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William Micklem


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About William Micklem

SPEAKER - AUTHOR - COACH - BREEDER - COLUMNIST "In the proverbial 101 ways, William Micklem has made huge contributions to the manner in which we ride, train, equip, breed, and think about horses. His positive impact spans oceans, disciplines and breeds of horses. If William speaks or writes about it, go listen or read it." Denny Emerson - USA event Team Gold medallist, USEA Hall of Fame, best selling author, and chair of breeders committee of AHSA. SPEAKER: William’s educational presentations are wide ranging, covering all equestrian disciplines and coach education for all sports. In particular he has developed a reputation for his innovative presentations and structures for improving performance in all activities, The GO! Rules, Habitual Hats, and The Winning EDGE. He also presents his one-man entertainment Ride a Cock Horse. AUTHOR: His book, The Complete Horse Riding Manual (Dorling Kindersley 2003 – published in eleven languages), is the best selling equestrian manual in the world and introduced his highly praised concept of using ‘Constants & Variables’ for all riding. In addition he was one of the eleven contributing riders to 101 Exercises from Top Riders (David & Charles 2007) and one of the contributing panel to the BHS Advanced Manual of Horsemanship (Kenilworth Press 1980). COACH: William is a Fellow of the British Horse Society (FBHS), a Tutor for Coaching Ireland and a Level 3 coach for Horse Sport Ireland. He was formerly National Coach for Bord na gCapall (Irish Horse Board), coach to the Irish Junior and Young Rider event teams and Training Director at the Mark Phillips Gleneagles Equestrian Centre. His work to make cross-country training safer has influenced many coaches and he also specialises in the assessment and training of young horses. He champions a kinder and more natural approach to horse training and his ground breaking and more humane Micklem Bridle is now in use throughout the world and fully approved for all disciplines by the FEI. In addition his innovative training ideas for children and young riders have challenged traditional methods. All this has led to him being in demand at training conferences around the world. In 2014 he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award by Eventing Ireland. BREEDER: As well as finding Karen and David O’Connor’s three great Olympic medallists, Biko, Custom Made & Gilt Edge, he also bred Mandiba, the World Breeding Federation event horse of the year for 2010, and Zara Phillips’ High Kingdom, British team silver medallist at both the London Olympics in 2012 & the World Equestrian Games in 2014 and in the top 10 individually in their four 4* competitions. He stands a stallion, their full brother Jackaroo, and continues to breed exceptional event horses. COLUMNIST: William is a columnist for Eventing Nation and The Chronicle of the Horse and is a regular contributor The Irish Field and to equestrian magazines in the UK, USA, New Zealand and Australia. "William Micklem is one of the best minds in the horse world today. He has a unique mixture of practical experience at the highest levels and thorough knowledge of classical principles of horsemanship. Anything William says is worth hearing." Jimmy Wofford USA double Olympian, leading Coach and Author "I first met William when I was thirteen years old. It was exciting for me to learn classical dressage from someone whose passion was eventing, and it was apparent, even then, that William's teaching philosophies were ahead of their time. William has studied horse and human behaviour all his life and has mastered the relationship between the two. His teachings became the foundation for my riding and his horsemanship continues to be the flagship of our training programme." Karen O'Connor Five time Olympian and nine time USA Female rider of the year. From her introduction to William's book, The Complete Horse Riding Manual.

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William Micklem: Does Size Matter? In Praise of Smaller Horses

EN is excited to bring you a new series from William Micklem: Breadth As Well As Depth. The series addresses the need for breadth in eventing education and also includes his thoughts on event horse breeding, plus gives added value from the inimitable Harry Potter. Today we bring you Part 6: Does Size Matter? In Praise of Smaller Horses. Be sure to read Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

Traditional Irish Sport Horse Lenamore with Caroline Powell. He completed 24 four-stars, 7 times placed at Badminton and won Burghley at the age of 17. He is a 15.3 son of the Irish Draught Sea Crest. Photo by Samantha Clark.

Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire: “Cornelius! You place too much importance, and you always have done, on the so-called purity of blood! You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be!”

Dumbledore is talking about how someone grows mentally, and of course this is key both for humans and horses. But sadly in the horse world we often place too much emphasis on their sheer physical size and insufficient emphasis on their mental qualities, a horse’s character and personality. I think it may be a man thing!

However historically some great and famous men have preferred small horses. Winston Churchill said 15.3 was big enough for any man, and Wellington and Napoleon’s famous war-horses, Copenhagen and Marengo, were just 15 and 14.1 hands respectively.

Both these horses performed some extraordinary feats of endurance. For example Copenhagen, who was a three-fourths Thoroughbred stallion, was the Duke’s mount during the Battle of Waterloo, carrying him for 17 hours continuously during the battle.

Marengo was frequently used in the 80 mile gallops from Valladolid to Burgos in Spain, which he often completed in under five hours. What is interesting is that recent research shows that Marengo, whose skeleton is in the UK, was actually Irish bred, rather than being born in Egypt as previously thought, and was a part bred Connemara!

Smaller is often better

The current fashion for big horses is probably a cause of both soundness problems and a lack of longevity in the modern sport horse, so there is a real need to knock on the head the theory that bigger is better.

It is well known in the dog world that small dogs live longer than big dogs and in general the same applies in the horse world. For example Shire and heavy horses rarely live much past 20 and the majority of longevity records are achieved by ponies, who often have almost twice this life span.

When it comes to soundness the data is limited, but the general experience is that those who stay sounder longer tend to be those that are lighter on their feet and move efficiently. This is no surprise as both trainers and equine veterinarians confirm that the majority of ailments are in the foot and lower half of the foreleg, and so those that pound the ground heavily are more likely to sustain injuries in these areas.

We also know that there is a high frequency of foreleg tendon and ligament injuries with horses that work at or close to their maximum speed, particularly when tired. So by using quality animals, of any breed, that can both work well within their maximum speed and spring over the ground, there is a greater chance of staying sound.

The weight of a horse has an obvious effect on the forces exerted on ligaments, tendons and bone structure of the horse. The weight ranges within different breeds can be huge, but in general it is true that the average 14.2 pony is half the weight of an average modern sport horse and the average Thoroughbred is 200 pounds lighter than a sport horse of a similar height.

However, the crucial point is the sport horse does not have twice the amount of bone as the pony, nor are its ligaments and tendons twice as strong, and even though the Thoroughbred is 200 pounds lighter than the sport horse the Thoroughbred has evolved to be stronger in these key areas because of the racing industry.

Of course there are exceptions but there is a correlation between soundness of the lower limb and the forces exerted on them, and weight (mass) and speed are the two most significant factors influencing these forces. The weight of a horse within each breed will tend to increase and decrease according to their size, therefore smaller means lighter but not necessarily weaker.

As examples my foundation mare, High Dolly, the dam of Mandiba, High Kingdom and Jackaroo, was seven-eighths Thoroughbred and not quite 16 hands, but won four point-to-points by a distance carrying 175 pounds! While Hyperion, one of the most influential Thoroughbred sires of all time, was only 15.1 when he won the English Derby and fully grown was just 15.3.

World beating small event horses

Also 15.3 was Charisma, Mark Todd’s double Olympic individual gold medalist in 1984 and 1988; and one inch even smaller was his teammate Heelan Tompkin’s prolific Glengarrick, who was the smallest and oldest horse at the 2004 Athens Olympics where he finished seventh individually as an 18-year-old.

Glengarrick also won the CCI3* at Puhinui in Auckland aged 19 in 2005. The following year he made his final championships appearance at the World Equestrian Games in Aachen in 2006, once again taking seventh place.

Like Mark and Heelan, their New Zealand teammate Caroline Powell made her name on a small horse, Lenamore. This 15.3 superstar won Burghley at the age of 17 and completed two four-stars every year from 2005 until 2012 when he was 19! He was by the sire of Cruising, the Irish Draught Sea Crest, and was in the rosettes at Badminton an amazing seven times.

Also 15.3 was Kirby Park Irish Jester, ridden by Australia’s Megan Jones. This 75% Thoroughbred Irish Sport Horse was a stalwart of Australian eventing for many years, competing at the 2006 Aachen World Equestrian Games and earning a team silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He finished 2008 ranked #1 on the FEI World Leaderboard for eventing.

However Australia’s most famous little horse has to be the 15-hand Our Solo, who Bill Roycroft rode to win Badminton and be part of the gold medal Olympic team in Rome in 1960.

Show jumping pocket rockets 

They say show jumpers need to have size, but there are many examples of small superstars. For example last September Kent Farrington won the Longines Masters in Los Angeles on his much loved Creedance, who is just 15.1. Last spring in Wellington the $1 million class was won by Lauren Hough on her prolific winner the 15.2 mare Ohlala.

Of course the biggest show jumping Olympic track of all time was in 1968 in Mexico and the Silver medal was won by Marion Coakes on Stroller, the Irish rubber ball who I once watched win a 14.2 pony class with Marion! Mexico was a triumph for small horses, as the USA’s Bill Steinkraus rode the 16-hand Thoroughbred Snowbound to beat Stroller for the gold medal. The British gold medal event team had Jane Bullen on the 14.3 Our Nobby, who also won Badminton that year.

Another Thoroughbred, Touch of Class, won the 1984 show jumping gold medal for the USA in Los Angeles. Ridden by Joe Fargis, she was just 15.3. And who could forget 1988 Olympic Champion Jappaloup, ridden for France by Pierre Durand, who was 15.1, or in more recent times the two 15.2 Grand Prix legends Laura Kraut’s Cedric, and long time world number one Itot du Chateau, ridden by Edwina Tops-Alexander.

My personal favourites were Eric Lamaze on the 16-hand powerhouse and multiple Grand Prix winner Hickstead, and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s Quick Star, the sire of Nick Skelton’s gold medalist Big Star and so many other great jumpers, who was just a fraction over 15.2.

World beating ponies and pony genes 

When Theodore O’Connor stormed round both the Pan Americans and Kentucky CCI4* with Karen O’Connor, despite being just under 14.2, we were mesmerized, but in fact there have been numerous ponies and part bred ponies competing successfully in international competitions, including 14.3 Little Tiger, ridden by Britain’s Phoebe Buckley, who completed six four-stars from 2008 to 20010.

Little Tiger was seven-eighths Thoroughbred, and crossing the Thoroughbred with the Connemara Pony has long proved to be a wonderful genetic mix. Stroller was bred this way, as are both Allie Blyskal-Sacksen’s four-star flyer Sparrow’s Nio and Camilla Speirs’ Portersize Just a Jiff, who had two top 10 finishes at four-stars last year.

There was another part-bred Connemara that was one of the best event horses of all time. His name was Grasshopper, so called because of his regular bucking sessions. A three-time Olympian and hall of famer he was bred a few miles from me in Co Wicklow, by the Thoroughbred Tudor out of a Connemara pony called Hope.

Grasshopper was ridden by Ireland’s Ian Dudgeon in the 1956 Olympics at Stockholm Sweden, then came to the USA and was ridden by Michael Page in 1960 at the Rome Olympics and again in 1964 at Tokyo.

Jimmy Wofford describes him like this: “He was smart, tough, brave, and indefatigable beyond belief. He would still be pulling at the end of a 22-mile speed and endurance test.”  Grasshopper won team silver and individual gold medal at the 1959 Pan American Games, team and gold medals at the 1963 Pan American Games, and team silver medal and fourth place individual finish at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He was a true legend.

Two other world class part-bred Connemaras were Dundrum and Marcus Aurelius. Tommy Wade’s 15-hand Dundrum won not only Grand Prix but also Speed and Puissance classes. He once won all five international classes at the Dublin Horse Show and was also a part of the winning Aga Khan Nations Cup team. Something that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

Marcus Aurelius was the 15.1-hand ride of a lifetime for Mary Anne Tauskey, as part of the gold medal winning USA teams in both the Pan American Games and the Montreal Olympics.

Huge advantages of pony and TB genes

Pony blood is underused in sport horses. Just consider the facts: Ponies are different genetically and so many things are less prevalent in ponies, including navicular, tendonitis and warts. When cut they even produce little of the proud flesh (granulation) that is common with wounds on horses. A good dollop of pony blood has much to offer sport horse breeding and might be a game changer for those who breed performance horses.

This is because ponies live longer, are generally sounder, have more pound per pound dynamic strength, and in my opinion are also more intelligent overall. This is not surprising as the modern sport horse brain has only been developed over the last 150 years and the Thoroughbred over 300 years, but the Connemara pony, for example, has had between 1,500 and 2,500 years for brain development.

Arguably the most influential show jumping sire of all time was the slightly built three-fourths Thoroughbred Cor de la Bryere. He was almost gelded in France because of this but then sent to Germany instead and little used initially. They soon saw the error of this move as his offspring started to perform. Now in modern show jumping there is a much greater appreciation of the need for quality and a horse that can gallop.

Even in dressage more quality horses abound and who can forget the petite 16.00 Rembrandt who won eight individual Gold medals with Nicole Uphoff and looked just like a quality event horse. His dam was by the Thoroughbred Angelo. Despite what we are often told there is wide use of Thoroughbred blood in dressage horses, and even the Hanoverian stallion of the year in 2006 was the full Thoroughbred Lauries Crusador.

In addition as I outlined in my previous article the majority of Germany’s top event horses are three-fourths Thoroughbred or more, even though they may be branded Holsteiner or Hanoverian.

Custom made horses

So does size matter? In the world of performance horses it is almost certainly overrated, especially when the majority of riders are female. Of course it is important to have a horse that can easily carry their rider, but ideally in a general purpose saddle the rider’s knees should be at the widest point of the body of the horse, and not several inches above as often happens with a small rider on a big horse.

In addition, as well as being easier to ride, small horses also have safety benefits, as they are less likely to create balance and security issues for the rider.

Therefore as horse riding is both a sport for all and sport for life the smaller horses are vital, not only for elite sport, but to provide the right mounts for the hundreds of thousands of novice and pleasure riders, and for the thousands of young and the old who might take up riding if it was easier to find the right horse. Then many more could experience the life enhancing possibilities of our extraordinary sport, with all its transferable skills.

Without doubt the equestrian world has always had much to offer in terms of life skills and as Winston Churchill, a real Professor Dumbledore figure if there ever was one, said, “No hour of life is lost that is spent in the saddle.” So let’s make these magical hours possible for many more people … and from this group of new riders some could undoubtedly find their Harry Potter spirit, dig deep into their mental strength and become Olympians.

©William Micklem

Next Time: BREADTH AS WELL AS DEPTH + Lessons from Harry Potter, he concluding part of this series: Part 7 – Friendship and bravery and two wonderful USA superheroes.

William Micklem: Breadth As Well as Depth, Part 5 – More Breeding Lunacy

EN is excited to bring you a new series from William Micklem: Breadth As Well As Depth. The series addresses the need for breadth in eventing education and also includes his thoughts on event horse breeding, plus gives added value from the inimitable Harry Potter. Be sure to read Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

CRUISING – Traditional Irish (TIH) Stallion winner of the Aachen Grand Prix — rated 5* as a sire for both show jumping and eventing.

