In part two of our Q&A with this week’s guest editor, leading show producer Robert Walker reveals his favourite place to compete, how to cope with a fidgety horse, what he hates to see in the ring and why he’s tempted by worker classes.
Q. How much schooling do you do with your horse at home? I enjoy hacking but am worried I need to do more schooling to prepare my horse for the show ring.
A. “You can still achieve lots out hacking because you can ask questions and still school them even if you’re not in an arena. It can even be more beneficial, because the horse won’t know he’s learning and enjoys doing what you’re asking more. I tend to school my horses more these days because hacking takes time and in a numbers yard — I have 20 in at the moment — there are a lot to ride. I only ever school a horse two days in a row and then they have a day to do something else — perhaps being hacked by one of my team. If you drill a horse so much that they get bored they lose personality — and that’s not good in the ring.”
Q. How do you keep your horses in show ring condition?
A. “Through good feeding and plenty of exercise. The right feed will keep a horse’s body well covered plus healthy from the inside, while exercise builds muscle and tones them in the right places. I recommend speaking to a nutritionist if you’re unsure of the best diet for your horse.”
Q. My horse has started to fidget in the ring — a judge once refused even to get on him. How can I teach him to stand?
A. “Good habits are learned at home. I would have someone to help you get on at home, with nuts in one hand so that the horse gets a reward when they stay still. Get on and off, on and off, and keep repeating that until the horse is relaxed and not trying to move when being mounted. You can’t expect a judge to get on a horse they don’t know if it looks like it might misbehave. Consider trialing earplugs, too, as it could be the noise that is upsetting the horse and causing him to fidget.”
Q. Will we see Caesars Palace back out this season?
A. “Yes that’s the plan, but he won’t be rushed. The chipped tooth he suffered early last year [which forced the horse’s withdrawal from Royal Windsor] affected him more mentally than it did physically. He did a bit of hunting over the winter and his main aim will be Horse of the Year Show [HOYS]. I’ll count backwards from that date so that we don’t rush him or risk over-showing him. He’s still young [seven] and he’s lucky to have a patient owner in Jill Day.”
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“I have fed TopSpec for over 10 years now, by feeding TopSpec you can feed less and feed a lot more quality. As a professional horse producer I need horses to look well throughout the season, in good condition, with nice topline, being healthy from the inside, with a good skin and shiny coat,” says Robert.
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Q. You judged me last year and I finished quite far down the line. What are common mistakes you hate to see?
A. “Firstly, likeability is important — I’ve got to like a horse and first impressions count for a lot. Secondly, they’ve got to be correct and of type for the class they are competing in. I judge by the schedule — so if it says it’s a lightweight hunter class that’s what I will judge every horse as.
A common fault I see is people rushing horses out of their stride. By going quickly you don’t help the horse move any better, in fact you impede it and lose rhythm. There are plenty of people out there who will help you, so book yourself in for some lessons.”
Q. What is your favourite show to compete at and why?
A. “Great Yorkshire show, because I’m a Yorkshireman and as far as a ridden hunter championship is concerned there is nowhere better to show off a hunter than in that main ring. HOYS is a close second, because it’s been so lucky for me over the years.”
Q. When you’re in the line up, what are you doing and thinking about?
A. “It depends where I’m pulled in. If I’m well up the line I’m happy, if I’m not then I’m probably sulking!”
Q. We see lots of pictures of you jumping big hedges out hunting. What would tempt you into a working hunter class?
A. “I’d love to do workers, but it would depend on having the time to do it. Worker tracks are so technical these days that you need to have the horse jumping at shows once a week or so to keep it — and the rider — on the ball. As much as I’d love to, I just don’t have time for an extra category and, unless I can commit to doing it properly, I wouldn’t want to do it at all.”
Q. What’s the funniest thing that’s ever happened to you in the ring?
A. “My stirrup leather once broke during the lap of honour at the Royal International. I was riding Blue Chip Too and we kept going with me trying to keep smiling. It’s just one of those things but whoever cleaned the tack the day before probably got a telling off!”
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Q. You’ve achieved a lot in your career — what’s been the highlight?
A. “When I was younger I always wanted to win the hunter championship at Great Yorkshire show — for a Yorkshire person it is the pinnacle. I won it aged 23 riding Cool Green Star and it was a huge deal for me.
But then Pride & Joy (pictured) standing hunter champion at HOYS in 2010, not long after I was paralysed down one side because of a brain virus, was very emotional after such a tough year.”
Don’t forget to buy H&H’s showing special, guest edited by Robert Walker, on sale tomorrow (Thursday 17 March).