William Fox-Pitt’s feeding, fitness and horsecare tips [H&H VIP]

  • This week’s guest editor of H&H magazine William Fox-Pitt explains why he wanted to include a feature on how to manage and train event horses in the issue and offers some tips from his own yard.

    “Our lives as event riders are quite interesting because we are training a triathlete. It would be fascinating to explore how people train their horses with their different set-ups. Who has gallops, who doesn’t, who uses a treadmill as part of their training, who does it without access to hills, how different do their training schedules look?

    “I may be unusual in doing dressage only twice a week, but then I have the gallops so I do quite a lot of schooling while trotting up them. Sometimes I meet novice riders who never take their horse for a canter.

    “It would be intriguing to see some of the diverse ways by which people arrive at similar fitness and training goals.

    “Similarly, on the horsecare side, I’d be curious to know a bit more about how other top riders feed and manage their horses.

    I have a big belief that if you only feed a horse hay, he craves haylage, and if you only feed him haylage, he craves hay. So I mix it up — by feeding hay sometimes he looks forward to his haylage, but he can nibble his hay to keep him occupied without gaining too much weight, which can be important in eventers.

    “You don’t want them too heavy, but it’s so important for avoiding ulcers and other problems not to have them without food for long. We feed quite low-grade hay — low in protein and starch, so you can feed more of it without them putting on weight — and we steam it in a Haygain.

    I also pay great attention to the type of haylage I feed. I get mine from Gary Hickman in Warwickshire and it is much drier than some and doesn’t smell too strongly. It is about 7-9% protein, whereas some haylage used on racing yards would be 14-15%.

    “Another thing we manage really carefully is turnout. Jackie Potts, who has been my head girl for more than 20 years, is meticulous about working out how to turn out different horses so as to avoid problems. It doesn’t matter how inconvenient it is, if it’s right for the horse, she’ll do it. You have to work out who might wind who up, and avoid putting them near to one another.

    Lionheart [William’s London 2012 ride] occasionally started doing laps for no obvious reason, so you could never leave him out at night. There are other horses you would avoid putting out in a howling gale and so on. It is completely worth taking this kind of trouble.

    “But being on heavy clay, we cannot always turn out in January and February, so my horses do quite a lot of walking in-hand too.

    “In terms of yard layout, when we laid out our yard we were lucky enough to have the space to install 5m wide corridors between the stables. We built the stables in blocks of six, so horses don’t have any sense of being on a very big, busy yard — and as with the field Jackie and I spend a lot of time working out who will be happiest where.

    “We learnt from experience too — we took the cross-tying posts from the Continental yard model, but found when the horses faced the wall they occasionally pulled back. We moved the posts so they now face the corridors and this happens much less.

    “Some people are undoubtedly better at getting their horses looking really well. If you can get them looking really fit and well in March, without being too fresh, that is excellent management. Once the spring grass comes and they change their coats, our horses look better anyway.”

    Read the full feature on “Different methods, same goal” in this week’s H&H (dated 6 March), plus more exciting content from William including:

    • Three young horses William recommends you watch this season
    • What riders are trying to make the sport pay — and the two things which have changed William’s business
    • “People always ask us where we find out horses”: where the top 20 eventers in Britain came from
    • CPC training for lorry drivers — who needs to do it and what they’ll learn
    • Travelling horses — William’s experiences and the latest research
    • The Moment: the last time William looked like he needed to grow into his pony

    Plus the first eventing report of the season, from Isleham.

    Find out what else is in 6 March issue of Horse & Hound magazine.