Contessa Riding & Training Centre

Contessa is a leading Dressage Centre in Hertfordshire, providing Advanced Dressage lessons Lusitano stallions and warmbloods as well as riding for all levels

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"Take pride in how far you have come and have faith in how far you can go. Book an advanced dressage lesson and our schoolmasters will teach you their movements."

Contessa is one of the few riding schools in the UK to offer Advanced Dressage Schoolmaster horses up to Grand Prix level for riding lessons.

We have a team of 10 Advanced Schoolmaster horses, they are a variety of types and sizes including our Lusitano Stallions Unico, Riacho, Xariel and Dutch Warmblood Jordan’s Glamour girl.  These horses have school movements such as Piaffe, Passage, Pirouettes, Flying changes, all lateral work as well as collection. These horses provide a  fantastic opportunity for riders looking to experience these movements for the first time, trying to fine-tune the upper level work or perhaps even trying to introduce it to their own horse. Horses are kept fine-tuned by members of staff between lessons to ensure they remain sensitive and correct.

Riders must have an assessment lesson prior to booking for an Advanced schoolmaster. Lessons are taught by our Advanced/Senior Instructors who are well-versed in Advanced work. Semi-private lessons are also available.


Tina Layton-Elliott
BHSI, Reg. UKCC III Coach Educator, NVQ A1 Assessor

Owner, Instructor and Trainer.

Tina and her parents started Contessa Riding and Training Centre in 1977 and it has continued to blossom and grow ever since. Tina competed up to Grand Prix level with her mare Pik Dame, who she trained right through the levels from a three year old. The highlight of her competition career was with Pik Dame representing Great Britain in 2000. At present she is training Queijada for GP work, a Lusitano mare previously owned by the daughter of Sylvia Loch of the Classical Riding Club, who wanted her horse to be trained by a classical rider who would be able to take her to her full potential. Since Q arrived at Contessa it has been the start of her affair with the Lusitano’s, as they require sensitivity, loving and harmony to produce the best from them and she is happy to give them all that!

Other important horses in Tina’s Dressage career have been:

  • Borrowdale (Buster to his friends) – who introduced Tina to Grand Prix competition, having trained him to that level. 
  • Karleton Quartz – an inexpensive Anglo-Arab bought to save from the meat man at a sale with the intention to bring on and sell, who ended up competing to Prix St. Georges with Tina, then training a great many students in the advanced movements
  • Lanzo – also bought to sell, but ended up staying! With whom Tina competed to advanced /PSG level nationally, and who has introduced a few lucky members of staff to advanced competition.
  • Other very special competition horses that have been with Tina inc Deskant, Marcus, Some Friend and many school horses have been taken under her wing for some competition experience.

As a BHS Instructor and trainer, Tina has coached a very large number of riders, encouraging them all to work with their horse to achieve both harmony, understanding  and correct way of going in the classical method. She has trained a great many students through their riding and teaching exams to the highest levels, including to the dressage section of the BHS Fellowship. She was previously a BHS examiner, and currently examines for the ABRS to their ATD Exam – the top exam that they offer. Tina is also a UKCC level 3 Tutor in Sport, NVQ A1 assessor and was a BHS Riding and Road Safety trainer and examiner.

Tina has been training with Arthur Kottas (photo with Tina above), former First Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, for over 20 Years. Tina goes to the TTT in Guildford several times a year to train with Arthur and has regularly been asked to perform in their lecture/demonstrations.

She has also ridden in demos and received training from many great horseman, such as Reiner Klimke, Nuno Oliveira, John Lassetter, Danny Pevsner, Stephen Clarke, to mention just a few!

Tina has also been working with John Bowen since 1993. This benefits all the students who then want to join in his clinics at Contessa which are held every two months, as the  classical ethos of both their training is continued which she thinks is so very important.
In 2001 Tina made her own addition to the Layton clan with her son Zak. Tina would love for Zak to follow in her footsteps, and he is just doing that with his very talented Grand Prix horse Riacho. Hopefully he will start to take part in competitions and be involved with BYRDS in the coming season. 

