Mark Kyle rode for Ireland at three Olympics and finished in the top 20 at Badminton and Burghley before retiring from eventing after an injury in 2017. He now trains his showjumping daughter Tabitha, a children-on-horses team bronze medallist in 2019.
As you get older, you realise it’s worth taking more time with each horse, rather than rushing from one to another. I had a lot of horses when I was younger to make the sport pay, but with time you realise which ones you shouldn’t be riding and focus on the better ones.
Dressage was my weakest phase and in my final few years eventing I spent more time on it. I also had horses with better brains, who were more trainable.
My first really good horse was Irish Patriot, with whom I won two advanced classes when I first came to England. I thought it was easy, but with time discovered it wasn’t so simple. He was very like my London 2012 Olympic horse Coolio, a good jumper and brilliant cross-country horse.
Irish Patriot struggled on the flat, but over the past 25 years training methods have moved on and we probably could have ironed out some mistakes if I’d had him later in my career.
At a big competition, I would always walk the course early on my own or with one trusted person. Then I’d have a good breakfast; I never let competing put me off my meals.
Before leaving the start box, I’d always run through where I was going. Once at Allerton Park I jumped an extra fence, from the advanced course, on all three of my open intermediate horses. Luckily I wasn’t eliminated as the fence wasn’t flagged off.
With Tabitha, I tailor my advice to each pony, but the recurrent theme is not to go mad, and to stay smooth and in a nice rhythm.
A useful exercise
Years ago I had lessons with Gerry Mullins and we always did canter poles, which I do now with anyone I teach. We use two poles three strides apart, riding over them in three or four strides.
This simple exercise shows up straightness, whether you have a good enough canter, and the rider’s position. It’s particularly useful in winter when the canter is often killed by working inside a lot. Attention to detail is vital in horse management, whether it’s noticing lumps and bumps or looking at a horse’s coat.
Always trot up the horses the morning after an event, even if it’s just a one-day event, and observe if they are stiffer than usual or there is heat in a leg. It’s about noticing small signs before they become a problem.
My parents Gillian and Johnny competed at the top level and gave me lots of useful advice. The parts I remember are to do your best and check your girth! I still do that before the ponies go in the ring; I check the girth and noseband and tuck in any stray keepers.
I spent a few weeks with Ginny Elliot when I was in my late teens and her team were so meticulous. Everything was done to a plan for each horse; they were ahead of the game in terms of the routine they had with all their horses.
My other riding icons were John and Michael Whitaker, whom I grew up watching on TV. They were total horsemen, who could ride anything and were always smooth with a good style. The sport has moved on a huge amount, but they are still competitive at the top level.
Ref Horse & Hound; 5 March 2020