Pammy Hutton: Our stars will peak in Rio [H&H VIP]

  • Saying “well done” to our World Equestrian Games (WEG) team barely covers it. We’re all so proud of you and in awe of the all-conquering Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro.

    A team silver medal and Olympic qualification is just the best news. And this achieved by a quartet including horses that have yet to reach their peak makes Rio 2016 seem more exciting still.

    Thank goodness WEG dressage was “clean” on the doping front, which is more than can be said for the loos at the dressage stadium.

    I’m told the combination of French-style “squatters”, heavy rain, uncollected waste matter and a lot of people, was more than enough to put one off one’s croissants. Quite what the Paralympic contingent was supposed to do, heaven alone knows.

    Before long, lurid descriptions began to appear on internet forums, with one poster declaring: “Where was Pammy Hutton when you needed her?”

    Well, at least when my time comes I’ll be remembered for promoting good, clean toilets at equestrian competitions.

    Sitting askew

    We hear so much about saddles and so little about seats.

    Equestrian magazines are full of expensive saddles with better and better ones recommended by top international riders and trainers.

    I absolutely know that a saddle must fit horse and rider, be comfortable for both parties and of symmetrical construction. Do check yours; you’d be amazed how many lopsided saddles are out there. Bad examples can destroy horses’backs — and riders’too.

    But what about the rider’s seat, body and control over their weight, be there lots or little of it? Any benefit of a £2k or £3k saddle is immediately wiped out by a lack of fitness and understanding of a good seat.

    I so wish that more teaching in this was given to riders, bareback if necessary, because a crooked rider transmits that fault down through the saddle to the horse’s back.

    Almost everywhere I go, I’m met with a problem-solving saddle — when the saddle isn’t the problem.

    The letter of the law

    Here at Talland, we’re undergoing a belated and much needed review from the British Horse Society (BHS) to rectify our shortcomings as an approved riding school. With must-do list in hand, we’re busy realigning ourselves.

    Included in this list was a complaint that we used a bridle with the noseband strap over the headpiece. I have competed internationally with this set-up because few noseband straps are wide enough to avoid putting pressure behind the horse’s ears. I could go out and buy padded headpieces — but what would that cost the school?

    While I recognise standards are important, overzealous implementation can sometimes backfire. I know of one good centre now relinquishing BHS approval because the goalposts are too polished.

    On approvals day, the Fellow of the BHS giving a lecture allegedly received only the following feedback: “You had a responsibility to remove the hoody off one of the young people listening”— nothing about the content. That did it.

    Meanwhile, as an approved centre for 50 years, we’re working on balancing the care and training of horses, welfare and teaching of clients and students, and maintenance of facilities to the required level. Wish us luck!

    No need for chocolate

    A new survey into happiness made me vow not to take my horses for granted.

    When 2,000 UK adults were questioned, 80% stated they were happiest when reminiscing with friends and family. Almost half said that such memories provided a greater emotional boost than their next favourite thing — chocolate.

    Of course, friends and family are precious, but chocolate being the next best thing that makes people happy? Wow, how lucky we are to have horses and all the pleasure they bring.

    It’s often the everyday horsey happenings that make us smile. My best fun this month was cantering up our hill, following an event rider and wondering if my eyesight was going or if I was travelling too slowly as he disappeared over the horizon.

    So next time having horses feels expensive or time-consuming, go for a canter rather than reach for the chocolate.

    Column originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 18 September, 2014