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From the Horse’s Mouth
With Fiona Todd
Welcome to the August issue of Equestrian Hub. We’ve rounded up some great articles to help you through the last month of what, for some of us, has been a pretty chilly winter!
Queensland based dressage coach and rider Nicole Tough is this month’s Spotlight. Nicole has been part of the Australian dressage scene for many years, she’s had her fair share of ups and downs and spoke to Rebecca Ashton – it makes for interesting reading.
Resident coach Christine Armishaw suggests four off-horse exercises to improve your core strength, flexibility, and body symmetry, and if your pony is convinced scary monsters live at the bottom of puddles, she’s got a few clever tips to turn your nervous Nellie into a confident water horse.
With a change of season on the way, we need to be aware of the challenges presented by springtime pastures. Equine nutritionist Larissa Bilston explains what to expect and suggests ways to keep your horse safe from potential risks. And talking of risks, do you know which weeds are a threat to your horse? Rachel Roan has done her homework and has come up with ten of the most dangerous, plus what you can do to prevent a life-threatening situation.
We introduce two more of our wonderful mentors: full-time 5* eventer and EA coach Jade Findlay; and David Finch, National coach educator, show jumper and breeder of international standard
performance horses. And another of our mentors, show ring expert Alanna Richards, dropped by to share her grooming and nutrition tips, guaranteed to help your show pony shine.
If you’ve been thinking about embryo transfer as an option for breeding a foal, it’s not a decision to take lightly. To get your research started, Dr Doug runs through the basics.
Sam Lyle, a 5* eventer and EA Level 3 Coach with a Masters of Education in Sports Coaching, spoke to us about his award-winning career as a coach; and Olympian Rebel Morrow shares the astonishing story of her beloved partner Oaklea Rebel Groover, saved by a whisker from the knackers yard.
If you’re planning to travel, Rebecca Nadge has some great advice on making the journey as comfortable, safe and risk free as possible for both you and your horse, while Jessica Morton looks at the science behind nasal strips. And if the smash hit TV series
has inspired you, Jess also has some fashion tips for making that laid-back western look uniquely yours.
Do you know a Turtle Top from a Lozenge, a Pee Wee from a Happy Mouth? In the first of a two-part series, Suzy Jarrett explores the world of bits, first with the basics before getting into the more complex designs in our September issue.
Vaulter Stephanie Dore has just represented Australia at CHIO Aachen, and Jamie Hocking spoke to her about her journey to the world stage, while Jo Mckinnon caught up with Lisa Coffey, who has managed to combine giving OTT racehorses a new start in life while at the same time helping people struggling with psychological issues.
Feeling adventurous? Then join Mathilde Gregoire for a 10-day horseback trek in Morocco, and don’t miss her interesting take on a native of Northwest Africa’s Maghreb region, the Barb horse.
We delve into the outstanding career of respected National dressage judge and now retired FEI 3* and 4* eventing judge Prue Spurrett, and introduce Young Rider Georgia Hodgetts. This month’s Saddle Review is on the Erreplus Elena and we have another sumptuous equestrian property for your vision board … you do have one, don’t you?
Now it’s time to pour a glass of your preferred tipple, sit back, relax and enjoy.
Until next time, cheers!
Nicole Tough has been part of the Australian dressage scene for decades, and along the way she’s learned a lot, writes
Nicole and Emma Weel’s Grand Prix contender, the big moving 9-y-o Florenz
Image by Christy Baker Photography.
Passionate and committed, Queensland based dressage coach and rider Nicole Tough never stops learning and studying her sport despite the wisdom she’s already garnered over the years. And her biggest teachers? The horses themselves.
Growing up in a non-horsey family in the suburbs of Sydney, Nicole had to wait until her family moved to Queensland and her dad bought a share in a racehorse before horses came into her life. She recalls: “My dad and Noel Payne, the racehorse’s other owner-trainer, conspired and bought me a Galloway of mixed breed called Cha Chi, and my journey began when I was 13 years old. I did Pony Club and Interschool equestrian competitions had just started, so we participated in those.” Her first instructor was actually a jockey, Terry Payne, who helped her with all the basics.
