Stephanie DeWitt chats with Joanne Smith, BHSII

By Stephanie DeWitt   Photography Julian Portch   #JoanneSmith

When and where did you learn to ride?

Perhaps you can't count sitting on a pony at a riding centre near my gran's at Hurst Green or riding Molly the donkey at Eastbourne when I was about three years old! I started having proper lessons once a week aged nine at Oakfields Riding School, Crawley Down. At weekends I helped out at the stable yard and led novice riders in their lessons, always listening intently to what the instructor was saying.

I took part in various after-school activities as well - swimming, dancing, gymnastics - and it got to the point where I had to choose one to concentrate on. So I chose riding. The good thing about learning at a riding centre is that you are mounted on a variety of different horses and ponies with their own quirks and personalities. And I watched and learned all the time.

Why did you choose a career as a riding instructor?

I never wanted to do anything other than ride and work with horses. When I left school at sixteen I was still at Oakfields and was thrown in at the deep end by being asked to teach the lead-rein classes. Luckily I had watched enough over the years to know exactly what to do. As well as this I waitressed three nights a week to raise the funds to buy my first horse.

What led you down the path to pure dressage?

I took part in both showing and dressage competitions. I particularly enjoyed the precision and accuracy required for dressage, the understanding of how a horse works. Apart from which, I wasn't confident at jumping!

What achievements are you proud of?

I took a novice horse, Lincoln VI, right up to Prix St Georges level. We qualified and were placed at the South-East regional finals against many of the top riders.

I also trained myself as an instructor up to BHSII level, passing my exams first time.

What would you have done if you hadn't been a riding instructor?

There were no other options!

What gives you most satisfaction in your job?

My own riding lessons as a child were the highlight of my week. I am pleased if I can make other people feel the same. Watching riders making progress and getting enjoyment gives me great satisfaction.

I like seeing the improvement and changes in a rider's position, also the changes in a horse's muscle and tone, with both gaining confidence, and seeing the rider's smile while both are getting fit. And it's lovely to see "before" and "after" transitions.

How have the Covid-19 restrictions affected your work?

I'm not able to teach group clinics or polework sessions at the moment or go to various venues. Nor can I get on someone else's horse to demonstrate what I want them to do. I'm currently trying to keep riders motivated and support their mental well-being at this time when there are no shows to aim for. However, I can recommend online dressage competitions.

What precautionary measures are you having to take?

I am able to offer one-to-one lessons in an outdoor arena, keeping my distance and wearing gloves, with safety in mind all the time. I'm having to juggle time slots, especially in big yards and with the vagaries of the weather at this time of year.

What do you do to relax in your spare time?

I love walking, with my music on - earpieces in, tuned into my favourite songs. I like a wide variety of music. Recently I walked between Hastings and Rye. I used to swim a lot, too, but of course all pools are closed at the moment.

To get away from this situation, where in the world would you rather be?

Back in Las Vegas! There are amazing shows, gambling - everything's so big!

Joanne Smith BHSII

Joanne Smith BHSII

Photo by Julian Portch

Joanne Smith BHSII

Joanne Smith BHSII

Photo by Julian Portch