Robyn Stark (Nee Middleton) has been working with horses and riders of all backgrounds and abilities for the past 18 years. She loves her work and finds great pleasure in seeing the horse and rider partnerships she trains improve and have fun. Robyn loves competing but has recently been taking a break from it to concentrate on her family. She believes that any horse can have a go at dressage and enjoy schooling if asked in the right way.
"All horses can benefit from regular dressage training. It is like Pilates for horses. If progressed slowly and carefully it builds strength and flexibility which improves the horse's overall well being."
Robyn works mainly with adults but is also a fully accredited Pony Club coach and regularly trains teenage Pony Club members. She is DBS checked, holds a first aid certificate, has attended a safeguarding course and is fully insured.
"Harmony between horse and rider is very important. There is nothing to be gained by trying to force a horse to do something. Horses are no different from us. They like to feel that they are getting things right. If you ask them questions that they can answer correctly their confidence grows and then they start to enjoy what they are doing. Then training them becomes a pleasure."
Robyn competed internationally as a Junior and completed work experience at Catherston Stud with Jenny Loriston-Clarke before she left school. Once leaving school she competed internationally as a Young Rider and nationally at PSG level. Robyn's dressage career started at Uplands Stud. Uplands was at the time home to David Hunt, President of The International Trainers Foundation and member of the FEI. Robyn worked at Uplands for nearly two years training almost daily with David and gaining experience training horses ranging from unbacked youngsters to Grand Prix competition horses.
Robyn has been working as a freelance instructor since leaving Uplands in 2003 and also ran her own livery yard for several years. She has trained a wide range of horses from native horses, rescue cobs and thoroughbred ex-race horses to warmbloods of all varieties and Spanish (PRE) horses. She has also trained a team of Icelandic horses and has worked with ponies and children of all ages.
Robyn & Kafka
Robyn's horse of lifetime is Kafka. Her family scraped together the money they could and she brought Kafka over from Holland as a 5 year old in Summer 1998. He was green but very eager to learn. Her trainer at the time Frances Norman spotted potential in the pair and with her knowledge helped them to get started with the British Young Riders Dressage Scheme (BYRDS). They attended a Regional training session where they were selected by Dane Rawlings to attend the BYRDS National training program. Here they received monthly training weekends with top dressage trainers such as Dane Rawlings, Jenny Loriston-Clarke, Ian Woodhead, Paul Hayler and many more.
In March 1999 they started competing at affiliated Elementary level winning their first competition and going on to have many more successful outings.
By 2000 they were ready to compete at Advanced Medium level and won their first affiliated Advanced Medium. They started competing at Junior FEI dressage competitions and came 2nd at The Young Riders Dressage Festival and 3rd at Hickstead. By June they had been selected for the Potential Championship Squad and were given the chance to represent GB on the Junior Team and travelled to Lyons, France where their Team came 4th. They were placed 9th in the Junior Individual in a large class. Robyn was one of the youngest competing as a Junior at the age of just 15. The Dutch and French were using the competition for championship team selection and had their top riders competing so coming 9th was quite an achievement. Back in England they moved to Oldencraig and started training with Vikki Thompson. In August 2000 they represented GB in Belgium competing against the German, Dutch and French Championship Teams as well as many others.
In 2001 they started monthly training with Dutch trainer Henk Van Bergen as part of the Potential Championship Squad trainning. They continued competing successfully at Advanced Medium. Robyn left school to live and work at Uplands Stud where she trained almost daily with David Hunt. They continued successfully competing at Premier Leagues at Junior level and continued competing at Advanced Medium. They were 3rd in the Advanced Medium regional Championships qualifying for the National Championships. They came first and second in the Junior FEI tests at Hickstead. Also in 2001 they represented GB as part of the Junior Team in Babenhausen, Germany and debuted in The Young Rider Team (PSG level) at Hickstead CDIY.