Tina feels she owes tremendous amount to her Mother and late Father who have helped her build Contessa Riding Centre into the international dressage yard that it is today. Without their support, advise and encouragement it may not be as it is now!

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Dawn Elliott-Moulden
ABRS ATD, BHSIT, A1 Asessor Award, UKCC Level 2 Coach Assessor

Advanced Level Instructor and Trainer.

Dawn has trained and worked alongside Tina for over 20 years. She has been the Head Girl at Contessa for many years and is currently Contessa’s Manager and one of our Advanced Instructors, teaching our highest level riders . Dawn has competed at advanced level dressage competitively and is able to pass this knowledge on to her students.  Her monthly Sunday clinics,  open to all levels, are well-attended and popular amongst both clients and staff. 

Dawn  has worked at various private competition yards and currently  teaches and judges  dressage.at a local level . Dawn holds the ABRS Advanced Teaching Diploma and the BHS Intermediate Teaching exam and is a Group 3 Dressage Rider,  NVQ Assessor and UKCC Assessor for the ABRS. Dawn specialises in training days for teaching exams in both BHS and ABRS qualifications and is highly involved in the training of staff and students at Contessa. 
Dawn has competed at Advanced level dressage on both her own and Tina’s horses and  has ridden in lecture demos for Reiner Klimke and Arthur Kottas of the Spanish Riding School.  Dawn  teaches in a classical manner and has worked with a variety of horses from eventers to dressage horses from novice to advanced.
Dawn has 2 daughters who both ride their own and Contessa ponies. Millie is an active pony club member and Vaulter with the Contessa Vaulting group, we hope to see them in the future taking an interest in  dressage.
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Joao Cavaco
ABRS TC, Chief Rider & Instructor

Professional Dressage Rider and Instructor.

Joao was born and raised in Portugal and has always had a keen interest in horses. He joined the Portuguese Cavalry in 1998 and there he realised that he wanted to become a professional Dressage Rider. He started his journey as a working student at Contessa where he stayed for two years building a firm foundation in classical dressage. He is fondly remembered as a talented, enthusiastic and dedicated student. During this time he also achieved his ABRS Teaching Certificate and the ABRS scholarship. Since then he has worked as a rider for several International top trainers including: Tina Layton, Emile Faurrie, Leslie Morse USA and Vicky Thompson. During his time with these trainers he also had the opportunity to compete their horses at Novice and Advanced level in dressage. He has been in charge of training Katie Price’s dressage horses.

Contessa is pleased to have Joao back after over a decade and he is keen to be here helping our horses, students and riders to achieve their goals. As an instructor he helps his students get the most from their horses so they can experience the “correct way of going.” He brings a vast amount of experience to his lessons helping him to work through training problems and to take riders to the next level.

Joao is available for lessons on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. You can book private lessons with him as well as intermediate/advanced groups on the weekends. He also here on Wednesday evenings and runs our Young Elite Riders Club (Wednesdays at 6pm) and our Advanced Dressage adult group (Wednesdays at 7pm). He is also happy to teach clients on their own horses in dressage or flat-work for show jumping.

Besides teaching our students and clients, Joao is also here to school our horses. He keeps our schoolmasters fine-tuned and continues the development and education of our school horses. You will be able to catch him in Contessa’s various demonstrations or if you’re lucky during the weekdays in our training sessions! He regularly goes for open training sessions with Arthur Kottas in Guildford where you are more than welcome to come and watch.

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Nicola Swain
BHSAI

Nicola developed a love of horses at a very young age, and has been riding virtually her whole life. She has worked in various yards, including dressage, jumping and stud yards. She has worked in dealer’s yards, hunting yards and even polo.

Nicola loved eventing when she was younger, however she is no stranger to Contessa having trained with us 18 years ago. It was then that her passion to train classically and in particular dressage was born, which surprised her as she originally had plans to event. But the intricacy of dressage fascinated her, and she has carried on ever since.