Dumbledore said in The Chamber of Secrets: “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.” Understandably it is the choice of the majority of breeders to follow the money and seek commercial success.

As a result the majority of sport horse breeders in Ireland aim to breed show jumpers, and in Europe generally they aim to breed specialist show jumpers or dressage horses. The consequence of this is that increasingly event horses are coming from the warmblood world, from a group of horses primarily bred for a different task.

Bred to excel across the board

The warmblood stallion that has risen to the top of the ranking lists of event horse sires in the UK and Ireland is Ramiro B, the sire of Buck Davidson’s mount Ballynoe Castle RM, who is the biggest points winner of all time in the USA. But Ramiro B is just 36% Thoroughbred and needs quality mares.

Ballynoe Castle RM is 69% Thoroughbred, being out of a 93.75% Irish Thoroughbred mare, so not far from that magic 75% Thoroughbred that most are looking for, as all the statistics would suggest that for event horse breeding the 75% Thoroughbred is king.

So the challenge is still to find the right Thoroughbred mares and sires for the next generation of event horses. However because so few Thoroughbred sires are now being used to produce sport horses, as everyone wants to breed a jumper or dressage horse, it is difficult for Thoroughbred sires to make their name. So it is a vicious circle with fewer horses of this type of breeding competing, fewer horses advertising the merits of this type of breeding, and as a result fewer breeders producing quality event horses.

In modern event horse breeding there are three Thoroughbreds that stand out, Stan The Man, Master Imp and Heraldik. Stan The Man is not only the sire of Leslie Law’s Olympic Gold medalist Shear L’Eau, and his full brother Shear H2O, but also of the legendary winning machine La Biosthetique Sam FBW.

Master Imp and Heraldik have been the most successful event sires over the last ten years as a whole. Master Imp is the sire of Zara Tindall’s High Kingdom and his brother, my stallion Jackaroo, and also of the up and coming Irish stallion Golden Master. Heraldik failed to get a top rating in the German stallion rating system, showing how event stallions are usually neglected on the continent, but one man saw the value in Heraldik and as a result has made a major contribution to German international eventing success.

The Friedrich Butt legacy

Much has been written about the influence of Chris Bartle on the success of the German team, and I have no doubt this is true, but arguably there is another man who has been almost as influential. That man is the late Friedrich (Fritz) Butt. He made the choice not only to breed event horses but to largely use Thoroughbred blood, and as a result he is largely responsible for making Heraldik famous. Over a lifetime he kept using Thoroughbred sires on his mares and their offspring but he only used Thoroughbreds that could jump and mares that had good temperaments.

He was initially ridiculed for this breeding strategy but produced a succession of CCI4* horses including Ingrid Klimke’s Butts Abraxxas, Andreas Dibowski’s Butts Leon and Butts Avedon. Although branded Hanoverian, all these horses are 98.5% Thoroughbred!

Friedrich Butt’s work has been continued by Dr Volker Steinkraus, and among other current good young horses he has bred is Michael Jung’s Lennox, who was Michael’s intended ride at the European Championships at the start of this year. Lennox is once again 98.5% Thoroughbred but also branded Hanoverian. Their work has proved that you can successfully breed eventers.

When these horses are put alongside Dirk Schrade’s 81.25% Thoroughbred King Artus, Ingrid Klimke’s 72% Thoroughbred Horseware Hale Bob, Sandra Auffarth’s 80% Thoroughbred Opgun Louvo, and Michael Jung’s 76% Thoroughbred La Biosthetique Sam FBW, a picture emerges about Germany’s gold medal winning teams that is not well known, because it does not fit in with the sport horse breeding and marketing strategy of the major continental breed societies.

However it is a fact that their elite event riders are using really quality horses while the majority of lower level event horses have much less quality and gallop. The difficulty for the buyer is that both types of horses are branded the same.

Failing to breed for the industry as a whole

Professor Steinkraus says that that breeding eventers may bring fame, but it is unlikely to make you rich: “I don’t know anyone else who breeds just for eventing because there is not enough money in eventing horses. They breed dressage or jumping horses, and every now and then an eventer is just their by-product.” 

The root problem facing event breeders today is that elite dressage and jumping horses are worth five, ten and twenty times the value of elite event horses. However this financial model for jumpers and dressage horses is flawed because it is almost totally based on both elite horses and elite riders. What breeders often forget is that the elite proportion of this equine population is only probably 5-10%, in which case a majority of dressage horses and jumpers bred are worth much less.

However the financial advantage and marketing momentum behind specialist elite dressage and jumping horses is such that in my estimation it has become the driving force for approximately 90% of the sport horse breeding world. The lunacy this creates is that 90% of breeders are trying to breed horses ideal for say a maximum 5-10% of riders who could be described as elite!

But let’s be generous and say it’s 25% to 30% of riders who are aiming for higher-level work. This still shortchanges the other 70% to 75% of riders and equestrian sport as a whole, because at the end of the day the financial viability and growth of the sport depends not on elite riders but on an increasing number of pleasure riders and novice competition riders … and they need suitable horses.

So is the specialization in horse breeding, with the intense focus on producing elite dressage and show jumpers, taking sport horse breeding down a road that is not beneficial to either eventing or horse sports and riding as a whole?

If the answer to these questions is yes, then there is every justification for a strategy in all national breeding programs that redresses the balance, to the benefit of us all, and specifically aims to breed both an event horse type and more multi-purpose horses. There have been various studies to suggest this is not necessary, but they are largely reports from vested interests.

How to make it work financially

An increasing number of event horse breeders and producers do make it work financially and are showing how to successfully follow a different route. Mary McCann, from Co. Kildare in Ireland, has used her deep knowledge and passion for the traditional Irish horse to stand and breed stallions that have not only been outstanding performers but have left a legacy of young horses that have made a major contribution to the finances of many equestrian businesses.

Mary’s commitment extends from Connemaras and Irish Draughts through to quality performance horses. She produced and stood the top performance Connemara sire, Ashfield Bobby Sparrow, the first ever Connemara stallion to win an individual gold medal at the European Pony Show Jumping Championships.

In addition she produced and stood the top Irish Draught jumper and sire Sea Crest. Sea Crest sired one of the most successful dual purpose stallions in the whole of Europe in the last fifty years, Cruising, who was himself a top jumper, winning the Aachen Grand Prix among numerous victories with Trevor Coyle.

Cruising is just over 53%, but it needs to be remembered that his sire Sea Crest was a great galloper, as were many of his offspring including my favourite 4* champion Lenamore. Cruising was out of a 75% TB international show jumping mare with wonderful jumping breeding called Mullacrew. She was by Nordlys, who was also sire of Olympic show jumping gold medalist Ambassador.

Cruising is the only stallion in Ireland to have a 5* rating for his performance of his offspring in both eventing and show jumping and is also a successful sire of dressage horses. His many event horses include Karen O’Connor’s Olympic ride Mr Medicott, Hannah Sue Burnett’s mount Harbour Pilot, and Andrew Nicholson’s CCI4* winner Mr Cruise Control.

In addition Cruising has sired a host of exceptional breeding stock and jumpers, including Rich Feller’s Flexible, World Cup winner and USEF International Horse of the Year in 2012, and a very successful sire himself.

Mary McCann now has two 4-year-old stallion clones of Cruising just beginning their competition and breeding careers, Cruising Encore and Cruising Arish. They are both exceptional jumpers and it is wonderful that these genes are available to breeders again. Here is the first competition round of the 4-year-old Cruising Encore, filmed this spring.

Today my stallion Jackaroo stands alongside them, so Mary’s belief in the top class dual purpose traditional stallion continues unabated.

Also in Ireland, both Richard Sheane with his Cooley horses and Carol Gee with her Fernhill horses have made a significant contribution to event horse breeding by showing that producing event horses can be a successful commercial enterprise.

Richard and Carol obviously have a great eye for a horse but in particular they have invested heavily in training by employing excellent riders. They have shown that this is key to attracting customers who are happy to pay a commercial price for a horse that has a high chance of success in the future.

For example in recent years Phillip Dutton’s career has been rejuvenated with his Fernhill horses: Fernhill Cubalawn, Fernhill Fugitive, and of course Mighty Nice, his bronze medal ride in Rio and USEF International Horse of Year in 2016. Phillip and his owners undoubtedly feel that they have had a wonderful return on their investment.

In addition Hannah Sue Burnett’s mount Cooley Dream, Kim Severson’s mount Cooley Cross Border, and Jonty Evan’s mount Cooley Rorkes Drift must currently be three of the most desirable and valuable horses in world eventing.

The best hotels

As Richard Sheane and Carol Gee have shown the training and riding aspect is a key component of commercial success. As I said in my last article young event horses need to go to the best hotels. This was something that Friedrich Butt also realized. To make it possible for more of his horses to be well produced good he came up with an innovative idea. He would give a horse to a good rider then say, ‘I’m going to give you 10% of the horse, and with each month you work the horse, you get 1%.’

Professor Steinkraus says, It’s a great idea, I do the same thing. I give a young rider 10% of the horse, and he takes the horse and from day one, this is your horse, and 10% of the horse is yours as a present. With each month you work the horse, you own one percent more. After three years, you own 36% in addition to the 10% I gave you at the start, so we are approximately even after three years. Then we can decide what we are going to do with the horse. Are we going to sell the horse? Or are you going to buy the horse — you can get it for little money, the price we agreed at the start.” 

This model can also work with those who can spot potential in off the track racehorses, but because of the number of young racehorses that become mentally unsettled by their racing careers it may take longer to have them performing well in competition … and time is money. However there are some truly wonderful Thoroughbred horses coming out of training and this will remain a primary source of event horses, especially for those young professionals starting in the industry who can only buy cheaper horses.

Growth, expansion, more worth

But with regard to specific breeding of event type horses it is going to need a greater number of people to take a leap of faith, for the benefit of the whole sport horse industry, and make the choice to breed this type of horse.

It needs all eventing national governing bodies, the Thoroughbred breeders associations, and all organizations like the Traditional Irish Horse Association and Pony and Cob breed societies, to be even more proactive about promoting the advantages of their horses and making the choice to invest in appropriate horse breeding for all riders at all levels.

The good news is that eventing is a growing sport expanding at about 11% each year at international level and almost double this at national level. As the sport expands and the net worth of the sport increases there will be more and more reason to be imaginative and courageous like Friedrich Butt and choose to breed for the specific needs of event riders.

There is another key related area that needs addressing because it has a negative effect on the growth of the industry as a whole. It concerns the size of horses being bred. Both breeders and the market place are fixated of the need for 16.2 or 16.3 elite performers, but these horses are often not suitable for the majority of riders, measured in the millions, who are female and generally smaller, or children coming off ponies.

More lunacy! Why are we not valuing the smaller horse more, many of which have even became Olympic medalists? 

©William Micklem


Part 6 – Does Size Matter? … In Praise of Smaller Horses

William Micklem: Learning from 5 of the Best Event Horses of All Time

EN is excited to bring you a new series from William Micklem: Breadth As Well As Depth. The series addresses the need for breadth in eventing education and also includes his thoughts on event horse breeding, plus gives added value from the inimitable Harry Potter. Today we bring you Part 4: Learning from 5 of the Best Event Horses of All Time. Be sure to read Part 1Part 2 and Part 3

Michael Jung and La Biosthetique Sam FBW. Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

“You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve,” says Harry Potter in The Half-Blood Prince, and if we added ‘horse’ to make it ‘horse nerve’ he could have been talking about the very best event horses in history.

Nerve in the dictionary is defined as ‘steadiness, courage and sense of purpose when facing a demanding situation.’ I look upon this as being the defining quality of the best event horses in the world. Some of this nerve and courage is down to nurture but a good portion is simply down to their nature, the genes they carry.

This is why the use of racing genes, from horses that have to show huge courage and fight to win at the end of the race, are so important in event horses.

Top 5 of all time?

Everyone has their favourite event horses. I have five that I would put on my all time very subjective list of all time favourites. They all performed successfully at the highest level, they all had great paces, gallop and jump, and most importantly they all had bucket loads of nerve and courage. In addition they are all horses that would still be competitive in modern championship events, or in one case are currently competitive.

The five are Merely-A-Monarch, Durlas Eile, Kilkenny, Biko and La Biosthetique-Sam. The breeding of all these horses confirms my belief and the belief of most leading riders about the need for quality in the event horses at the highest level. Biko is a full TB but the other four are all at least 75% TB, being by TB horses out of half bred mares. They all also had the jump to be show jumpers, and in the case of Merely-A- Monarch, Durlas Eile, and Kilkenny actually won international show jumping classes.

Merely-A-Monarch – (87.5%TB UK bred-1955) — ridden by Anneli Drummond-Hay, he won the very first Burghley Horse Trials in 1961 when he was just a 6-year-old, winning the first prize of £100! The following year he won Badminton before turning to show jumping, winning his first Grand Prix just five months later. He was a consistent winner, including the Ladies European Championship and the Queen Elizabeth II Cup. He was also a regular member of the British Nations Cup team and remarkably was short-listed for both the eventing and show jumping teams for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, and long-listed for the dressage team!

His dressage was so good that Rosemary Springer, the five time German champion and Olympian, tried very hard to buy him! So he remains the finest multi-purpose horse I have ever seen in the flesh. In a world wide poll Année Hippique and the FEI chose him as one of the best 50 horses of the last century from all disciplines.

He was by the wonderful Thoroughbred Happy Monarch, out of a mare that was a ¾ TB quality pony with a ‘difficult’ temperament. Sadly she was put down immediately after Merely-A- Monarch was weaned!

Durlas Eile – (75%TB Irish bred, b. 1955) — ridden by Ireland’s Eddie Boylan, he was by the very successful sire of steeplechasers Artist’s Son, who was by the legendary Gainsborough. They won an international Prix St George dressage class in 1965 in London, having won Badminton earlier that year. He was also fourth individually and part of the Gold medal winning Irish team at the first World Eventing Championships at Burghley in 1966. The following year they became European individual champions at Punchestown with a dressage score of 84%!

He was originally owned by the Army Equitation School, winning a number of classes, and was a Puissance specialist. So he is probably the only horse in history to have won international classes in three disciplines. Prior to the 1968 Mexico Olympics he was sold to the Canadian rider Barry Sonshine for a then record price of £19,000.

Kilkenny – (75%TB Irish bred, b. 1957) – ridden by Ireland’s Tommy Brennan and Jimmy Wofford. He was by the most successful dual-purpose sire of his time Water Serpent, and even jumped 6-feet 7-inches in the Puissance at Rotterdam before his first Olympics. He started his Olympic Games career at the age of just seven, going on to two more, winning team silver medals each time with Jimmy Wofford. He also went to two World Championships, finishing third individually with Jimmy in 1970 at Punchestown in Ireland. He completed every event in which he started and never finished a cross country tired.

Writing recently about the 1970 World Championships, Jimmy tells a story to confirm this: “Having finished our round … I went over to my mother who was near the finish line. She asked if we were all right and I reassured her that both of us were fine.”

“That’s a relief,” she said, “you got left behind so badly at the last fence I thought you might have gotten hurt.”

