This week's trainer in the spotlight is dressage rider Tahley Reeve-Smith from Ware in Hertfordshire.

Hello, I’m Tahley Reeve-Smith. I’m a rider, trainer, listed judge, cook and self-confessed bottle washer. I love what I do, so I don’t feel like it’s work. I have three dogs, two cats and one understanding hubby.

I am lucky enough to have my yard at my house. My idea of hell would be to having to commute every day… my commute is about 20 meters, so there’s no getting stuck in traffic risking a cancelled train!

We have 10 stables, four of which belong to my competition horses (three were homebred by my mother Susan Reeve-Smith). We also have a stallion named Romanno Rafiel, who I have started riding for Mr and Mrs Hurst. I have some liveries and, of course, my right hand girl Lyndsey Ryder and her horse Max. Lyndsey makes the hard work fun and helps me to run the yard. We are trying to see how far she can get with Max, however we always try to enjoy the process rather than always wanting to be at the next level.

I have to be quite self-motivated. My motto is “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. This motto gets me out riding in the wind, rain, sleet and snow… even on the days where I’ve had to resort to riding in my Marigolds!

I once read somewhere that whenever you ride you are either training or un-training your horse, so no matter how long my day is I try to give each horse the benefit of my patience and focus. While riding I explain what I am doing and why, as if I am being videoed. I know it’s a bit mad, but I find that it stops me riding in a negative way. So instead of thinking “don’t do that” I say “let’s do this instead to help me get to where I want to be“.

I want my horses to be happy athletes. I don’t want to have to ride the horses strongly and dominate them, I want them to understand what I want from them. I love training horses up through the levels. It’s great to have owners who want their horses to compete, enjoy their training and watch them be educated.

I aim to work towards a goal with each rider I help. I train riders at all levels, each with different goals. I find it especially helpful to video them; at first they hate it but it’s very useful and productive to look back and track their progress.

I like using specific exercises to check how adjustable my horse is. I always keep the horse’s age and level in mind as this determines how much I expect from them. These exercises include riding corners and lots of transitions. I would like to offer some magic advice, but really it comes down to repetition and skill.

My horses’ timetable generally includes two days of schooling, a hack, a pop over a jump and a day off. I believe that to be a good trainer you have to work out how to get the best from each horse and rider combination. It’s important to understand whether someone needs to be pushed a little bit out of their comfort zone, or needs more confidence and more achievable goals to grow their self belief. I don’t mind sitting on a horse myself to get an idea of what I think needs addressing and it’s useful for clients to see horses working with someone else.


I enjoy competing as it keeps me focused on my day-to-day training, even if I don’t compete each horse that often. If I have a less successful competition I try and figure out what went wrong and not let it happen again. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback. Sometimes you learn more when things don’t go to plan because it gives you the opportunity to change something, maybe in your warm up or more generally in your everyday schooling.

As I compete so often I find that it’s not the flashiest movers or the horses who look like they’re off to a Grand Prix that do the best. It’s important to remember that a mark of seven is only fairly good, but if you achieve that mark throughout your test you would score around 70%. On the other hand, 10 is only excellent, not perfect.

Before a competition I try and imagine riding through each movement the best that I can. I tend to visualise a lot… I am one of those people who can learn tests better when I watch them. I like to watch a video of me riding the test, or I YouTube others riding it to see how it looks from the judge’s eye.

If you’re going to a new competition venue be sure that you know the route and leave yourself plenty of time to get there. Remember to give yourself and your horse a drink (I always take a carrot and place it in about two inches of water so the horses take in water while getting the carrot). When you arrive go and declare, find out if your class is running on time, which arena you’re in etc.

When you get on, give yourself time to loosen up before starting your warm up. Take into consideration that you need to leave enough time to take your boots off etc. In your warm up think about what feel you need to achieve in order for your horse to compete at his optimum, don’t get flustered by other competitors, be polite but firm ­– you have as much right to a good working in as they do, this is what you have worked so hard for at home.

You should control what you can. Don’t freeze up once the bell goes and ride like a plank of wood… learn to keep riding. Wish yourself good luck, smile and enjoy showing off your horse to the judge.

After a competition I advise that you read through your old tests and see if you consistently lose marks for the same movement. Some riders’ physiology changes when they enter the arena, so it’s no wonder that their horse behaves differently.