The first time Clive Milkins was asked to coach dressage for people with a disability it was a hard no.
‘’Quite simply, I didn’t want to,’’ said Milkins, the Para dressage high performance program technical leader for Equestrian Canada since 2017. ‘’I had no expertise, I had no knowledge. I don’t want to be that at all. That’s terrifying.’’
Back then, Milkins was a teaching student at an agricultural college in England. A few days after that statement, he was asked to fill in for a teacher giving a riding lesson to a student. When he arrived the rider was already saddled up. The course unfolded as per usual.
‘’I taught her for 20 minutes and at the end of the lesson she got off onto a wheelchair,’’ Milkins said. ‘’She had multiple sclerosis. The teacher said, ‘there you go, you can teach disabled athletes’. So that’s how it started.’’
A graduate of the United Kingdom (UK) Sport Elite Coaching Program, a Fellow of Riding for the Disabled, and a Level 3 UK Certified Coach, Milkins also has a long list of qualifications in equine business management, horse management and teaching. In Canada, he is a certified coach through the National Coaching Certification Program.
Milkins has been involved in Para dressage for over 25 years, training horses and coaching athletes to the highest levels of success on the world stage. Most notably, he coached internationally renowned Para dressage athlete Sophie Christiansen of Great Britain to six Paralympic, four FEI World Equestrian Games and eight European Championship titles.
Now he wants to experience the same success with Canada – although he is willing to be patient.
‘’To be honest I wanted to go back to developing systems,’’ he said about coming to Canada. ‘’The only way any sport works really is if you take a long-term approach and develop systems for coaching – developing more coaches, more athletes.
‘’Canada was an ideal opportunity because it is a really interesting scenario.’’
‘’Canada has always had a great bunch of athletes,’’ added Milkins, who has also lent his coaching expertise to South Africa as well as countries in Asia and South America. “They have a very hard work ethic and a very determined mind set. And, of course, they’ve had medals in the past.’’
While visually dressage is a very unique sport, Milkins says the recipe for success is similar to other sports. Those with the drive to succeed will always come out on top.
‘’All sports are about going deeper and deeper, when there is nothing left to give,’’ he said. ‘’In sports you have to continue to do that. You have to understand the sacrifices, you have to understand the financial implications, the emotional implications, and so do your families.’’
With the current Canadian dressage team more on the younger side, Milkins said the one-year Paralympic Games delay wasn’t necessarily a negative situation for the Canadian riders, although some are stranded without their horses.
‘’I think everybody having an extra 12 months, just to work on the basics, just to really find new ways to deal with their own pressure has actually been a good thing,’’ he said. ‘’It’s been really exciting to have those extra 365 days that I wasn’t expecting.
‘’Canada is a young team with the aim for 2024 and 2028. Tokyo is a rehearsal.’’
With a lengthy and successful resume, Milkins is pleased he chose the Para pathway in coaching.
‘’Any coach that has an inquiring mind and wants to look outside the box, think differently about things, then there is a lot of fun to have in Para coaching."
‘’Ask questions. In Canada we are doing a lot of webinars, we are trying to put our knowledge out there, so ask questions, take it steady, but enjoy the journey.
‘’You’ll learn something from it.’’