Sharon Hunt’s life lessons: ‘bad behaviour usually comes from poor management’ *H&H Plus*

  • The bronze medal-winning Olympian on horses for courses, setting goals at every competition and why she no longer wishes her life away

    Eventer Sharon Hunt and her former top eventer, Tankers Town, enjoyed great success internationally, including team bronze at the 2008 Olympics and winning Luhmühlen in 2010. Sharon is based in Suffolk, where she coaches alongside producing her team of horses.

    I treat every horse that comes on to my yard as an individual. I work out their specific strengths and don’t make them into something they’re not meant to be.

    For example, you can buy a horse intended for the event field but come to realise it was meant to be a showjumper. In the past I have persevered with a horse down the wrong path for too long and it just demoralises you both. Now I don’t stereotype them at all, and I make sure they have individual training plans so they can flourish.

    Horses don’t just change for any old reason, and if they start behaving differently there is normally something wrong. You can get the odd horse who is particularly hot and sharp due to its breeding, but naughtiness is a man-made concept, and “bad” behaviour usually comes from poor management.

    Planning for progress

    Before a competition I make a plan for each horse, so I know exactly what it is I want to achieve. Is this outing a stepping stone for this horse, or is this his big day for him to prove himself?

    You have to change your mindset and have goals beyond the rosettes. Even if you come away with no placing, you can be happy in the knowledge that you’re on track to reach your targets, or take action so next time you go out and achieve. It makes the whole process measurable.

    I have learnt a lot about psychology in recent years. One year at Barbury, Tankers Town didn’t get out of the start box. It made me realise how important horsemanship is. It doesn’t matter how good you are, if you don’t have that partnership with a horse you’re not going to get the whole package. It goes back to mindset and listening to your horses.

    It depends on the competition and the horse as to how I feel ahead of riding. The only time I would get nervous is in the start box, and this would only be if I didn’t think the horse I was on was good enough or if preparation hadn’t gone to plan. I don’t get nervous for the sake of it.

    If I’m at a three-day event there is a different kind of pressure. My dressage test is the time I want to perfect everything, the cross-country is the time for adrenaline, and during the showjumping I have a desire to achieve.

    I wish I could showjump like Scott Brash. He is a serious magician; the way he stays so still in the saddle when jumping those enormous fences. He never loses his balance and he makes everything look effortless.

    Enjoy the journey

    Don’t wish your life away and don’t keep looking for a better day ahead. Learn to enjoy the struggles along the way and appreciate the hard days, as there are plenty of them with horses. I remember when I was younger I was constantly looking forward and living for tomorrow.

    I don’t believe in living in the past either, which is why I could never pick a horse I’d want back. Of course, we all want a string of top horses at any point in the game, but I’m lucky to have had rides that have got me where I am today.

    It’s easy to miss certain horses, such as Tankers Town – whom I was so lucky to have at top level for so long – but they have all been part of my journey. I’m just determined to find and create another star.

    Onwards and upwards.

    H&H 13 August, 2020

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