Hidden talent

“If you can, you do, if you can’t, you teach.”  Isn’t that what they say?  Not true for Robert Booth, trainer, teacher and producer of young horses.  He does it all, and although he will never admit it, the people he trains and the horses he produces, say it all for him.

Robert Booth (48) is dressed in jeans and chaps. Tall and slim, he stands in the middle of his impressive arena at Rodgebrook near Porchfield, with his head bent permanently to one side. He is watching every nuance of the horse and rider he is training. A little tweak here, and little push there, it is as though he is riding the horse himself, but from the ground.

His arena is full of showjumps and there are no dressage markers on the post and rails separating it from his 11½ acres and his newly built house. It would seem then, that Robert Booth is a showjumper, but, when you watch him riding a perfect half pass on his home produced grade A show jumper, it is soon obvious that Robert Booth knows a thing or two about dressage too!

A spell with Jennie Loriston-Clarke, one of the world’s most respected dressage riders and trainers, at her famous Catherston Stud, has clearly left its mark on this quietly spoken perfectionist.

“When I trained at Catherston,” Robert explains, “they jumped their dressage horses (almost unheard of today), and they had show horses too. Two years after I passed my first teaching exam at 17, I went to Ireland and worked with showjumpers for two years. But it was at Catherston where I trained and passed my BHSI (British Horse Society Instructor’s exam),” he adds as an afterthought. “I worked there too for a couple of years.”

Although not originally from the Island (he was born in Portsmouth), Robert has been living here for over 25 years and runs his business of producing young horses, breaking, schooling and teaching with his wife of 23 years, Lyn. “We first met soon after I left school,” he says. “Then we ran a yard together near Reading, where we had a few event horses.”

Ah, so he knows a bit about eventing too? “Well, yes,” he answers reluctantly, “I competed our horses to intermediate level.” Fair enough!

He and Lyn moved to the Island to set up a business of their own, and the swish set-up at Porchfield has been 26 years in the making.

“My parents moved to the Island with us,” Robert continues. “They bought a house just outside Newport with a couple of acres and a small yard. It was quite a big house and they split it and Lyn and I bought half, plus the yard. We were there for nearly 20 years. We bought the land here about six years ago. There was nothing here really, just a tin shed. It took two years to go through planning and then we built the stables and school first.” He points to the American barn housing 15 looseboxes. “We lived in caravans while we built our house.”

It’s been hard work for Robert and Lyn and there are no days off when it comes to working with horses. Robert spends over five hours a day just teaching and he and Lyn do everything themselves with a little help from Helen Furnell, who mucks out for them in the mornings.

“I don’t usually teach on a Friday or a Sunday because it gives us a chance to catch up on all the things we haven’t done here,” he says. There’s not much time for socialising. It’s limited to the odd trip to a local pub for supper when they are too tired to cook, or they attend an instructor’s conference or visit a horse sale. They see their daughter Emma, who has her saddler’s workshop at Rodgebrook, every day, and the Booths could only be described as a close-knit family, dedicated to their horses.

“My work is split between teaching and working the horses,” says Robert. “We take horses for breaking and schooling, and we usually have some competition horses of our own. We’ve got one grade A, which we’ve had for a long time. We bought him unbroken. I’ve also got a five year-old that I’m jumping and we usually have a few young horses to bring on and sell.”

Does every horse in the yard come with a price tag? Even the grade A? “More or less,” Robert answers. “It depends on what mood we’re in and how poor we’re feeling. The grade A is getting older and ought to be got rid of…” he jokes and immediately you know that Robert will not be selling his grade A. Not at any price.

But, in spite of the dressage training and the competitive eventing of the past, is it showjumping that Robert prefers nowadays?

“Well yes,” he says. “I’ve always been interested in all aspects of riding. I still am really, but showjumping is what we do with our own horses, and show jumping is really what I like best.” And it shows through his training of others.

Two of Robert’s best known Island pupils Poppy Green, 16, who showjumps ponies, and Hayley Webster, who is competing in Young Riders have both qualified again for the Horse of the Year Show (HOYS). “Poppy is in her last year of ponies and she has qualified in the Newcomers and Foxhunter classes. Hayley has also jumped at HOYS and I’ve taught her since she was tiny on ponies. She’s got three or four horses now,” says Robert.

Back in the arena, the training session has finished. The horse is hot, and the rider tired, but pleased with the improved performance. Robert reaches for, what must by now be, a very cold cup of tea. “Same time next week?” the pupil asks hopefully. “Well no, I can’t do next week,” Robert replies, rather apologetically.

“Oh. Are you going away?” the pupil enquires. “Just to Hickstead,” Robert replies casually. The pupil is immediately interested and demands to know whether he is competing. “Just a couple of 1.3m classes,” is the answer and Robert adds, as if by way of explanation, “it’s just little holiday for us really.”

The fences in Robert’s arena are no more than 1metre in height and the pupil is fully aware of how difficult it is to compete a horse at Hickstead and ‘just jump a 1.3m class.’

It is then that you realise that Robert Booth is both competitor and teacher, and what could be better than being taught by someone who ‘does’?