At this time of year there is a mid-season breather when the horses have a break after their spring CCI runs, not only necessary physically but also for a mental let-up.
Knowing when to campaign a horse and when to give him a break is key to maintaining soundness and confidence — the two biggest factors for longevity.
At the top level, with the Olympic Games next year it is interesting to see different strategies emerging. Michael Jung and William Fox-Pitt both won spring CCI4*s but they have since gone different ways.
A year out from the Games, Chilli Morning is the standout British contender and his rider William and owner Christopher Stone are resting him now to minimise the risk of injury. At 15 he is experienced and doesn’t need more outings, so it is understandable that they are prioritising Rio.
At the same time, Germany’s Michael Jung appears to be taking more of a “make hay while the sun shines” approach. FischerRocana FST — winner of Kentucky — and Michael’s reigning Olympic champion La Biosthetique-Sam FBW, who is also 15, have both had a demanding season. They crossed the Atlantic to Kentucky before, rather unusually, heading to a second spring CCI4* at Luhmühlen, with events in between. He plans to take both to Burghley too.
If there is a norm when it comes to planning a horse’s season then it is a spring and autumn CCI, with a few one-days in preparation. CCI4*s are demanding not just because of competing, but also because of the fitness work to prepare, as well as the travelling in the case of Kentucky.
Perhaps the differences in the Rio approaches are partly due to the depth of string. Although he has several good horses, Chilli is William’s big hope, while Michael may see others as better candidates for Rio. He must be confident that he won’t need to rely on these two horses for next year.
Producing horses is a balancing act — desire and ambition are undoubtedly driving forces for all competitive spirits, but rest and relaxation are necessary ingredients for horses to stay sound and keep enjoying their work long term.
Luhmühlen four-star status
I wasn’t at Luhmühlen, but Mark Todd’s comment that the track was a four-star only in name, a sentiment that others echoed, begs the question of what route the event should take in the future.
After last year’s tragedy we all understand why there was pressure for it to be incident-free, but I would echo Mark’s question — if the desire to host a four-star is not there, maybe it should be reclassified as a CCI3*?
It is always sad when long-standing events cease to run, but it’s good to have new ones joining the calendar.
I ran several horses at Farley Hall last month, which has all the ingredients of a great event. In its second year, the course was well presented in an attractive park, the team had made a big effort to ensure good going and the prize money had been topped up. There is clearly great enthusiasm from its organisers and hopefully it will evolve into a long-term success.
• Read more about William’s thoughts on Chilli Morning’s plans for this year and next in our exclusive interview on page 24 of this’ week’s Horse & Hound magazine (9 July 2015).
Ref: Horse & Hound; 9 July 2015