How to get the most out of your horse at the Futurity evaluations [H&H VIP]

  • Presenting horses successfully in-hand works just like successful riding — preparation beforehand and optimal presentation on the day is key

    What is the Futurity?
    The BEF introduced the Futurity series to help identify British-bred horses or ponies who could potentially be destined for successful careers in dressage, eventing, showjumping or endurance. Horses and ponies are divided according to their age — foals, yearlings, two- and three-year-olds — and entered for one discipline. They are first looked at by a vet, then evaluated in a school in-hand and then loose to provide an all-encompassing view of the horse’s future.

    How can you get the most out of your horse?
    Presenting horses successfully in-hand works just like successful riding — preparation beforehand and optimal presentation on the day is key.

    “The helper carrying the whip is as important as the runner. Ideally you would have two helpers — one behind chasing the horse forward, and one slightly in front of the horse, to capture his attention, so he remains uphill and really uses his neck,” says Johanna Floersch, from the Oldenburg Verband’s international breeder service.

    “Never run in front of the horse  — the runner should be next to the shoulder, with his legs running parallel to the horse’s.

    “Some horses need a bit more tension, in which case the runner’s hand should be quite high, at the same height as the withers, to stabilise the neck and help keep the horse uphill.

    “With horses who are more naturally tense, it is better to keep a slightly lower hand to help keep them more relaxed. The left hand must be free and used, as necessary, to guide the horse in straightness — waving the horse away from corners or turns, for instance.”

    Mastering the walk
    “When it comes to the walk, you want long, slow, movements without any tension, and you should keep the hand low, roughly the same height as your hip,” adds Johanna.

    “It goes without saying that the horse needs to be well turned out: plaited up and with ears neatly trimmed, although things such as bridle choice are down to personal preference and, to a certain extent, fashion. In Germany, handlers wear white trousers, a polo shirt and gloves.

    “While it is imperative that you practise running the horse together with the helper(s) at home, it’s not a good idea to show the horse the arena where the presentation will take place.

    It’s better if the environment is new. Finally, some runners like to activate the hindleg seconds before entering the ring, by tapping very quickly on the hindlegs: this creates tension and really wakes the horse up.”

    Trainer and runner Bartosz Iwanski adds: “The most important thing is the contact — the runner should keep a consistent contact with the horse’s mouth, to help the horse use his hindleg and truly move through the back.

    “A whip with a plastic bag attached to the end [not permitted for Futurity], for added noise, can help. However, when presenting a horse you don’t want to create too much tension.

    You need to find a balance between tension — and, consequently, expression — and relaxation, just like when riding.

    “The horse’s tail has to be down: if it’s raised, that’s a sign he’s tense. The pressure needs to be built gradually, and this is where practice and preparation is key.

    “Finally, don’t forgetvthat you need to be a fit runner!”

    What do evaluators want to see?
    Lesley Peyton-Gilbert, international grand prix rider and a Futurity assessor for the past five years, shares her thoughts as a senior evaluator: “On the whole the ability of the handler to run with the horse is paramount. This sounds obvious, but it is surprising how many people simply aren’t up to the job of running in time and balance with the horse they are presenting.

    “We need to see the walk and trot in their best possible light. This means straightness, fluency and balance.

    “The assessors are looking at the quality of movement, the way in which the hindlegs are placed under the body, the articulation of the joints and the freedom of the shoulder, resulting in expression and cadence of the trot with a regular rhythm.

    “Keeping the handler’s stride length matching that of the front legs of the horse is a desired ability in the handler; the handler needs to be able to run sufficiently that they don’t ‘hook’ the neck towards them and cause the horse to be pulled down onto the shoulder, which would inhibit the movement through loss of balance.

    “It’s all about the balance.”

    This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (23 October 2014)