Tag Archives: dressage training

A Special Kind of Groom ~ Sikhangele Mbambo

Have you ever spoken to someone on the phone and instantly wished you could meet them? Ngqayimbana Mveleli or Franz as he is famously known is one such gentleman. He has a keen wit, thinks on his feet and had me laughing from the first sentence till I had regrettably finished my interview.

Franz comes from the Eastern Cape and is one of a family of 10. A married man, he is a father to 3 boys aged 11, 6 and 4. His schooling journey reached its end in 1995, and his journey as a groom began in 1997 when he was employed by Linda Augustyn from Epona Equestrian Centre, in the Western Cape. He looked after 6 horses, which competed in Eventing, Showing and Dressage.  This is where he learnt all the basics of grooming and looking after horses. After 4 years he left Epona and became a relief groom for the next 3 years, eventually joining Equestria Show – Jumping Yard working for Tori Rohde Coughlan in 2013. 4 years later, he is still there, evidence that he finally has found his niche. His happiness and contentment clearly comes through.



Tori herself cannot say enough about him, they have a very strong working relationship;

“Franz joined Equestria Show – Jumping Yard in 2013 He very quickly became my right hand man, as his knowledge of horses soon became apparent. He  seems to instinctively know when a horse is unhappy or having an issue, particularly his beloved Nachtmusik. But it is more than just his proficiency with horses, it is his deep love of horses and all animals, his Pitbull Febe makes regular  appearances as his Whatsapp profile pic. In short it is this  combination of experience, knowledge and caring that  makes Franz such a wonderful member of the  Equestria Show – Jumping Yard team.”

 What more can one say? Beautifully said and I bet everyone wants a groom like that.  

So what does a day as a groom entail?

Franz gets to work at 7:00am, and goes to check that the horses are all healthy and physically well. He then dishes out breakfast and changes the water. He also fills the teff nets and water buckets in the paddocks before taking the horses out. Depending on the season, the right blankets are put on and at 8:30am the horses go out and Franz comes back to muck out the stables. Lunch for the horses is at 11.30am and this takes him to his own lunch at 12:00pm.  He gets back at 2pm, cleans the paddocks, checks that none of that horses have been hurt and the fences are still intact. The horses are then taken back to the stables and given a thorough grooming, The horses have different owners so each has their own grooming kit. Supper is at 4:30pm and it is important to ensure that the horses have fresh water for the night and their hay nets are filled. His day ends at 4:45pm

Has he got riding experience?

Oh yes, he grew up around horses, racing them with his friends, nothing commercial, just boys having fun.

What other duties has he got?

He helps Tori in handling and working the horses, on some days he will lunge the horses or walk them out. They get a lot of young horses, train them and re-sell them

What shows has he attended?

He and Tori have been all over, Shongweni, Johannesburg, Polokwane

What is his best venue?

Shongweni, it has a lovely environment and beautiful amenities.

What advice does he give Tori before she enters the ring?

Believe in yourself and trust the horse. She is such an amazing rider, she is talented and is lucky to have a good horse to work with. She needs to believe in herself, he does and Muse does too. (sniff, sniff)

What would Franz like to see changed in the lives of grooms?

It bugs him a lot the way some employers view their grooms. They look down on them and do not have faith in their capabilities. They forget that the groom is the one that spends the most time with the horse and therefore knows more about the horse than most people. Trusting someone with your horse is like trusting someone with your child, for your horse to be given love and respect, you have to give it to the groom first. What he feels that most people do not get is that it is teamwork between groom, horse and rider. He has witnessed instances where the groom will tell the rider what he thinks is wrong with horse and it gets brushed off with a ‘what do you know attitude‘ and later it comes to light that the groom was right all along.

What does he forecast in his future?

He would like to learn how to train horses properly, own a horse farm, produce good horses and run a livery.

 It was a wonderful chat and I hope that one of these days I will meet Franz face to face and experience his humor first hand. He is very passionate about horses and I imagine that he has a lot more to tell than this interview can cover.

