Why horse and rider training is key to safer cross-country *H&H Plus*

  • The best way to train horses and riders to be as safe as possible when competing in cross-country was a key discussion point during the FEI eventing risk management seminar

    Training riders and horses to keep themselves safe is vital for the future of the sport, experts agreed at the FEI eventing risk management seminar. The importance of cross-country training and the role of coaches were discussed, at Aintree racecourse on 24-26 January.

    Eventers and coaches Jonathan Holling, William Fox-Pitt and Laurent Bousquet, all also involved in FEI safety and sport committees, covered the need to learn from mistakes, the role of coaches and whether this is changing, and training horses.


    “We’re talking about training and developing our horses from quite a personal point of view and there will be a million ways of skinning the cat,” said William.“You very much have to have a system you believe in, but the basic is, you want to train your horse to be safe, clever and a good horse, it is your job to do that.

    “There are lots of experts who can teach you about bending lines and seeing strides, but in the real world, things go wrong and we do find a bad stride or a bad line and we need our horses to help us out.”

    He said this is about teaching horses to be clever, and quick:

    “I have a very set system, I know how many events I do at each level with what horse and I don’t break those rules,” he said, adding having a coach to help riders with decisions is important.

    “We don’t want people to run our lives, but we need to be aware younger riders need more help.”

    He added this is as important in competition as in training, highlighting the fact in the US, riders’ having trainers at an event is the norm.

    William also spoke of the pressure riders can feel to move up the levels or chase results,adding that there is no hurry, and focus must be horses’ education. “It is always better to stop a bit early than go a bit too far; vital from the safety point of view as well.

    “The horse has to think for himself and has to have learnt at a slower speed; us riders have to be a little bit cooler about not worrying about results.

    “I think young riders are under so much more pressure to deliver, across the board; [BE]80 or five-star. people talk about being competitive.”

    The discussion also covered the importance of being able to make mistakes in safer ways.

    Learning from errors

    “How you learn is by mistakes, but they have to be the right level of mistake,” said medal-winning eventer and EquiRatings co-founder Sam Watson, giving the example of using canter poles in different ways to improve accuracy and footwork.

    “I don’t think training to be perfect every time is correct and I also don’t think being reckless is correct. I think the art of training is knowing when you can push the comfort zone.”

    Laurent explained that a new coaching rule is coming into force in France from next year, meaning those with less experience cannot enter an event without a coach.

    “We hope it will help riders to have somebody and to be aware they need somebody. I think it is good for coaches too. It’s a big change.”

    There was discussion about how riders can help themselves by accepting when they have run into a problem and the challenge coaches face in telling riders truths they may not want to hear.

    Jonathan added EquiRatings’ work to help riders understand their strengths and weaknesses through data is a positive in helping students realise why a coach may say they are not ready for a certain level or event.

    He also stressed looking out for others, and individuals’ not taking offence, is important in the drive for a safer sport.

    “It’s about the community, in that if this person goes out, has a bad go, has a tragic accident, it affects the entire sport, not just nationwide but worldwide,” he said.

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