If you want to win the Royal International supreme championship — or any other title at an outdoor show – make sure your horse isn’t a one-surface wonder. Don’t compromise safety, but do work on different terrain and in all weathers.
That was the lesson from Hickstead, where Allister Hood’s champion and reserve, from the riding horse and cob sections respectively, coped confidently with the soggy going. I realise that some riders don’t have easy access to safe hacking, but it’s easy to spot those who spend all their time in an arena.
Only riding on an artificial surface is counter-productive. Research shows that the best training regime for any horse, whatever its job, is to work on the surfaces it is going to meet in competition.
If you’re going to compete on grass, you should ride on grass. And if your field isn’t perfectly level, look at it as a chance to perfect your riding skills and your horse’s balance. Trotting and cantering around an arena can lull you into a false sense of security, but good preparation will ensure that your performance won’t fall apart in a sloping ring.
Hickstead’s supreme championship format, where riders perform individual shows without a go-round, is spot on. It means that contenders with more than one horse through can present each one, as happened here.
It’s always difficult if a rider qualifies more than one horse and must opt which one to ride. This format solves the problem and, in some cases, means owners aren’t disappointed.
Without detracting from the Hood team’s achievements, it was a shame that competitors weren’t allowed to gallop, owing to the wet going. This decision wouldn’t have been taken lightly, but hunters and cobs relish a gallop in that lovely ring and it adds excitement for spectators.
Having said that, it still felt special to ride in the main ring. Showing director David Ingle and his team did a great job in adverse conditions.
Working hunter competitors faced a challenging course and produced just ten clears from 51 starters. At this level, this is just how it should be: you should expect a course builder to be fair, but to set appropriate challenges.
My personal rule with workers classes is to walk the course, watch just one or two rounds to get an overall impression, and avoid chat about how other competitors are doing. That way, you don’t get ideas about bogey fences and you base the way you ride the course on your knowledge of your horse.
A trip to Ascot races to take part in the Retraining of Racehorses parade was well worth the effort. It was wonderful to see former stars Pentecost and Distant Project, aged 18 and 20 respectively, looking so good and to see retrained racehorses who are enjoying success in dressage, showjumping, eventing and showing.
My ride, The Queen’s Barbers Shop, loved every minute — as did the others. Never underestimate what a correctly re-trained ex-racehorse can do.
Ref Horse & Hound; 10 August 2017