Dutch Courage, Pioneer of British Dressage

Mon, 11/02/2009 - 00:00
Greatest Oldies

Great Britain is one of the most „horsiest“ nations. From the famous Windsor Greys, the majestic white horses of the Royal Family, the Hunter and Show classes, the typical sport of hunting, the well known Horse of the Year Show to successful show jumpers and eventers, who compete in one the prestigious Badminton or Burghley Horse Trials.

Great Britain offers many horsey attractions, but only some will think of it as a dressage nation, although this discipline is booming today.

The success British riders had at the 2009 European Championships on home turf in Windsor marks the glorious end of a development that started long time ago and couldn't have happened without one horse, which should be remembered: Dutch Courage. To understand his influence in British dressage one must first take a short look back to the beginning of dressage in Britain.

Against all odds British ladies took up the discipline of dressage after World War II. British dressage during this time had to fight against the image of dressage as a horse-dominating discipline, which slaves the horses. Of course, a wrong image, which slowly changed.

One of the first to do so was Mrs. Brenda Williams, wife to famous Colonel Williams, who trained with the popular leader of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, Colonel Alois Podhajsky. She started at the 1956 Olympic Games on her thoroughbred Piligrim and later impressed the continent with her beautiful grey Connemara cross bred gelding Little Model, which she started in the 1960 Olympics in Rome and even came 3rd in the inofficial European Championships in 1961 in Aachen behind Olympic champion Sergej Filatow and Josef Neckermann.

Another remarkable success came from Lorna Johnstone, who like Williams had attended in the 1956 Olympics. At the age of 70 she presented one of the most recognized dressage horses of the 1972 Olympic Games, the lively thoroughbred chestnut El Farucco xx with which she placed 12th individually. At the same Olympic Games 29-year old Jennie Loriston-Clarke joined Johnstone on the British team with the elegant Trakehner- thoroughbred gelding Kadett.

Loriston-Clarke came from a horsey family with a passion for 3-day-eventing. Her brother Michael Bullen earned two fourth places in the 1960 Olympics on the outstanding grey mare Cottage Romance and her sister Jane even became Olympic champion with the British team on the double pony Our Nobby in 1968.

Although Jenny had evented herself her love and fascination for dressage existed since her childhood days, when she had seen a display of Danish hero Lis Hartel on her mare Jubilee during a Horse of the Year Show in the 1950s.

Having had her first successes in the 1960s on her Anglo Arab Desert Storm the Olympic year 1972 became a special one for her. In February she went to Holland to look at horses and she discovered a stunning dark bay stallion in a yard near Someren in south Holland.
Appropriately named Dutch Courage his great presence caught her heart by storm. 
Mrs. Loriston-Clarke remembers how impressed she also was by his bold eyes so eager to please.

So she bought the youngster together with Mrs. Steele, the owner of her Olympic horse Kadett and of course he was hoped to become Kadett's successor one day.
Unlike so many other young horses this only 3-year old was turned out in the fields after arriving in Great Britain to settle down and mature over the summer. It took until November 1972 for him to start slowly with the basics.

Dutch Courage's breed seemed an ideal combination for dressage, although the Dutch breeding in the 1970s was far away from their extremely high standard of today. Dutch Courage's dam Higonia was a Guelderland mare by Avenir, who had been covered by the thoroughbred stallion Millerole xx. This combination of carriage horse and racehorse breed had strong limbs, a beautiful topline, an ideal shoulder and a noble head with intelligent eyes.

It soon became obvious that the young stallion was the most talented horse Jennie had ever trained as he was a quick learner. In his exuberance "Bill," as he was nic named, would get bored and also quite naughty, if he couldn't learn new things. His eagerness to work and his extremely good balance led to an outstanding trainability, which enthused his rider.

So Dutch Courage advanced quickly and he competed in his first Prix St. Georges at the young age of only six. A year later Jennie Loriston Clarke, who had help from the former Spanish Riding School member Franz Rochawansky at the beginning of Bill's training, was given a scholarship to train with the legendary German Willi Schultheis at the German National Training Centre in Warendorf. He helped to bring the stallion up to Grand Prix level. Regular training wasn't possible or common in those days so Dutch Courage was mainly trained by his rider.

Bill's international career on the British team started at the age of 8 at the 1977 European Championships in St. Gallen, where he finished on a respectablle 8th place. A year later the 4th World Championships were held in the park of Goodwood House in the south of England, home of a racetrack for thoroughbreds and a 3-day eventing course. Great Britain had as usual a team of three female riders, trained by Spanish Riding School member Ernst Bachinger. Dutch Courage was their greatest hope on home turf to reach the individual final. Anything better or a medal seemed absolutely unreachable and nobody seriously considered it.

Bill, who had covered the whole summer before the championships was very fresh and behaved wildly. So the traditional warm up class in those days, the Intermédiare II, was not far from disaster for the highest rated British pair. Dutch Courage tried to show off a couple of times and to the disappointment of the British audience ended quite low in the placings. A very much improved ride was essential the next day as the Grand Prix counted as team test and qualification for the individual final, the Grand Prix Spécial.

But Bill still behaved very naughtily in the morning of the team competition and Jennie decided to work him very differently to let the steam out of him. Like Nicole Uphoff did ten years later in Seoul with Rembrandt she took him to the training course of Goodwood and galloped him around twice. It worked and Dutch Courage performed a good Grand Prix, placed 8th and qualified for the run for the medals, although nobody considered him to be such a candidate.