Tori sums him up quite nicely,

 “He’s funny – has pulled the Mickey on me a few times with  a straight face. He takes it seriously if I mess  up a round with his beloved horse”


You’ve reached Medium! Let the games begin … ~ Brigitte Billings

There are some riders who believe that real dressage doesn’t begin until you reach Medium. Obviously this is up for debate, much like the showjumping adage that a horse isn’t jumping until he faces a metre obstacle. Anyone who’s ever cantered up to a 90cm jump will admit that it’s not for sissies. Likewise, you’ll have found yourself challenged both mentally and physically by many of the tests you’ve ridden till now.

The difference with dressage is that although this series of articles has provided a ‘fast-forward’ through the grades, in real terms, your journey to Medium may take you five years. During this time you will certainly have been doing dressage – particularly if you’ve been serious about helping your horse reach this point.

The tough stuff

The hard fact of dressage is that not every horse will make it to Medium or beyond. One of the greatest frustrations many riders face is the realisation that they’ve hit a brick wall along the way. It may be a freak accident, a conformational challenge or simply understanding that the pressure is too much for their horse to happily work with. Some of these ‘walls’ are temporary – waiting for an injury to heal, or working at a pace that accommodates your horse’s body or mind. In some instances, this is where the hidden costs of the sport come to play. At the highest levels, riders invest great sums into keeping their horses sound and healthy.

Unfortunately, you may also find yourself facing the certainty that you’ve hit your ceiling as a horse-rider partnership. Most will be happy to continue their riding relationship without pushing for more, but for a rider with a competitive streak, this can be a huge dilemma. If you’re fortunate, you’ll be in a position to buy a new horse and keep your old friend too. However, the costs of keeping horses can be prohibitive. If this is the case, bear in mind that South Africa is sorely lacking in schoolmasters and a well-schooled horse can be an absolute gem for another rider who plans to go through the lower grades. As long as horses are sold with full disclosure of reasons for sale, there is no shame in finding your horse an excellent new home.

 Fred and Ginger

By this stage, you and your horse probably know each other as well as old dance partners; you’ll literally be joined at the hip as your seat aids become the mainstay of your communication channels. One of the things you may notice about the Medium tests is that they’re longer than the previous grades – six and a half minutes may not seem like a lot, but when you consider the amount of physical strength required for the movements you’ll be riding, as well as the sheer number of moves in each test, it will become clear that strength and fitness are not negotiable at this stage. Your horse will not only be fit and supple, but will also have ‘pushing’ power to maintain strong steady gaits, and ‘carrying’ power to engage his hindquarters, lift his forehand and move with grace. You’ve reached the point where you have days that you believe you might actually make it to the Olympics … and then there’ll be days that you feel as ineffectual as you did in Prelim. Because this is riding and horses were designed to keep us humble!

Chere Burger and Adelprag  Quick Silver

Chere Burger and Adelprag Quick Silver

 The tests

Once again, there are seven Medium tests – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 with a Freestyle. In addition to your double bridle and spurs, you may have graduated to riding in tails. In the past, top hats were another marker of reaching the higher levels, however with safety awareness on the rise, most opt to keep their hard hats.

While you’ll be riding many of the moves introduced in the previous levels, now judges will be looking for greater accuracy and more extreme angles in the lateral work. There will also be attention to regularity and activity – each gait should be equally expressive, regardless of degree of collection. A collected canter is not simply a slow canter – it should have the same power and activity as an extended canter, simply without covering as much ground. Judges will also expect to see a horse who is correctly positioned and uphill in his movement. Even when riding a downward transition, there should be a sense that the horse gearing down, rather than slamming on brakes or flopping out of the gait. This will definitely become clear to you when you start to ride tests that either begin or end with a collected canter to a halt at X. In fact, canter work becomes pivotal in Medium, with many tests focusing largely on this gait, incorporating 10m circles, half-pass and flying changes. If you’re reading this as a Novice rider, it may be startling to think that there’ll be a time when you can expect your horse to do an entire lesson in canter – but such is the beauty of dressage that with correct training, he will be quite ready for it.

 Next month we’ll look at the Advanced classes.

Want to try it out? Recreational membership is free! Visit www.dressagesa.com for contact information.