Competing at a major championships seven months after having a baby doesn’t happen by magic. Not only do you and your horses need to be back at the top of your game physically and mentally — but everything needs to be running smoothly in the background too.
It makes sense then, that having clinched a team silver medal with High Kingdom at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy in August with baby Mia looking on, Zara Phillips‘ operation at Gatcombe Park in Gloucestershire sounds as slick as it gets.
Horse & Hound caught up with Zara to find out her stable management secrets:
1. Routine is key
“The kind of routine that you put horses in really makes a difference,” she says. “They are animals at the end of the day and they respond well to a routine.
“It’s really important that care and attention is paid to them in the stables and that they are looked after, fed, watered and groomed well — all those extra bits need to be done, not just for their health, but also to create that trust and partnership between you and the horse.
“Of course you have to adjust a routine depending on what a horse’s character is like, whether they need extra treatment or this and that.”
2. Horses come first
“As children we used to have to look after our ponies ourselves — they were our responsibility. We’d get them in and out from the field, brush them — all those sorts of things.
“That’s what our sport is all about — our horses are much more important than we are.”
3. Pay attention to feet
“Feet are hugely important,” says Zara. “If horses have got bad feet, it affects the rest of their conformation and the way they go.
“I think you can get a lot more problems from bad feet than anything else. It’s definitely a bigger issue than [people] often think it is.
“Bad feet would most probably put me off a horse now — it is hard to keep them sound anyway, let alone if you start off with dodgy feet.”
4. An efficient lay-out
“The barn that I’m in was built by my parents (Princess Anne and Captain Mark Phillips) years ago — it was very ahead of its time,” she says.
“It’s an L-shape barn but they can all put their heads out of it, so it’s very airy.
“And then there’s a tack room in the middle, so actually they thought it out pretty well — we’re very lucky.
“The yard had a wash box in it which was down a slope, so [my parents] used to flood that and stand the horses in water. But I filled that in because it was quite slippery and now we have much better ways of cooling their legs.”
5. Be a stickler for tidiness
“I am pretty tidy, but it’s actually my head girl [Amy Aspinall] who is brilliant,” says Zara. “She’s been with me for two years now and she keeps on top of everything — which is great for me.
“It’s important that outside the yard is tidy too — where they put their heads over the door — and that there’s no hay there or it ends up in the arena and everywhere.
“I like to have their headcollars and ropes done up and rugs either folded up or hanging on the rails. Everything needs to be tidy and clean.”
6. Don’t waste time
“If I’m waiting for something, I make sure I do something else at the same time — never watch a water bucket fill up!
“There’s so much to do on a yard you’ve always got to be thinking about doing something as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“For example I bangage a horse’s legs if they need to be, but if their legs are fine I don’t just do it because they’re in the stable.”
7. Stick to what works when it comes to feeding
“I’ve used Dodson & Horell feed for a long time and it’s worked well — I think if something’s working don’t change it.
“I have haylage — more for ease of use when you’re travelling — but it’s made by Dodson & Horell so it’s not quite as wet as some other types.
“I steam it as well because you can still get spores on haylage, and if you steam it can take a bit of the fizz out of it.”
8. Be prepared
“Everything we need if we’re staying away for a competition is loaded up on the lorry the night before — we just leave the last few things we need until right before we go.
“I have turned up to a one-day when we’d forgotten the girth and so I had to borrow one — but we’re lucky because there are always a lot of mates around who can help you out.
“Another time I’d put in the diary “lesson with Carl” and I got to my lesson with Carl [Hester] and the girls had put a jump saddle in. I was like: ‘I know I didn’t put dressage lesson with Carl but I thought Carl might make it obvious’. That was funny!”
Zara Phillips is the in-game mentor and guide for the internationally successful equine game Howrse which is available as a free-to-play browser game for PC, Mac, iOS and Android mobile devices. Find out more at www.howrse.co.uk