Life lessons: Trainer and judge Judy Bradwell *H&H Plus*

The Burghley winner on taking the time to establish a seat, avoiding horses being “jaded fit” and giving youngsters a good foundation for longevity

  • Judy won Burghley in 1970. She is now a hugely respected producer of horses and trainer of riders, as well as a judge. She was the first woman to be president of the ground jury at both Badminton and Burghley and is also a New Zealand eventing team selector.

    When I was 10, my father took me to a trainer called Captain FE Goldman, with my show pony, Solitaire. My father explained I couldn’t hold the pony except in a double bridle, but Captain Goldman told him to take it home, adding, “Your daughter might be coming home tomorrow if she can’t ride in a snaffle.”

    He was a tough trainer but succeeded with those of us who could take it, including Ruth McMullen, Angela Tucker and Lorna Clarke. I still hear his voice now when riding or teaching.

    I am keen on taking the time to establish a seat, rather than just buying an expensive saddle – nowadays people have all the money and gear, but they don’t learn to ride properly. There’s a lot of ignorance about tack and feeding, too. I see horses stuffing down hay until the minute they go cross-country. In the old days, they wouldn’t have seen hay for several hours before competition.

    All in the build

    My father, who bought all my show ponies, taught me the importance of conformation.

    A horse with a good neck and shape lends itself to going on the bit in the correct way. In the days of roads and tracks, horses had to be very fit and therefore very sound. A horse with uphill conformation will withstand the work and last longer.

    Once when I was on a team shortlist, we had a talk from National Hunt trainer Fred Winter, who said a horse who is 100% fit and 90% well won’t win, but one which is 100% well and 90% fit can win. It’s like people going on holiday – we might not be as fit as we were beforehand, but we’ll have the extra adrenaline to run to the postbox afterwards. It’s better to be fresh fit than jaded fit. Near to a competition, you should reduce the work so the horse regains energy and enthusiasm.

    I also believe in horses learning to negotiate all types of going and ground. My horses don’t live in an arena – I work them on different surfaces and gradients. Hunting teaches horses to balance and have self preservation.

    Base for success

    When I was young, my icon was Jennie Loriston-Clarke, for her presentation, her test riding and her ability on many different horses. More recently, as a dressage judge I admire Pippa Funnell – I appreciate the way she shows the movements so accurately and clearly. I also admire her ambition to be good in all three phases; she’s a true ambassador for eventing.

    In my early career, I was known as a prolific winner of one-day events, but I wasn’t so successful at three-day events. I wish I’d known more on how to prepare horses for the future and give them a good foundation.

    A mare called Cufflink took me through Pony Club. When I was 18, we jumped a double clear at Burghley. I didn’t realise how talented she was and I didn’t produce her as well as I could have.

    Later, I proved that I’d learnt about allowing young horses time to mature in the way I produced Castlewellan. Having bought him as a three-year-old, I held back with him at five and six. At seven, he won five events in a row including Bramham, and we won Punchestown in 1979 before the hunting accident which ended my eventing career, after which he was sold to Jim Wofford in the US.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 22 October 2020