Harry Meade: If only you could pause a busy life *H&H Plus*

  • It’s an interesting aspect of horse sport that a lot of us appear to do the same thing, but the business model underpinning each professional rider is different. As such, each will be hit to varying degrees financially by the shutdown.

    Some rely heavily on buying and selling horses, others on teaching. These activities have been severely affected, although the recent loosening of the lockdown will help.

    Others rely on riding for owners, some of whom are now unable to afford to keep horses in training. On the sponsorship side, some companies have been hit very hard while others are only minimally affected. When the pressure is on, years of building up goodwill through hard work and relationships are repaid in loyalty.

    I’m enjoying having time for in-depth training of the horses. Much of the work during the season is short-term tweaking for the next event, so the past eight weeks have been more like the pre-season routine when you get to the essence of a horse’s way of going, but with more opportunity to work on grass, in open spaces and on varied gradients.

    We can use this time as a positive, making real progress with our horses. An obvious benefit is I’m around so much more to ride rather than away competing, plus I can teach our team myself daily.

    Times like these make you realise what a strong team you have around you – ours have been rocks. We’ve had eight staff living with us throughout lockdown and my wife Rosie has been amazing to make this work. In many ways it’s been a fun experience and has made the team closer, with campfires and games in the evenings, as well as inter-team competitions to put the training into practice and give everyone goals.

    New beginnings

    In November, we finally managed to purchase the yard I’d rented for many years and the house in which I grew up. It was about to go on the market and we’d been trying to buy it for some time, but were resigned to it not happening – such a significant mortgage isn’t easy to secure when you have a slightly left-field job.

    It’s a huge relief as our whole training philosophy has been shaped by the set-up here, and it’s where my father’s horses were produced before mine.

    Ten minutes from Badminton, it’s ideal for training horses – surrounded by quiet lanes and steep hills with plenty of old turf on free-draining Cotswold brash.

    As well as having access to the surrounding hills, we keep 10 acres of grass solely for working the horses – space for a range of flatwork and jumping exercises, a competition-style dressage arena and grown-up course of showjumps. Training here is never repetitive, even during lockdown!

    The yard and system has a proven track record for producing horses who are supremely fit, stay sound and are happy in their work. Being able to remain here and invest in it going forwards is hugely exciting.

    During busy periods, you often wish you could pause life for three months, and in a way this has been that opportunity – we’re on top of the office work and we’ve done a great deal of sorting, clearing, planting and fencing. This week’s project has been making a crossing place in a stream, so the horses paddle through water every time they do roadwork. It was two full days’ work for four people, which isn’t time we’d usually have.

    It’s our sport

    The wet start to the year meant many British Eventing (BE) members were yet to renew their membership and horse registrations by the time of the lockdown. This is BE’s main source of income, so it’s not surprising that the organisation is now under financial pressure.

    There’s no point blaming anyone – there have been changes of management since the inception of the costly IT project – and we need to rally for the sport’s survival.

    It would be great if everyone who is yet to rejoin BE could do so – we all have an element of ownership in and collective responsibility for the sport. We will be the winners if it thrives or the losers if it doesn’t.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 21 May 2020