“I replied that he had stood off the last fence from a stride away, and the distance was so long I was sure he would put in another stride. This, from a horse that had just galloped 22 miles. We both just smiled and shook our heads at such a striking display of courage and stamina, but it says all I need to say about his qualities.”

However Jimmy, as many know, is without doubt the best equestrian wordsmith in the USA today, and he did say more, in probably the finest eulogy ever written about a horse.

“I would not have had a career without him. Most of the public notice I have received was due to him, and the only thing that can be said for me is that I was brave enough, as a young man, to let him be himself. If you wanted to see the ‘look of eagles,’ you had only to see him once, and you would know it forever. He had a gallop that took a young man to enjoy and took a fierce hold cross-country, but I rode him throughout his career in a snaffle because I then held the belief that my horse’s affection is the strongest bridle of all and believe that to this moment. He was afraid of only two things: bagpipes and not trying hard enough.”

Biko – (TB Irish bred, b. 1984) — Karen O’Connor’s great Olympic partner by Beau Charmeur was chosen as USEA Horse of the Century. He also holds the number six spot on the USEA Top 10 All American High Point Horses of the Century. Biko was the stalwart of the U.S. Team in the 1990s and in 1996 helped the U.S. win silver at the Olympic Games in Atlanta. He and O’Connor represented the country on multiple occasions and finished third at Badminton in 1995, and 2nd and 5th at Rolex in 1996 and 1998. Karen said about him, “He had an amazing work ethic and loved to be ridden every day. He also had an unbelievable gallop and incredible brain.”

It is true that he didn’t actually win a huge number of competitions but he was always reliable and always knocking at the door of the winner’s enclosure at the highest level. Ironically he would probably have won Burghley in 1999 at the age of 16, having been 5th at Rolex the previous year, but with one fence to jump on the cross country he slipped a tendon off his hock and was subsequently retired.

La Biosthetique Sam FBW — (German bred-75%TB, b. 2000) — his record with Michael Jung tops all these horses. Now 17 years old and a superb second at Badminton this year, Sam has never been out of the top six and only six times out of the top three in all his 59 internationals from 1* to 4*. Not bad for a horse that was originally rejected by the German licensing commission as being “mediocre with a big head”! His quality of performance and consistency makes him superior to all others in modern times.

He is by the TB Stan The Man, also sire of Leslie Law’s Shear l’Eau and Shear H2O, out of an Heraldik mare. Still going strong today, having been recently placed at 2nd in the Aachen 3*. They say brilliant horses make great riders but in this case I think it is a case of a brilliant horse meets a brilliant rider and this is the essential explanation for their unprecedented success.

One more to join the party

But there’s more! Both because added value is important and as I really love this horse, I am taking the liberty of including an extra superstar in my list. This is not only because of his record but because he appeared to have more nerve and than any other horse I have ever seen:

Lenamore — (Irish bred-56.25%TB, b. 1993) — ridden by New Zealand’s Caroline Powell this diminutive 15.3-hand son of the Irish Draught Sea Crest completed 24 four stars, was seven times placed at Badminton, won Burghley at the age of 17, then went to the 2012 Olympics at 19. He was a party animal and so his dressage sometimes let him down but he has to be one of the very best jumpers of all time in eventing.

Lenamore was 43.75% Irish Draught, but many Irish Draught families can really gallop and certainly Lenamore was one of the fastest horses in eventing.

There are numerous other famous international event horses that have touched my heart as I read their stories or watched their performances or have been personally involved with in one way or another. I shoot past 50 horses very quickly: By Golly, Kilbarry, Salad Days, Countryman, Grasshopper, High and Mighty, Fair and Square, Plain Sailing, Carawich, Castlewellan, The Poacher, Cornishman, Our Nobby, Chalan, Plain Sailing, Better and Better, The Gray Goose, Irish Cap, Cambrige Blue, Might Tango, Ben Arthur, Rossinan, Be Fair, Village Gossip, Ballycor, Irish Cap, Davey, Good Mixture, Charisma, Marcus Aurelius, Priceless, Eagle Lion, Sir Wattie, Gilt Edge, Custom Made, Tarzan, Molokai, Winsome Adante, Theodore O’Connor, Connaught, Darien Powers, Ready Teddy, Murphy Himself, Get Smart, McKinlaigh, Ringwood Cockatoo, Darien Powers, Supreme Rock, Toytown, Spring Along, Opposition Buzz, Miner’s Frolic, Mandiba, High Kingdom, Imperial Cavalier, Shear H2O, Mr Cruise Control, Mr Medicott, Avebury, Chilli Morning, Opgun Louvo, and Nereo.

I have no doubt that others could quickly add another 50 horses to the list. The heartwarming fact is the huge number of event horses that become well known by a wide audience. These horse heroes say something very special about our sport.

They have become well known because they tend to have long careers, which despite the perception of eventing being a tough sport reflects well on their care and the sport itself. They also have very normal horse names! I love and closely follow both show jumping and dressage but probably neither disciplines have quite so many popular horse heroes to pull from the memory banks.

Going to the best hotels

It must be true that many potential horse heroes are ruined by poor training and management. Therefore we should not forget that all my horse heroes were fortunate to meet great riders and trainers … or as Tommy Brennan used to say “they went to the best hotels.”

Biko’s story is a case in point: He ended up as one of the most famous event horses of all time, but there were a number of times in his career when he either could have been ruined or we could have given up on him, because to say the least he was not easy!

I could not believe my luck when I bought Biko inexpensively as a 3-year-old, having been spotted by my brother John in Co Wexford. I remember so well my huge excitement regarding his potential. However it is likely that the dealer I bought him from was well aware of his ‘challenging personality’ and may have been pleased to pass him on. He won the in-hand Thoroughbred 3-year-old class at Dublin show then started work seriously, and it was obvious that he was going to take time. He was a wild child, a very wild child. He could explode at will with no
warning, making full use of his huge athleticism!

After being with my brother John as a 3-year-old, Biko spent his 4-year-old year with me winning his first competitions, including a free jumping class. Even when we worked him then it was obvious that he had the scope and technique to be a real jumper, as well as the paces and gallop to be a top eventer. However, his brain was a different matter, as he took a long time to trust humans and move into the area of acceptance and partnership.

My wife Sarah was the first rider to jump him under saddle. He really liked Sarah, but he did leave one or two others on the ground! Then he went to Sonya Duke’s yard in Northern Ireland as a 5-year-old, where she did her normal terrific training job for six months before I took Karen O’Connor to see him and told her he was “Olympic.”

When Biko arrived in the USA a former student of mine Kim Keppick spent many hours working him with Karen, on and off for almost four years, getting him to the stage when he was ready for the start of his international competition career. Although during this time he still managed to buck Capt. Mark Phillips off one afternoon! It was just a reminder that he still needed careful handling, and I am certain he would have never fulfilled his potential without the six years of patient skillful training he had with my brother John, my wife Sarah, Sonya Duke, and then Kim Keppick.

Karen formed a truly great partnership with him and despite his early challenges became what she described, at the time of his inclusion into the USET Hall of Fame, as her “gentle giant.” She deserves huge credit for making the most of a horse I totally adored. At the front of my book, “The Complete Horse Riding Manual,” there is a magnificent photograph of Biko and Karen going over a bank at speed. I look at it often and still get a huge thrill thinking of their great performances together and awesome ability.

The bottom line

The bottom line is that very few people are breeding specialist event horses with the ‘steadiness, courage, and sense of purpose when facing a demanding situation’ shown by all these favourite horses of mine. Even in the show jumping world most of the tracks now look the same and they are breeding few horses brave enough for the famous Hamburg and Hickstead Jumping Derbys I highlighted last time. It makes me very concerned as these qualities should be the cornerstones of the personality of all sport horses. To neglect these qualities is breeding lunacy.

©William Micklem


William Micklem: Horses for a Sport for Life and Sport for All

EN is excited to bring you a new series from William Micklem: Breadth As Well As Depth. The series addresses the need for breadth in eventing education and also includes his thoughts on event horse breeding, plus gives added value from the inimitable Harry Potter. Today we bring you Part 3: Horses for a Sport for Life & A Sport for All . Be sure to read Part 1 and Part 2.

Kilbaha (Capt John Ledingham) & Vivaldi (Nelson Pessoa) at Hickstead in the UK. 1st and 2nd in the Jumping Derby – both Traditional Irish Horses (TIH).

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that,” says Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. This touches on a key part of context for riders. We can get so caught up in our dreams of equestrian success, possibly even Olympic success, and devote ourselves to this dream to such an extent that everything else falls by the wayside. Therefore it is important to think of our horse endeavors in the context of our whole life.

It’s more than just about horses …

It’s more than just about horses … and this applies to both riders and coaches. A coach has a responsibility to gradually become aware of the bigger picture relating to their students. We should understand both the demands on a rider’s life outside of riding, and our role in encouraging a balanced lifestyle that aids both mental and physical health.

Specifically it is about treating everyone as an individual and generally it is about remembering the essential truth in the often forgotten phrase that ‘happiness equals success,’ not success equals happiness. Even for elite riders life is more than just about horses, and they will probably ride better if they have this attitude.

A thought echoed by Mike Huber (a member of the 1980 Olympic Event Team, and individual Gold Medalist at the 1987 Pan American Games) talking about Jack Le Goff. “I thought he taught most of us as much about being human beings as being horsemen. He taught us outside the ring as well. He really helped to shape us in a lot of ways.”

Mike recalled being invited to Jack’s house for the first time with the other riders in his group, all of whom worried about being quizzed on who won the 1948 Olympics and similar equestrian trivia. “But he greeted us at the door, as gracious as he could be. He said, ‘By the way boys, I only have one rule — you’re not allowed to speak about horses.’ That was who he was; there was a time that you were in the ring and a time you weren’t. There’s a lot of people who live and breathe horses 24/7, and I don’t think that’s healthy.”

Another time,” said Mike, “I was being schooled heavily in the arena. The session was over and I was fuming because I thought I’d been picked on. We walked out of the indoor and I wasn’t done yet; I wanted to continue the conversation. Jack turned to me and said, ‘We’ll continue this tomorrow. Would you like to go fishing with me this afternoon?’ He taught me you’re a better horseman if you step back, at least for a few hours.” 

… but it’s very much about horses.

The other side of this coin is that horse riding (and driving) is good for us … very good for us. Horse riding stands out from the majority of sports, being both a sport for life and a sport for all. The fact that both sexes and all ages of adults can ride together and compete together, even at the highest level, gives huge added value to the sport.

In addition an association with horses stimulates us mentally, develops self-control and discipline, and aids emotional growth. And this applies even if your idea of horse heaven is simply to ride bareback through the fields at dusk! As a result an association with horses allows us to do more with our lives. Not opinion but fact.

It’s the reason why equestrian sports are considered by so many national sporting bodies to be a priority sport for young people, the reason why equine assisted learning (EAL) works, the reason why riding for disabled (RDA) works, and the reason why millions of riders have become addicted to contact with horses, and in many cases addicted to the sheer thrill of riding. For many it gives a sense of mindfulness, satisfaction, achievement and excitement like no other.

Above and beyond this eventing especially is a life enhancing sport for those participating, ironically because of the integral involvement of the horse. One of the greatest strengths of eventing has always been the humane values that are on regular display at most competitions. At the core of these values is generosity … the generosity to treat both horses and humans with respect, the generosity to be supportive of those in need, and the generosity to believe in the great heights that riders and their horses can achieve.

The context of the whole sport horse industry  

Without doubt eventing is also good for the whole horse population because of the very high standards it encourages for both stable management and training, including a more varied and natural lifestyle than is often the case. For this latter reason alone it should be treasured by all equestrian sports.

In addition eventing is also a great ‘gateway’ activity to the other disciplines. This is because having achieved the basics it is not easy or particularly fulfilling for novice riders to do pure dressage or show jumping in a small arena, therefore the statistics show a high drop-off rate at this stage.

However there is a different route to follow for these riders. It is a route that is usually both more satisfying and easier, that starts by hacking out quietly, followed by more active hacks, followed by introductory cross-country riding, with or without very small fences.

This is a wonderful way to slow down, spending stress-free time with a horse and developing not only ‘feel’, that essential of an effective rider, but also a partnership, which in itself is so good for mental health and well-being. In turn this takes a rider to a stage when specialist dressage or show jumping training has more relevance and is more practical. Therefore as a result more people stay riding and contribute to the sport horse industry as a whole.

There is another positive aspect to this: After this type of introduction there will also often be the desire, especially for the young, to start eventing, and as we know eventing is a great stimulus for an all round education, not only in riding but also in horsemastership. An education and horsemanship that is so important for dressage and show jumping, and therefore to the sport horse industry as a whole.

… so we must breed event horses

This gives even more importance to the need to breed event horses. The event horse is the ultimate sport horse. The paces and temperament to do a dressage test; the jump, courage and fifth-leg to go across country; and the soundness, scope, and carefulness to come out again and jump clear in the show jumping.

‘Jack of all trades and master of none’ is a common putdown about event horses, but surely the best horses are those that can excel in any discipline, just as with the special recognition now given to human tetrathletes, triathletes, pentathletes and decathletes.

More importantly, these all-round event horse qualities and abilities, even in smaller quantities, make event horses the ideal sport and pleasure horse for all the activities and levels that the majority of riders require. A majority of riders are increasingly mounted on less than ideal horses.

Too many pleasure and lower level competition riders use horses initially bred for elite dressage and show jumping, that are often too challenging and too big. For this reason it can be difficult to find a second career for many retired specialist dressage and jumping horses, whereas a retired event horse will usually have several other jobs to do.

Breeding more event horse types would also be to the undoubted benefit of the sport horse breeding world in general. This benefit includes temperament and willingness, soundness and longevity, flexibility and adaptability, size and type, and rider suitability. This is why we should be breeding event type horses and why they should be an integral part of sport horse breeding, despite the fashion to do otherwise.

The event horse is the supreme athlete

The multi-discipline possibilities of one horse, or rider, are certainly something that motivates me, and this idea has always been a major focus of my training and breeding. In the case of High Kingdom (who is almost 94% Thoroughbred), ridden by Zara Tindall, I have come very close to breeding a horse that has the potential to be successful at elite level in all major disciplines.

As Irish show jumping legend John Ledingham says, “The all round ability and scope of High Kingdom is unbelievable. There is nothing small about his paces, jump and athleticism but he remains so rideable.” The exciting thing for me is that I have another in the pipeline from the same family that could repeat his story, and of course my stallion Jackaroo.

Some laugh at me about the same horse being competitive in two disciplines in the modern competition horse world, but it says more about the limitations of their imaginations rather than the limitations of special horses.

Vivaldi and Kilbaha

I want to give two examples, Nelson Pessoa’s Vivaldi and John Ledingham’s Kilbaha. My brother John was sent Vivaldi as a 4-year-old because he was so difficult! But as I watched him being lunged all I could think about was ‘dressage horse’!

Vivaldi had wonderful paces, a rare ability to collect and a natural extended trot. He was three-fourths Thoroughbred, being by Imperious, the sire of Master Imp, out of a Water Serpent mare. Water Serpent was a prolific sire of international show jumpers and also sire of Jimmy Wofford’s triple Olympic event horse Kilkenny.