However, dressage wasn’t Nicole’s first love. She was an adrenaline junkie who loved eventing but had to do dressage “to get to the fun stuff.” It wasn’t until the purchase of an Anglo Arabian for Nicole’s dad that things changed. It bucked her off when they went to try him, and 14-yearold Nicole’s response? “Oh, I love him. We should totally buy him.”
The horse was purchased … and was never ridden by Nicole’s dad! It was this horse that taught the young rider that dressage was fun. “I watched the top event horses, and I remember walking the novice cross country courses hoping I wouldn’t win because I didn’t want to move up the levels to those advanced jumps. When I started to think that way, I started to look at the top dressage horses instead thinking well, I’d love my horses to look like that.”
Life started to get very busy for Nicole in 1990. Over the next three years, she finished her Bachelor of Arts, received her teaching diploma, married husband Colin, had their son, and purchased
her first “serious” horse Landerlee, an unbroken Holsteiner filly. “While I was studying, I taught aerobic classes and gave dressage lessons and by the time I’d finished, I thought maybe I could make a living coaching dressage,” she explains. “It was more flexible in the hours I could work. So I trained to do my EA Level 1 General and later Level 2 Dressage Specialist accreditations.”
Since those humble beginnings, Nicole has gone on to train 12 horses to FEI level. All of them have reached the Queensland State Squad, a few made it to the National Squad and there were multiple State and National titles, as well as Horse of the Year awards along the way. Nearly all of the horses were bought unbroken and Nicole had to learn the hard way; training them up, moving them on and then starting again with something that had a little more natural ability. However, she only tried to break in one, after which she decided you really need a round yard and perhaps not a dressage saddle for such adventures!
Life throws ups and downs at you, and Nicole experienced the devastation of a career ending accident to her top horse Glencoe Manhatten during a Squad training session in 2007. Seeing how quickly one bad moment can destroy years and years of training, Linda and Beau Dowsett, her clients at the time, decided to take Nicole horse shopping in Germany, and what began with a tragedy turned into a sliding doors moment. “That started a whole different ball game for me,” she remembers. “I sold all my horses to commit myself to Beau and Linda and had some wonderful, wonderful years with them and their daughter Danielle.”
Nicole still remembers that first flight over to Germany: “We hit a random air pocket while flying over Afghanistan and the plane just dropped, and I thought, that’d be right, I get this amazing opportunity to help buy horses in Germany and I get shot out of the
sky before I get there!” Happily, Nicole landed safely in Europe and after some training with Leonie Brammal, rode a multitude of horses in two weeks. Expat Robert Schmerglatt guided the Aussies through their buying experience and three horses were brought back to Nicole’s for training: four-year-old Flavio; Dante, a five-year-old; and two-year-old Furst Tyme. “I didn’t pick the fanciest horses,” says Nicole, “I picked the horses I thought I could work with and make a difference with.” All the horses made it to Grand Prix.
Owned by Nicole and husband Colin, Ferragamo was Queensland’s 2021 FEI Horse of the Year
Image by Amy-Sue Alston.
Dumbledore, a Rivermead Estate QLD State Talent Squad member and the first pony in Queensland to make an open squad
Image by Christy Baker Photography.
A real student of her sport, Nicole has always been committed to learning as much as possible, never resting on her laurels thinking she knew it all. Over the last 30 years, aside from perhaps the Christmas period, she’s never gone a week without a lesson. For the past 12 of those years, her weekly coach has been Traci Baldwin with Matthew Dowsley traveling up from NSW once a month. “There are some months where I might have six lessons in a week, and every other week I’ll have two or three with Traci.” Nicole believes you can’t get anywhere without a coach, without those eyes on the ground to stop bad habits creeping in.
Aboard Emma Weel’s German Riding Pony Deveron Nintendo
Image by Christy Baker Photography.
Competing with Ferragamo at this year’s Tamworth Dressage Club event
Image by Amy-Sue Alston.
