Cecilia Gladwyn is a name synonymous with dressage. So when I was invited to have lunch with her to talk about her new initiative, the Celtic Dressage Championships (sponsored by Country Ways), I jumped (or do a small hop because I have a bad back and a dodgy knee) at the chance!
I have never met Cecilia before but I know of her by reputation of course. Mum to Victoria, an accomplished rider and trainer in her own right, Cecilia is a force to be reckoned with on the local and national equestrian scene. Her newest initiative is the latest in a life spent working and volunteering in the equestrian community. At least her life since having Victoria! Because as Cecilia explains, that’s where it all started…
Having come from a completely non-horsey background herself, Cecilia was somewhat surprised when Victoria showed all the tell-tale signs of being completely pony mad from a very young age (she had been bitten by that dreaded bug that sends shivers down the spine of many a parent!) Having cut her teeth initially on her rocking horse at home, Victoria then attended riding lessons at a local riding school, before being bought her first pony at 6 years old. This was the catalyst that lit the torch paper for Cecilia’s equestrian career. She explains that everything she has achieved started because she had a daughter who was obsessed with horses. That and the fact she had a real drive and willingness to learn. Perhaps in part because she was completely new to everything, so there was indeed a lot to learn. She explains how at Victoria’s first jumping competition for example, someone asked her whether they were going to walk the course? Neither Cecilia nor Victoria had any idea what that meant, and so Victoria went straight in with no idea where to go!
But their horizons were soon broadened, as so many are, by the Pony Club. Cecilia made sure to attend their lectures and became a stickler for making sure things were done correctly. She explains how Victoria was responsible for cleaning her own tack from a young age and she would only step in and fix anything once Victoria had went to bed. The lesson being one in work ethic and that it’s the effort which counts. She recounts a story of Victoria competing in cross country where she stopped and got off at a fence. Cecilia had no idea what her daughter was doing, until the fence judge told her that Victoria had been looking for the rubber fastening of her safety stirrup that had pinged off because she had better find it before her mum did! She laughs as she tells me that the story probably sums her up pretty well!
This is something which is keenly apparent from my conversation with Cecilia however. That it’s the effort which counts. As long as people try their best and work hard, that’s what really matters at the end of the day. It’s telling that when I ask her why she felt a particular affinity with dressage, she replies that it’s the effort required to discipline the mind when it comes to dressage that she is so impressed with. This discipline is something Cecilia herself has applied to her own experiences. She explains for example that it doesn’t matter that she has never ridden a horse before herself, for knowledge in anything is something that can be gained if you apply yourself to studying the subject intently.
But it’s also about making an effort with other people as well. Cecilia explains how she always made a special effort with new Pony Club members to make sure they felt part of the family (and to make sure they knew how to walk the course! ) Indeed making a difference to others is the legacy of Cecilia’s equestrian endeavours. An accountant by trade, her first official ‘horsey role’ was as Treasurer for East Aberdeenshire Pony Club. She was also responsible for setting up Ythan Riding Club in 1991 and more recently, spent the last 12 years until her retirement as BD’s Regional Development Officer for Scotland. Although with so much still going on and the establishment of the new Celtic Dressage Championships, it certainly doesn’t sound as if she is retired!
Indeed the Celtic Dressage Championships (CDC) is really what I am here to talk to Cecilia about, though she is such great company and so knowledgeable that I could talk to her about all sorts for hours! The Championships are being sponsored by Country Ways, in association with The House of Montar and Pikeur, with the winners of each section going forward to be considered for the prize of becoming a Country Ways sponsored rider for a year! Wow! What an incredible opportunity! And I’m not the only one to think so if the amount of interest in the event already is anything to go by. As Cecilia explains, Scotland, and especially the North of Scotland, is seriously disadvantaged when it comes to access to Championship level competitions. Extensive travel is usually required, often to England or to the South of Scotland at least. The CDC is an attempt to address this imbalance, but that’s not the only impetus behind it. Crucially, the event is unaffiliated. As Cecilia explains, she wants every dressage rider in Scotland, not just ones defined by a particular organisation, to be able to take part. This is dressage for all. The desire for inclusivity is further extended by the fact that rather than beginning at Prelim, an Intro class will also be included, because, as she so empathetically observes, “everyone deserves the chance to be a Champion”.
That this is the premise of the Championships speaks volumes not only about the event itself, but about Cecilia as a person. But having spoken with her at length about her experiences, it doesn’t surprise me. This is a woman who values hard work as the leveller of the playing field (or dressage arena in this case). The sport should not be the privilege of the elite few. Nor should people feel intimidated to take part. Dressage should be there for us all to enjoy. And for every horse to enjoy too. For this is also a woman who values all horses of every shape and size and has a lifelong and heartfelt devotion to her own ones. She explains how many times horses have come to her and Victoria as short term projects and ended up staying with them forever! After all, every horse, no matter it’s capability, has something to teach it’s rider.
The Celtic Dressage Championships, embodying as it does Cecilia’s beliefs in not only hard work and discipline, but also in equality and inclusivity, is therefore a step towards not only changing the geographical landscape of the discipline, but the social and cultural one as well.
For more information about the Celtic Dressage Championships, please visit the event facebook page below, or email Cecilia Gladwyn at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Lynne Clark