Like Kilkenny, who also won international show jumping competitions, Vivaldi was muti-talented but was directed to show jumping where he was a regular Grand Prix horse for Nelson, including going to the world championships and becoming one of the most famous show jumping derby horses of all time, winning the Hamburg Jumping Derby three times and the Hickstead Derby once at the age of 19 when Nelson was 60! (As I said riding is truly a sport for life.)

The tracks at Hamburg or Hickstead are identical every year and clear rounds are a rarity. For those who may not understand the huge challenge of these tracks and the courage required here is a link to a wonderful round in the Hamburg Derby in 2012.

Kilbaha not only was placed twice in Hamburg but won the Hickstead Derby twice and was twice placed second, jumping double clear rounds on two occasions, creating a unique overall derby record. He also has the record for Nations Cups appearances for Ireland. I fell in love with him when I first saw him and again all I thought of was dressage horse! He had a natural passage and in addition he could have obviously been a top event horse. Like Vivaldi he was just ridden in a plain snaffle.

The Traditional Irish Horse (TIH)

The success and way of going of these two horses was obviously also due to the brilliance of those two beautiful horsemen Nelson Pessoa and John Ledinham, but it still takes an extraordinarily brave and willing horse to tackle the ditches, water, banks, including the 10-foot-6 Hickstead bank, and sheer size and length of these two derby courses.

They are both traditionally bred Irish horses of the type that made Ireland famous for sport horses but are now becoming a rarity in modern breeding, although the Traditional Irish Horse Association is working hard to change this.

Therefore imagine my joy when I found that both Vivaldi and Kilbaha are closely related to my family of traditional horses! As I said Vivaldi was by Imperious, the sire of Master Imp, who is the sire of High Kingdom and Jackaroo. But in addition Kilbaha’s sire Tudor Rocket is a half brother of Imperious.

To add to the connection Kilbaha’s dam was out of a Rhett Butler mare whose dam was by High Hat, and High Hat was the sire of Chair Lift, the sire of Jackaroo’s dam High Dolly. Not only that but Chair Lift’s damsire was Buisson Ardent who was also the dam sire of Tudor Rocket.

Add several more genetic connections to both horses through the wonderful Hyperion and Pharos and you can see why these genes are so special; especially now that I have studied the top thousand most successful Thoroughbred sport horse sires and understand how few consistently successful Thoroughbred lines there are.

The breadth of the three foundation sires

I also discovered that High Hat was owned by Winston Churchill, a real Professor Dumbledore character if there ever was one! But more interesting from a breeding point of view is that my family, now led by Jackaroo, bring together all three foundation sires of the Thoroughbred horse, the Byerley Turk, Darley Arabian and Godolphin Barb.

This genetic breadth is now very rare, as Thoroughbred breeding is dominated by the Darley Arabian with more than 95% of the Thoroughbred population descending from him. Therefore Jackaroo’s genes are a factor both in his genetic vigor and his suitability as a breeding outcross.

Imperious was by Hugh Lupus who was a rare representative of the Byerley Turk sire line. While Precipitation, the sire of both Furioso and Prefairy, the damsire of Jackaroo’s dam High Dolly, is one of only two stallions responsible for maintaining the Matchem sireline, famous for their excellent temperament and durability. The grandsire of Matchem was the Godolphin Barb, while for good measure the Byerley Turk is in his dam line.

So will Jackaroo’s genes be good enough for the magic to continue. Time will tell but I can’t sit here dreaming forever, as life goes on and I need to further reduce my list of the top event horses of all time and decide what I should cook for the family dinner!

©William Micklem

Next Time: BREADTH AS WELL AS DEPTH (LESSONS FROM HARRY POTTER) Part 4 – Learning from five of the top event horses of all time

William Micklem: Breadth As Well As Depth – 5 Who Were Brave Enough to Stretch the Boundaries

EN is excited to introduce a new six-part series from William Micklem on the need for breadth in eventing education, along with some thoughts on the breeding of event horses, plus a little added value from the inimitable Harry Potter! If you missed Part I, check it out here. Here is Part II — enjoy! 

Andrew Nicholson and Nereo. Photo by Jenni Autry.

With regard to making the effort to get a wider breadth of education we are guilty of thinking it is all too difficult, and again lacking belief in what is possible. As Harry Potter said to Dumbledore’s army in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, “Working hard is important. But there is something that matters even more, believing in yourself. Think of it this way; every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now, students. If they can do it, why not us?” So my question is, why cannot more of our young riders aim to emulate the best?

Why not be exceptional?

I believe it is particularly beneficial to study and use top event trainers and event riders who have had high level experience in at least one other equestrian discipline. This in large part explains the exceptional value of both my first two examples of those who stretched the boundaries and broke new ground. In addition to jump training both Jack Le Goff and Bert de Nemethy had high level training and experience in dressage, and in Jack’s case had also studied the training of racehorses. As we all get driven into the blinkers of specialization this point is of the greatest importance. In eventing all round knowledge is vital for both competitiveness and rider safety.

George Morris said this about these two Gods of modern equestrianism: “I’d say that in my run in the sport that Jack Le Goff is one of a very small handful of what I call genius … and the same can be said for Bert de Nemethy, who took us to a whole new dimension of riding and training horses.” However what I would say is that 95% of their genius was simply down to their good training.

Both are famous for their jumping training but dressage was the core of both Le Goff’s and de Nemethy’s jumping work. De Nemethy was the first Hungarian officer to be sent to the German cavalry school of Hanover, where he rode with such dressage luminaries as Bubbi Gunther and Otto Lörke, who was in charge of the dressage stable. And who was riding for the French horse trials team at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics and was stunned by the dressage standard of the Germans, who were just emerging as the new world leaders in dressage? None other than Jack le Goff, who was immersed in dressage at the time as a member of the Cadre Noir in Saumur.

In particular it was the Otto Lorke dynasty of trainer Willie Schulteis and the Olympic medalists Neckermann, Boldt, Linsenhof and Klimke that impressed Jack Le Goff. As he said to me at a seminar in Groton, Massachusetts, in 1974, “I heard of this extraordinary man Lorke, and I saw his students and I realized there was a different, lighter and better way of German dressage.” Jack Le Goff became one of the youngest “under-riding” dressage master ever at the Cadre Noir and eventually a full “riding master.” (But he also rode racehorses and would have been appalled at the stiff legged galloping positions of so many event riders today.)

Their results in the USA were extraordinary. Jack Le Goff arrived from France in 1970 to take over the Event Team. He never missed winning a medal with any of the eventing teams that he coached in his 14 year tenure in the United States. His teams won gold medals at the Olympic Games in 1976 and 1984 and a total of 18 medals in eight international championships including four consecutive Olympic Games and three consecutive World Championships.

Bert de Nemethy was the Hungarian coach who took over the show jumping squad in 1955. Over the following 25 years he gave a system, a style and a character to USA show jumping teams that was envied throughout the world. The fruits of the de Nemethy years were really reaped at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, only a short time after his retirement from coaching, when the USA took their first team gold medal, and the individual gold and silver as well.

Going beyond others

My third exceptional example of multi- discipline ability is Bill Roycroft, Australian five-time Olympian event rider between the ages of 45 and 61, and a man who who holds a very special place in world equestrianism. In addition he established a training dynasty with his three sons Barry, Wayne and Clarke, who all went on to compete in Olympic eventing. As head coach, Wayne also led the Australian team to three consecutive Olympic eventing gold medals from 1992-2000, and the basis of his expertise was what he learnt from his dad.

Bill was one of the elite band of event riders who also raced successfully, but what is even more amazing is that he evented, show jumped and raced at the highest level on the same horses! In 1965, at the age of 50, he brought three Thoroughbred horses over to Badminton, finishing second on El Dorado to the great Durlas Eile, sixth on Stoney Crossing, and second on Avatar in Little Badminton. He then spent the summer after Badminton competing El Dorado in grand prix show jumping, and they were on several Nations Cup teams at the highest level.

More remarkably, the month before Badminton, Stoney Crossing, who was just a 7-year- old, gave Bill his greatest experience of race riding by finishing third to Arkle and Mill House in Britain’s premier steeplechase, the 3¼-mile Cheltenham Gold Cup. Bill and Stoney Crossing went on to start second favorite in the hugely competitive 4-mile Foxhunters’ Chase over the Grand National fences at Aintree. They were tripped up by a faller at the fourth, and Bill was unseated, but he remounted to complete the course only 35 lengths behind the winner.

My fourth outstanding example of versatility was Anneli Drummond-Hay, great aunt of current British team star Izzy Taylor. Anneli rode the peerless Merely–A–Monarch, who won both Badminton and Burghley in 1962 before turning to show jumping, winning many grand prix classes and jumping on British Nations Cup teams. Drummond-Hay was also once offered an open check for him as a dressage horse, and he remains the finest multi-purpose horse I have ever seen in the flesh. He was by the wonderful Thoroughbred Happy Monarch.

Out there are the heirs to Bill Roycroft and Anneli Drummond-Hay who might well start looking at the glorious goal of not only being successful at the highest level in more than one discipline, but doing it on the same horse! It will only happen once in a blue moon but that is what makes it so special. A little crazy yes, but not impossible, and in my next article I will discuss this in greater detail.

Breadth of education is powerful

But coming back to sanity, the really important point is that at a lower level we should have hundreds of young riders benefitting from a broader equine education, including stable management. Without a doubt my broad education was the launch pad for my own career as a coach, and I believe that the cross-fertilization and mind-opening benefits of breadth in equine education are just too powerful to ignore. Most importantly it also opens up more employment opportunities for those who want to spend their lives with horses.

There are currently two outstanding Irish riders who are stretching the boundaries by being both top jockeys and show jumping riders. Mark Beecher, winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup in 2014 and leading timber racing jockey in the USA, is also a top level show jumper having achieved international honours ever since he was a pony rider. The same applies to Robbie Power, brother of Irish international Isab Power, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup this year, the world’s premier steeplechase and is also a top-flight show jumper when time allows. As with many Irish riders they are genuinely all round horsemen who have high level skills in several areas. This is the background to why so many Irish riders are so successful in so many equestrian endeavours at all levels in Europe and the USA.

Another example of a two-discipline rider is Denny Emerson, an Eventing Gold medalist but a man who started his competitive life doing endurance riding. He even won a Tevis Cup buckle in this 100 mile ride. He says that it is not possible to really know about horses doing just one equestrian sport. He also points out that riders such as Buck Davidson have a huge advantage because of his breadth of education. “Kids need to get savvy. Imagine Buck’s experience compared to 99% of the riders. He rode ponies, foxhunted, steeplechased, all because he was Bruce’s son.“

We need to do more to convince the next generations of young riders, and their parents, why this is beneficial. Then we need to do more to create a breadth of opportunities, and more to encourage change. There is strong evidence that in their early careers both the best of the USA event riders, and the best of the current crop of New Zealand and Australian riders, had this wider riding background and character forming experiences. It may just be the difference that wins team medals.

Extraordinary character and a mighty spirit

There is no man less afraid of stretching the boundaries than my fifth exceptional rider, Andrew Nicholson. His extraordinary character and what we call in Ireland ‘his mighty spirit’ is not just genetic. It largely comes from his childhood when he rode many different ponies. “My ponies were always sold on. From a young age I knew they had to earn their keep.”

My own Father was a horse dealer and we also just had to accept that our favourite ponies were always for sale, but it did mean we gained a wide experience and the same applied to Andrew. However he did have a great Pony Club and Junior period where the influence of two extraordinary coaches left their mark on Andrew and undoubtedly was instrumental in his future career and also the careers of Mark Todd and Blyth Tait. These two coaches were both also ahead of their time, teaching a light seat jumping balance ideal for eventing. They were New Zealand Fellow of the British Horse Society Lockie Richards and English maverick Ted Harrison. It was one of those rare times when the planets aligned for the long-term benefit of a country’s international success.

Mark, Blyth and Andrew were all influenced directly or indirectly by Lockie Richards who led Mark and the New Zealand team to Kentucky for the World Championships in 1978. Lockie was a Fellow of the British Horse Society and was fully aware of world class standards and yet again was an all round horseman who was equally comfortable with dressage and jumping.

In 1969 he competed and trained two Advanced Level Event Horses, Star Task and Hull, to win Event Rider of the Year in the US and competed at the US National Dressage Finals. He also trained with Franz Rochowansky and Robert Hall and in 1970-72 was resident Instructor for the American Dressage Institute and selected to train at Spanish Riding School in Vienna. For many years I have carried this quote of Lochie’s with me on my own coaching journey: “To develop a harmonious relationship is one of the most beautiful experiences one could ever wish to have. The unity between human and animal is a precious quality that sinks into the soul, making life more meaningful.”

Ted Harrison is more interesting in the development of Andrew’s winning mentality because Ted took no prisoners and was an old fashioned disciplinarian whose core attitude was ‘people don’t remember those who come second.’ He was a good rider himself producing a horse called York to win the second three day event ever held in New Zealand, before being sold to Denny Emerson and winning USEA ‘Horse of the Year’ in 1979. Ted described himself as self-taught but in his travels in England, Australia and New Zealand he amassed a huge repertoire of information about all horse activities including dressage. Therefore in reality he was an exceptional student. His wife Carol says “His biggest influence in his early years was ex Spanish Riding School trainer Franz Mairinger.” Despite the refinement this would suggest it was his no nonsense, tenacious approach that stayed with Andrew most of all.

When Andrew left school he rode literally hundreds of different horses. “I worked for two different racing trainers in the morning riding yearlings before breakfast, then I would go to a professional horse breaker and ride another 20 for him.” So he was another rider benefitting from exposure to racing, but he also benefitted from being allowed to experiment and practice in many different ways to find better ways.

How to become a wizard

As I have said before this is a key part of education. “The trainers I worked for were very knowledgeable,” explains Andrew. “Bill Sanders, was one of the leading trainers in New Zealand and the other, Mick Brindle, trained a Derby winner. They were real old horsemen. They didn’t stand there and tell you what to do, they would just show you the horse and let you get on with it.”

When this huge experience, and freedom to experiment, is combined with exposure to greatness and the willingness to stand on the shoulders of giants, then the real magic can happen. As even Andrew admits “I wish I had learnt a little more about the dressage earlier on!” But he has always been brave enough to look for better ways with the aim of being exceptional and stretching the boundaries beyond that even those of his own teachers. Not dissimilar to Harry Potter himself!

©William Micklem

Next Time: BREADTH AS WELL AS DEPTH (LESSONS FROM HARRY POTTER) Part 3 – Horses in the context of one’s life, and why breeding event horses is so vitally important.

William Micklem: Breadth As Well As Depth, Part I – Why A Broad Education Is Vital

EN is excited to introduce a new six-part series from William Micklem on the need for breadth in eventing education, along with some thoughts on the breeding of event horses, plus a little added value from the inimitable Harry Potter! Here is Part I — enjoy! 

Breadth of experience for Olympic eventer Mike Plumb, on grey horse No 13, race riding over timber fences during the Maryland Grand National week in 1976. Photo credit: Douglas Lees.