Nicola has owned her own horses, mainly training them from the start, and has competed to elementary level. Nicola only left to have her daughter and then embarked on a career as a police officer. However her passion for horses proved too strong and 2 years ago she returned to coaching and training. Nicola has, and still does, compete for the Hertfordshire Police Saddle Club, including showjumping at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, parading with colleagues in front of the Queen and leading a procession of over one hundred horses and riders from all services including the Army, Navy and Air Force.

She has also competed in showjumping at Hickstead. For the future Nicola plans on completing her BHSII, and ABRS exams, continuing to compete with the Herts Police Saddle Club, and taking her young horse out to compete.

She has a keen interest in in-hand work especially for rehabilitation of horses. This developed from her experience with her own horse having spinal issues. Nicola teaches passionately building a great rapport with her clients encouraging riders to build their confidence.

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Leila Khaldi
BHSAI UKCC II, Office, Yard Coordinator & PA

BHSAI Instructor with multiple skills including side saddle and western.

Leila is no stranger to Contessa! She started her training here in 2006 gaining her ABRS ITA and her PTT. After working at various yards, from private competition yards of Para Dressage riders as a competition groom to a big college yard where she was the assistant manager, Leila returned to Contessa with her BHSAI and is working towards her BHSII. Leila has recently gained her BHS Stage 4 Care certificate. “I returned to Contessa to for fill my ambitions and further my equestrian knowledge from the best people in the industry who are also now dear friends. Contessa is a rare place and is a way of life not just a work environment”.

Leila loves teaching riders of all abilities and ages and is especially good at building peoples confidence while riding. Leila has her own event horse who she has introduced to western. She has plans that he will learn side-saddle this year.

Leila is currently competing her horse ‘Time for Change’ (Wills) in affiliated dressage and is scoring well. Leila also shows a keen interest in natural horsemanship. As our office and yard coordinator, she is a key part of our team organising events/shows secretary & is PA to Tina & Dawn. Leila can be regularly seen riding on the majority of all the current clinics with her colour coordinated outfits. Leila was also short listed for the ABRS Golden Spur Award 2015 & a an ABRS training scholarship.

Leila runs our sucessful evening Jump Club groups on Mondays, 6pm Novice jump group & 7pm Intermediate Jump group

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Wanda Bendisch
ABRS TC, UKCC II, Yard & Marketing Manager

AI Instructor

Wanda started working at Contessa in 2014 after working in different riding schools in Germany and London. “Riding schools in the city are limited in terms of space and horses”, she says, “Contessa has extraordinary trainers and facilities and a variety of horses for everyone plus schoolmasters trained to Grand Prix level and is still easily accessible from London.”
Wanda is originally from Germany where she started riding at the age of 6.
After years of teaching in a German Dressage Riding Centre in Northrhine Westphalia and studying business & law Wanda came to London in 2012 and worked in an environmental & human rights law firm. She obviously missed the horses and started working in different riding schools including Hyde Park Stables and Mudchute Equestrian Centre.
Wanda has a busy teaching schedule and focuses particularly on the riders position and the understanding of the riders aiding to improve the horses way of going.
As our Marketing Manager she recently developed Contessa’s website and writes our newsletter. She is also our Student Liaison Officer and supports our students with their exams. She loves to ride our Advanced Dressage Horses and especially our Lusitano stallions and mares from Portugal and Spain. Wanda is available for lessons both weekdays and weekends.
She also runs our Balance & Coordination Evening Class ( Tuesday 7pm). Wanda holds her ABRS Teaching Certificate and UK Coaching Certificate and is one of our lucky ABRS scholarship holders.
She is currently breaking in her 3 year old German Warmblood Sir Sandokan who she therefore moved to Contessa and wants to train him not only classical but bilingual!

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Queijada
Lusitano

A classically trained mare.

Queijada is a Lusitano mare formerly owned by Sylvia Lochs daughter. Queijada has been competed by Tina at Advanced level dressage. Queijada was the first Lusitano at the yard and is trained in a classical style.

