Opinion

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There has been some great dressage in the UK this year. British Dressage is supporting the Hickstead CDI by sponsoring the covered stand, with members receiving a 20% discount on tickets, and current entries hail from Great Britain, France, Portugal, Sweden and Ireland.

One of the great things about Hickstead is the variety of tests on offer and this, combined with the new VIP area and ringside tickets for 1,000 Club members, will ensure a super show.

The young horse classes are always popular at Hickstead, but it’s interesting to look back and see how many successful young horses went on to take part in the CDI in ensuing years. Very young horse assessments are becoming more popular in the UK, too, and I’m looking forward to polishing up my crystal ball and supporting a brand new concept, the innovative Elite Foals Registration Tour, which has attracted a large prize fund and sponsors, to see if I can spot some future stars there.

Consistent training

I’ve heard riders taking great delight in reminding judges what marks their grand prix horses were awarded in young horse classes and assessments, especially if their horse didn’t score well. Actually, a potential grand prix horse and a successful young horse are often a very different animal.

For grand prix, a horse needs three good paces and nice balance, and is often not the one that “wows” the judges at a young age. However, if the horse has naturally good balance, they also have a better chance of staying sound. I rode at the world championships against 30 of the perceived best young horses in the world, but only 10% of the horses in my class — mine and two others — trained on to international grand prix.

The common factor was that each one of the three stayed with the same rider through the levels — consistency in training is crucial. Horses will go through stages of being super-nice, then maturing a bit and looking more ordinary. Riders, owners and trainers must keep calm and carry on, not jump ship and change everything.

A balancing act

We have a large group of young horses. Alex Baker both competes internationally and backs our youngsters, so has a great perspective of the bigger picture.

We start most of our horses at three years old for three to four weeks, then they go back out in the field and return in their fourth year. Alex works with one handler, Meg White, so the horses have continuity through the crucial early stages.

Consistency, simplicity and reading horses’ body language is vital. I continually assess the young horses and make decisions about when they are ready to step up in the training and when they need more time to mature.

It really is about balance. Horses have to be physically strong enough and mentally ready to work — controlled exercise is key. I’m not a fan of leaving big horses in the field to mature forever; they need to come in and do a little bit of work, or they can turn into unco-ordinated lumps with slack ligaments.

There’s a fine line between “brought on slowly” and not trained. The “tricks” will come easily to the talented horses, but it’s solid basics and good stable management that will create the ultimate goal. Training for grand prix is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s horsemanship.

Ref Horse & Hound; 5 July 2018