“Some wizards just like to boast that theirs are bigger and better than other people’s.” When reading this quote from Hermione, taken from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, some might well be led astray in terms of understanding what she is talking about!

Context leads to a better way

Context is everything, and it all becomes clear when we know that Hermione is talking about wands. A lighthearted example I know, but the same applies to horses about context and has heavyweight implications.

For example students are told they need to develop a horse athletically, and the immediate understanding is simply to do the equivalent of putting a horse in a gym. But everything becomes clear when we understand the full context of working with an animal, and the impossibility of separating the physical and the mental. So we can’t just go to the gym. Instead we have to first develop tranquility, and trust, and understanding, and willingness, and ride out over varied terrain and introduce the horse to a wider world … and they should learn this as young horses.

Or students are told to develop a horse’s jumping ability for a 1.20m fence and a course of fences of this size, and the immediate understanding is to establish a 12-foot stride and use progressive exercises to achieve this in a flat arena, and then present the horse with a perfect take off points. But everything becomes clearer when we understand the full context of the wider needs of an event horse. They can’t just do this, as an event horse must learn to cope with jumping up and down hills, and with different speeds and stride lengths, and through mud and water, and be able to cope with getting close and far away from fences on take off, and a rider that makes mistakes at times and cannot fully control all the variable factors … and they should learn this as young horses.

The value of a broad education for coaches

Efficient training of event horses for each individual discipline also requires a full understanding of the context of the three disciplines as a whole. For example Chris Bartle said recently that there were some dressage coaches who could work with eventers and some that couldn’t. “Dressage training in a classical sense was all about training a horse to carry itself, to be able to respond to the rider’s direction, but not to lose its initiative and not to lose its ability to be a true partner to the rider.”

Then Chris explains further: “There have been trainers in the dressage world, and this takes us back to the whole discussion of rolkur, where you are taking away from the horses, their spirit, their ability to look after themselves, you are internalizing them too much. That type of dressage training is contradictory to eventing.”

So how do we avoid this? Let me share a great story from a colleague of mine, Ernest Dillon, who is a coach and Fellow of the British Horse Society. In 1964, when Ernest was 17, he went to train at the world famous Burton Hall in Ireland, run by the truly great coach and trainer Colonel Joe Hulme-Dudgeon. When Ernest left Burton Hall the Colonel brought him into his office. “Now Dillon,” said the Colonel, “what do you intend to do in your life?”

Ernest replied, “I’m going to be a show jumper, sir.”

“No you’re not!” responded the Colonel. “You’re going to be a horseman, so now go and do everything. Go eventing, learn dressage, go hunting, ride in races, show jump, then decide.”

So Ernest did just that and became a hugely successful coach as a result. The Colonel was right … and very wise. Riders, trainers and coaches are going to be better at their jobs if they have a wide equestrian context from which to draw their expertise and stories.

In addition if we want our riders and horses to fulfil their potential we need to continually work to be more efficient in training and competition. The key to this is to combine the work for the dressage, show jumping and cross country into one integrated programme. This is why it is important to find a coach who understands the context of the overall demands of horse trials or specialist coaches that have a good general background and are prepared to be part of an integrated coaching team.

Does the same apply for riders?

It is a fact that all coaching structures around the world demand a broad education at the lower coaching levels. A multi-discipline all round approach to rider education is considered essential before specialization, not just by me but also by such dressage and jumping luminaries as Reiner Klimke, Ferdi Eilberg, Bert de Némethy, George Morris, Jimmy Wofford, Bruce Davidson, Denny Emerson and John Ledingham. This is yet another reason why eventing has special value because it is the foundation of coach training for all equestrian disciplines.

However, it is no longer fashionable for our riders to have a broad education. Cost and lack of time are two of the main factors cited as reasons for this, but probably the biggest factor is simply that people have forgotten how advantageous it is to have both a breadth and depth of education. But in the era of Jack Le Goff and the USA Event Team’s greatest success it was different, with riders such as Mike Plumb,Bruce Davidson and Jimmy Wofford all race riding, hunting and starting numerous young horses, and generally having a broader riding education. Mike Plumb was even second in the Maryland Hunt Cup in 1976, almost emulating his father who won in 1929.

There are even some riders who have ridden international in more than one discipline at a very high level level. This role call of versatile riders is headed by a group including Ireland’s Tommy Brennan (show jumping and eventing); Germany’s Fritz Ligges (eventing and show jumping) and Reiner Klimke (eventing, show jumping and dressage), and Reiner’s daughter Ingrid (eventing and dressage); New Zealand’s Mark Todd (eventing, show jumping); Spain’s Luis Alvarez-Cervera (show jumping and eventing); Britain’s Chris Bartle (dressage and eventing), Sweden’s Peder Fredricson (eventing and show jumping) and Germany’s Michael Jung (eventing and show jumping).

The extraordinary caliber of these riders says something very important about their achievement and suggests that emulating these riders may be one of the most worthwhile challenges for any rider. There are those who say that standards have risen and today this is not possible, but surely that in itself is a huge incentive for the great riders of the future.

Marilyn Little in particular has successfully gone some way down this route with show jumping and eventing, and Doug Payne and Clark Montgomery are both currently dipping their toe in this water. While in Ireland we have one exceptional young rider, Cathal Daniels, who can do both at the highest young rider level.

Sadly the one USA rider who could have ridden successfully in both championship eventing and show jumping is now retired through injury …and that is Karen O’Connor.

Waving the magic wand

If only a magic wand could be waved! Then the world wide equestrian audience would fully understand the full context of the different challenges faced by event riders and their horses, as a result of the three disciplines … they would then understand the brilliance of those that do it well. They would be able to see clearly that the multiple skills the riders possess, combined with the mental and physical strengths required by their horses, makes eventing the premier discipline. The breadth of skills on show is awe-inspiring, and their depth of ability in each phase worthy of the greatest praise, explanation and marketing.

We don’t actually need a magic wand, just more belief in our sport, more belief in the value of a wider education, and then more energy and enthusiasm to sell our message!

Part 2 – Five who were brave enough to stretch the boundaries.

William Micklem: Those Who Dig Ditches, Not Holes

William Micklem with course designers Richard Jeffery and Chris Barnard at Rolex 2017. Photo courtesy of William Micklem.

Dougie Burley was a radiator. Nothing to do with central heating, more like internal heating of the human spirit. I was told long ago that the world can be divided into drains and radiators: the drains being the people who are concerned with what they can take out of a situation, while with the radiators it is what they can give to a situation. Usually it is also a divide between negativity and positivity.

Talent and potential found

With Dougie Burley there was no question about it, he gave his smile and energy to every day and every person he met. He was far from wealthy but had a rich line in chuckles and generosity. My father came across him because he was part of the bank repair crew at the Four Burrow Hunt in Cornwall. They went round the farms the day after hunting, repairing the banks and keeping the farmers on side.

The area of operation for his fence building skills quickly spread to hunter trials and then to the Pony Club, and he became a specialist. Not for him post and rails and fences in beautiful parkland. What gave him pleasure was bank building, the precise interlocking of stone and earth in such as way that the stone stopped the earth collapsing, while the earth formed the perfect stable bed for the stone.

An ideal marriage of materials to form both the traditional Cornish field boundary and the ultimate obstacle for horses and ponies. To our delight as children banks were something that leveled the playing field when hunting, as a good pony was able to jump any size of bank, whereas in fly jumping country, as post and rails and gates were known, many ponies are simply short of scope or secure riders.

But where Dougie found his real talent and what gave him special pleasure was digging ditches. My father considered ditches the ideal Pony Club obstacle. They were both a rider frightener and pony frightener and as such were a significant mental challenge, but a minor physical challenge. Even a stiff untalented Pony Club pony can jump a fairly wide ditch by just using their normal stride length, as no great height is needed.

So by using a lead from a couple of experienced ponies, plus some enthusiastic use of the rider’s legs and a great shout from my father of “throw your heart over first,” the challenge was overcome. Then repeat a few times for luck and both pony and rider returned braver and beaming. As I often say talent and potential are where you look for them.

How to dig a ditch

My mum was always pleased to collect Dougie Burley from his little terraced home near Rame in Cornwall. He had never learnt to drive. With a broad smile he would cry “to the woods, to the woods,” the relevance being that digging ditches in prime pasture land did not appeal to our Pony Club hosts, the Williams family at the elegant Scorrier estate. (*Hence ‘Scorrier snaffle’ — see image below.) So the one place Dougie was directed to dig ditches was within the extensive woodlands in Scorrier.

So Dougie would get to work along the paths and clearings digging all sizes of ditches. No machinery, just the leverage of his narrow upper body and arms combining with his shovel. Digging is a science to some and many have a full range of shovels … digging shovels, trenching shovels, drain spades, scoop shovels, scrapers, edgers and variations between. Not Dougie. His shovel was the Scorrier bit of shovels, a multi-purpose tool that was part digging and edging shovel, with a sharpened edge; part trenching shovel with one raised side up half of its length to avoid damaging the edges of the ditch; and part drain spade with a narrowed end. This tool was the extension to his deceptively light arms and the means to his art.

He understood the huge pressure on the ground created by the horses on both take off and landing, so to give maximum support in these areas his ditches were trapezium shaped, angled out from the bottom of the ditch. Then the whole ditch was framed with timber sitting level on the land, not on the edge of the ditch … more protection for the land. And of course he was efficiency itself.

No spade of earth was moved twice, as for Dougie it was always a case of measure it twice, cut it once. He was a master of his art.

As Seamus Heaney said in his poem Digging, “By God, the old man could handle a spade … nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods over his shoulder.” Once again talent and potential are where you look for them.

Designing your future

There is another type of job in equestrianism that requires the same precision and care. It is a profession that another Cornishman currently does in championship level show jumping and eventing competitions round the world, and has been at the very top of his tree for almost 30 years. He is also a man who was one of our childhood rivals at the local horse shows and in the neighboring Cornish Pony Club, the Western. His horses were always the best turned out and the best fed, but he probably would be the first to admit that he was not the most natural rider in the world. However he enjoyed every moment with his horses and especially his hunting.

But he has truly excelled in the horse world and is an exceptional role model. He has quietly worked from his strengths in design and his understanding of the demands of show jumping to become one of the very best show jumping course designers in the world. His name Richard Jeffery. He is one of only 32 top rated FEI designers in the world, winner of course designer of the year from the United States Equestrian Federation on eight occasions, and course designer at the World Equestrian Games and for many years at Rolex and Burghley.

Richard made it his business to learn from two great course designers Pamela Caruthers and Bert De Nemethy, who he says were both “sticklers for perfection, and this rubbed off on me, but despite this they always made you feel involved.”

Richard elaborates: “One memory in advance of the Los Angeles Olympics was Bert asking me, at that stage a very ‘novice’ Course Designer, what I thought of his courses on paper. It taught me that you never stop learning in this sport, and sharing ideas make you question certain things and hopefully you then make the right decisions. To this day I always share my Rolex courses with Marc, my main assistant there, for his comments  — a second pair of eyes is no bad thing!”

Richard is modest to a fault and explains his education and success as “basically it comes down to being in the right place at the right time.” But in truth it is much more a case of carpe diem (seize the day) and his mentors realising that he was an excellent student, with the discipline and interest to make it as a course designer. They saw that Richard had the talent and the potential.

On the same road

Twenty-five years ago in Scotland a teenager came to the Gleneagles Equestrian Centre who also seized each and every day. Although he came to us to improve his riding it was obvious that riding at a high level was not going to be easy for him, but it was equally obvious from his personality and attitude that as a manager and course designer he had huge potential, and we encouraged him in this direction.

So it was a golden day for me to meet up again with this man at Rolex where he was helping and learning from Richard Jeffery with the show jumping course. He is Chris Barnard. As many of you know Chris is now a USEF licensed jumper course designer and doing a fabulous job in the USA, building the tracks at among others Pine Top, The Fork and The Heart of the Carolinas. From the point of view of good coaching Chris’s point about his time in Gleneagles is this “The lessons and the lectures we had were not only educational but also inspirational.” But this was not difficult because we believed in his talent and long-term potential.

Another member of our Four Burrow Pony Club was the great granddaughter of ‘Scorrier’ John Williams, called Venetia. She had a young pony that was too much for her and I remember a conversation about Venetia probably not being suited to riding and hunting. But these people were obviously unaware of her huge work ethic and driving force to succeed, even when she was very young.

Venetia also always followed her heart and her heart was in steeplechasing. She distinguished herself by being one of the very first female riders to ride over the huge Grand National steeplechase fences at Aintree, and is now one of the leading steeplechase trainers in the UK. For good measure she trained Mon Mome to win the Grand National in 2009.

The same year that Venetia rode at Aintree my brother Charlie, the eventing rider and coach, led the field for about five fences in the two mile Champion Chase at the Cheltenham festival. The significance of this race is that this is the fastest horses ever go over a steeplechase fence! A special year for the Four Burrow Pony Club and high praise for good basic training that prepares a rider for all equestrian activities.

Individual talents

There are two strong connections between the stories of Dougie Burley, Richard Jeffery, Chris Barnard and Venetia Williams. Firstly all their stories confirm that ‘talent and potential are where you look for them’. It is so easy to write people off, especially when young, and often that is a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.

Alternatively, when you believe that talent and potential are where you look for them our interactions with students become totally different. A more positive approach, combined with identifying possibilities and options, changes relationships and can open doors to extraordinary performance. Once a coach has this outlook then it is invariably a win-win outcome.

Secondly each of the four rode their own race, in their own individual direction, and using their own talents and tools. Without doubt they also worked hard but they also found things that satisfied them and on many days they loved. We can all develop our own tools for our own trade and direction. Best explained by Seamus Heaney at the end of his poem “Digging” … “Between my finger and my thumb the squat pen rests. I’ll dig with it.” His point being that his father was a master with his shovel, but his shovel, his tool, was a pen, and he would master his pen and his writing.

Ditches not holes

There are also two core message here. Although we can take many different roads, we cannot just sit back and rely on luck for success. We need to understand that a common fabric is needed to support success. It is a fabric woven by the strong interlacing threads of those two essential pairings, effort and delight, and confidence and competence.

Secondly we need to be true to ourselves, to find our individual talents and do things that in harmony with our personalities. If we don’t do this we will be digging a depressing hole for ourselves. A hole that may be difficult from which to escape. But if we are being true to ourselves, then like Richard, Chris and Venetia, we will instead dig our metaphorical well-crafted ditches and be content.

*Scorrier or Cornish snaffle

The Scorrier snaffle, also called the Cornish snaffle was invented by ‘Scorrier’ John Williams, the great huntsman and Master of the Four Burrow Hunt, in about 1900. It is a double ringed, loose ring, reversible, jointed snaffle! The inside rings attached to the cheek pieces act like a cheek snaffle, but with nothing sticking out to catch in shrubs or undergrowth, while both sets of rings create a small gag effect. It usually has one side of the bit that is not smooth to help control horses that are unresponsive.

