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.
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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Tina Layton-Elliott
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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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Dawn Elliott-Moulden
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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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Joao Cavaco
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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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Nicola Swain
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