna, where his parents owned the oldest riding school in the city. In 1960, he joined the Spanish Riding School as a trainee. In 1981, he became the Chief Rider, and in 1983, Riding Master. From 1995 until he retired in 2002, Arthur Kottas was First Chief Rider. Since then, Arthur has been in great demand as a trainer and holds clinics regularly on an international basis. Not surprisingly, given his long involvement in the Spanish Riding School, he is a fervent advocate of Classical Horsemanship. He is also very well known for his in-hand work, a traditional part of classical equitation as carried out at the Spanish Riding School and other classical establishments.

Tina has known and trained with Arthur for a very long time and she has a beautiful relationship with him based on respect, knowledge and honesty. Our training/instruction at Contessa is based on the Spanish School of Vienna’s methods which has been passed on to Tina through Arthur and then to us, Tina’s team of instructors who teach at Contessa.

This time we had a very strong presence at the TTT (a charity which is aims to Train the Teachers of Tomorrow). Tina’s 15 year old son Zak took our Schoolmaster Unico, a stunning Lusitano stallion working at Grand Prix level. Tina’s long standing client Louise Clarke, who took her Westphalian gelding Pino working at Advanced Level, Joao Cavaco who took Lollipop, a client’s 6 year old mare working at Elementary and I took my own 4 year old Rheinlander Sir Sandokan (aka Monty) which we backed at Contessa.

The horses settled in well and in between feeding, mucking out, grooming, bandaging, tacking up, warming up, cooling down, un-tacking, sweeping, watering, feeding, rugging up and and and we also found some time to go for a fun pub dinner!

“Chill out! Breathe!” I remember Joao saying to me. And then he got a little nervous himself! Half an hour lesson per day seems simple but the intensity and the focus horse and rider work in this time are not to be underestimated. “Shoulder-in large, centre line, Half pass left, shoulder in right, but there is no bend. That’s not a shoulder-in. Half pass right. OK. Good.” Zak worked especially on the sideways with Unico and on the canter. Precision was the key. Everyone could see the riders deep concentration. Arthur was harder on Zak this time as Zak is only young and already riding on a very high level but Arthur can see his talent and want him to develop in the right way and be very correct in his aiding.  

“The seat is the key.” Arthur kept saying. When he would say “Lovely” or “That’s nice” you would smile inside but one second later there might be a “But what are you doing with your hands?”
Louise worked on Passage and Piaffe. “The feeling is one of slow but majestic steps, that springs up and forward.” Arthur describes the Passage.


Joao and Lolli did positioning work and more collected canter work and Arthur kept saying. It’s a beautiful horse. Canter! You can do it! Take your time, never waste your time.”
Monty and I worked on the correct roundness over the back and the consistency in the contact through the correct drive from behind. “When training a young horse we are not talking about collection” Arthur said. “You are the Pilot. You will form him. The contact to the riders hands to the horses’ mouth should be like an elastic side-rein. Whatever we do, we have to invite our partner horse.”

“We are the pilot. Not the passenger. We are the one having to take responsibility. The horse is our Partner. If we force him, it is not a partnership.”

Arthur is an inspiration and an incredible horseman with a lot of empathy for the horse.
We are all very much looking forward to the next clinic in February.
We would love you to come and watch and learn with us.

October 2016 Dressage Competition

Despite the weather conditions in the morning and all the lovely grey horses being yellow by the time they had warmed up in the outdoor arena, a great time was had by all at Contessa’s unaffiliated dressage competition on 16th October 2016. There were about 50 entries on the day which kept the judges (and writers!) and stewards very busy. All the school horses and ponies and those who visited on the day looked amazing – if Charlotte Dujardin ever loses Alan as her groom there are some serious contenders to replace him. All the riders scrubbed up well too, albeit most were a bit mud-spattered.

I brought Giuto (aka Mr G) for his first competitive outing and entered him into two classes where he behaved impeccably. I was pleased with the lovely comments about his trot but acknowledge that the canter can be a little “expressive” at times. We’re working on it!

As ever, the whole atmosphere was really friendly and encouraging, with competitors supporting each other throughout the day. Whatever their score, I know that everyone will have gone away with some really positive comments on their test sheet and some helpful pointers of what to work on.

So, believing every day is a school day, what did I learn?
• You should always be prepared to have a go – that’s what days like this are about. At the end of the day it doesn’t really matter if you get a rosette – it’s about doing your best, being delighted with the good bits and then finding out what you need to work on for next time.
• Always pick a brown horse – they are easier to keep clean 😉

Thank you to all the Team for putting on such a super event.

Reply to BD forum comment!

This is the reply I wrote on The British Dressage Forum when someone had asked “What is Contessa like as they want to perhaps go to ride the advanced horses”
There were a few replies, one saying it was good but expensive, another said she had been to us and was good but she didn’t think the horses was going forward into the contact enough and was told that was ok, but she still managed to ride tempi changes ( so couldn’t have been too bad to be able to do that!!) and then a lovely one from a very, very longstanding client that recommended us very highly, thank you Sue.
My reply.