©William Micklem

William Micklem: Fun, Frost and Friendship — Towards More Powerful Coaching

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

It was Jimmy Wofford who first introduced me to the idea that there are three types of riders: those that make it happen, those that wait for it to happen and those that say “what happened!” In essence this is a memory aid. There is nothing like a little fun to stimulate the brain and memory, plus it uses the magical power of three.

The power of three

Life, liberty, and happiness might very well be the most important and well-remembered words in American history, as the three inalienable rights voiced in the Declaration of Independence: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It uses a grouping of three words or phrases, something that has been known to aid memory since the time of Aristotle. A Mars a day helps you Work, Rest and Play, or our horses should be Calm, Forwards and Straight. We all find it easier to remember three words.

A classic example of the rule of three was Winston Churchill’s famous Blood, Sweat and Tears speech. He is widely attributed as saying I can promise you nothing but blood, sweat and tears. What he actually said was, “I can promise you blood, sweat, toil and tears.” Because of the rule of three we simply remember it as blood, sweat and tears.

So my coaching is laced with the magical power of three, combined with other elements to reinforce the memory. For example using the same letter. The three Fs for every riding session … Forwards, Feel and Fifth Leg; the three Ss for every coaching session … Safe, Simple and Sunny; and the three Ss for fifth leg training … Slow, Soft and Still. Or adding a new title to give added value, so calm, forwards and straight are The Three Musketeers, with their famous motto ‘All for One, and One for All,’ because they are all so interconnected.

It is true that pictures, photographs and film are worth the proverbial thousand words, and many coaches and trainers do talk far too often and far too much, but we should not make the mistake of thinking that words are not important. Words used like these groups of three, combined with short explanations, enable key words and structures to be easily remembered. Something that probably doesn’t happen with pictures. Above all it encourages simplicity, which is the most powerful training tool of all and the heart of good education and communication.

Nobility, Friendship and Beauty

When I was about nine years old I heard some extraordinary words that made a huge impact on me and sparked my initial interest in studying horses. As a family we watched on television the Cavalcade of the Horse, under the spotlights at the Horse of the Year Show in London. All the champions from every class were gathered, from children’s ponies to heavy horses, from show jumpers to show hunters, together with carriages, and farming equipment and every manner of elegantly dressed riders and handlers.

Then Dorian Williams, the show jumping commentator, would recite this poem that was specially written for the Cavalcade by Ronald Duncan in 1954. It has become to be known as “Nobility.”

Where in this wide world can man find
Nobility without pride,
Friendship without envy,
Beauty without vanity?
Here, where grace is laced with muscle
And strength by gentleness confined
He serves without servility; he has fought without enmity.
There is nothing so powerful, nothing less violent.
There is nothing so quick, nothing more patient.
All England’s past has been born on his back,
All our history is his industry.
We are his heirs, he our inheritance,
Ladies and Gentlemen, The Horse!

In recent times the success of Michael Morpurgo’s “War Horse” as a book, stage show and film has renewed interest in the role of the horse other than in equestrian sport. So I now have added reason to try and introduce “Nobility” to new audiences, as well as a wide selection of other equestrian poetry. Certainly poetry is not to everyone’s taste but in communication surprises are good, and there is huge value in being entertaining and giving added value, especially in order to reduce tension and to make things memorable. They are also a hook from which other facts can be hung.

Emerson, Lake and Palmer

The first horse poem many children are introduced to is this 18th century one:

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
To see a fine lady upon a white ‘oss;
With rings on her fingers, and bells on her toes,
She shall have music, wherever she goes.

Contrary to what we are normally told a cock-horse is not a stallion but a docked tailed horse. (One with their dock cut off, a typical thing to do at this time with driving and farm horses.) Docking their tails made the top of their tail look like a chicken’s tail end, hence ‘cock’ horse.

British children may also come across John Betjeman’s “Hunter Trials,” with this verse, best read in your finest English accent:

Oh wasn’t it naughty of Smudges?
Oh Mummy, I’m sick with disgust.
She threw me in front of the judges,
And my silly old collar-bone’s bust.

A great opportunity to talk about training and what to do if a pony stops, or how to tuck and roll when falling. Or if you like limericks, then Edward Lear is your man:

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who sat on a Horse when he reared;
But they said, “Never mind!
You will fall off behind,
You propitious Old Man with a beard.”

So this leads to a discussion about why a horse might rear, and how to sit and what to do. Possibly everyone could also talk about how difficult it is to fall out of an Australian stock saddle or a western saddle, and explain that Gary Cooper always said that in Westerns you were permitted to kiss your horse but never your girl!

But if you grew up in the ’70s then things were very different in terms of behaviour. Something emphasized by the first supergroup, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Their first big song, leading to an increase in the sale of grey horses, was “Lucky Man“:

He had white horses
And ladies by the score,
All dressed in satin
And waiting by the door.
Ooh, what a lucky man he was.

Indeed, he was. One man who would have been aware of this supergroup was another Emerson, Denny Emerson … and he wrote to me recently about meeting one of the greatest poets of all time, Robert Frost.

“In 1957, at a 100-mile trail ride at the GMHA in South Woodstock, Vermont, at the end of a 40 mile day’s ride, I was on my knees in my horse’s stall, rubbing his legs, when I realized that someone was watching me over the open part of the Dutch door. I looked up, and saw that halo of white hair, and knew instantly who it was, but at age 16, I was too tongue tied to say anything!”

Denny fully appreciated the genius of Robert Frost and was well aware that his most famous poem, ‘Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening,’ features a horse in harness, probably in the very same Vermont woods through which Denny, now in his 80s, is still lucky enough to ride regularly. Because of its’ last verse, encouraging people not to stand still, it is one I use often in my presentations:

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village, though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sounds the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Denny reminded me that Robert Frost also wrote the finest lines about loving what you do, so that your love and work are as one. It’s called “Two Tramps in Mud Time.” You should read the whole poem but the key lines are these:

My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.

The one who smiles is the one worthwhile

Loving what you do is such a golden key for happy riders and happy performers. Then it is possible to cope with the inevitable ups and downs of both competition and life. Just add friendship to this and it is possible to overcome all challenges. So I always carry with me this line that I came across in a very old Pony Club coaching manual almost 50 years ago, ‘the one who smiles is the one worthwhile’. Of course the fact that it rhymes makes it even more memorable. So I will finish with another appropriate rhyming contribution from Edward Lear:

There was an Old Man of the Isles,
Whose face was pervaded with smiles;
He sang “High dum diddle,”
And played on the fiddle,
That amiable Man of the Isles.

©William Micklem

William Micklem: Who Needs Another Chance?

The English Derby at Epsom is without doubt the most prestigious horserace in the UK and one of the most important races in the world. Two weeks ago it was won yet again by Aidan O’Brien, the Irish trainer who has won over 300 Group One races around the world in the last twenty-one years … so no surprises there. What was a surprise was that the winning horse, Wings Of Eagles, was ridden by Padraig Beggy.

Disgrace and redemption

Thirty-one-year-old Padraig has ridden only one other winner this year, the same number as he has ridden in each of the last two seasons. Before this time he had been riding in Australia for two years and came back in disgrace, having been banned for fifteen months after testing positive for cocaine and giving false evidence.

The worst thing about the positive test, he said, was telling his family the bad news. I said to my brother: “I’ll be back. You’re going to hear plenty more of me.” So Padraig had a positive attitude and considerable determination. “I got into a bit of trouble in Australia. I made a bad mistake and I had to put it behind me. I was knocked down and I had to pick myself up and come back fighting.”

But it is very difficult to climb back after a mistake without help from others, and the value of developing friendships and being a ‘team player’ was yet again illustrated by Padraig’s story. “I came home from Australia and two good friends of mine who were with Aidan got me the job.”

But make no mistake, it was his two friends who made the introduction but it was Aidan O’Brien who hired him, and equally could have so easily turned him down. But Aidan saw something in Padraig that was special, and was prepared to stand by him. “I can’t tell you how delighted we are to have him riding for us.”

We all need supporters, coaches and people like Aidan O’Brien to give us another chance despite making a mistake. Sadly Aidan O’Brien is probably the exception in the world of elite horse racing.

Put yourself in his position: He is the trainer of some of the world’s most desirable and most valuable bloodstock, who is famous for paying attention to every small detail and always looking for marginal gains. A trainer who can take his pick from the best jockeys in the world, and has applications every day from talented young Irish jockeys with unblemished records in terms of both ability and character. Yet he chose to employ a fairly unsuccessful jockey with a big black mark on his CV and two years later gave him the winning ride in the Epsom Derby.

Admittedly Wings Of Eagles was a 40-to-1 long shot in the betting, but the key thing was that Padraig Beggy was given another chance, and while he worked at Ballydoyle with Aidan O’Brien there was always that chance.

As Padraig explained, “The main thing if you are riding for Aidan O’Brien in colours like these (the purple and white Derek Smith silks in which Joseph O’Brien won the Epsom Derby in 2012 and 2014) is that you don’t worry about the price because they always have a chance.” While Padraig had a chance he also had hope, and as Andy Dufresne said to Red in The Shawshank Redemption: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Mistakes are part of the process

Many will have heard the WD-40 story and other similar stories. It is one of the most successful products in the world used for releasing screws locked by rust and similar applications. Its name, WD-40, is abbreviated from the term ‘Water Displacement, 40th formula’. It was the result of the 40th attempt to create the product in the late 1950s, originally intended to protect the outer skin of the Atlas missile from rust and corrosion.

The important point is that the other 39 formulations were not looked upon as failures, but positive steps on the way to finding the successful formula. In the same way we have to be prepared to fail and learn from our mistakes if we are to progress.

This is something that Chris Bartle picks out as a key attribute of Michael Jung in his march to the very top of world eventing. “The other important way of learning is experimenting, you’ve got to let a rider experiment and try and not be afraid of making a mistake. It’s the third element that is critical to a champion, they are not worried about making a mistake. The first quality is will to win, the second is attention to detail, and third, not afraid of making mistakes — the willingness to take a risk.”

Of course Chris is talking about a different type of mistake to Padraig Beggy’s Australian drug conviction, but the learning process required to move forward and make the most of the situation is an identical three step process.

It involves recognition of what has happened, an acceptance that something has to change, and then making a change with a positive attitude that keeps you moving forward and making full use of opportunities. And if we have a generous heart, all of us can create a surprising number of opportunities for others that need to make a change and have another chance.

Do we give horses a second chance?

What about horses and second chances? The ultimate second chance in racing was that given to Red Rum, who raced on the flat as a two-year-old and three-year-old but was largely rejected thereafter because he suffered from pedal osteitis … basically arthritis in the foot. But when he arrived at Ginger McCain’s yard by the sea in Southport, he thrived. He was walked regularly in the cold sea and not only won the Aintree Grand National over 4 1/2 miles three times in the 1970s, but was also second twice. In 100 races over steeplechase fences he never fell!

There are many other examples from all disciplines at all levels of different types of second chances. As a two-year-old Charlotte Dujardin’s multi-gold dressage medalist Valegro was bought in Holland by Carl Hester, but was then sent back to Holland two years later to be sold, as Carl said he had too many horses. However Gertjan van Olst, the owner of Valegro’s sire, persuaded Carl to take him back. So Carl gave him a second chance and the rest is history.

When I was at Gleneagles Equestrian Centre in Scotland a fairly wild and over enthusiastic young grey horse was brought in for me to give my opinion about whether or not he was worth keeping. As soon as I saw him jump and show his wonderful footwork and athletic ability I was in no doubt that he was ‘a keeper’. His name … Lenamore! The extraordinary little Irish bred who went on to complete 24 four-stars, place 7 times at Badminton, win Burghley at the age of 17, and go to the London Olympics at 19 with Caroline Powell.

I also remember a Lipizzaner stallion that arrived at the Fulmer School of Equitation in the UK. It was said that he was too difficult to ride, instead he just did work in hand and loved to piaffe endlessly. However a quick feel in his mouth revealed two nasty wolf teeth and sharp molars. The wolf teeth were removed, the molars sorted, and he went on to be a very sensible riding horse.

Of course so many of us have also had the experience of horses whose bad behaviour was because of pain. Once the cause of the pain is removed there is usually an immediate improvement, although it does depend on how the horse has been treated while in pain, as a horse that suffers punishment in these situations may not be too quick to forgive.

The biggest motivation for designing my Micklem bridle was seeing so many horses become unwilling or napping because of uncomfortable bridles and nosebands. Of course horses still suffer with cranked nosebands and very low fitting dropped nosebands, but the success of the Micklem bridle has made a very real difference and given second chances to many horses that had previously been considered difficult, or even dangerous.

There is another huge group of horses that run into difficulties simply because they are badly handled, misunderstood, or simply asked to do more than they can cope with physically or mentally. Their second chance will depend on meeting trainers with sufficient understanding and skill, but if lucky enough to meet the right people extraordinary change and success is possible and often happens.

Why the difference?

When reading this most will have little trouble buying into the importance of giving horses second chances. The strange thing is that we are probably slower to do the same with our fellow humans! 

As a child I remember our hay and straw shed burnt down and all was lost.  A local boy helped the fire brigade put the fire out, but it later transpired that this young lad had actually set the hay on fire himself. Why do I remember this? Because I was talking angrily about the boy to my Father and he responded “I hope someone gives him another chance.”

At the time I thought my Father was soft in the head but of course he was right. He had a broader view, having been through the horrors of World War II and seen friends and colleagues killed, nine on the same night he himself was hit and lost a lung, yet he held no grudges against the Germans. A little forgiveness and perspective is a great asset when giving someone a second chance.

©William Micklem 

William Micklem: Throw Your Heart Over First

Photo courtesy of Alisha Mullen

“William, you always said “throw your heart over first” when I was most nervous, which was usually when we were jumping or warming up for the cross country. It always helped me be positive and trust in what we were capable of.” — Alisha Mullen

Alisha’s huge smile was eye catching … and proud. Proud to be at the Pony Club cross country competition, proud of her immaculate tack, and proud of her immaculately groomed grey pony. I had helped her do a little show jumping earlier in the year and been very impressed by her positivity and positional balance.

But as I watched her warm up for the cross country over the two practice logs I knew that she was in trouble. Her pony did not think this was a good idea! So it was not a surprise when they stopped at the first fence and were eliminated at fence two.

I couldn’t bear it. I knew she didn’t own this pony and could not have one of her own, but surely there was a horse somewhere she could borrow to allow her to fulfill her dream of becoming a Pony Club tetrathlete (riding, running, swimming and shooting). Alisha was not blessed with deep pockets, or long legs, or even great eyesight, or indeed any exceptional physical talents, but she was blessed with the most powerful attribute of all, a great attitude, and therefore deserved some help and generosity.

Generosity makes the world go around

Timing is everything and Alisha needed help urgently … someone to ‘pay it forward’ and come to her rescue. ‘Paying it forward’ is a hugely powerful strategy that is often dismissed as an altruistic folly, but in my opinion it is one of the best investments you can make in a world where no one can stand alone and team work is essential to make the most of our lives.

It creates a win-win situation, with both recipient and giver benefiting at different times. Being generous, being the good Samaritan, can make a huge difference to those in need, as I am pleased to say it did for Alisha. She was found a horse, Duchess, who helped her become not only a tetrathlete but also a successful show jumping and eventing team member for her Pony Club.

