Life lessons: Former trainer, author and showing judge Henrietta Knight *H&H Plus*

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  • Henrietta trained Best Mate to win three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups from 2002 to 2004. She has played a vital role in training many racehorses to jump correctly, and trainers send their horses to her West Lockinge Farm for schooling. She is also a breeder of Connemara ponies, an author and showing judge.

    It is important in the equestrian world – regardless of your discipline – to have a feel for horses and be surrounded by the right people.

    You have to be willing to learn, take advice and soak up knowledge from those who are experts in their own field. As a horseperson you can never stop learning and you have to be able to admit when you are wrong.

    I’ve always had a love for the Connemara pony and have bred many over the years; they are incredibly alert, quick-thinking, but sharp animals. You always have to be one step ahead of them, which is the same when it comes to educating any young horses, especially thoroughbreds – you must always be on the ball.

    My inspiration growing up was my mother, Hester, while I also learnt so much from my Pony Club days. However, my years in early childhood spent at the yard of Reg Hobbs, who trained Battleship to win the 1938 Grand National, were invaluable. I used to go and help him when I was nine, and he would let me sit on the horses from time to time.

    He did a lot of breaking in and was unbelievably quiet and calm with his horses. He was a real horseman. Trainer Lars Sederholm was another brilliant teacher whom I greatly admired. I will never forget his most common phrase about always remaining “in balance and going forward”, which can relate to any equine discipline.

    The legendary PP Hogan from Ireland had an uncanny way with horses, and Coolmore buyer Demi O’Byrne has a fantastic judgement for a horse. He will often help me at the sales.

    I have been very lucky over the years to be surrounded by so many knowledgeable people, including my late husband Terry Biddlecombe. He inherited a great eye for a horse from his family and, overall, we agreed when it came to the type of horse we liked.

    He always insisted a horse had a good walk and used its shoulder. I like horses to use their backends properly, because that is where all the propulsion originates.

    I do believe you are born with the ability to judge a good horse; however, learning from people who have a natural eye for a horse can develop this further.

    Training Best Mate taught me a lot about the importance of patience. When you know you have a talented horse on your hands, it is vital not to hurry it. Many of the racehorses who come to my yard for help with their jumping haven’t been given the time to develop and have been produced too quickly, so we take them back to basics.

    I have learnt to stay calm and keep things simple – far too many so-called experts get over-excited when they have a good horse. They are sensitive animals, and need to be relaxed and happy to perform to their best.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 12 March 2020