Donn Collins pays tribute to Clarissa Dawson, BHSI, BHS Stage 5 Performance Coach in Complete Horsemanship, who sadly passed away on March 9 after a brave battle with cancer.
As a newly appointed BHS Examiner (we were not called Assessors in those days!!) I first met Clarissa on an exam team in July 1985. Since then Clarissa has been a stalwart supporter of the BHS examination/assessment system through its different guises, serving on its exams sub-committee, working as a Chief/Lead Assessor at Level 4 and Senior Examiner/Assessor for the BHSI/Level 5 in places as diverse as Spain, Ireland and China. On one occasion she even arrived back from Ireland at Birmingham Airport with security protection after a suspected IRA threat!! Clarissa’s loyalty to the cause was such that, even during her illness she insisted on sitting the EQL Standardisation Test, passing it with flying colours and chiding me for not telling her about it sooner!!
However it was during our FE and HE lecturing together at Warwickshire College where, previously, she had been an Equine Student, that I really came to respect Clarissa’s integrity, high standards and shrewd judgment.
I started doing one afternoon a week in Autumn 2000 and Clarissa was a welcoming and supportive mentor. If only subsequent mentors had been as good!! As my hours increased gradually, I hope that we were able to support one another juggling college commitments, freelance coaching, competing and looking after our own horses. Sharing an office for a time we exchanged training and teaching ideas and refused to drown in the ever deepening waters of electronic technology!!
On a visit to Deurne in Holland for a European Education Network Symposium, we were two of the few delegates who had not competed in European, World or Olympic championships. As our flight back was leaving earlier, it was announced that the British were to teach first to the distinguished group. Clarissa refused to teach but was invaluable hissing sharp reminders to me and delegates agreed we were much better than the Swedes who followed us!!
Clarissa also had a distinguished competition career. Early days included childhood lessons with the late Molly Sivewright FIH, FBHS and membership of the Warwickshire Hunt branch of the Pony Club, culminating in an A test award. Warwickshire branch members at the time included Carole Broad FBHS and Patrick Print FBHS. Clarissa was an elegant National Ladies Side Saddle Champion three times in 1992, 1994 & 1997 and twice winner of the Pas Seul with her creative costumes and routines, one being described as “raunchy” in a Horse and Hound report!!
Successful horses were her two greys Blue Button and Shadow of Doubt. Her side saddle expertise was keenly sought both in the UK and at clinics abroad. On Primiende, a mare who did so much to sustain her through gruelling bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy, she was placed at BD Regional Advanced Medium level, also gaining points at Advanced level. As recently as November 23 last year, Clarissa and Primiende were placed in an Advanced Medium music class. What better testament can there be to the fighting spirit of a lady who was committed to promoting better standards of riding and horse care during her all too brief life.