The famously laid-back and relaxed, six-time Olympian Mary King MBE tells Kathy Carter what training routines and yard regimes make her tick.
My daily routine
Ever since I started riding, I’ve been a great believer in attention to detail, and I soon learnt that success begins with the small, incidental things. I believe that if horses live in an organised environment, then the better prepared they’ll be for competing. Having a workable routine in place helps reduce the risk of injuries, setbacks and silly mistakes, because as soon as you start cutting corners, that’s when things go wrong.
My daughter [international eventer] Emily or myself feeds the horses, washing out the feed buckets and letting them drain afterwards. We’ll also straighten rugs and check legs; it’s important to know what is normal for each horse, so that we can spot any potential problem immediately. I’ll also check on the mares and young-stock living out in a field in the valley, and run my hands over the youngsters’ bodies so they get used to me touching them. This promotes a developing connection between horse and human, so the trust starts to build.
My grooms muck out, taking 20 minutes per stable. I’m quite fussy about the horses’ bedding, so we use a chopped, oilseed rape straw bedding, with a superior, rubber-chip-filled flooring fitted over the stable floor. Once the girls have mucked out, they’ll empty, clean then refill the water buckets (two per stable) taking note of how much water the horses drink, so that we know on average what their daily intake is. That way we can notice if there’s a sudden change that could indicate the horse isn’t feeling on top form.
Then the girls will sweep up and tidy the muck trailer. The haylage nets are filled for the evening and the following morning. In all the stables, I’ve used some lovely, old-fashioned butler sinks as mangers, and while I’m not suggesting they’re to everyone’s taste, they work well for me. The horses are worked throughout the morning; our normal weekly routine involves fast work every third day, with schooling, jumping and hacking in-between. The girls help with hacking and some of the canter work, while Emily and I do all the schooling and jumping. After work, the horses are washed off if necessary, then turned out with rugs and exercise boots for a couple of hours.
We bring the horses in, groom them, then pick out and scrub the feet if necessary, hoof-oil inside and out, check the shoes and legs, then rug them up if necessary. Before lunch, we make sure all the stables are skipped out, beds are tidy and water buckets full. Any horse that is in has a lunchtime feed at 1pm, and we’ll leave feeds in the mangers of those who were worked late morning and were out over lunchtime. Then it’s our lunchtime from 1-2 p.m.!
The horses that were out over lunch come in. The afternoon is a good time for catching up with other random jobs – from cleaning mangers or stable windows, to giving the yard a thorough sweep. The lorry too, has to be kept clean so it will be washed on the outside if it’s just back from an event, then the next day it will be cleaned out completely so that it’s ready for the next journey. Then there’s a list of odd jobs pinned up in the tack room that includes tack cleaning, poo-picking the fields in summer, and sweeping the horse walker after each use, plus washing and pulling manes and tails and trimming whiskers and ears.
The girls tidy the tack room, sweep the floor, and make sure the sink and surfaces are clean and mugs washed. Then the stables are skipped out, the beds tidied and the water buckets are topped up. Rugs are straightened just before 5pm, and the horses have their haylage; we empty the night haylage nets into a corner of the stable. Then after locking the tack room, it’s home time for the girls at 5pm.
Either Emily or I feed the horses and check their legs, but once the horses have had their last feed, that’s it for the night, and they won’t see us again until morning. It’s a routine that works well and I’ve never found a late-night check or feed to be necessary. But we do live on site, so if there are any major problems, we’re on hand to attend to them.
In the mornings, we hang up the haylage nets so that mucking out is easier. Once we’ve finished mucking out, we empty the haylage onto the floor so that the horses can eat with their heads down — it replicates the way they naturally eat in the field. But the evening haylage nets are emptied onto the floor immediately.
When we turn out, I turn my horses out in twos or threes, which shocks some people. However, I think it’s worse risking injury to a lonely horse who is galloping up and down the field because he’s missing his friends. We find that the horses get to know each other quite quickly as they get used to the routine.
Find out more about Mary’s training and management formulas and how they apply to every rider in her new book: ‘Mary King — My Way’. (International orders available.)