The first ever Spillers Response Open Eventing Forum, held at Addington Manor Equestrian Centre in Buckinghamshire yesterday (Thursday 22 January) provided an unmissable opportunity for serious competition riders and trainers to see some of the top names in the field at work.

The programme included a range of international riders, trainers and experts, who passed on their equestrian expertise in demonstrations and discussions throughout the day.

The opening session focussed on the role of the ground jury and judging the dressage phase of an event. Jean Mitchell (Ireland) and Christoph Hess (Germany), both FEI official event judges, cast their critical eye over three riders: Steven James, Caroline Pratt and Polly Stockton demonstrated an array of movements ranging from the basic paces to half passes and flying changes.

The two judges commented on the different performances to the audience, while helping the riders and explaining the difficulties of marking any dressage test consistently. Questions invited from the audience were answered directly and in detail, providing an all round picture of the importance of dressage in any horse’s training, as well as in competitive eventing.

Next up was a “Spillers” panel of experts. Ruth Bishop, equine nutritionist, Jenny Hall, British Eventing team vet and David Marlin, equine exercise specialist at the Animal Health Trust, fielded a variety of questions on topics concerning feeding, shoeing and fitness. It was an enlightening session, highlighting the constant development in conditioning competition horses.

In the afternoon Jan Jonsson presented a demonstration of jumping training and techniques. Using seven guinea pig riders in two separate sessions, he emphasised the importance of distance and balance and rhythm and demonstrated the huge improvements that can be achieved through short periods of concentrated work.

The highlight of the day was Lucinda Green’s session demonstrating schooling techniques for the cross-country phase. Her opening line: “The more mistakes you make, the happier I feel”, hinted at what was to follow and she proceeded to torture her guinea pig riders in a gruelling session that tested concentration, patience and reflexes of both horse and rider.

Finally the controversial question of the steeplechase phase was raised by Yogi Breisner, British team manager, who described a well-executed steeplechase as “poetry in motion”. Summing up the day, he explained: “Each element of an event cannot be ridden in isolation. All the phases link up to form a complete display of horsemanship.”

The day provided owners, trainers and riders with a deeper understanding of what is expected of the event horse today, and how the relevant qualities and traits can be successfully developed.

The organising committee expressed their hope that this year’s forum, which was sponsored by Spillers, Shearwater Insurance, Horse & Rider medics and PERA, will be the springboard for similar events in the future with the aim of continuing to broaden the base of knowledge and understanding of those involved in the sport of eventing.