This week I’m chatting with a very talented dressage rider and British Dressage recognised coach, Millie McBride.
Tell us a little about you and your horse
I am Millie McBride, a dressage focused rider and trainer based in Hertfordshire.
I currently own a 5-year-old palomino pony that I am producing for dressage. His name is Dylan, and he has been a wonderful focus for me since May 2020.
How did your horses come into your life?
None of my family are at all interested in horses but they always supported and encouraged me to try new things. So, I started riding when I was really little- about 5/6- at my local riding school but had a break until I was 9 after a pony spooking frightened me!
Since returning to the riding school at 9 I’ve always been keen to learn and have been lucky enough to turn my hobby into a career.
This riding school was where I spent all of free time growing up, I helped out in return for free lessons and then was bought my first pony at 12: Holly (princess was her show name!) was every little girl’s dream pony!
I started learning and working at the riding school right up until I went to university and it was also here that I had help to develop my interest in coaching. I will be forever grateful for my time there- some of my happiest memories are with the horses on that yard.
How long have you been riding?
21 years… (now you can do the maths as to how old I am!)
When and where do you ride?
I run a beautiful livery yard and have horses based with me that I train for clients as well as riding Dylan. So that means I am riding most days.
What you and your horse currently working on?
I have only had Dylan 7 months and when I got him, he hadn’t long been backed and was trained in a field so starting schoolwork was quite different for him! I’m fairly confident in saying that we can now start stop and steer adequately, so our focus currently is on refining these aids and ensuing Dylan works through over his back to build his strength. When I first got him, he was definitely a leg mover and not a body mover! So, he has changed and learnt a lot over the past few months.
I train my horses using a lot of groundwork alongside the ridden work. I do this to ensure they have a really good understanding of how to manage their body and their mind, so they are confident in being on their own legs and able to answer my questions when in the saddle.
What do you love about riding?
The connection you build with your horse.
Of course, I love going to the big shows and winning rosettes- don’t we all! But I love the feeling of knowing your horse, and you horse knowing you inside out. Being able to work together and there be this understanding of each other is something that over the last couple of years I have been able to appreciate more than ever.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
In the future I would love to be doing what I’m doing now but be better at it! I love learning and developing myself.
My goal in the future is to compete in a tailcoat!
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
This is a story!
So, before Dylan I had a wonderful 5-year-old gelding, owned by Claire Gallimore, called Digby. He was the horse that taught me most about that connection I spoke about above. Digby was such a wonderful talented horse and one month before he tragically passed away, we became Reserve Regional Champion at Novice level and qualified for the National Championships.
Getting to that point was not smooth sailing for me though.
In preparation for the regionals, I competed at the venue to make sure we both felt comfortable and confident. Well, the pressure I put on myself for this show to be fantastic created so much tension that I rode with the handbrake on and got the worse % of our career!
So, I thought that wasn’t very good preparation – I had better go and do it again at their next competition. I did, and because I hadn’t changed my mindset, I hadn’t managed my nerves, this time was worse again!
So here I am in this cycle where I know that in 3 weeks’ time, I must go down the centre line at the regionals, at this venue, where I now have got my worst scores ever with Digby.
How do you deal with them?
One of my clients is a yoga/meditation teacher. I had been to one of her classes before, but I didn’t have time to keep at it (which by the way is the exact reason I needed it!).
I spoke to her about this cycle I had got myself into and she suggested we work on ways for me to manage my nerves and the pressure of wanting so badly to do well at a competition.
Firstly, Kat taught me how to breathe! Sounds crazy I know- we all know how to breathe; we don’t even need to think about it! But that’s just the thing, when you do think about it, especially when you are starting to feel nervous or out of control, you will notice that your breath is shallow and sharp, your shoulders will probably be up towards your ears, you may be tight in your hips, your jaw, your face. And when you are riding a horse all of these things transfer to him and this negative pattern escalates.
We then focused on being able to control my breath when under pressure by working through different yoga poses and stretches- you know the ones where the stretch is so hard you want to get up and run away! If at these moments I could learn to use my breathing to settle my mind, then of course the stretch became easier and easier.
So, I went to one more practice show before the regionals, Kat came with me. She took me through a 5-minute mindfulness practice in the car before getting on to ensure I could use my breathing to relax. She helped me in the warmup by reminding me of these practices. I remember going around the edge before the bell rang and actually being able to change my thoughts, I was able to notice when the tension crept in and let go of it and change my intentions for my test.
This time I rode with a smile on my face and we got the highest score of our time together!
That was the sort of prep show I was hoping for!
Kat couldn’t come to regionals, but there was always going to be a time I had to go and put my practice into real life going solo. She recorded me a meditation to go through before I got on. As I warmed up, I remember so clearly just feeling so ready! I wanted to go in and have a wonderful time with Digby. And that we did! I couldn’t tell you what music was playing, who was watching or what was going on outside the arena- I was only connected with Digby through that test, so focused on how we both felt in the moment and I wish I could bottle that feeling.
Of course, the happy ending to this story was that we qualified for the nationals!
(The goal that originally created the problem with my nerves!)
Ever since I have had a session with Kat every single week!
Your Top Tip
It sounds so simple. Make time.
So often we are rushing to be somewhere else. Our next meeting, next appointment, even the next step in the horses training.
Make time to train your horse that isn’t rushed. You can then work with your horse on what he needs on that day. The groundwork has really taught me this, making the time to be with my horses to watch how they move, how they react and how they learn best really is invaluable time.
The Final Furlong
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
Pumpkin, Charlotte Dujardin’s chestnut pocket rocket or Catherine Dufour’s Bohemian.
Who is your equestrian hero?
I have a few!
I love watching riders that I aspire to be like. Claire Gallimore, who I train with. Tristan Tucker because he has a magical way with the horses. And obviously Charlotte Dujardin because she wins all the medals!
If you could have 5 people to dinner who would they be?
My fiancé, Yasin
And my best friends mum who sadly passed away just before Christmas.
Favourite colour horse?
My first pony Holly made me fall in love with Palominos but then Digby was chestnut so now I love that bright orange!
Favourite horse event
I loved the National championships at Stoneleigh Park. That show was the first really big competition I qualified for and it was so exciting! The atmosphere was amazing!
I thought about this for way too long!!
I think it might have to be pizza.
Favourite way to relax
Walking outside in the sunshine, drawing/writing, yoga, meditation.