Have you ever wanted to watch one of the world’s most celebrated coaches work with two riders who have reached the very top of their respective disciplines?
British feed company Dodson & Horrell gave spectators a unique opportunity to watch H&H columnist Capt Mark Phillips, himself a four-times Badminton winner, CCI5* course-designer, British team selector and outstanding trainer, work with his daughter Zara Tindall — former world and European champion and Olympic team silver medallist — and his partner, Lauren Hough, a member of the US showjumping team at an Olympic Games and a World Equestrian Games and a Pan-Am Games medallist.
The evening, which raised money for the Ella Popely Memorial Fund, took place at the Unicorn Centre, Stow-in-the-Wold, and was an understandable sell-out.
Zara rode Class Affair, a smart 10-year-old belonging to Gleadhill House Stud Ltd, who was preparing for his first CCI4*-L at Bramham, and Watkins, a 13-year-old New Zealand thoroughbred owned by Judith Luff, who is competing at Luhmühlen in the CCI5* this week.
“Hopefully Class Affair is my next top horse,” says Zara. “He’s very wary of what is happening around him and struggles with people and movement, so a night like this is good practice for him.
“Watkins doesn’t really do dressage – he does it on sufferance so he can get to the jumping bits. He’s a really cool horse to ride and loves his job, but we are always catching up after the dressage.”
Lauren rode Candy, a 10-year-old mare that she owns with Patrick de Roeck, and the seven-year-old mare Delilah, owned and bred by Lea Popely.
“Candy is talented and scopey but maybe a little on the ‘cold’ side for me — I will probably sell her as a top young rider horse,” explained Lauren. “I jumped Delilah in the young horse classes at Hamburg recently; she’s got a very extravagant jump and is part of my future, I hope!”
Here are some things H&H learnt:
1. The warm-up is a very important part of a competition. Don’t take short-cuts; spend time making sure that your horse is supple to both sides and relaxed.
“But when it comes to jumping, particularly at a three-day-event, you need to get the warm-up done in 10 fences,” says Mark Phillips. “More is a waste of energy. Eventers spend too much time using the practice fences; at big showjumping competitions riders don’t get the fence until they are four horses away from being in the ring. In the showjumping world, riders have a jump, walk and relax their horses, pick up the canter again and have a jump. They don’t canter endlessly round.”
2. The stiller a rider’s lower leg is, the more stable a base they therefore have. This means they can make subtle adjustments with their upper body to help influence the horse.
3. It is important that riders keep their arms soft and relaxed.
4. The control between the fences is the important thing. The fences don’t have to be high to practice and exercise control.
“When you have fences on related distances, you need to solve the puzzle in the best way to suit your particular horse. You do that through the shape of the jump over the first element of the question; where you land after that fence makes a massive difference to how you get through the combination,” says Mark.
5. Horses are prey animals and have 340-degree vision. Their short vision is at the bottom of their eye and they need their heads up to be able to read fences. Cross-country fences aren’t beautifully decorated to make them look pretty for spectators — it is to help the horses read the fence better.
“Understanding how a horse sees is more and more a part of how to make eventing safer,” explains Mark.
6. The more mistakes we make, the more you learn.
“Concentrate on your own performance and don’t get distracted by anyone else,” says Zara.
7. Zara has slowly rebuilt her fitness after having her two children.
“I knew the stronger I was, the safer I would be, so I took it slowly after giving birth and worked hard on my strength,” she says.
Here’s some top tips from Tom McEwen and Richard Jones on how to best warm your horse or pony up,
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8. AP McCoy would make a great journalist. His daughter Eve was acting as “arena party” with a friend, and he came into the arena at the end of the demonstration and asked Zara and Lauren: “Which would I need more talent for, eventing or showjumping?” Then he asked Zara: “Who did you look up to more, your mother [former European eventing champion The Princess Royal] or your father?” Needless to say, he didn’t get a straight answer to either question…
9. Mark Phillips believes that Zara, Lauren and AP all have the same things in common: “Love of the horse, balance and coordination. They have that affinity with the horses that is so important. All three could have got to the top in any discipline they chose.”
Watch the masterclass here below…
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