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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"Vaulting is ideal preparation for the rider as it allows her to experience all the different aspects of a coordinated sport and therefore to identify with the horse's experience when ridden."

Gymnastics on horseback.

Vaulting is best described as gymnastics on horseback and is one of the 10 equestrian disciplines recognised by the international federation for equestrian sports. Vaulting is very common in Continental European countries such as Germany and Switzerland however it is not as well established in England. At Contessa we are proud that we are one of very few centres across the UK that provides vaulting coaching on a regular basis.

The Contessa vaulting team kick-started their competition career last year and walked away as Novice walk champions as a team and also winning as individuals. After such a success we hope to continue competing and are always on the look out for new members to join our team.

Our vaulting horses

Fergus:

Fergus is our vaulting star! We take Fergus to all of our competitions and demonstrations and he makes new vaulters feel very comfortable. With his wide back and steady paces he is the perfect horse to learn vaulting on.

Puro:

Puro has a beautiful canter so is perfect for the more advanced vaulters to learn more difficult moves in walk and canter.

Rosie:

Rosie is our diamond in the rough. She has only being vaulting for a few months but has made a good start in her training. She is calm, loving and a little smaller than our boys, so is perfect for the vaulters to learn how to mount on their own.

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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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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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Emma Slater, BHS AI
BHS AI

Emma enjoys helping our younger riders develop, she assists our Pony Club events and runs the popular weekly Friday Evening Class group. Emma started her equestrian career at Contessa gaining her BHS exams up to Stage  II. She then furthered her experience at other UK Equestrian centres and riding schools. After gaining her BHS III and PTT, Emma took on another adventure and bought her own horse, Schmitt, a 3 year old warmblood. She brought him on slowly and now participates in competitions, clinics and camps around the country. She especially loves working with tricky horses and ponies, helping people with their confidence and finding a connection with the more sensitive horse. She also supports the Contessa Vaulting team utilizing her gymnastic skill and her teaching experience.

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Amy Panter
Vaulting Coach UKCC Level II

Dance trained from a young age Amy took up the sport of equestrian vaulting aged 12. She quickly joined the Scottish squad and went on to be a part of the British Equestrian Vaulting Team competing at a national and international level until she retired at the age of 18.

She then went on to train as an aerialist on the Degree Programme at the National Centre for Circus Arts in London, specialising in Aerial Hoop, graduating in 2007 and has been performing ever since. She has performed in large scale shows including the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony as a Mary Poppins, aerial hoop in the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, aerial silks on the Royal Variety Performance in 2013, aerial hoop on X Factor, and many more national and international events including corporate, cabaret, theatrical productions, film and television, award ceremonies and private events.

She also works as a circus consultant training specialist skills for film, theatre and TV. These include; training celebrities for 2014’s BBC Tumble, aerial trainer and supervisor on the set of the movie “Victor Frankenstein” and working with the lead cast of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2015 Peter Pan and Wendy. Along with her performance career Amy still keeps up her vaulting training and performs with the female equestrian display team “Jive Pony”, and has been working with them since 2011. Jive Pony and their team of of Highland ponies, miniature Shetland ponies and zorse they perform free vaulting, Roman riding, liberty and trick work.

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Sarah Gemmell, Vaulting

Sarah has been vaulting since she was 11. She competed at her first British Championships in 1992. This lead to a successful career within Britain, achieving many titles including Pairs in 1995, 1996, 2001 & 2002, and Advanced Team 1997 & 1998.

She first competed at an international CVI** event in 1997 in Holland. Since then she has competed at CVI**s in France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovakia, Germany and Italy. She was also selected to compete for Great Britain as an individual at the European Championships in 2001, 2003 and 2005, the World Equestrian Games in 2002 and 2006, and the World Championships in 2004.

She has a Level 3 Coaching Award and achieved International Candidate Judge Status in November 2010. Her training and competing took place alongside studies at Coventry University, where she graduated with an honors degree in Fine Art in 2004. She then had a change of career and Qualified as a Registered Veterinary Nurse in October 2009.

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Puro
KWPN

Puro is a talented school and vaulting horse.

A KWPN by Purioso, Puro was imported from Holland at nine months old. He is a talented school horse, teaching our more experienced riders about lateral movements and the correct “way of going.” Puro is sensitive and always willing to please his riders.

Puro is also one of our vaulting horses and is wonderful with the young vaulters, he is helping Contessa’’s Vaulting team to achieve success and recognition. He has many fans within the centre and loves nothing more than going in the field with his best friend Real.

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Fergus
Cob

Fun, calm and a vaulting star.

Fergus is a fun chestnut cob, who has a lovely character. Over the years he has given many riders confidence as they learn to master their initial riding techniques. As he is very calm we are able to teach those of all ages on him. Fergus also enjoys western, showjumping and is the UK and England Vaulting Champion horse.

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Rosie
Cob

Calm, reliable and a great ride.

Since her arrival in 2012 Rosie has built up a considerable fan club amongst our young and adult riders. She is calm and reliable, helping riders find their balance and confidence. Rosie can also do lateral work and offers an interesting ride to more experienced riders.

Rosie is also an incredibly honest jumper and really comes to life over fences. She is also now turning her hoof to vaulting.

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