written by C. Watson 2017
Ian Smith grew up in Australia, but doesn’t boast of riding before he could walk. In contrast he had to overcome well-founded fears before getting in the saddle. Ian admits he found it fascinating that horses had a mind of their own and was terrified for the very same reason!
“It was the fear of something bigger, heavier, stronger than me with a brain of its own that I had absolutely no clue how to control or guide,” he said. “That was scary for me. Mum saw that my apprehension of horses frustrated me and so she asked if I were to learn properly, would I like to try?”
An opportune meeting with a Grand Prix coach was the start of a long-term association and Ian’s introduction to dressage.
“I had an old school master to learn on and I feel like that’s the secret to a beginner’s success. Gerry had been there and done that and didn’t really care if I made mistakes. He was patient and it was his patience that gave me the time to learn properly without too many bad experiences.”
Ian doesn’t believe he showed any great talent initially; rather it was his own determination and his mum’s great support that got him through.
“Everything in the first five years of my riding career was taught, I don’t think any of it was talent. I was fortunate that my parents gave me the opportunity to train so often. Training at least three times per week with a Grand Prix coach really does pay off.
“My mum was a huge motivator and really kept the momentum going. As a teenage boy in the early days of riding, when it was just for fun, I would lose motivation but I just needed a good kick up the backside and be told to get on with it.”
Ian’s family were also supportive when he decided to relocate to Europe to further his education in dressage and to compete against the European riders at higher, more competitive level. Initially based in Scandinavia, Ian has trained, competed and coached in Germany, England and The Netherlands. He has also competed at FEI level in Australia with young and older horses, achieved his national coaching accreditation and completed a double business degree!
Although Ian has been very involved in showing and breeding horses, dressage has always been his first love and his passion.
“There is a certain art to dressage. If you don’t understand it it just looks like horses moving around in a rectangle arena, but when I started to understand and appreciate what it takes to get a horse to do these movements I became eager and wanted to learn how to make my horse do the same. It looks easy, yet the training can sometimes be more complicated than we anticipate,” he said.
“As a trainer I aim to make the training as simple, yet as effective as possible. For me, it’s all about finding that ‘balance’ in everything I ask my horses to do. For me its also important to mix up the horses’ training regime and include some ‘fun times’ or time for ‘head space’ as well. I feel that it keeps my horses motivated and eager for their work, let’s face it - dressage training is hard! When I lived in Australia I loved taking my horses to the beach for a hoon in the water. It’s great fun and so good for the horses’ minds. Now being based in Europe we go for leisurely forest rides, the climate doesn’t exactly motivate me for a beach visit “.
Ian’s life is completely taken up with horses; competing, coaching, attending events and assisting clients to purchase their ideal partner, and he loves every aspect.
“My main love for coaching is driven by the feeling of success. Success both in the training arena at home, when my clients master a feeling and execute a movement well, and success in the competition arena. It’s a great feeling when you have a happy horse, happy rider, happy judge and a great score!”
For Ian, the key is honesty.
“There are a lot of people in this industry that are happy to take your money and tell you what you want to hear, but you don’t really improve or achieve your ultimate goal that way.” Ian describes himself as a firm, but fair coach and he loves it when he sees riders push themselves forward and really focus on achieving their goals however big or small they may be.
“I also love to be able to share my knowledge and experience with others,” he said. “The equestrian world can be so complicated and vicious, it’s nice to provide clarity and transparency with my clients and help them in a very simple and straightforward approach towards a better way of going or better end result.”
Ian has also been successful at and gets a lot of satisfaction from bringing together the ideal combination of horse and rider. Over the last few years he’s helped form partnerships throughout Europe, Australia and the USA.
“Dressage is about fitting horse and rider together to perform as a team,” he said. That’s quite a challenge as every horse has its own unique feeling and every rider favours different attributes. For me it’s a rewarding challenge to successfully match a horse and rider partnership together and watch their success as they continue to develop.”
Ian says in coaching and ‘matchmaking’ there is a perfect contradiction, the culmination of art and science, and he wouldn’t succeed without a combination of both.
“When training both horses and riders, and finding horses for riders, it’s important to have an imagination - without it you limit yourself and you limit your horse, but it’s as important to know the facts, the mechanics, the history and use that in conjunction with the ‘art’ to create a more successful end goal.”
Ian has worked very hard for all his achievements and says the more he grows and develops as a rider and coach, the more he wants to achieve. Being based in Europe has made him even more ambitious and excites him for what the future will bring.
“Horses are my life. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even when I’m being social with friends or travelling, I’m always thinking about something to do with my horse, my business or my clients. My horses and my clients’ horses are completely intertwined into my life,” he said.
Although Ian delights in being part of competitive success, he also enjoys quiet times with his horses.
“My happiest moments are training at home with my team of horses (especially when I have good rides) and spending time in the stable. I love to potter around with my horses – walking with them, grooming them, and being with them. We have a fantastic facility at Stal Emmy De Jeu and so it’s a pleasure to be around the stable. It’s also quite special for me when my parents and close family fly to Europe to visit me - especially my mum. Mum is my biggest fan and supporter and I really do believe that as much as I’m living my own dream, I’m living hers too. She is so genuinely interested in what I’m doing that it makes me happy and proud to be able to show her what I’m doing and how our team of horses are progressing.”
Still in his twenties, Ian’s youthful appearance belies his dedication to dressage and the wealth of experience he has amassed in little more than a decade.
“I am still very young and have lots to learn, but one of my strengths is that I am very open to criticism in all facets of life. I love listening to people’s ideas and then making my own decisions based on them and their experiences,” he said. “I’m a very social person and I feel that learning about other people and their experience has really paid dividends in my maturity and professionalism. I’m proud of the long-term relationships that I’ve formed long with my clients. Most of whom are in shock when they find out my age!”
Ian’s Hanoverian stallion, Dornkaart, has joined him in Europe and, after being based in Germany initially, they are now making their mark in Dutch competitions. As well as training and preparing Dornkaart for the U25 Grand Prix Ian is also training some other talented youngsters and preparing them for competitions or to be sold.
Ian recognises that many trainers and professionals have assisted him to attain this level in a relatively short period of time and he looks forward to continuing to learn and share his knowledge with clients in the future.