Did you know that the majority of athletes train at an altitude of around 12,000 feet to enhance their fitness and performance? I’m sure the vast majority will now answer that question silently with a smug “yes” in their head, but this was something totally new to me. The highest altitude I’ve ever been at in my life when not on an aeroplane, is at the top of the hill at Blair Castle International Horse Trials.
After hearing about my ‘I’m determined to get fit’ campaign. My owners Craig and Amanda Morris leant me an IHT (intermittent hypoxic training) machine that they acquired after it had been used for athletes at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
After getting medical advice and a science lesson, I was well away. I also now know I would survive climbing Kilimanjaro after Craig gave me a tutorial on using the machine and accidentally put me at 12,000 feet on my first sitting! Fortunately Victoria (my wife) and Amanda noticed me going quite pale by this point and described me as “looking a bit delirious”. After feeling like I’d just downed six pints and learning that I was safer controlling the machine myself, I’ve since got on with it really well. I do five minutes on, five minutes off for an hour every night and it’s making a massive difference to me health and fitness wise.
The horses are going through boot camp at the minute too, hacking and doing plenty of road work. At this time of year with the young horses, we tend to do a lot of gymnastic jumping exercises over poles and grids to educate them and let them think for themselves. It is especially important that an event horse is able to do this. You don’t need to go mad height-wise either — you are better to just keep the jumps small and focus on the horse’s technique over a fence. Concentrate on keeping a good rhythm and letting them learn to stay in a good balance. It will also give them bags of confidence which is important for a young horse.
The video above is of William Buick and Jane Duncan’s Monbeg Maximus jumping a very simple grid. Notice how a straightforward exercise encourages the horse to think and use his body while staying in a good balance. Once you have the horse staying rhythmical over the poles, you can take them away so you eventually come to a single fence again with horse still staying in a good rhythm but making a better shape over the fence.
I got some great news recently from Baileys Horse Feeds. Having originally supported me when I was younger, Baileys have very kindly offered to sponsor me again for the 2018 season. It is great to have them back on board as sponsors and helping to keep the horses in top form.
It was also great to be able to catch up with some of my sponsors at the BETA (British Equestrian Trade Association) conference last weekend. They have some great ideas for the coming year and I’m looking forward to working with all of them.
I can also now reveal one of the main reasons why I have to lose such a large amount of weight — nearly six stone in total to be exact. I have been selected to ride in the Best Western Hotels & Macmillan Ride of Their Lives at York Racecourse on 16 June this year (pictured top with my fellow jockeys). I am so happy to be able to raise money for another great cause and it will definitely be something to tick off my bucket list.
Macmillan help thousands of families and patients battling with cancer every day. They offer support from diagnosis, throughout treatment and during the recovery to try and make life as normal as it possibly can be. When the opportunity came up, I knew I wanted to go for it and that it would give me the incentive I needed to lose a lot of the weight I put on as a result of the medication I was on during my own battle with cancer.
I literally told a handful of people that I had been selected to do the race. I went into panic mode about the target weight at first and read every article, book and guide to dieting I could find. It turns out ‘how do I lose weight quickly?’ is also a popular search term on Google in January. Google did its usual patronising ‘didn’t you mean’ suggestion after pointing out my inability to spell, but soon after sent me in the right direction. My good mate and fellow eventer Matt Heath was straight in there to offer me his support as always. “You could chop your leg off and still not get down to that weight” were the words of moral support being echoed down the phone from his hands free while he was driving. Followed then by raucous laughter.
I won’t repeat my reply to Heathy, but considering amputation was out of the question, it was time to move the diet that was due to start in January to December.
Over the next few weeks we’ll start to take the younger horses out schooling and will share some videos of their progress. We’ll also move onto the next stages of fitness with some of the more experienced horses too and I can introduce you to them all individually.