In the indivudual final the only British pair had the disadvantage to be the first starter.
Dutch Courage was the opposite of his first day in Goodwood. He not only behaved impeccably but impressed everyone with his classical sitting piaffe and with great lightness and easiness he performed his test. On this day Bill was the image of a well trained and brilliantly ridden dressage horse and the British audience realised this moment very clearly after the ride was over.

Dutch Courage surprisingly remained in the lead and was even able to hold one of the favourites, although handicapped through a shortly before sustained knee injury, Woyzeck, ridden by German Harry Boldt. When also Swiss Uli Lehmann on his Swedish bred Widin had three points less than Dutch Courage the sensation was perfect. Bill had won a medal, his first one and at the same time the very first one in this discipline for Great Britain. He wasn't able to beat Granat with Christine Stückelberger or Slibowitz of Dr. Uwe Schulten- Baumer junior, who captured the first two places, but Bill's bronze was like a gold medal and some experts later stressed that his performance was more faultless than that of the new World Champion.

His rider remembers this triumph as „an exciting day I will never forget“ and for British dressage it was the beginning of a rapidly grown membership, especially in the so important juniors and young riders field. Dutch Courage's unexpected success had shown that it could be done and that the Brits were no longer able to excell only in the more popular disciplines of jumping and eventing.

After his medal success Dutch Courage's value as a breeding stallion increased. He had started to cover in 1975 and the number of mares after 1978 grew in such a way that it had to be limited to 60 mares. Bill coped quite well with his double job as breeding stallion and sport horse and continued to represent Great Britain successully for the next five years in succession.

He was always quite high up in the rankings of the following championships, for example he came 6th in the Alternative Olympics in Goodwood 1980, but he missed out on another medal in his career. One which seemed very close, but couldn't be won due to bad luck was the team bronze medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Great Britain had the strongest team ever then with Christopher Bartle, the 1997 European team gold medallist in eventing, on the Irish bred Wily Trout and his sister Jane with the lovely and talented Belgian bred gelding Pinocchio. But Bill caught a virus before the Games and sadly couldn't contribute to a hoped British team medal. A safe team medal, another British dressage triumph, was missed as Bill's rider competed on Mrs. Diana Mason's inexperienced 8-year old Anglo Arab gelding Prince Consort, which couldn't properly substitute Bill.

The virus had a bad effect on the then 16-year old stallion, so he was retired to Jennie's famous Catherston Stud in 1985 after an illustrious career. For ten years he had been Britain's leading dressage horse and had won 32 Grand Prix, 8 Grand Prix Spécialsand 21 Intermédiare II competitions.

Dutch Courage stayed with his rider for the rest of his life. In his retirement he became quite famous for his displays in long reins, which he enjoyed as much as his trusted rider.
Both knew each other inside out and had great respect for each other. Bill was very obedient to his longtime rider, but he was a real man of a horse and not very keen on cuddling. He was quite well mannered and never kicked or bit, but if he sensed somebody of the staff was nervous he loved to play a trick, waving his hindquarters threatingly until the person was caught in a corner of his stable. A call from Jennie and he immediately stopped it.

Dutch Courage's influence in the breeding of sport horses in Great Britain was similarly great like his influence in the development in the sport of dressage there. He sired many top horses, mainly for dressage and eventing, and also several approved sons. His most successful offsprings were the approved stallions Dutch Gold and Catherston Dazzler. Both were international Grand Prix dressage horses, Dutch Gold a 1988 Olympic horse with Jennie and Catherston Dazzler helped Jennie's daughter Lizzie to establish herself on the international scene and sired the extremely successful eventer Midnight Dazzler of Harry Meade.

Bill's life ended at the age of 22 on 13 November 1991. He suffered from a severe colic which was caused by aneurisms in the blood vessels to the gut and it resulted in some of his intestine dying. There was no decision other than to put down the king of British dressage and Catherston Stud.

British dressage wouldn't be what it is today without Dutch Courage's success, which gave inspiration and encouraged so many and for that reason he will never be forgotten. He will always be remembered as the pioneer for dressage in Great Britain.

The author likes to thank Mrs. Jennie Loriston- Clarke for taking time to answer the questions about Dutch Courage and sharing her memories with her.

For information see:

  • Reportage der Weltmeisterschaft 1978 in Goodwood, in: Harry Boldt, Das Dressurpferd, Edition Haberbeck, Lage-Lippe 1978, p. 253 – 262 (in German)
  • Jennie Loriston- Clarke, Dressurreiten, Albert Müller Verlag, Rüschlikon- Zürich 1987.
    (in German; English title: The complete guide to dressage, Quarto Publishing, London 1987)
  • Pamela MacGregor- Morris, Pelham Horse Year 1980, Pelham Books, London 1981.

Article by Silke Rottermann

Photos are generous courtesy of Sally Anne Thompson. Visit her great website of animal photography at: www.animal-photography.com

Related Links 
Greatest Oldies: Mariano, the First World Champion in Dressage 
Greatest Oldies: Dr. Reiner Klimke's Ahlerich
Greatest Oldies: Nicole Uphoff's Rembrandt: A Living Work of Art
Greatest Oldies: Absent, An Akhal Teke on the Olympic Stage
Greatest Oldies: Pepel, A True Legend of Russian Dressage