No horsing around from this well-travelled equestrian

Lisa Land, of Inglewood, riding Wessex, with riding coach/instructor Geoff Lyall at an indoor riding facility at Allora on Saturday.
Lisa Land, of Inglewood, riding Wessex, with riding coach/instructor Geoff Lyall at an indoor riding facility at Allora on Saturday. Gerard Walsh

HE is as well trained as he is well travelled yet there remains something distinctly down-to-earth about horseman Geoff Lyall.

Perhaps it was a boyhood spent in Charleville or the simple fact that even after a lifetime working with horses, he still believes he has things to learn.

Modesty aside Mr Lyall is an acclaimed international equestrian instructor who has played a vital role helping Australians like David Green, Christine Doan, Greg Watson, John Toomey and Michael Baker to Olympic and World Championship level.

But this quietly spoken equestrian is inclined to play down his instructor roles with horse world superstars and Middle Eastern royalty because he is just as comfortable teaching five-year-olds to ride.

These days he divides his time between both - travelling throughout Australia and overseas - to judge and teach everyone from international champions to pint-size Allora schoolgirls.

This week the Bush Tele caught up with Mr Lyall on one of his monthly teaching stop overs to the Southern Downs.

"Teaching is rewarding, even with little tots. I love it," he said.

"I never get sick of it because every individual is different and my lessons are tailored to suit them."

When asked how many people were "naturals on a horse", his answer is measured.

"A lot of people have talent and, while people might master 90% of being a good horseman, the other 10% takes a lifetime to learn."

He is equally careful when it comes to the equine component of the equation.

"A horse has to have natural talent but a clever rider or trainer can make that horse into a superstar.

"Alternatively, you can have a great horse, but a rider who has no idea.

"A combination has to work and not all do, for both to achieve great things."

It's a comment he can make after decades spent in Australia and international show rings.

So how did a boy from outback Queensland end up riding in front of the Queen?

At the start Mr Lyall rode his family stockhorses in the west, shifting as a teenager to Brisbane to finish his schooling but the move didn't mean leaving his cherished horses: instead he became a foundation member of the Runcorn Pony Club.

There are a lot of girls riding and I think in many ways they love the tizzying and dollying up that goes with show horses.

"About 100 years ago I was invited to a Brisbane school being run by UK judge and instructor Geoffrey Hattan," Mr Lyall said.

"I only got in by chance after one of the students couldn't make it at the last minute.

"Anyway my horse was so naughty, I spent most of the school off by myself.

"At the end of the day, Geoffrey asked to see me and I was sure he was going to say 'you should never ride again you are so bad' but instead he asked if I wanted to come to the UK and compete there."

It was a dream come true for the 20-year-old Queenslander.

From there he spent seven years in the UK competing and studying under Hattan, until he too held senior certificates from the esteemed British Horse Society for Equitation and Teaching institute.

As an international competitor he savoured success in dressage, showjumping, eventing and show horse disciplines and, back in his home country, won 11 coveted champion rider titles at Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane Royals, as well as national rider of the year trophies.

As honours go, one of his proudest moments was riding in a dressage display at the International Horse Show in front of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Andrew.

Then there were flattering invitations from people like Princess Alia al Hussein of Jordan to teach in Amman and Spain, New Caledonia, South Africa, New Zealand as well as Britain.

At 63, Mr Lyall admits there aren't many continents or countries where he hasn't had the good fortune to teach or judge.

"I have been very fortunate; this industry has been very good to me, which is why it makes it so easy to give back as a teacher now."

These days he travels nationally, running individual or group training lessons in between his overseas commitments.

At regional places like Allora - where he visits once a month - he has passed on riding tips to everyone from polocrosse players to grandmothers determined to master dressage and up-and-coming show jumpers.

In the course of teaching, he has "discovered" several young riders he believes may well have the ability, if they can match it with determination, to make it on the international stage.

"I don't think it is so much about discovering them as providing talented young people with connections and opportunities, which give them with a chance to develop as riders.

"I remember being impressed by a young chap from Biloela a few years back and he went to the UK then went onto become one of Australia's top eventing riders."

Looking at it nationally, he said, both our riders and show horses had become world class.

"In England, with show horses for example, the emphasis is on how they look.

"The difference is in Australia we expect them to be educated."

In the training arena he said the most distinct change in recent years was the increasing number of young women involved in the sport.

"Yes, there are a lot of girls riding and I think in many ways they love the tizzying and dollying up that goes with show horses.

"And they love their animals: If something is wrong, they'll sit by that horse all night and that's the hard work side of competing.

"They also tend to be comfortable being taught."

And as for local talent he admits the Southern Downs has its share of capable riders, including one young 17-year-old schoolgirl, whom he is keen to see ride overseas next year.

 More on the talented teenager in coming editions of the Bush Tele.

Topics:  equestrian horses

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