Whoever he teaches and whatever they ride, Andrew Lovell has one simple goal for his students – to help them achieve their ambition with confidence.
Renowned around the region for his training clinics, much of Andrew's time is spent travelling to equestrian centres and private yards to offer tuition in all disciplines and to all levels but he specialises in confidence building work. For those that know him he's pretty hot on the technical stuff too having evented to Advanced level, competed in dressage and showjumping and shown to County and National level.
At his small livery and training yard in Sticklepath, near Okehampton, Devon there is an amazing air of calmness despite having up to ten horses to look after and train at any one time. It is very much a family affair as his wife Nicola and 14-year-old son William help to muck in.
"We do a mix of full livery, part livery and training," explains Andrew who is on the yard for 7am to do the feeding, 'haying' and checking over of the horses. He'll then either muck out or start riding depending on the day and his teaching commitments. "I work the ones I need to and try and mix it up, so I'll lunge, hack (including ride and lead) or school," adds Andrew who has an outdoor arena and the stunning wilds of Dartmoor on his doorstep.
The yard consists of mainly dressage and show horses at the moment, as well as the occasional jumpers. Andrew points to a couple of smart dressage horses bought for him by long-time supporter Brigit Powell who is also "very much part of the team". "We went to Germany eight years ago and bought Kummel," says Andrew who trains with Isobel Wessels.
The pair started off successfully but it became difficult to keep Kummel sound. In the end Brigit bought a second horse locally – Vic Dor – for Andrew to compete on. "As soon as we bought Vic the first horse came sound," quipped Andrew who has just qualified Kummel for the Regionals at elementary and Vic at medium. "It's all good fun and lovely to have the chance to work two really nice horses between working and teaching," he said, "especially as both are now upgrading."
Teaching has always been Andrew's passion. He achieved his BHSI in 1992 when he'd just started working at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire. "I worked with the whole team and put the centre together," said Andrew who was previously at Bicton in Devon when it first opened in the 80s, and then at Duchy College in Cornwall.
He comes from a non-horsey background but says his parents were very supportive. "My father had a painting and decorating company and there was talk of me going into business with him – he was happy for me to do horses for a bit first but of course I never went back!" he grins.
Andrew admits his passion was eventing but without huge sponsorship it was a struggle and then a wife and family came along. "I didn't have time to do it properly and then dressage, show jumping and showing took over as well as breeding hunters."
During his 32 years of teaching, Andrew says he has always tried to give a broad spectrum of training. "I didn't ever want to specialise, I always wanted to do the whole thing as that had been my background.
"I always had this sort of plan that I was going to teach the top echelons but this is not how it has panned out. I found out I had a skill of helping people to become more confident as they were learning and developing their riding skill or moving up from one type of horse to another."
Andrew says his clinics at centres such as Pontispool in Somerset and Cheston Farm in Devon tend to focus on confidence building.
"Groups vary a lot from those keen to ride around the farm in an open space; to those getting back into it after years off as well as those who want to take young horses out for the first time and are not sure how they are going to behave and want to socialise them.
"Most are quite knowledgeable but just can't pull it out of the bag on the day. The objective is for them to come to a clinic, jump a fence and not feel silly while they get their confidence back – this is the biggest thing for me, having someone who is happy with what they have achieved."
In his clinics Andrew is known for having many tools in the box to try, with one coming up trumps, but it's usually from the outset that he can identify any problems.
"I've seen a lot over the years on the ground and perhaps my eye is that bit quicker and sharper than my feel. I'll do a lesson plan on what I have assessed in the first five minutes."
The first thing he'll do when a horse comes in for training is pop it on the lunge. "It surprises some people but I like to get a clear picture of how they move and what they are about before I ride them. They'll have no tack on, just be in a Cavesson and no bit so they don't resist."
On the subject of bits, most of Andrew's horses work in a KK type lozenge bit with not too big a ring and all loose rings. "They go very well in it. I try, if I can, to get them working in a snaffle without a flash or anything to hold the mouth shut."
He adds: "My ultimate aim is that they work in a loose ring snaffle without a flash – the only thing is that if I don't have a flash on my big horse in competition I can't stop!" On tack and equipment Andrew says he is quite happy to use most types of tack. "What I'm looking for is whatever makes the horse feel confident. I quite like the idea that the horse is confident enough in whatever he is wearing, so that if the rider is learning something new the horse has space in it's head to think about what is being asked of it."
Andrew says he uses the Scales of Training in his teaching. "A lot of amateur riders haven't had that formal education. One of the first things I tend to see is that people ride their horses too quickly – they tend to want to push them forwards quicker than they can cope with and then they lose control of the roundness and the contact."
He adds: "I followed Conrad Schumacher for a while. He always did an exercise that when you move the contact and the horse moves /chews the bit in his mouth, you send them forwards – I use that a lot as a training exercise as often I'll see riders touch the bit and the horse comes back or up, and this makes them see the bit as a forward aid."
Cool, calm and collected as ever, Andrew is worlds apart from the bark of the sergeant major yelling at his troops to sit up straight.
"One of my instructors when I first started was still under the Army influence – he'd shout quite a lot and order us to put our heels down. I always found that a bit difficult because I wanted to know why – I always have done and I try and take that into my lessons – I'll explain we do it like this because you get this... – it may make the process slower but I want my students to know why they are doing it."
Andrew teaches up to nine hours a day in the summer months and his biggest reward is seeing smiling students at the end of it. "I teach a whole mix of people and the best thing at the end of a session is you can see the buzz in them."