For some people superstitions are the secret to success… while for others they can be a recipe for disaster. Top riders share their thoughts on pre-competition habits — from shooting magpies to ‘lucky’ ties and ‘clear round’ breeches.
1. Jeanette Brakewell, eventer
I am not really a superstitious person when it comes to competing. I did used to wear Union Flag socks to compete in, but when they got full of holes I didn’t replace them and it didn’t seem to make any difference, so that went out the window! I won’t walk under ladders, put shoes on the table or put an umbrella up indoors, but that doesn’t really have anything to do with competing. I decided that being superstitious can have a negative affect on performance because it becomes something you lay blame on rather than being critical of your own performance.
2. Laura Tomlinson, dressage
I try not to be superstitious because you can create your own problems, doing badly because you’ve told yourself you will just because of a negative superstition. However, I don’t like “tempting fate” and so I always tell my family that even if my test is going really well, not to say a word until its over or it will go wrong at the end. I also have a pair of lucky pearl earrings that I always wear, and if I forget them I’m sure it doesn’t look right. My routine at an international would be a snooze if possible before listening to a relevant playlist on my iPod and then I visualise my test before getting on to ride. At national shows it’s impossible to keep that routine, which is good because it makes me feel like I have some extra power and focus for the really important competitions — even though it may go quite well at national ones without all the above!
3. Lynn Russel, showing producer
If I have a good win in a certain tie I wear it again and again until it lets me down. And then guess what? I never wear it again! The tie always has to be loud and bright to get noticed. I’ve been doing it for years and now I sell second hand silk ties so that others can do the same. A few of them have been very lucky. I sold one once to Robert Walker at Aintree. He wore it that day and won a £1000 championship — beating me!
4. Tim Stockdale, showjumper
I try to steer clear from anything like that. I stick to a definite routine when I’m competing, but that’s not a superstition. I think it puts too much emphasis on luck and I like to focus on preparation. And if I wore the same underpants every time I jumped they’d be a rag after a couple of months!
5. Gareth Hughes, dressage rider
I’m not into any of that — I don’t have a special pair of socks or handkerchief. But without thinking about it too much and just out of habit I suppose I do stick to a routine. For my first ride of a competition I don’t like to get changed until the last minute and I don’t like waiting around for too long before my test. So my groom and I work it out so that I can get on just at the right time. When I’m getting dressed I run through my test and if I do this too early and then have to wait outside the box for 15 minutes I risk getting out of the zone.
6. Isobel Wessels, dressage rider
I am not superstitious at all. I say this because I can’t imagine anything worse than relying on a pair of breeches and then finding I had forgotten to pack them — help! The only thing I can recall is that many years ago I won my first championship on Friday 13th and my horse by chance had 13 plaits in his mane. Since then 13 has been my lucky number.
7. Katie Jerram, showing producer
I seem to have the same superstitions that I had from pony days — they must have started with my mother and carried through. She still has to see a pair of magpies on the journey and if she sees more than two then that’s a championship… I wish it worked like that! I am much happier going into the ring in the old favorites. I even wore gloves with all the fingers chewed off one time when Rosenbright was hunter champion at Horse of the Year Show. They eventually had to go when there were more fingers showing than leather. When I was point-to-pointing I really had to stick with the superstitions and not veer off for safety’s sake. For my first ever race I bought a new pair of reins that had billet hooks and they came straight off the bit. I pulled up, changed the reins back to the old pair, the race continued and we won with the old lucky pair!
8. Louise Bell, showing producer
I have lucky Animo socks, which I now have four pairs of. And I also have a favourite pair of breeches that I decided were my clear round breeches, so I have to wash them as soon as I get home for the next show. I had to change them at the 2012 Royal International in between classes. I was champion with Into The Blue in the lightweight section and then in my not so lucky breeches I had a fence down with Get Smart. So I am a little superstitious. But now I think I may have mixed all my breeches together and as they all look the same I’m not sure which ones they. I’ll have to start the season with a fresh pair!
9. Lucy Wiegersma, eventer
I’ve had various superstitions during my career and every so often I give myself a kick up the ass and tell myself to get on with it and that the certain “lucky” pair of knickers or socks — which are probably disintegrating by then— don’t make any difference. But the only one I haven’t been able to get rid of is not wearing new breeches cross-country. I’ll risk it for dressage and showjumping, but before I go cross-country they have to be washed at least once… or otherwise I’m sure I’ll fall off.
10. Ruth Edge, eventer
I’m not particularly superstitious. But at a big event I never like to use equipment that would need to be on the top hole. Even though the horse uses the same kit at a one-day event, it is a rider’s prerogative to change their mind at the last minute, which could cause a panic if there is no chance of putting in any more holes! I suppose this became a habit as a teenager when I used to compete in driving trials and I remember being taught that you should never be on the highest hole in case something breaks. So the habit has continued on into the eventing world and I have never broken it.
11. William Funnell, showjumper
My biggest superstition is not being superstitious. I have a routine when I’m competing which involves chilling for a bit and getting into a certain mindset. But different things dictate what you do at each competition. The morning before I won my first Derby I saw a magpie in the garden stealing the bird feed [my wife] Pip had put out and so I shot it. It did cross my mind whether I should shoot a magpie on the morning of a big competition, but it was being a nuisance and I wanted to prove that superstitions don’t make any difference.
12. Piggy French, eventer
For as long as I can remember I have made the same wish if a black cat ran in front of me, if I drove under a bridge as a train travelled overhead or if I saw two magpies. On the rare occasion that I’ve found or been given a four-leaf clover I have always fed it to my horse and wished again. There are no prizes for guessing what my wish was but after 2012’s enormous disappointment [both her top horses were injured before the London Olympics], when all of my wishes and dreams went out of the window, I have vowed never to be superstitious again!