Life lessons: Show producer Jo Bates *H&H Plus*

The show producer on a legendary mare from her past, her obsession with organisation and her daughter’s calming words of wisdom

  • Jo is a leading show horse producer and dressage trainer based in Oxfordshire. She has stood champion at all major shows including Royal Windsor, the Royal International (RIHS) and Horse of the Year Show (HOYS), which she last won in 2019 with Yvonne Jacques’ ex-racehorse Grandeur.

    My former riding horse Broadstone Dee was my horse of a lifetime. In our last year together in 2002 we were champion at Windsor, won the Winston Churchill supreme at the Royal International and then took the riding horse of the year title at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS).

    I always respected her owner Liz Walkinshaw’s decision to retire her after HOYS, but I think she could have had a couple more seasons in her. She was an awesome horse and would have walked through fire for me. On big occasions she never once let me down and we were always on side with each other.

    When training I make sure my horses are responsive to the leg and that they’re working through and forward. They need to be reactive to the aids; if you’re in the ring and your horse has a spook, you need your leg to be able to deal with the incident and encourage them through it.

    I don’t like to have to work too hard when I’m riding either. If I’m sitting on several horses every day I don’t want to be getting off each one all hot and red faced.

    At clinics I do let pupils have a sit on my horses so they know how it feels for one to be an “easy” ride. Young horses always need that little bit more hand-holding, but once you have the training aids – and trust – in place it will come. You need to be able to work together, too, as it’s a two-way connection. It’s an obvious thing to say but I also don’t over-school and I try to keep work varied. Once a horse knows his job it’s just about keeping him ticking over and happy in his work.

    The lessons never stop

    Foot specialist and vet Jane Nixon has instilled in me how important it is to look after horses’ feet. Jane is so hot on foot balance and it’s something I’ve recently learnt a lot about. You never stop learning; I’m always asking questions and soaking up advice.

    I always want to improve, even if it’s by a millimetre. I make sure I arrive at a show with plenty of time and with everything in order. I’m fussy about kit being organised, and I can’t stand it when things aren’t in the right place. I don’t like to be stressed as that can transfer to the horse.

    Everything is checked and checked again before I leave the yard. I’m known for having loads of riding kit with me and on wet days I’m doubly prepared; I’ll always have spare riding clothes and another pair of rainy day reins as there is nothing worse than slippery leathers.

    I can be guilty of a few last-minute nerves just before I go in the ring. I’ll wonder, “Should I put the saddle back?” or, “Are all the keepers tucked in?” My daughter Holly will tell me to “sit up, shut up and smile”. She says it every time I’m about to go in the ring and it really helps me.

    “Gripe in the lorry”

    Growing up I used to work with Jennie Loriston-Clarke. She is an amazing horsewoman who taught me the meaning of hard graft and that no job was too small for you. I completely look up to her. I also admire Carl Hester; he has such empathy with his horses.

    My parents taught me to be a good sportsman. For example, if you’re pulled top and things don’t go your way and you’re dropped, don’t be bitter. Take it on the chin, say well done to the winner and then go and gripe in the lorry. Things won’t always go your way, especially in showing. Be proud of your horse and if you feel the need to rant don’t do it in public; go back to the lorry, sit down and have a gin and tonic.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 6 August 2020