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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"The strength of our team is each individual member. Passion and individual commitment to a group effort - that is what makes our team work and our horses and clients happy.
At Contessa we are very lucky to have a mix of passionate people with different talents so every rider and horse can benefit from our variety of experience and specialism."
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.

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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Tina Layton-Elliott
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Nicola Swain

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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Nicola Swain
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Wanda Bendisch
ABRS TC, UKCC II, Marketing Manager
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 also runs her own livery & training yard near Contessa and is currently competing her 6 year old German Warmblood Sir Sandokan (Monty) in BD Dressage competitions. Wanda backed Monty herself when he was 3 years old and he has enjoyed many of Contessa’s several clinics. Wanda and Monty are supported by Tina in their training and also train regularly with Arthur Kottas.

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Wanda Bendisch
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