Thank you for the comments on my yard….. Contessa Riding Centre. We do have some lovely horses that people can come and learn on inc Advanced Lusitano Stallion Schoolmasters along with their W/B friends. These lessons are after an initial assessment on a well trained lower level horse. What people do have to appreciate is that these horses have either finished their competitive career or they are not able to compete anymore due to perhaps and old injury or they are just mature but can still give client a correct feel of the movements even if they can’t be “pushed” too hard. Their experience is invaluable to the advancement of the aspiring rider.
I have trained all my staff and I trained with Arthir Kottas for over 20 yrs and that training is passed on to all my students.
At Contessa the horses come first and as I have had many of them from very young horses they are like family and therefore loved very much. When you ride with us we want to to form a partnership with the horse you are on and work to get the best from that horse on that day and if you are able to produce some, piaffe, passage, single changes up to tempi ones then that is fantastic but if you can’t quite find the buttons then it may take a little more time to find them than you initially thought, as THAT’S HORSES for you, they are not machines!! Only way to find out if you can find the buttons if to come and have a go!
As for the cost of the lessons, these horses are expensive to keep and I only ask them to do a limited amount of lessons each week and I think the level of instruction and their quality justifies the cost, we all know that keeping any horse is very costly these days anyway.
Tina Layton BHSI

Competition time.

Tomorrow is a big day for our vaulters. It is the first competition of the year, we will be taking Fergus to Cambridge for seven young vaulters to take part. We are doing the Walk Individual and Walk Pairs. I would like to wish them all the very best of luck and very importantly to have fun and enjoy themselves!!imageimageimage

Stallions having fun!

The clean side!
The clean side!
Jumping for joy with Charlie looking on.
Jumping for joy with Charlie looking on.
That's high Unico.
That’s high Unico.
Go Unico!
Go Unico!
Xairel, very happy boy.
Xairel, very happy boy.

Lovely to be able to let the boys have some fun time out. Not sure their super groom Lucy thinks the same as they love rolling!!
It is not easy to be able to turn the stallions out as they have to go by themselves and they would rather have company! Hence they may jump out off the fields.
Xairel had a great time on Tuesday in the HP spending most of the time rolling. Unico had playtime in the arena and got up some frightening speeds, I shut my eyes!! But like any horse or human they must have some ME TIME!

Sorry about the Shrieking

My Easter Sunday lesson happened during one of the infrequent periods of sunshine between visits from Storm Katie. Sundays are traditionally “play time” with Leila and I think Real really enjoyed it today because we went from light-seat canter straight into a lovely flying change. And then, to prove it wasn’t a fluke, we did another one later in the lesson which is when the shrieking happened – the first one with delight at having done it and the second one with surprise as he followed up with a Real trademark star jump. I was so pleased with him – and me. No tension from either of us. The secret seems to be doing big, bold “eventing changes” and not anything quite as controlled as a dressage change. Sorry Joao and Dawn, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.  Those Schoolmasters better watch their backs.  And apologies to those who happened to be sharing the indoor school with me for the noise.


It’s not all horses!!

image                         Paul and I are members of the Hertford County Yacht Club and on Sunday Paul took part in the first Laser race of the season. It was for the Phoenix Marine Trophy. And I am delighted to report that he won this race, and he was over the moon as it was his first ever win! I was there in my support role and as club photographer so as I said we don’t just do horses there are other things that go on  in our lives!

but I must say it’s a bit like going to a horse competition there’s all the tacking up, warming up,  race itself, untacking,  washing down, putting away, all before you can go and get a cup of tea!! 



Strictly Come Dancing

The first weekend in March presented the opportunity to indulge in a bit of Dancing with Wolves Horses. First up was a bit of piaffe practice on Real. He’s a bit of a late starter with this tricky stuff (he is 18 now) but I think he was probably Rudolph Nureyev in a previous life as he quite likes the opportunity to do a bit of pointy-toed ballet dancing. Sometimes he even offers a few bounce-steps when I don’t really want it … Anyway, on Saturday we decided to try it on purpose and managed a few proper grown up steps. I was delighted with him and his efforts until Joao Cavaco – always striving for better – reminded me that we had been trying to perfect this for a whole year now. Whilst for me 2 proper steps are better than none, Joao wants 4. If we were in the equine equivalent of Strictly Come Dancing we might not make it past Blackpool, but we are certainly not in the John Sargeant / Ann Widdecombe camp!
The second act was courtesy of my own horse – Giuto – who went out hacking with Jack and Faffa for the first time. Giuto (aka Mr G) is a little bit more contemporary in his choice of genre and gives full vent to his Latin roots – he is a Lusitano from Portugal after all. He favours a free-style approach which shows a creative flair. One description I found on line says: “Pioneers of contemporary dance believed that dancers should have freedom of movement, allowing their bodies to freely express their innermost feelings.” He most definitely did that on Sunday at times!
Finally, returning to the Strictly theme, Wanda Bendisch took on the role of choreographer to my and Leila’s Anton and Erin as we performed a pas de deux on Unico and Xariel. Despite our protests she videoed our efforts which, to be fair, were not too shabby in the end, although this was about the 4th time we had ridden the routine.  Sadly the short clip is too big to attach here.  :-(    We might have warranted a generous 7 – but definitely not a “Ten from Len” this time.
Keep dancing riding. 

Zak and Arthur Kottas

Lovely write up in the local paper for Zak this week – I thought I should share it with you.


“Local Chauncy school boy Zak Layton-Elliott (14) of Contessa Riding Centre was invited to attend a dressage clinic with the world renowned Herr Arthur Kottas (former First Chief rider in the Spanish Riding School of Vienna) last week. The clinic was held in Guildford, Surrey and Zak took his new Lusitano dressage stallion Riacho that he has had since October 2015, Zak is extremely lucky to have this horse who was the Spanish reserve team horse for the 2012 London Olympic Games.
Zak had to preform some very difficult dressage movements and ride to a high standard, normally these clinics are just for professional riders and trainers but as his Mother Tina Layton-Elliott has been training with Kottas for over 25yrs he was invited to attend as he shows a lot of talent and dedication to the sport. Kottas gave him much praise and encouragement along with some great advise and help with Riacho.”
Contessa also had two other riders attending the clinic, Louise Clark and Joao Cavaco that also did very well for The Master!!