Being successful at dressage takes a great deal of patience and training, and for one Glusburn family it’s a real labour of love, says Lesley Tate

ANYONE who has had anything to do with the equestrian discipline of dressage will appreciate the sheer amount of hard work and practice needed to successfully complete at even the most basic of levels.

But for the Wheelock family from Glusburn, it has been a steady rise up the scale for not just one, but two members of the family - and this year is looking very bright indeed.

Kathryn Wheelock is a para rider who rode for the Irish para dressage team from 2005 to 2014 - a qualifier because of her father, Verner Wheelock. She now rides only in able bodied dressage classes at Elementary level in affiliated British Dressage and Riding Club classes and unaffiliated local classes.

Kathryn has cerebral palsy and a learning disability which means she cannot remember her tests – she is allowed to have all tests called, by her mother, Jan.

Her horse, 17 year old British warmblood, Westpoint First of Many, who goes by the stable name as Mr Fly has the kindest nature and always tries his very best.

Meanwhile, Kathryn's older sister, Alison, has recently returned to dressage competition.

Alison runs the family food training and consultancy business, Verner Wheelock, based at Broughton Hall Business Park, near Skipton.

Although not a competitor herself for the last ten years, Alison has helped support Kathryn with training and competing.

And a couple of years ago, she was lucky to be offered a lovely Welsh cross Warm Blood mare, which she now owns, called Y Matilda, or Tilly as she is known at home. Together, they have already achieved much success.

In April, six year old Lusitano, Rio, joined the family and is already showing great promise.

"He is fabulously handsome and has a wonderful temperament - we look forward to many years of enjoyment with him," says Jan.

"The higher up the ladder you climb then the tougher the competition becomes - both girls are already well into qualifying for a variety of regional championships at the next level. Kathryn recently bagged a trophy in the elementary Free Style at the Northern Dressage Group Championships and Alison has taken four firsts in the last four dressage tests she has ridden - so the future looks bright."

Jan and Verner, who have now retired from the family business, are backup support. Verner, despite being non horsey, keeps a watchful eye on activities, while Jan still helps out as horsebox driver, official caller of all Kathryn’s dressage tests, maker of picnics, organiser, and top cheerleader and encourager.

Last year was particularly successful for the family, and this year is looking equally rosey.

As a member of Calderdale Saddle Club (CSC) Kathryn has represented it on a number of occasions. The open team of four - which also included sister, Alison, came second in the Area 4 British Riding Club (BRC) Open Dressage Championships, and Kathryn was named 2015 CSC Elementary Champion. In British Dressage (BD) competitions she qualified for the BD Winter Regionals Elementary Free Style (FS) and by taking second place in a Pet Plan Elementary Regional, qualified for Hartpury, Gloucestershire for the finals – a great achievement for a disabled rider in able bodied competition.

With Kathryn helping out with Tilly, Alison managed to fit in some impressive wins herself, despite having limited spare time.

At the Area 4 BRC Regional competitions she was placed first in her Novice section and first in the Novice FS which meant she qualified for two BRC National Championships. In September she travelled to Lincoln where she took a third place in the finals. In October the family made the six hour journey to Bury Farm, Buckinghamshire where Alison and Y Matilda took an amazing win in the Novice FS - so they are 2015 BRC Novice Freestyle Champions.

Meanwhile, Jan is the proud owner of the Crackerjack Trophy for all her help in supporting the Saddle Club – this includes organizing and running the Winter Dressage Series – and is the first equine trophy and rosette she has ever won.

Kathryn’s whole life revolves round the horses, which she cares for with the help of friend, Gemma, who helps out five mornings a week and Jan – particularly turning out and bringing in horses.

And it doesn't end there, Kathryn is a keen supporter of Riding for the Disabled (RDA) and helps out every week at the Otley and District Group, which meets on Wednesdays during school time at Draughton Heights Riding School, near Addingham.

Jan, RDA county chairman for West Yorkshire - although the family does live just over the border in North Yorkshire, says Kathryn is a valued member whose skill and talent with horses is a valuable asset to the team.

Back at home, both Kathryn and Alison keep up their training with Kath Pinington - a trainer and producer with more than 25 years experience, who comes to Glusburn on a regular basis. They also travel to Crow Wood, Burnley for lessons with Jo Graham and look forward to Donie McNamara flying over from Ireland – he trains the Irish Para riders and has continued to visit a couple of times per year.

"As in any sport there is always something else to learn and another step to take," says Jan.

Over the years, Kathryn has been supported by several businesses, including The Spooner Trust, Simon Wetherald, from Bardsley Mills; David Coates of Craven Country Ride, and Victoria Spalding, equine physiotherapist. She has also been supported by the family business.

Anyone interested in Riding for the Disabled, either as a rider, or as a volunteer helper, can contact Jan by email on, or by telephone 07710 829540.