By Lauren R. Giannini
When you take a close look at Libby Anderson, her childhood certainly charted her course through life. A retired grand prix rider and FEI/USEF dressage judge, she’s still going strong as a trainer. Libby’s life with horses began at age 8 when she wrote a heartfelt and imaginative composition for a school assignment about all the horses she would love to own.
That essay led to a wonderful friendship with another student, Rachel, who was happy to share her two ponies that happened to be perfect for little girls. Rachel’s mother, however, insisted that they ride the ponies bareback for two years, and that’s exactly what the girls did. They lived in Brisbane, Australia, a nation known for intrepid riders.
“It was amazing,” said Libby. “We rode bareback over logs, up steep inclines and down gullies and waded through deep creeks. We even jumped the ponies over logs while standing on their backs and built a toboggan so they could pull us along at great speeds across the fields.”
By the time Libby graduated to a saddle, her parents realized she was serious about riding and taking care of a pony. With the help of Rachel’s mother, they purchased Danny Boy. “He proved to be a great Pony Club pony,” said Libby. “He excelled in jumping, cross-country and also played a mean game of polocrosse. Danny Boy was the joy of my life. He taught me all he knew and inspired me to learn all I could to be a better rider.”
What Libby learned from Danny Boy, she has paid forward her entire life. In partnership with her daughter, Jules Anderson, also an accomplished grand prix rider and trainer, their Teamwork Dressage provides riders and horses, whatever their discipline or sport, with correct training and soft but effective aids from Training level to FEI Grand Prix. Their stories are similar yet different, and their philosophy and training mesh seamlessly into positive learning experiences that encourage willing partnership between horse and rider, all the while putting the equine athlete first.
When she was in her early 20s, Libby and her husband moved to New South Wales to continue post-graduate work to earn their Ph.D.s. She had a new horse, Granada, a chestnut Thoroughbred off the track. “He was spooky and nervous but was blessed with lovely gaits,” said Libby. “I had ambitions to compete in show jumping, eventing and dressage. Granada took to eventing like a duck to water and enjoyed show jumping. However, his dressage tests were a disaster.”
Libby was attending a clinic for jumpers and dressage horses taught by Franz Mairinger, newly appointed in 1954 as coach of the Equestrian Federation of Australia’s Olympic disciplines. The former Austrian Cavalry officer was an exceptional horseman, recently retired from the Spanish Riding School where he was one of four chief riders and an instructor, having been talent-scouted in 1939 and hired by Col. Alois Podhajsky. Under Franz’s tutelage, Australia’s eventing team placed fourth at their first Olympics in 1956 and earned team gold at the 1960 Rome Olympics.
“I was so impressed with Franz that I followed him from clinic to clinic until I was selected to participate in a training group for dressage candidates with the Olympic Games in mind,” said Libby. “The training lasted four months and was an amazing experience for me. My mind was totally open as I learned about riding and training dressage horses. Our days consisted of a lunging session without stirrups in the morning, followed by a training session ‘in hand’ and then individual lessons with Franz. He was a horse lover, but a strict trainer. We learned so much about our chosen sport and met equestrians from the other two Olympic disciplines, and I attended the Games in Stockholm.”
Like Danny Boy, Franz was a major influence on Libby’s horsemanship and training method based on simple biomechanics. She concentrated on dressage, specializing eventually in musical freestyle, and helped to develop dressage across Australia, serving four years as chairman of the National Dressage Council. She worked for accreditation as an Australian dressage judge and, after moving her family to Virginia in 1990, earned the USDF medals and achieved FEI “I” (International) and USEF “S” dressage judge status.
Another training turning point in Libby’s life was Duell Anastasia, a broodmare that was barely handled until she was 7 and Libby bought her. Libby took the mare with her to the U.S. in 1990. “Annie was a challenge and fundamentally changed my approach to training,” said Libby. “I sought help from Uwe Steiner, Oded Shimoni, Gary Rockwell and Bent Jensen. Gradually, Annie and I became best friends and, having learned quieter and softer aids from my U.S. trainers, we became successful partners at International Grand Prix. She taught me to ‘hurry slowly’ and to be super quiet with my aids, a lesson I try to communicate to all my students. Later, my daughter Jules had the opportunity to learn from this wonderful mare.”
Learning From Mom
Libby’s daughter grew up, literally, in the saddle. When Jules was in her early teens, she backed and trained two cute, almost identical ponies that they sold to identical twins. “With this money, we were able to purchase Copper Top, a Thoroughbred who showed potential talent for dressage and jumping,” said Jules. “Libby trained Copper Top to Prix St. Georges and this helped me so much with my passion for eventing. We were often so far ahead in the dressage that I could afford the occasional stop at water jumps! Together we won National Junior Championships in dressage and eventing, a major hunter equitation competition, and so many more. When he was sold, I gave up riding for two years — he meant so much to me. He continued to win with his new owner, Kadi Eycamp, who’s now a professional event rider in the U.S.”
It was fate, essentially, when Libby needed a long break from riding, that she handed the reins of her grand prix horse to Jules, who was 17. She spent the next year with Rivoli Majestic, taking clinics and competing nationally and internationally. At the time, she was Australia’s youngest grand prix dressage competitor. From early childhood, she had been influenced by some of the best trainers and riders in the world, thanks to Libby’s steadfast belief in ongoing education and the clinics she organized. The time Jules spent with Rivoli Majestic proved to be a life-changing learning experience.
“Riding that handsome black gelding is the reason I have devoted most of my life to the journey of dressage,” said Jules, who moved to the U.S. in 1996 to rejoin her family at their farm in northern Virginia. Before long, she had a serious grand prix prospect: Goodwood, a horse with brilliant gaits but issues, such as bucking down the centerline.
“We tried everything we knew to make him comfortable,” said Jules. “Finally, a breakthrough – we arrived at a show very late and I rode Goodwood in the dark and that was the turning point in our relationship. We had started to trust each other. In 1998 I went to Georgia to be a working student with Michelle Gibson [1996 U.S. Olympic team bronze] and Goodwood blossomed, qualifying for the 2000 Olympics in Australia. Sadly, he had a ligament injury that took us out of consideration, but he recovered with rehab and time to become a top grand prix horse again.”
Jules and Libby launched Teamwork Dressage in 2000. Jules trained and competed out of Georgia, but returned to Virginia in 2008 to take over in the saddle as Libby had retired from riding. Two years later, they moved Teamwork Dressage to Jupiter, Florida, convenient to Wellington and West Palm Beach.
Happy Equine Athletes
Teamwork Dressage develops harmony between horse and rider and correct basic gaits for the horse. Lessons on the lunge lead to a secure, independent seat. Libby and Jules are experienced in rehabbing problem horses and rebuilding confidence in riders. Jules has trained more than 12 horses from scratch to FEI Grand Prix. Two noteworthy “remedial” successes include Narobi and Everton H: Jules took the driving horses from starting under saddle to winning at FEI Grand Prix.
At Teamwork Dressage, Libby and Jules offer a friendly, relaxed atmosphere in which your horse’s needs come first even as they help you to achieve your goals, whether you train for competition or personal fulfillment. They know the joy of dancing with horses.
Photos courtesy of Libby and Jules Anderson