Life lessons: Daisy Berkeley — ‘If in doubt, kick on’ *H&H Plus*

  • Daisy Berkeley (née Dick) is best known for her partnership with Spring Along (pictured at Badminton), with whom she won team bronze at the 2008 Olympics as well as world team silver and European team gold. Here, the Olympic medallist reflects on appreciating every moment with the horses and people you love, and the importance of feeding the best you can afford, as told to Pippa Roome

    I have millions of riding icons, but perhaps the greatest is Lucinda Green, who was a huge help to me years ago when my career was treading water. She used to invite a few riders to these fun play sessions at her yard. She’d build funny obstacles on weird distances and made us leave the horse alone to work it out – it improved the horse’s footwork and reminded him to use his brain.

    So many people overdrill horses, taking away their instinct for self-preservation. We’re all going to mess up at some point, so it’s a massive benefit if the horse can look after us – if I throw the reins at the horse and say, “Can you sort this out?”, they do, touch wood.

    I didn’t plan to model my lower leg position on Lucinda’s, but looking at pictures, it seems I did. When I was in my teens and early 20s, I used to go everywhere flat out – if one person got the time, it was me, riding like crazy right up my horse’s neck. Now I ride with my heels right forward and although it looks exaggerated, I can stay in the plate more often than not.

    “If in doubt, kick on”

    I’m late for everything except competitions. I always set my alarm clock and leave loads of time – if you’re late you’ll be stressed, that stress goes to the horse and you underperform.

    The last thing I remember before I compete is to keep the horse in front of the leg. You’re doomed otherwise – you’ll probably sit on the first showjump, come to a grinding halt at number one on the cross-country and your dressage will look pretty sad.

    I can hear my father, Grand National-winning jockey Dave Dick, saying, “If in doubt, kick on”. I have an extreme Pony Club kick and a positive ride will get you out of all sorts of situations.

    I wish I’d appreciated when I was 16 that nothing lasts forever – horses or people – and you should enjoy every moment with the ones you love. That definitely applies to my father and, on the horse side, to my young rider medal-winners, Headley Bravo and Little Victor, who took me right up to five-star.

    I didn’t realise how lucky I was; some people spend a lifetime looking for that breakthrough horse. By the time I got Spring Along, I appreciated him from the moment I sat on him.

    The horse I wish I could have back now is The White Sergeant. He was a beautiful Irish-bred by Step Together and I’ve never sat on a more talented horse. My showjumping trainer at the time, Nigel Goddard, said he reminded him of the double Olympic silver medallist Gem Twist.

    The catch was that he suffered from corns which we couldn’t eliminate, but with the continuous improvements in farriery and veterinary medicine since then it would be different now.

    Feed the best

    Use the best quality feed, supplements and forage that you can sensibly afford. My horses are notoriously quite chubby! It’s tough to make ends meet in eventing, especially at the moment, so people try to be clever and buy cheaply, but you end up feeding more of the bad stuff, so it’s a false economy. I’m lucky to have an amazing supplements sponsor in Equiform, who have been with me 16 years.

    I like to bring out my horses’ personalities as much as possible and to keep their routine varied, so they enjoy their work. We do a lot of work up and down hills, we jump ditches and odd places in the hedgeline. Sometimes if life has been a bit boring, we take them up the hill for a bit of a buck.

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 10 December 2020

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