By 2002 Robyn was training Kafka at Grand Prix level but continued to compete at Junior, Young Rider, Advanced Medium and PSG level. They qualified for and then competed at The Wellington Advanced Medium Freestyle. This competition was one of Robyn's favorite Kafka moments as he loved working to music and loved a good crowd. The championship was at night in a floodlit grandstand arena and Kafka danced his socks off! They also represented GB at Soley Farm CDIJY and at Hickstead CDIO/Y (Euro Future Cup). They narrowly missed being on The Junior European Championship Team in Rome alongside Maria Eilberg and Laura Tomlinson, instead being the reserve. In October 2002 Robyn was part of the Young Rider Quadrille Display at The Horse of The Year Show. Unfortunately Kafka ended up staying at home due to an injury.
In 2003 they continued training at home with David Hunt, and with Henk Van Bergen and other top trainers as part of the Championship Squad and competed at Young Rider and PSG level. They competed internationally as part of The Young Rider Team in Roosendaal, Netherlands and at Addington, UK. Robyn was thrilled to be shortlisted for World Class Start in its first year (The National Lottery funded training scheme for potential Olympic hopefuls) but did not get through as she only had one competition horse and he had already peaked.
By this time many more talented dressage warmbloods had been imported and Robyn's trainers encouraged her to sell Kafka and find a horse that could successfully compete at Grand Prix level. Robyn couldn't bring herself to sell him as he was more than just a competition horse to her. They continued to compete at PSG until Kafka became unfit to compete due to foot balance issues. Despite some good offers Robyn never sold him and still owns him now. He is now 26 and enjoys gentle hacks and relaxing in the field.
Robyn & Five Alive
In 2007 Robyn trained, and competed on behalf of the owner, a coloured warmblood called Five Alive (known as Ellie). Robyn made remarkable progress with Ellie and owner Stephanie managed to convince Robyn to give showing a go. After successfully competing at many County level shows they won The CHAPS Non Native Ridden Championship title and qualified for The Royal International Horse Show.
Below is an article published in Pegasus Magazine:
Pegasus Helps on Road to Success!
6 year old sports horse Five Alive (stable name Ellie) was made Non Native Ridden Champion at this years CHAPS UK National Championship in September thanks to the help of Pegasus.
Owner Stephanie Murdoch was thrilled to see her horse win the CHAPS (Coloured Horse and Pony Society) National Championship only a week after winning a number of other accolades at the BSPA World Championship of Colour which included qualifying for the Royal International Horse Show in 2008.
Stephanie commented “We have had an unbelievable time this year. This is Ellie’s first ridden showing season, if you had asked me In March what our plans were for the year I would not have even dreamt that we would even be competing let alone winning a National Championship. Our success is down to one person, Ellie’s trainer and rider Robyn Middleton. Ellie and I owe a huge thank you to her and also to Pegasus, without seeing her advert in your magazine we would never have met. When I needed expert help I turned to Pegasus for information and the results speak for themselves”.
It hasn’t been all plain sailing. Stephanie bought Ellie as a three year old and as part of her schooling started showing her in hand so as to get her used to a competition environment and getting out and about. Her conformation and markings won her a number of in hand competitions both at local and national coloured championship level. The move to ridden competition however was not straightforward.
Stephanie explained “Due to a serious back injury and recuperation last year I was not able to spend a lot of time riding and lost a lot of confidence. To get over this we consulted a number of trainers and tried diferent methods of training to help. Ellie started to become unhappy and started tossing her head when ridden, none of them were able to help me get to the bottom of the problem it only got worse. At the point when I was told that Ellie had become ‘potentially dangerous’ and that I should consider getting rid of her I decided that I needed to seek specialist professional help as I couldn’t accept that my horse had a problem that could not be resolved."
"I found Robyn’s advert in Pegasus in March, she started working with Ellie and identified very quickly that she had developed an issue with accepting pressure from the bit which was causing the head tossing. Robyn’s calm sensitive approach won Ellie over in a very short period of time and gave back her confidence and enjoyment in being ridden. Ridden showing requires the judge to ride your horse, in March this would not have been possible, today I have every confidence in Ellie that she will accept different riders in the saddle without a problem, the results of this year are a testimony to that”.