Alisha and Duchess. Photo by Tara Mullen.

But generosity and positivity needs to come from another direction as well, from the performer themselves. A successful performer must recognise what they do well and then work from what they do well. It is destructive focusing on what can’t be done and how much worse one is in comparison with the very best.

Alisha explains it well: “I just visualise crossing the finish line knowing I’ve put 100% effort into getting there, regardless of how the competition might go or how high or far down the ranking list I am. Everyone always wants to hear about how you want to be the best of everyone and be number one, but I perform my best when I’m just trying to be the best I can be and not comparing myself to anyone else. Winning to me is a personal best.”

This is a ‘soft’ attitude I am often told. If you don’t aim to be the best you will never be competitive. Personal bests are for the losers not the winners, they say. But this is totally wrong, because even at the Olympics it is true that a new world record is simply a new personal best for one athlete, and our fundamental challenge will always be how to improve ourselves and make the most of ourselves. This is just as true for gold medallists as it is for novice riders.

Follow your heart

Of course there is another ‘heart’ phrase that is crucial to success in the long term. It is ‘follow your heart’. As they say, if you love what you’re doing you’ll never have to work for another day in your life. So many are put off doing their chosen sport because they are told they cannot be competitive, but if you love your sport then you should keep doing it and keep enjoying it. Then there will almost certainly be huge payoffs in terms of both mental and physical health. As Alisha says: “I’m doing what I love.”

Performers may well be inspired by the great performers and learn from great performers but we have to set our own targets and run our own race to a new personal best … and that is much more likely if we enjoy the whole process and focus on the process rather than winning. It certainly reduces competition nerves and stress, something that so often paralyses performers in all sports.

The key point is that if you fear failing, losing and rejection you will also fear making a mistake. You will see the competition as a threat, as something that is not a pleasant experience and not something you want to keep doing. This is an attitude that leads to a dead end and being a spectator rather than participating.

Whereas if you are focussed on your own performance and seeking a personal best you simply see the competition as a challenge, and a positive opportunity that will be good to repeat. This is a winning attitude that leads to people doing more with their lives. This has been Alisha’s philosophy and as a result she just keeps getting better and doing more. “I always dreamed of doing the things I do now and all the people I’ve met along the way have helped me and realised that I can always do more and be more.


Although many racehorses probably do have a natural wish to reach the front of a group of horses, and therefore ‘win’, it is lucky that sport horses do not have an understanding of winning and losing in the same way as humans. If they did they might go into a big sulk or give up having been embarrassed to see their name half way down the score board!

But I believe horses can enjoy the process of training and competing. Some would say this is anthropomorphism, and that the idea of horses enjoying work is ridiculous. But as horses prick their ears and head out enthusiastically for a hack, or squeal and give a little buck after jumping, or charge along out hunting, it is difficult to agree with this opinion. Certainly it is possible to kill the enthusiasm and desire to go forwards in most horses with poor training, particularly with mechanical dressage training, but I still believe in the concept and possibility of producing happy athletes. (Click to read my series on happiness.)

Of course some horses have more ‘heart’ than others, but what does this mean? A pretty good definition is ‘having the courage and desire to keep going forward and persist despite challenges’. A ‘big heart’ is what most riders look for as part of the personality package, particularly with event horses. It was exactly this that was highlighted by the top three riders at Kentucky this year at their final press conference, when asked about the qualities they looked for in an event horse.

“He’s got the heart of a lion,” said Phillip Dutton about the 18-year-oldo Mr Medicott. This was echoed by Zara Tindall, “High Kingdom has all the qualities I’d love to find again in a horse. He’s a great galloper, a really fantastic jumper, and he’s got all the heart you could ever want in a horse.” While Maxime Livio simply said, “You need a horse with an incredible heart that will just keep giving.”

The same applies to humans. To make the most of yourself you need ‘heart’, ‘having the courage and desire to keep going forward and persist despite challenges’. It is probably the most fundamental requirement of all performers. Therefore all coaches, parents and supporters need to understand this and encourage and reward this attitude of mind rather than just reward ‘winning’.

Live now!

And Alisha? ‘Live now!’ continues to be her motto, and she has continued to be positive and relish the possibilities of every new day. She knows that extraordinary things are possible for ordinary people, and she knows that those with a great attitude will always be more successful than the more talented who have a poor attitude.

She used the skills and fitness gained in tetrathlon to start competing in pentathlon (riding, running, fencing, swimming, and shooting) and was chosen to join the National youth squad, and she did well in her final school examinations.

Her success in these areas led to her winning an Ad Astra Elite Athlete scholarship at University College Dublin (UCD), a programme designed to maximize the potential of UCD athletes in both their sporting and academic endeavors. A rare accolade … and it all started when someone paid it forward with the loan of a horse and said ‘throw your heart over first’.

So on her 21st birthday she was given the perfect gift, the carving shown in the picture above, showing the five pentathlon sports with the inscription “throw your heart over first.” It was what my father often said to me and it will be what Alisha says to other young pentathletes in years to come.

So another story to share, and Alisha’s story is worthy of a big audience because she is a wonderful role model. It is a heart-warming story, a story of how a young girl threw her heart over first, followed her heart, and showed great heart as she overcame challenges. As a result she found a route that she loved and a level of achievement that is exceptional. There are others who could also throw their hearts over first and do exceptional things.

William Micklem: Carl Hester Training With the USA Cavalry

Carl Hester and Nip Tuck. Photo courtesy of FEI / Jon Stroud.

Equestrian coaches and horses round the world have much for which to thank Carl Hester. All coaches need verification of their methods to sell their training ideas, and what easier sell is there than to say ‘this is how the gold medalists do it.’ Charlotte Dujardin with Valegro have been the leading combination in the dressage world for two Olympic cycles, and without doubt it is the brilliance of Carl Hester’s training leadership that took the British team to a gold medal in London and silver medal in Rio, and has broken new ground by turning a British rider into the highest scoring rider of all time.

But there’s more: His more horse friendly, more humane, more natural, more classical approach to dressage makes dressage more appealing to tens of thousands of potential new participants and supporters, and over the coming years tens of thousands of horses will be happier as a result.

Later this year Carl and Charlotte will be presented with the Médaille de l’École d’Èquitation Espagnole de Vienne, an honour awarded for riding according to the principles of classical horsemanship. Carl and Charlotte will receive the award during the Fete Imperiale, the summer ball of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Top 10 Training Secrets of Carl Hester

So how does he do it? Here are the 10 key points he uses to explain his approach. It is important that you read through all 10 points and the all-important final conclusion to fully understand his strategy and magical effect.

1. Be systematic. Before beginning work, fix in the mind a definite program of exercises for the day. Be sure that the exercises for the day are in proper relations to the work of previous days.

2. Be patient. Do not destroy the tranquility of horses by demanding a performance that is too difficult, or by demanding it too early in training.

3. Be tactful and resourceful. Take advantage of the most favorable conditions for teaching a horse a new lesson. Never try to train a fresh horse. Undertake nothing new when the horse is excited or frightened. Do not try train the horse when his attention is distracted. Do not give a new lesson to a resisting horse. Do not send the horse to the stable in the midst of resistances or with a lesson incomplete. Finish the lesson first and then send the horse away calm and tractable.

4. Be moderate. Begin with the simplest movements and exercises. These understood, proceed to the next, less simple. In the early training introduce nothing complex or difficult. Use continuously the same means to bring about the same results, thus aiding the horse’s memory. Ask little but ask it it often; it is by repetition that a horse progresses. Nevertheless, do not let a horse continuously execute a movement incorrectly or in a dull, lifeless manner. Demand attention, correctness and a carriage and action gradually increasing in style and manner, then allow a few moments of complete relaxation. Never strain the attention or tax the strength of the horse. Require no position, attitude or movement which in itself causes the horse apprehension, discomfort or pain.

5. Be observant. Do not attribute every resistance of failure of the horse to inattention or stubbornness. These are often due to ill fitting bits or saddlery, to a poor rider, to lack of condition or approaching unsoundness, to noises, unaccustomed surroundings, or even to the weather.

6. Be exacting. Do not be content with the simple tracing of the riding-hall exercises and figures. Every such exercise or riding-hall figure has for its object to teach the horse the aids and to know how to handle himself in doing so. Accordingly, before taking the first step of a movement, the horse should be placed in a position which favors the simple and natural execution of the movement. The movement will then be executed more easily and correctly.

7. Be logical. Do not confuse the means by which an end is obtained with the end itself. Practically all of the exercises and riding-hall figures are the means for which the horse is rendered easy to manage during ordinary riding. Accordingly do not use riding-hall exercises as a proof of training or routine drill movements as a means of training. The first are the means by which the horse is trained. The second constitute the test and the proof of training.

8. Be liberal. Permit the riders to ride the greater part of the time at will, or, if on the track, without regard to the distances. They then have a greater opportunity to really control and to correct the attitudes, positions and movements of their horses. It also permits the horses to assume their individual natural gaits and avoids irritation by forcing them too soon to take regulation gaits.

9. Be tenacious. Never provoke a struggle which can properly be avoided.

10. Summation. In the horses’ training, great attention should be paid, first, to their conditioning; second, to their tranquility; third, to their training, properly speaking. ANY SYSTEM OF TRAINING THAT NEGLECTS THE CONDITIONING OR WHICH DESTROYS THE TRANQUILITY OF HORSES, IS DEFECTIVE.

Final conclusion – the truth

Those of you who read my last article may well be smelling a rat at this stage. I lied to you! These 10 points come not from Carl Hester in 2017 but from the U.S. Cavalry Manual of Horsemanship in 1936! They come from the beginning of Part II, Education of the Horse … and bear in mind the manual is not talking about training dressage horses but training remounts to serve in the USA cavalry.

So who was fooled? Some of you I would guess. So why have I done this? It is not just because I admire both the work of Carl Hester and General Chamberlin, who largely wrote the Cavalry Manual. My point is that so much in the Cavalry Manual is forgotten or lost, and so much from other wise coaches is also lost, therefore coaches who study their subject have much to gain and then much to contribute to the training world…. and then we can avoid the need to keep totally reinventing the training bicycle. Improving definitely, and always simplifying, but not reinventing. Yes there are some things I don’t agree with in the Cavalry Manual but there is much that is both good and mentally stimulating.

Of course we are lucky to be blessed with a huge amount of film of Carl and Charlotte, so there is a better record than with many master trainers from the past. Therefore there is every chance that Carl’s work and words will not be forgotten, but instead remembered and used to show the way to the next generation of riders who want to ride dressage in a kinder, better way….. a way that is undoubtedly safer for event riders who need a horse to have good instincts across country.

William Micklem: Coaches Must Open Their Story Books

Following his acclaimed seven-part series on fitness, William Micklem returns with his latest column on coaching. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns for EN. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading.

Source: Creative Commons.

Chris Bartle said this recently about training: “We all know there are three ways to train. One is to tell and they do, like you teach kids. Then you have the show and copy system, you show them how to do it or they watch someone else do it and they try to copy. Then the other important way of learning is experimenting — you’ve got to let rider experiment and try and not be afraid of making a mistake.”

In my coaching book I would actually suggest that all three ways are required, even for children and novice students. It fits in 100% with that very old and well- tested coaching acronym for coaching all new skills, IDEA — I for introduction, D for demonstration, E for explanation, and A for action, when experimentation and learning from mistakes should be encouraged from the beginning.

Another powerful coaching tool

However there is another important way to learn, which is by being told stories. All students need to remember things and nothing makes things more memorable than stories. Even those who specialize in memory feats use stories to make this possible.

It strikes me that probably the most powerful and influential coaches in the world are those that can tell stories. Stories that bring the great riders and great competitions to life, stories that link the masters of the past with modern masters, and stories that link the great competitors of different generations. Unfortunately for these storytellers a little age is a prerequisite for this role! But age by itself is not enough to join this club. They must also have studied their subject so they can understand the context and nuances of what they have seen. I am aware of three outstanding current members of this select club in the USA: Jimmy Wofford, George Morris and Denny Emerson.

They can bring the experience of multiple Olympic Games and Championships to the table, combined with hundreds of hours of watching leading riders in training. They have ‘touched’ the world of Chamberlin, Littauer, De Nemethy and Le Goff, they have studied great coaches from other sports, and they know all about the genius of trainers who most others have forgotten, like the West Coast’s Jimmy Williams. This gives their stories special value, and behind every story is a lesson. Lessons that are integral to them being world class exceptional coaches … exceptional coaches that should be treasured and remembered in the stories of the next generation of top coaches.

It is a continuum, but a continuum that is in danger of breaking down in this electronic world of written googled information and bullet points, that are all filed away and forgotten about in the absence of stories on which to hang the lessons. Yet these stories are vital because the coach’s task is to make the theoretical real, and that comes from sharing personal experience.

I am now going to make one of those jumps in logic and suggest that the power of storytelling is just as important for all coaches at all other levels, no matter the level of the student. If we all gather our own book of stories we can all substantially increase the effectiveness of our coaching.

Water skiing in Cornwall

Let me tell you a story: It is about the day Christine Manhire went water skiing. Christine was a Cornish equestrian gem. A dedicated ‘work with horses because I love them’ lady. At the stage of her life in this story she was also of fairly solid stature, largely due to the production of a large family. But she was a vital stable management cog in my Father’s small yard in Cornwall, the bottom corner of England. As we had no indoor or outdoor arena the winter weather sometimes made our small fields too muddy for lungeing, so he would head to a local flat beach on the north coast with a load of horses and ponies in his rattling cattle truck.

One such day Christine was tasked with lungeing my spirited pony mare, Charlie’s Aunt. Some might say that lungeing on a windy day on a fairly wide expanse of beach, even though the tide was in, was asking for trouble, but we’ll let that thought go for the moment. Of course the inevitable happened and Charlie’s Aunt gave a buck and a pull and galloped off towards the sea. Unfortunately Christine got tangled in the rope, fairly soon lost her balance and proceeded to follow the mare into the sea. On the way home she contended that she was just determined not to let go of Charlie’s Aunt, but whatever the reason she rose to the surface and became an early exponent of horse skiing, albeit lying flat on her tummy!

Caption: How ditches should be jumped! Riding my favourite pony Charlie’s Aunt at the Pony Club Championships in 1967 on Cheltenham racecourse. Best boy that year was Richard Walker on Plucky Pasha, who won Badminton two years later. My brother Charlie was second and I was third. Photo courtesy of William

Christine survived and continued working for my father, possibly proving an excessive love of horses, while my father often repeated this cautionary story, complete with great chuckles, as he warned us about the dangers of not organizing the lunge rope in a safe manner. It is a story I never forget as each time I carefully wind my lunge rope for use, and it is a story I now in turn relate to my students.

An unexpected partner

I would also tell my student coaches that great stories and lessons can come from the most unexpected situations and contacts. As an example about four years ago my interest in Thoroughbred breeding opened up a communication with ‘Vineyridge’, a regular and perceptive contributor to the COTH forums.

