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Posted by National Admin on 25/05/2018.
Photos courtesy of Jan Smith

COACH OF THE MONTH Jan Smith

COACH OF THE MONTH is a regular Education series on our website. It is a way of highlighting the EA coaches and educators who work with dedication and passion all over Australia.

Jan Smith is an EA level 1 Dressage Coach & Skill-Specific Trainer/Assessor based in Warrion, Victoria. She is very invested in the sport at all levels, in particular, the discipline of Dressage as an EA and FEI Level 3 Dressage Steward and an A-Level and Young Horse Judge and Judge Mentor. In recent year, she took the role of Coaching Coordinator for the Victorian Dressage Young Rider Squads and Development Program and sits on the Dressage Victoria and Victorian Coaching Committees. She also officiates as a Medication Control Swabbing Steward on many events and overseas the EA swabbing program in Victoria. 

"Childhood for me was, by definition, some time ago, however, I have many happy memories growing up in Canberra when it was not much more than a country town.   I cannot remember a time when I was not obsessed with horses and was promised riding-lessons by my father when I turned 10 years of age.  These lessons were at a Canberra institution, Mrs Llewellyn’s Riding School and consisted of an hour-long trail ride in open-country that is now under Lake Burley Griffin.   You really just learnt by experience, not direction, that was the way in those days.

I spent every school holiday I could at my uncle’s property, Gudgenby,  in the high country and I must have learnt something at Mrs Llews, as she was known, because I could ride the stock horses, who were very quick, and spent hours in the saddle riding in some of the most beautiful and remote country in Australia working with the cattle at every opportunity. 

My first pony was purchased at about age 13 and was a very small thoroughbred with no education but a very sweet nature.  About this time I joined the first Pony Club established in the ACT, the Canberra Riding Club, which happily still exists on the original grant of land in North Canberra, adjacent to the Canberra Racecourse.   We learnt a lot with the first formal lessons ever mostly from top riders rather than coaches.  One of the greatest influences in my early life was Margaret Wheatley, an amazingly talented all-round rider (as you where in those days) who successfully mixed show riding, jumping and polocrosse, often on the same horse.   I learnt so much from Margaret and, as you did in those days, also started to teach at Pony Club ending up Chief Instructor. 

Canberra was polocrosse mad in those days with many teams scattered around the district and when I look back, in spite of what would be perceived as significant differences now, there was a lot to be learned from the sport with both riding and horsemanship.

Showing took over and I had my first big hack, Virgil Street. This couldn’t happen now but I bought him at age 11, he had been a talented racehorse and also tried over the jumps, he raced until he was 7, then sat in the paddock for four years before I bought him. He was such a cool customer, three weeks later I rode him for a place in my Junior Lady Rider class at Canberra Royal. He regularly cleared out with me as we rode around the bush but he did develop into a good quality hack.

About this time we started becoming interested in “dressage”.  It was new, you could succeed with talent rather than money, and there were some amazing coaches starting to come to Australia.  I was lucky enough to have lessons from Franz Mairinger before he died.  It was all very correct and new and we all toiled away trying to be perfect.  We trekked from Canberra to Bowral to use the first indoor arena I had ever ridden in.  This was at the centre, the then Equestrian Federation of Australia developed on land gifted to them by Sam Hordern. We were all in awe of the gold medal-winning team from Rome, in particular, Laurie Morgan, Bill Roycroft and Neale Lavis.  Before the Tokyo Olympics, we had the show jumping team training in Canberra and we spent hours (often during school time) watching Kevin Bacon, Bud Hyem and John Fahey training with Karl Jurenak.   

One of my first training “light bulb” moments came with a chance lesson from Gert Donvig.  He was so enthusiastic, knowledgeable and part of the new breed of coaches and riders from Europe.   I thought he took risks but really he just worked with the horse’s talents and pushed the right buttons.  I still use exercises when I coach that I remember from Gert. 

Still heavily involved in my pony club, which was very competition oriented, we started an event over the Australia Day weekend in January which became an institution for many years.  Many of Australia’s best riders appear on the Harry Hall of London trophy. 

I was fortunate to have some useful horses that competed at State and National level and I worked with leading coach Clemens Dierks for several years. I believe Clemens is one of the best coaches in Australia.  Life progressed, my daughter Rebecca was born and horses moved more to ponies for several years.  I taught many riders, but with no formal training but when the NCAS system was introduced I began my journey, working with Simon Kale and Colleen Brook at first.  About this time we made the momentous decision to move from Canberra to Victoria in 1996 where I continued to train with Brian Schrapel who was quite amused to find himself trying to get me up to speed with the jumping, no easy task. 

We settled on a lovely property in Yea, north-west of Melbourne, and I was very happy being a part-time coach and also became involved with the Victorian Branch of EFA in an administrative role. From that time on I became really committed to the sport in Victoria and have been involved in event administration, I started my formal training as a dressage judge, became involved with the Victorian Coaching Committee and coached at both EFA Show Riding clinics and Young Rider Dressage Squad.

As my judging progressed (I have been an A-level judge for some time) I realised the importance of linking coaching riders to the demands of competition.  I firmly believe that it is the fundamental responsibility of a coach to prepare a rider for competition.   This includes having a wide knowledge of the rules as well as integrity in coaching.   As coaches, we must be able to respond to competition results and assist the rider to improve. 

I am sure many coaches can relate to “light bulb” moments and one turning point for me was when I was lucky enough to escort a group of young riders to Germany to train for their Bronze Performance Medal.  We were located at a big training centre at Langenfeld, between Cologne and Bonn.  The German education system has a very structured approach based on all round training of riders, and you are not able to compete without a qualification.   This system is entirely based around the Training Scale and riders are trained in both dressage and jumping (including cross country), training theory and stable management.   It was a total eye-opener to me.  In Australia we had started to pay lip service to the training scale, it was introduced to the dressage rules but no more than a passing knowledge was expected. 

I have been fortunate in that I have been able to attend some of the big shows overseas including WEG and Aachen and was able to observe training methods as well. 

For the past few years, I have taken on the role of Coaching Coordinator for the highly successful Victorian Dressage Young Rider Squads and Development Program.  This model allows riders of all levels to work together and experience a holistic approach to training. The State A Squad is made up of the best ten riders from Elementary to FEI with provision for a B & C Squad with other riders forming the Development Program.  This gives all riders access to a range of coaches and workshops including compulsory physical fitness session, clean sport for both horses and riders, training theory, and the opportunity to complete the EA Intro certificates. 

I also sit on the Dressage Victoria and Victorian Coaching committees and oversee the EA swabbing program in Victoria.  I am also an FEI Level 3 Dressage Steward, which has also seen me having the chance to steward around Australia and also overseas. 

On odd occasions, I sometimes feel that I would like to slow down, but I would also miss the pace of what I do.  I love coaching, I love helping young riders, and I feel that judging and coaching are entirely compatible.  

I regret that the different disciplines within our sport are so far removed from each other, it could be so beneficial if we had some positive interaction and cross-pollination between disciplines.   I think the growth in Interschool equestrian sports has taken over from pony club as the pathway to EA competition and it is essential that these riders are nurtured and set on an appropriate pathway to allow them to learn from recognised and accomplished coaches."

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