Why is this horse wearing an unusual headpiece in the ring at Royal Windsor?

  • Sally Goding’s eight-year-old home-bred mare Spring Willow made an impressive winning debut in the Castle Arena at Royal Windsor Horse Show last week in the 1.40m national class. But the sheepskin headpiece that the chestnut had on her bridle in the ring really caught our attention, so we asked her rider why she uses it.

    “Spring Willow is just so sensitive behind her ears – well, about everything really, she’s a chestnut mare!” says West Sussex-based Sally, who had broken her ankle 10 weeks earlier falling from a youngster.

    “It’s a bridle with a padded headpiece with a sheepskin covering over the top. I found that when my horses wear it, it just takes some of the poll pressure off and Spring Willow is much more comfortable in it with the bit she has in [a butterfly flip].”

    Sally uses padded bridles on all her horses but the idea for adding a sheepskin cover only came about when she used an unpadded “home” bridle on this very exciting young mare.

    “I put the sheepskin on because I don’t like them not having a padded bridle on, and I realised that she preferred that home bridle with the sheepskin on to the padded one because it’s so soft behind her ears,” says Sally.

    “Now I have quite a few horses going in it – any horse that has a bit that has any kind of poll pressure on basically, because it’s so soft. The butterfly flip doesn’t have a huge amount of poll pressure, but she’s just so sensitive, she loves her fluff!”

    If you look closely, you’ll also spot blinkers on Spring Willow’s bridle – and a martingale is completely out of the question for this sensitive mare.

    “Again, I use blinkers on quite a few of mine,” reveals Sally. “She’s a home-bred, so I broke her in and quite often when you start them they try to look behind all the time because they’re not used to having someone on their back – she in particular was quite distracted and quirky when she was younger. So the blinkers helped to keep her focus forward on the jump rather than to the side, and I’ve kept them on ever since.

    “She doesn’t have a martingale because she doesn’t like any kind of restrictions around her. She’s very much always on her toes at shows and she doesn’t like other horses either – so she likes to go her own way, but she absolutely loves her job!”

    Sally also has a five-year-old full-sister to Spring Willow, who she says shares “identical” traits.

    “She’s a bit bigger, but they’re both chestnut with the same personalities!” says Sally. “But having done Spring Willow has actually been really helpful with her sister because I know what to expect.

    “Spring Willow did all the seven-year-old classes last year and hopefully this year she’ll be able to step up a bit. She’s very exciting.”

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