Life lessons: Dual Badminton winner Jane Holderness-Roddam *H&H Plus*

The Olympic gold medallist and double Badminton winner on treating every horse as an individual and coping with life’s ups and downs

  • Jane (née Bullen) won Badminton in 1968 and 1978 and Burghley in 1976, and was the first woman to compete for Britain in three-day eventing at the Olympics, winning gold in Mexico in 1968. She is a renowned trainer, judge and author, former chair of British Eventing and the Riding for the Disabled Association and runs West Kington Stud with her husband Tim.

    I used to think there was one way of riding and all horses should fit in with that, but over time, I realised every horse needs treating as an individual and what works with one may not necessarily work for another. You have to get into a horse’s brain.

    Warrior, who won both Badminton and Burghley, taught me an awful lot. He was very intelligent – much more so than me – and I had to learn to get the best from him. He wouldn’t go properly unless I rode him appropriately for his character.

    I was working as a nurse at that time and I also had to learn how to get the best out of my patients and colleagues. It’s how you treat others which is important with both horses and people – you have to coax and ask, not tell.

    It’s always been my ethos to train horses little and often – less is best. You should never do too much and keep repeating something. If it’s done well a couple of times, leave it at that. You can always come back to it and it’s a shame to overdo it.

    On the horse management side, my family used to feed bran every day. Although that has largely died out now that mixes and complete feeds are available, I still give horses a bran mash once a week, the night before their day off. It helps to keep them fit and well and although it’s not fashionable now, I’ve never seen a need to change it.

    I think people often overfeed horses and don’t feed according to a horse’s work.

    Coping with life

    My parents sadly died while I was still in my teens, but I remember them advising me to live by Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, with its lessons about treating triumph and disaster with equanimity. This has helped me to cope with the ups and downs of life, horsey and otherwise.

    I was brought up to think there was no point doing a lot of work on a horse if you weren’t strong enough to do him justice, so I always had a jolly good breakfast on a competition day – if there was time and I was organised, I’d have a cooked breakfast, but otherwise a bowl of cereal and some fruit.

    My sister Jennie (Loriston-Clarke) has always been my riding icon – I found her inspirational to watch. From a cross-country point of view, I looked up to Lorna Clarke (née Sutherland) – she could make a donkey get round Badminton and had an extraordinary ability to be in sync with horses and leave them alone to do their best.

    I wish I’d had Our Nobby later in my career, the little horse who I rode from Pony Club to the Olympics. If I’d known then all the things I know now, we would have been more successful, particularly if I’d been more patient in the dressage. I would try now to coax the best from him, whereas then I didn’t like dressage – I thought, “Oh, my sister does that” – and I just wanted to do the fun bits.

    Had I tried to be a more skilled all-round rider, I could have done so much better with him.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 9 July 2020