Queijada enables our Advanced Instructors to use Classical teaching methods in teaching the Advanced movements. Queijada is very talented in Piaffe, Passage & Collection. Queijada is regularly seen on our dressage demonstrations and clinics.

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Riacho
Lusitano

Riacho arrived at Contessa in October 2015. He is a grey Lusitano stallion from Portugal.

Riacho has been trained to Grand Prix level and was selected as the reserve for the Spanish team for the London Olympic Games 2012.

Riacho has settled in very well at Contessa and especially enjoys our regular Lusitano Lessons with his new Lusitano friends Unico, Merlin, Queijada and Fanfarrao taught by Tina or Dawn.

Riacho loves showing off his impressive Piaffe to the other Dressage Schoolmasters. Riding a horse of this caliber is a fantastic opportunity for our clients and staff. Riacho is owned by Tina’s son, Zak Layton-Elliot.

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Unico
Lusitano

Unico is a kind and calm Lusitano stallion.

Unico is a Lusitano stallion who arrived in the spring of 2012 from Portugal. Unico is a lovely horse with a kind and calm temperament.

Unico is trained in Piaffe, Passage, Flying changes and all lateral work and very giving to his riders. He has recently been ridden by our Chief Rider Joao Cavaco at Clinics with Arthur Kottas.

Unico is one of the 6 Lusitano’s at Contessa. Unico is particularly talented in collection work.

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Merlin
Lusitano

Merlin came to us from Spain in October 2015. He is a 7 year old Lusitano stallion and was trained in Spain. He knows High School Movements including; Spanish walk, walking on his hind legs and bowing.

He is currently studying his English and getting to know what it means to be a Dressage Horse in the UK. We are very proud to have Merlin at Contessa. He will be a Dressage Schoolmaster and is used for demonstrations to show his advanced movements.

 

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Xairel
Lusitano

Xairel is our newest member of our Lusitano Stallion Team. Xairel has competed up to PSG in Spain and also has enjoyed hacking and hunting.

Xairel is proving popular with our staff team with his easy going nature. Xairel is a responsive and sensitive ride who shows a talent for lateral work.

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GiGi
Dutch Warmblood

GiGi is great for Advanced Dressage.

Well known as ‘Jordan’s Glamour Girl’, she is affectionately known as “GiGi” at Contessa. She works at Grand Prix level with lovely comfortable paces and a particularly good canter. She is talented in teaching Flying Changes including up to one-time changes.

GiGi is known for her appearance at Horse of the Year Show with Katie Price. She has a very large fan club , especially those who want to progress with Advanced Dressage. Gigi is a Dutch Warmblood.

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Lula
Hanoverian

Lula is 17hh dressage warmblood mare.

Calulla is a 17 hh Hanoverian mare by Cardinar. Calulla is a wonderful member of our team of Dressage Schoolmasters. She works at Prix St George. Lula shows a wonderful disposition to teaching everybody lateral work.

We are delighted to have her as part of our Dressage Schoolmaster team. Shes is adored by many clients and staff.

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Regitse
Danish Warmblood

Regitse is Danish warmblood mare.

Regitse, Reg to her friends, is the Head Studbook Danish warmblood mare by Sidney.  Regitse is trained to PSG and to a high level of show jumping by a Danish Bereiter.

Regitse has been competed to Advanced medium with us and she is a lively horse while competing. More recently she has been the step between the Advanced School horses and Dressage Schoolmasters .

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Real
Dutch Warmblood

Sans Real is an active, responsive ride.

Sans Real, Real to his friends is a KWPN by Wolfgang. Real came to Contessa as a foal with his mother Krystal. He is an active, responsive ride and performs well both in dressage and over fences. More recently Real has been competing in dressage with our RiderJoao, and one of our long standing clients, Lesley. He is establishing his flying changes and can teach you the feel of Piaffe.

Real loves mints and always welcomes the opportunity to show you how gentle he is when being fed treats.

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Dressage Schoolmasters

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