Oliver Townend Q&A: Looking for a winner, fitness and dedication

  • Kimberley Priori: What are the top conformational attributes you look for in an eventer, and how do you know if you have a potential winner in the making?

    Oliver says: “Conformation-wise they need a good front leg — a big shoulder, a good angle to the limb and not to be back at the knee. And to have everything in proportion. They also need to be clean-limbed and straight movers. I have lots of different types on my yard though — there is no particular sort I go for.

    “I generally know I have a potential winner because I want to ride the horse every day. You know the good ones because they give you a feel that makes you want to get on them.”

    Sean Rafferty: I am 16 years old and just started my riding career about 28 weeks ago. One problem I seem to run into on a regular basis is soft hands. Why are they so important? How can I improve my soft hands? Do you know any techniques or tips I could try?

    Oliver says: “Soft hands can be misunderstood as it’s not really soft hands you need to think about, but offering a consistent rein contact so the horse learns to work into the bridle. So try to think about always giving the horse that same, sympathetic feel in its mouth — rather than being light then strong or pulling — and that may help.”

    Vicky Backhurst: I was wondering what you do to improve or maintain your personal physical fitness and what you, as an athlete, specifically look at to improve your performance in riding (like core stability or muscular endurance)?

    Oliver says: “Riding is pretty much all the fitness training I need. I’m naturally of a fairly short and muscular build, so strength has never been a problem in any way. I ride 12 horses on average a day, but often more — tomorrow I’ve got 14 on my list.”

    Amy Watson: What would you say is the best way to get your horses fit for the eventing season? My horse has been off for three months at the end of last year and I’m find it hard to get her fit again.

    Oliver says: “The most important thing about fitness is that it’s built up gradually. Take everything slowly and listen to your horse and what she feels like.

    “How long it takes to get a horse fit will depend on her type — those with more thoroughbred in them will become fitter quickly. You will also have to vary your programme depending on the facilities you have available. Also, if the horse had time off for an injury, you would need to allow even more time for the build-up.

    “Before a horse goes to an event I would be aiming to get her to the stage where she can do three lots of fast work, each of the length of the cross-country course for the level she will be competing at. So, for example, if the horse is going to compete at novice over a five-minute course, I would want her to be able to canter at a strong pace for five minutes, walk for two minutes, canter for five minutes, walk for two minutes, canter for five minutes.”

    Deb Meek: Andrew Nicholson might be described as “fierce and focused”, William Fox-Pitt as “charming and intelligent”. What two words best describe you?

    Oliver says: “Hungry and dedicated.”

    Questions and answers from Oliver, part 1

    Oliver Townend is the guest editor of last week’s issue of H&H (dated 5 March), which includes our eventing special. Don’t miss it!

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