‘Going barefoot has made my horse faster and better,’ says five-star showjumping winner

  • Christian Kukuk landed Friday’s (24 February) feature CSI5* jump-off class at CHI Al Shaqab, Doha, their first big show since removing the stallion’s shoes. After a straightforward clear in round one, from last draw the newly barefoot showjumper shaved 0.06sec off Irish rider Mark Mcauley’s time with GRS Lady Amaro.

    “So many things came together tonight,” said the winning German rider. “I’ve changed a few things since December: I now ride him without a martingale, and a different bit, and he has no shoes.”

    Although the stallion was already successful at top level, Christian felt he hadn’t quite found the key to him. But he was sceptical about switching to barefoot.

    “To be honest I was always against it,” he said. “But I was sitting at home watching Geneva and other shows, and I kept seeing that the winner and good placed horses were always without shoes, so I thought there must be something good in it. I started to look into it and thought maybe I could try this with Mumbai. I still believe it is not for every single horse – Mumbai is the only one in my string I’ve tried it with – but he is giving me a great feeling.

    “From the first day, he showed me he liked it. We gave him a few days only walking so he could get comfortable, and as soon as he started jumping I knew he was happy. I was a bit unsure with the indoor shows, but in the last couple of weeks, he’s given me the feeling he doesn’t want the shoes. He’s only been eight weeks barefoot, so I had to believe it works, come to Doha, and it’s a good sign he’s already jumping like he did tonight.”

    Analysing how the lack of shoes has made the difference, Christian explained that the “breakover is quicker”.

    “It’s definitely made him faster. It makes him feel lighter in general, the way he moves – his front legs move straighter up. I could feel in the first round that I went so easily inside the time without trying to be fast, and it was the same in the jump-off. It wasn’t our fastest, but the way he is rolling over the ground and also over the fences, just feels lighter and the technique has somehow got a bit better.”

    Change of bit and tack for barefoot showjumper

    Christian was also relieved to have finally alighted on a bit that suits this stunning grey, an 11-year-old by Diamant De Semilly.

    “I’ve tried a hackamore, a normal snaffle, another type of pelham, but this time I used a straight leather mouthpiece – it’s a pelham but I can change my rein so it’s a little bit stronger or lighter,” he said. “I actually changed it before the jump-off, I had it a little stronger for me for the first round and I changed it up so he could be a bit stronger in the jump-off as I wanted him rolling in front of me a bit more. It worked out!

    “I was lucky to go last, and I knew it was possible [to win] but while I was riding the jump-off it felt like two of the turns I added one stride more than I expected, so I didn’t really stick to my plan. So, everything can be a bit better, but tonight I’m just very happy with my horse. There is a lot to celebrate.”

    Christian added that the horse is just coming into his prime. The first time he rode him, “we were not falling in love straight away”, he admitted.

    “Good relationships are about taking time,” he said. “Mumbai had a different opinion of working dressage-wise, although the jump was always there. But for me it’s important that the flatwork is a bit traditional in the German way, which is not how he had been educated. But from the first day, I never had the feeling he was against me or didn’t want to do it. There were hard days but he was always trying to improve and he was straightforward in his head. Over time, we have become a very good match. And I still feel he can get even better as he is just coming into his prime.”

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