Other influential trainers have been Hubertus Hufendiek, Edgar Lichtwark, Carlos de Cleermaecker, Clemens Dierks, and Di Jenkyn. Nicole was also
fortunate to participate in masterclasses with Steffen Peters and Charlotte Dujardin. “There is a degree of control that Steffen has that really resonated with me. He said riders shouldn’t do anything in the saddle out of habit.” From the German-born Olympian, Nicole learned about extreme body control, never doing anything without a purpose and never without producing a response. Never using the rein, or putting the leg on, or giving a seat aid, without a reason.
It was Olympic gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin’s mental strength while competing that astonished Nicole, and she quickly realised that you can’t be a winner and be scared of losing. “Charlotte rides ten after ten after ten when there’s huge pressure on her, especially after London. And yet she kept producing big scores. You can’t ride for a ten in an extended walk if you’re worried about breaking and getting a four. If you have that worry, you’ll ride for a seven not a ten.” There’s no room for doubt in the competition arena.
But the biggest teachers in Nicole’s life have arguably been the horses. “Every horse I’ve taken through is special to me,” she says, “and every horse has had something to teach me whether I wanted to learn it or not.” The Australian bred horse Cherenton Armani taught
Nicole to never let a horse get test smart. Dante, with the help of Warwick McLean, showed Nicole how to get a horse in front of the leg. Furst Tyme taught her to be the courage he lacked: “Everywhere we went was Mordor!” she laughs.
Nicole with Florenz and owner Emma Weel
Image by Christy Baker Photography.
Borsato, purchased in the Netherlands and owned by Tracy Bolt was perfection personified. He was brave, had talent to burn and always gave 100 per cent. However, Nicole tells me he could have “little brain farts” just before going into a test, and forget how to do the simplest of transitions, like walk to trot. German bred Faberge, owned by Emma Weel was born to be a dressage horse. “He was always, ‘pick me, pick me, it’s my turn to train!’” she recalls.
Emma and husband Paul continue to support Nicole and own one of two German Riding Ponies that Nicole has recently started campaigning. She explains: “They’re bred to be miniature Warmbloods. They have all the movement, confirmation and character of a Warmblood, just in a smaller package. That’s great for Australians because adults can ride ponies in Australia. A lot of us aren’t tall like the Germans, or we’re broken and can’t muscle a big 17hh horse around.” She says Emma’s six-year-old pony Devron Nintendo is like an Eveready battery, while her own five-year-old, Dumbledore, is by Bundeschampionate winner Double Diamond.
Nicole continues to compete the big horses, the most recent special one being Ferragamo, which she and husband Colin imported from Germany. It was Ferragamo who was by Nicole’s side during 2017, a tumultuous year when she was diagnosed with a melanoma that had to be cut out of her ear. The silver lining was the addition of a roof over her arena to protect her from the harsh Queensland sun.
Quirky Ferragamo, along with Emma Weel’s big moving Florenz, are Grand Prix contenders, and Nicole still happily travels the country from Queensland, to Willinga Park, to Melbourne to compete as well as support her team of students, who are like a big family. “I think your vibe attracts your tribe. It’s important to me that we all support each other. It’s a tough sport; our venues aren’t up to standard and that can be frustrating, and so much can go wrong. I think we need to stop the tall poppy syndrome and instead build each other up. If I can’t do that on a large scale, I at least do it on the scale I can,” she says.
Work with the horses is now balanced with the job of grandma, a role Nicole was thrilled to take up in March. She’s promised her son that she won’t pressure her granddaughter to ride, but I’m sure one of those German ponies will come into the picture a few years down the track!
Nicole is philosophical of her life and career thus far: “I guess my biggest regret is that I wish I had ridden in my 30s the way I’m riding now in my 50s and that I wasn’t as broken as I am. But then I couldn’t have got here without the 12 horses that I learnt everything from.” And the journeys on those horses also taught her to be the coach that she is today. That’s a lot of tools in your toolkit.
Is embryo transfer the right choice for your mare?
looks at some of the basics.
A recipient mare should have had a previously healthy foal, be under 10 years old), and a proven good mother with a quiet, friendly disposition.
