Attention, all you ladies who have abandoned the hunters in favor of dressage because you just don’t want to jump anymore (you know who you are and some of you are my students) — this one’s for you!
Do you recognize the name Mrs. Lorna Johnstone? I’m not surprised if you don’t but you may, if you’ve read Podhajsky’s “The Riding Teacher.”
Let us now turn the clocks back to 1972. It is the year of the Munich Olympics (and coincidentally, the founding of the United States Dressage Federation). For show jumpers and eventers, it is the era of the drop noseband, as trendy as today’s flash. Dressage saddles are unadorned. Lightness in the horse is admired, as is delicacy and tact in the rider.
Jennie Loriston-Clarke of Great Britain completes an accurate test on her Trakehner-Thoroughbred gelding Kadett. Liselott Lisenhoff of Germany makes up for the deficit of brilliance on her Swedish stallion Piaff (and wins the gold medal). Elena Petushkova of the USSR rides the 16-year-old Trakehner stallion Pepel, said to be as light on his feet as eiderdown, despite the cataract in his left eye.
Petushkova is an amateur rider and holds a position on the staff of the biochemistry department at Moscow University. Josef Neckermann of Germany owns a department store, but has a stableful of dressage horses and two private instructors to assist him as he indulges in his “hobby.”
Petushkova scores higher than Neckermann, by eight points. The German newsmen go crazy. This is Munich and Neckermann’s is a German horse! They corner Swedish judge Colonel Nyblaeus and torment him, for scoring Neckerman’s ride a full 23 points lower than Dutch judge Herr Pot, whose score is the next lowest. Others whisper that Neckermann had in fact been judged rather generously…
And what of Mrs. Lorna Johnstone? She hadn’t planned to qualify for the Olympics. She didn’t even bother to read the “ride off” test of 27 movements, and had never practiced it (the individual medals were awarded for what was called the Grand Prix Individual Ride Off).
But there was Mrs. Johnstone at the Olympics, along with her little chestnut Thoroughbred, both of whom had traveled here from Great Britain. The horse, El Farruco, had been a winning hurdler before Mrs. Johnstone purchased him at the Ascot Sales as a five-year-old. He was now ten, and finished twelfth in the Individual Grand Prix, with an elegant performance featuring excellent extensions and smooth transitions. Mrs. Johnstone was the first British rider ever to qualify for the Grand Prix ride off. She had celebrated her seventieth birthday earlier in the week.
Hard hats off to Mrs. Lorna Johnstone! So keep your feet in the stirrups, girls.
Monique Van Galen Last said:
You wouldn’t have pictures of them, would you? I remember Piaff. I was just a little girl and so impressed by the great chestnut. But what a great story of Mrs. Lorna Johnstone. I would love to see a picture of them.
Alas, Monique, I tried to find a picture of Mrs. Lorna Johnstone and her chestnut TB, but I couldn’t find one anywhere. Even in my old books. Lots of Neckermann, though! Strange, isn’t it?
Abby Kogler said:
I will be channeling Lorna for the rest of my life. Thanks, Katie, for this lovely story.
Helen Brown said:
As an 18 year old girl groom I worked for Lorna Johnstone and looked after El Farruco and also her bay dressge horse El Guapo. Mrs Johnstone also still had her retired dressage mare, Rosie Dream, at the time. She was an amazing woman and just to prove a point to me, taught her young Irish hunter to do the Spanish Walk in just one morning!
How wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s amazing what we can do…and what our horses can do…if we know how to guide them.