Louise Robson was 15 the first time she rode one of The Queen’s Thoroughbreds.
It all happened so fast.
One minute, the tall, shy teenager from the Oxford area of England was simply searching for a horse, the next, she was approaching an indoor arena at Windsor Castle.
It was 2001, and upon learning through a friend-of-a-friend that the Queen of England had an OTTB up for permanent loan, Robson wrangled a chance to try him out. The family friend knew a gardener at Windsor Castle, and through his contacts, helped her gain an invitation to a barn that few equestrians could ever dream of seeing.
“The whole thing was pretty surreal,” Robson recalls. “It was sheer luck, sheer chance really, that we were there at all.”
With no time to stop and gawk at the splendor surrounding her, she strode onto the historic grounds with her heart in her throat, her nerves aflutter.
Flanked by her mother Lynn and riding coach Kirsty Farren, Robson hurried past stalls filled with snorting, shining mounts, arriving, at last, to find the “dinky little Thoroughbred” who would change her life.
Mister Glum, as the chestnut gelding was aptly called, did not look happy. If anything, he seemed a bit, well … glum.
And as Robson climbed into the saddle, the fairy tale moment was further dampened by reality, even a little disappointment.
“I felt like I was sitting on a razor blade, he was so narrow!” she says, explaining that she was tall for her age at 5-foot-8 and it felt like she was way too big for him. And Mister Glum did not have an enviable conformation; he was built entirely “downhill” with a massive wither and thin frame— he was not at all like the horse-version of the Prince Charming she’d imagined.
While they did not make a pretty picture — his neck was vertical, head flung in the air, and Robson was nervously perched, waiting for a possible temperamental explosion — her mother Lynn, who watched from the sidelines, saw something more.
“My mother fell in love with him,” she says. “Right away, she said we should get him.”
A few weeks later, after agreeing to the terms of their permanent loan, which included caring for the grumpy gelding until the end of his days, or else returning him, Glum came home, and under the careful instruction of their trainer Kirsty Farren, the pair began to learn about each other, and face their fears.
“Before I met Glum, I rode a Thoroughbred who would stop, rear and spin. It got so bad that he ran away with me into traffic, and I was starting to be afraid of riding; I didn’t enjoy it anymore,” Robson says.
And Glum was not a dream horse. Not at first.
“We tried him at jumps. That was a ‘No!’ I think there’s a picture of me going over a jump with Glum, and both our eyes are closed! Then, during my gap year from school, I tried him at polo. Also a no.”
But she stuck with her finicky friend, and one day, years into their partnership, Dressage “fell upon them.”
“Although he’s built downhill, we realized he has a real swing to his trot, and real activity with his hind legs—he reaches up and through his shoulder, and has a tremendous front-end movement,” she says.
And by building confidence at riding clubs and small dressage shows, they claimed some victories and at even bigger shows they captured championships.
The pair was finding their stride as a team and in no small part due to their constant work, but also because the moody Mister Glum had another thing going for them; he had a sharp intelligence.
“Tempe changes became his party trick, they were so easy for him,” she says. “And he loves doing the half passes because he feels so clever!”
They spent years showing and rising up the ranks. He may not have been her dream horse when they met, but he took her to places she’d never imagined possible.
- In 2009-2010, Glum and Robson studied with Olympian Monica Theodorescu in Warendorf Germany, turning their dressage moves into Advanced Level riding. This is where she learned to gain confidence in herself and her horse. “Monica told me to celebrate my Thoroughbred and to build on his lovely, trainable character, and to make him the best that he could be.”
- In July 2011, now riding advanced, the pair was spotted at an OTTB event sponsored by Re-Training of Racehorses, British horseracing’s official charity, and invited to parade at Ascot.
- In May 2012, she and Glum paraded in the Diamond Jubilee with a total of 600 horses from around the world. In the You Tube video (see clip below), as two other riders flanked Robson and Glum, Robson kept her eyes up, and her expression calm; but inside, she rejoiced at having come so far. After 13 years of hard work, she and Glum had really made it. And here they were, parading before the queen! “It was rather whole circle for us. We had started there, gone away for 10 or 11 years, and come back having accomplished so much.”
In their years together, Robson has shed her nerves about riding, gone on to graduate college in architecture—a fall-back should the horses not work out—and with Glum, has scaled the heights of UK dressage. “He went on to become one of the highest competing ex-racehorses in the UK circuit. We never won at that level. But in premier league shows, competing against big-money horses, he was always in the top 10.”
So impressed was Robson with her downhill, narrow Thoroughbred, that when she retired him to her yard last September, she created a legacy to him.
She founded Thoroughbred Dressage, a stable dedicated to teaching other ex-racehorses the fancy footwork, balance and sublime movements that Glum was able to grasp so well.
And, following in Glum’s footsteps is Quadrille, a second OTTB of The Queen’s, who is now on permanent loan with Robson!
“Although Glum was not built like a dressage horse, he took me to the greatest heights in the discipline,” she says. “If he can do it, other Thoroughbreds can do it as well. My young Thoroughbreds compete all the time against the Warmbloods, and beat them!”
On the UK dressage circuit, Thoroughbreds appear to be “catching on, like fashion,” she says. And, looking forward, Robson plans to carry the message far and wide that ex-racehorse Thoroughbreds can shine at dressage, in the UK, and in the United States.
“When we competed at the highest levels, I’d see these horse that were bred for the Dressage movements, and then we had Glum,” she says. “He was consistent and he was expressive. He rode a quiet, mistake-free canter and he proved himself against the Warmbloods.”
(In the You Tube clip, scroll right to Mister Glum and Robson at 2:08)