The first transfer of an equine embryo occurred in 1974. Embryo transfer in equines is seemingly simple and involves flushing a fertilised embryo from the donor mare while she is safely held in a crush.
The flushing fluid is collected and closely examined in a laboratory set up beside the crush, not just to find the embryo but also to determine its viability. Seven or eight days later, the recipient mare is put into the crush and the embryo, along with a small amount of the flushing fluid, is inserted into her uterine horn.
All procedures are performed through the cervix of both the donor and the recipient mare with no invasive surgery involved. In order for the procedures to be carried out efficiently and safely, a good, protected crush area is essential.
An embryo can be frozen to be inserted into the recipient mare at a later time. Such embryos can be transported long distances, thus removing the necessity for the recipient mare to be in the same location as the donor mare. Ideally, a frozen embryo should be around six days old, and the recipient mare needs to be at about the same stage in her ovulatory cycle (i.e. six days) or a few days later, when the embryo is implanted.
Aside from any other consideration, in order for a healthy embryo to be recovered the donor mare must of course be fertile, and the stallion must have proven fertility in the breeding modality (e.g. live cover, artificial insemination) that has been chosen. When fertile mares and stallions are used, a viable embryo is recovered approximately seventy per cent of the time.
If a freshly harvested embryo (rather than one that has been frozen) is being used, close attention to detail is critical in all stages of the process. Both mares must be synchronised in their oestrus cycles to ovulate at about the same time or within a few days of each other. In the recipient mare, ovulation is best a day or so later. While the donor mare should be as healthy as possible, it’s more critical to make a discerning choice regarding the recipient mare, whose health should be excellent. The size of the recipient mare is also important. She should be equal to, or bigger than the donor mare and stallion. A recipient mare should have had a previously healthy foal
foals, be young (under 10 years old), be a proven good mother, and of a quiet, friendly disposition. A backup mare or mares is a good idea in case, by remote chance, two embryos are produced.
Hormone injections to stimulate hyperovulation (a multiple ovulation where both ovaries release an egg, or more than one egg is released by either ovary) have been tried but the results are inconsistent. The number of oocytes (egg cells) are generally low, unlike cattle where several viable embryos are often produced.
Pluses for embryo transfer
There are a variety of good reasons to consider an embryo transfer:
• The donor mare has reproductive problems due to poor uterine health, hormonal issues, poor placental development, or any other reason. Many such mares have a history of repeated abortions.
• A high performance mare can continue to compete and not be weighed down by carrying a foal.
• An elite mare can produce more than one foal in each breeding season.
• An older or an unhealthy mare does not have to bear the parasitism of a pregnancy which may further deplete her health.
• The risk of foaling problems in a valuable mare is eliminated.
• Embryos can be collected from mares too young to successfully carry a foal.
• Embryos can be collected from compatible endangered equid species and transferred to ordinary domestic mares.
Approximately 24 hours after fertilisation the embryo has two cells.
At approximately four days old, the embryo is now 16 cells.
The flushing fluid is examined in the laboratory to find the embryo and determine its viability.
Breed society rules are an important consideration. Restrictions may apply as to the number of foals that can be registered to each mare, or if embryo transfer is actually allowed at all.
There is an ongoing debate around this and rules are changing. In 2003, the
American Quarter Horse Association removed all restrictions on the number of foals that could be registered to a particular mare in a single year, and since then the number of specialised breeding clinics has increased considerably.
Unlimited embryo transfer is allowed by the American Quarter Horse Association, the Arabian Horse Association, the American Paint Horse Association, and the Australian Stock Horse Association. However, DNA testing is required for most foals before they can be registered.
So far as Thoroughbreds go, there is no permission for embryo transfer, and only one registration per year is allowed for each mare in national Stud Books that come under the auspices of the Thoroughbred Stud Book. Further, all Thoroughbreds are DNA typed.
Weighing it up
There are a range of variables to consider – from health, practicality, and embryo viability, to the rules currently enforced by your Breed Society - before you opt for embryo transfer. But if the conditions are right, a healthy live foal might be the welcome result.