Lecturer jumps at world-class course
A lecturer has been chosen for an elite training programme designed to find equestrian competitors for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
John Tilley, who teaches horse management at Northumberland College, was picked for the World Class Performance Plan Equine Pathway after a series of strong showings in recent eventing competitions.
It means the 38-year-old, who has 20 years' experience in the combined dressage, show jumping and cross-country event, will train with Great Britain team coaches over the next four years.
Each year, his performance in competitions will be reviewed to see if he is progressing fast enough to stay on the programme.
Competition for places in the final team will be stiff. Mr Tilley fits in daily training sessions with his job teaching Btec and HND courses, but some of his rivals compete full time and have access to a stable of 20 horses, while he has just one mare, Greystokes Persephone.
Mr Tilley said of being selected for the programme: "It's definitely a high point for me. I'm expected to move up through the levels over the next four years, be Olympic standard at that point and hopefully be selected.
"It could be seen as a lot of pressure, but I'm quite chilled. I'm not really likely to be selected for the British team, but it's nice to be thought of as a potential competitor. I don't do this professionally and I only have one horse.
"The students have been great; they're really proud and have said `Well done' to me. I hope I've inspired them and, when I teach them, they show me a little bit more respect."
In dressage, the first stage of eventing, riders have to take their horse through an exact series of movements in a marked-out arena, with judges marking the harmony of horse and rider and the horses' balance, rhythm and suppleness.
Next, the cross-country phase consists of a 4.5 mile course with up to 40 fences, including ditches, drops and ponds.
The final stage is show jumping. Riders must negotiate up to 20 fences in a ring under timed conditions, with a penalty for every obstacle they knock down.
Mr Tilley said the cross-country race was his favourite part: "It's the adrenaline rush when you're going fast across the fields and jumping the obstacles."
Though he will be 42 when the London games take place, this is relatively youthful in the world of eventing, where the youngest British team member is in his mid-20s and the oldest in his 50s.
The World Class Performance Plan will give expert help for both riders and horses in fitness, nutrition, psychology and technique, which has "revolutionised" the sport, according to the college. The knowledge Mr Tilley picks up at the training days can be put into action during his daily routine of working on his mare's fitness and training.
Judith McCowie, head of department for equine and animal care at the college, said: "John's hard work in competitions has really paid off and we are so proud to have an equine tutor of his standard at the college."