As a result I was subsequently introduced by Vineyridge to the US Cavalry Training Manual, which was written in 1935, and in particular to one hugely important quotation from this manual: “In the training of remounts, great attention should be paid, first, to their conditioning; and second to their tranquility; third to their training, properly speaking. Any system of training that neglects the conditioning or which destroys the tranquility of horses, is defective.” (The emphasis on the final sentence is included in the Manual.)

Apart from the reminder that tranquility is a wonderful word we should use more often, there are two key lessons here: Firstly the confirmation of the absolutely fundamental need to ensure the ongoing tranquility of horses as a training priority; and secondly, and probably the most important, the need for coaches to respect others and to listen to their stories. Then we give ourselves the chance of standing on the shoulders of giants, and there will be less need to keep re-inventing the training wheel … and our great stories will live on.


The US Cavalry Training Manual was largely written by Brigadier General Harry Dwight Chamberlin, who represented the USA in the Los Angeles Olympics of 1932 in both Eventing and Show Jumping, winning Gold and Silver medals. Also on that show jumping team was Col. John W Wofford who was taught by Chamberlin and went on to coach both eventers and show jumpers at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helksinki. Col Wofford’s youngest son and arguably his best student is none other than the extraordinary Jimmy Wofford! We should listen more closely to his stories.

On the gold medal winning British show jumping team in 1952 was Harry Llewellyn, riding the legendary 3/4 TB foxhunter, who my father sold on from his yard in Buckinghamshire just after the second world war before he moved to Cornwall! My exposure to such stories as a child sparked my interest in high-level competition work and how their success was achieved. And without doubt all young competition riders today should be exposed to greatness as soon as possible.

Two other points of interest about the Helsinki Games: It was actually the first time women were allowed to compete in equestrian events, although only in dressage, as show jumping and eventing were considered too dangerous for women! However to test the stamina of riders and horses the dressage test was 15 minutes long! Meanwhile the eventing individual gold medal was won by Sweden’s Hans von Blixen-Finecke, who was Chris Bartle’s main coach for many years. When Hans retired he went to live in Cornwall, near the very beach where Christine Manhire went water skiing!

Han’s own father won an individual bronze medal in 1912 in dressage. Although the dressage test differed from the current format in that it did not include movements such as piaffe and passage, but required five jumps up to 1.10 meters in height and a final mandatory obstacle, a barrel that had to be jumped while it was rolled towards the horse! Riders could also garner bonus points for riding with one hand. To further extend the story Han’s aunt was Karen von Blixen-Finecke, better known by her nom de plume of Isak Dinesen, under which she was a well-known author, especially for her work, Out of Africa, which became a popular movie in 1985.

Seventh in the eventing in Helsinki in 1952 was the youngest member of the British Team, 25-year-old Bertie Hill from Devon, who rode his first winner in a point-to-point for my father who used to do the race commentaries! In 1956 at the Stockholm Olympics Bertie Hill rode the Queen’s horse Countryman on the gold medal winning team. Countryman fell across the 22nd fence, but Bertie, saving the British team, grabbed the horse’s forelegs and shoved him over backward so that he fell into a ditch! He was then able to scramble out and resume the course. Princess Anne was just six at this time, but was probably inspired by their success to follow her own dream to ride at the highest level, and in turn inspired her own daughter Zara Tindall.

Exposure to greatness again … and exposure to great stories … a hugely valuable coaching tool.


William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part 7: Feeding for Fitness

If you haven’t been reading William Micklem’s series on fitness, you are seriously missing out! In case you missed it: Part 1 – So Much More Than Canter SetsPart 2 – Keeping You and Your Horse SafePart 3 – It’s All About Balance, Part 4 – Fit to Train and Fit to CompetePart 5 — Warm Up and Warm Down and Part 6 – Limits of Fitness. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Go Eventing.

“We should bear in mind that colic kills more horses than falls at cross country fences ever will.”

Our equine competition partners need fuel, therefore good feeding and nutrition must obviously go hand in hand with fitness training. Whenever possible use grass, as it is the ideal safe fuel for horses, but that is not always possible and not always enough for the competition horse, so we have to use other forage.

Of course all forage needs to be of good quality, dust free and palatable, but there is now a vastly increased range of horse feed and additives to consider and confuse. But we can be guided by the key ‘rules of feeding’ that have been known for thousands of years. They still hold good and they are still vital, however many break these rules to the detriment of the horse’s performance.

Horses must eat little and often

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, a horse’s stomach produces acid, even when not eating. With a natural, high roughage diet, with a horse trickle feeding for 18 hours a day, this works wonderfully well. But what do we do instead? We feed large quantities of high food value nutrition in short time periods, leaving the horse for prolonged periods without food and with little for the stomach acid to do, and little to do apart from staring at the walls and going stir crazy. This is not only a recipe for boredom and mental problems, but also a recipe for wasting money, a way to ensure stomach ulcers, and a way to stop a horse performing at their best!

The horse is designed to graze, eating a little and wandering a little for most of the day. Their stomach is designed to suit this lifestyle. What it does not suit is a small number of large concentrate (grain) meals and a small amount of high food value haylage or alfalfa. Horses have a small stomach for their size, which limits the amount of feed that can be taken in at one time, and it begins to empty when it is two-thirds full, whether the food in the stomach is processed or not. As a result both wasting nutrients and money and making colics more likely.

Therefore a maximum of 1 pound concentrates per 250 pounds bodyweight should not be exceeded per meal. This means that with an average event horse we should never give a dry concentrate feed that is greater than 4 pounds and we should ensure they can nibble away ad lib on roughage. However even at Rolex this year I saw feeds being given that were obviously well over this 4 pounds rule of thumb. 

Horses must drink often

To digest 4 pounds of concentrates the horse should produce between 4 to 8 pounds of saliva, but if they have been left without food for some time they will tend to hoover down their food too quickly for normal saliva production leading to possible digestion difficulties and even colic. We should bear in mind that colic kills more horses than falls at cross country fences ever will. It is the biggest cause of fatalities in horses after death from old age. The difference being that the former is largely inevitable and the latter largely preventable. One has to wonder why there can be an outcry about a fatal fall but little is said about poor feeding practices?

The key elements of avoiding colics and constipation are to ensure almost constant availability of roughage (digestible fibre) and water and avoid excessive feeding of concentrates. Even with those horses or ponies that tend to being overweight it is possible to increase the availability of low feed value roughage by giving them clean oat or barley straw to nibble. When eating hay about two to three times as much saliva is produce compared with eating concentrates. This means the more the horse chews, the more saliva is produced and the saliva is vital for good digestion including neutralizing stomach acid.

This requires a well hydrated horse. Water should be constantly available as it is the most essential ingredient of all. However try different water temperatures and see which your horse likes. There is no doubt that in extreme cold that horses rend to reduce their water intake and it soon shows in their droppings which become hard and their coats which become dry. Being constantly aware of changes in their droppings and coats is a way to stay ahead of potential problems. Droppings should break on landing and it is better for them to be a little soft rather than a little hard.

Water warmed by the sun is often more appealing than cold water from underground and despite what one is told many horses prefer it with a little flavouring of hay of feed. It is a very individual and you have to find out what each horse likes. Certainly if you are going to add electrolytes or anything to the water it is important that you gradually train a horse to like it, rather than discourage water intake at the competition. 

Horses need to balance fuel intake with work done

So how much food does your horse need? As with humans it can vary enormously but undoubtedly the tendency is to over feed concentrates high in starch, and fail to understand that different foodstuffs have different levels of digestibility for a horse, no matter what the theoretical analysis says. For example on paper two grain samples such as barley and oats may have similar constituents, apart from a little less fibre in the barley, but we know that in terms of digestibility and utilising nutrients that oats are the best grain for horses. Just add a little salt and possibly soaked sugar beet or molasses and you have probably the most cost effective and palatable hard feed you can find.

There are numerous high quality pre-mixed pellets available that can provide exactly what is needed but beware being led astray by thinking that the higher he level of protein the better it is. Brood mares may need 14% protein, but few competition horses need more than 10% protein and what is more important is the starch and carbohydrate content.

Many people gets confused about protein and carbohydrate, thinking in terms of percentages rather than actual amount, and forgetting about calories. Even an average quality hay will typically have at least 7% protein. Feeding a 12% protein feed might sound like a good way to boost protein, but-pound for pound-that grain may have about three times more calories than a pound of hay. So if you want to avoid a horse getting overweight it might be better to feed good quality hay rather than increase the weight of concentrate. But get the hay or haylage analyzed as different types can have hugely different food values.

Molly Brant (see start of my previous article) had 10 pounds of oats a day, with all the hay she wanted, and some horses may get most of their carbohydrate needs from hay. Be Fair went to Badminton with Lucinda Green on 6 pounds of hard feed per day plus about 10 pounds of hay. Whereas some very hardworking hunters in Leicestershire, the best hunting country in the UK, will be getting through at least 15 pounds of hard food and 30 pounds of hay.

But so much depends on the food value of the particular feedstuffs being used and the individual needs of each horse. As a rule of thumb horses will consume 1.5-2.5% of their body weight daily in forage, with ‘easy keepers’ on the lower end of that range and ‘hard keepers’ on the higher end.

Additives & supplements

There is a golden rule for additives and supplements, ‘only add if there is a reason’. Often there is a reason because of specific functional problems or nutritional weaknesses, but do not be tempted to use additives continuously like an insurance policy. The digestive system doesn’t work like that and anything unneeded will either be flushed out, or at worst create an imbalance. It will also waste money and possibly even put a horse off their feed.

Typically horses that have copper or iron deficiencies can be helped, as can those with poor foot growth or joint problems, and especially in hot weather, when horses sweat profusely, electrolytes are important. They help preserve the correct balance of fluids in the body’s cells and are involved in muscle function and the processing of wastes. Deficiencies cause dehydration, impaired performance and may exacerbate clinical problems such as azoturia, or tying up. So work with your veterinary surgeon to provide targeted treatment for specific needs.

So this completes my series FIT TO DO THE JOB. I am aware that this subject is not as much fun as riding articles, but if you are serious about competition riding and making the most of your opportunities, and particularly if you are serious about safety and accident prevention, then this subject is just as important as any other. Happy days and happy competitions on well conditioned horses.

© William Micklem

William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part 6 – Limits of Fitness

If you haven’t been reading William Micklem’s series on fitness, you are seriously missing out! In case you missed it: Part 1 – So Much More Than Canter SetsPart 2 – Keeping You and Your Horse SafePart 3 – It’s All About Balance, Part 4 – Fit to Train and Fit to Compete and Part 5 — Warm Up and Warm Down. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Go Eventing.

Denny Emerson and Epic Win tackle steeplechase at Bromont, via Denny’s Facebook.

“This inane talk about how wonderful it is to ride and compete after the age of 40. Are you nuts? Get a grip. 40-50-60, what is the big damn deal? You think 55-65 is over the hill in a riding sport? What rock do you live under?? Try 70 or 75.

“Stay fit, have some drive, screw what people say you shouldn’t do, and go do whatever you want. Fear rubs off on you if you let it. If you are surrounded by fearful, careful, ‘sensible’ people, you have to be damned vigilant they don’t turn you into someone who is careful and sensible, and cautious and in control, and all those other dream snuffing qualities of rational, normal folk. When they say, ‘You can’t—-‘ Or ‘You shouldn’t—‘ what they are so often actually saying is ‘I can’t’ and ‘I shouldn’t.'” 

— Denny Emerson

It was 1954 in Ireland. The 15.2 Thoroughbred mare Molly Brant, named after a Mowhawk Indian, was ridden the eight miles to Fairyhouse racecourse, that today sits opposite the site of Tattersalls International Horse Trials. She then raced in a three-mile steeplechase and was beaten by a head carrying 158 lbs, before being ridden back the eight miles to her stable. The following day she made the same journey back to Leopardstown and was beaten by a length in another three mile chase … before riding home again!

Expectations and Possibilities

In our modern world this appears almost cruel, but this type of activity was not unusual in these post war times. Molly Brant was had been well hunted for two years before these exploits and was like a human prepared for a triathlon challenge today. And consider this: In 1823, in Jamaica, New Jersey, 60,000 watched The Great Match Race, between American Eclipse representing the North and Sir Henry representing the south. In three heats on the same day they ran the equivalent of nine Kentucky Derbies with American Eclipse prevailing to win the $40,000 purse! (Close to $1 million today.)

What is certain is that in the 21st century our expectations of what is possible in terms of fitness have been greatly reduced, to the detriment of the horses who are not made sufficiently fit to do the relatively modest challenge of a modern competition cross country.

The same can be said about our expectations and possibilities of ourselves as riders, as so passionately expressed by Denny Emerson above. It is a message echoed by the Irish equestrian legend Hugh Leonard, who was the rider of Molly Brant in 1954. He has always hunted hard, has played high goal polo and loved every minute with his horses. Now 83, yet chairman of the Traditional Irish Horse Association, a judge and breeder and senior steward at the Royal Dublin Society, and still rides young horses every day, and competes in team chases, where teams of four race against each other over fences in a relay!

Irish equestrian legend Hugh Leonard. Photo courtesy of Susan Finnerty.

As a lifelong follower of the Ward Union and Meath hunts, Hugh has enjoyed some memorable days hunting with both packs. He describes his two favourite days hunting: The first was with the Meath Foxhounds “55 minutes as fast was we could do and we must have jumped over 100 fences,” and secondly on a private hunt around Beauparc and the Hill of Skyrne, “It was three hours without a check for 23 miles and only three horses finished. I was on a small thoroughbred mare, just 15.1. She was some mare, she trotted back to Drumree as fresh as she’d started.”

Hugh comes from ‘good stock’ as they say, as all his extended family are also exceptional. Longevity and a spirited approach to life runs in the genes.

Traditional Irish Horses

Longevity, soundness and spirit are also hugely important in horses, but I worry that we now breed from too many horses that have not proved their soundness with sufficient work. The extraordinary success of traditional Irish horses is in great part due to the fact that their ancestors were proven to be tough and sound doing huge physical challenges. The success of Irish international record breakers from Grasshopper (Michael Page) and Kilkenny (Jimmy Wofford), to Custom Made (David O’Connor) and Biko (Karen O’Connor), and in more recent times from Lenamore (Caroline Powell) to Avebury (Andrew Nicholson) has made Ireland synonymous with sound horses.

Even this year at Rolex there were two traditional Irish horses in the top prizes who have out performed the vast majority of other top horses in terms of longevity and work done. In third place was my own homebred, the 16-year-old High Kingdom, who has completed 25 international events at 3*/4* level; while in 4th was the 18-year-old Mr Medicott who has completed 30 at this level. As a comparison Lenamore did 31 at 3*/4* level and Avebury 26. This is twice the number of high level events completed by the record holders in long format days. 

Nereo and Sam

One fact that has been missed in the fairy tale Badminton win of Andrew Nicholson and the 17-year-old Nereo was that this was Nereo’s 100th competition at all levels. It was his 33rd at the 3*/4* level, a truly amazing total, but the 17-year-old La Biosthetique Sam beats him with 34 completions. In addition Sam has a competition record that is unlikely to be beaten, having never been out of the top six and only six times out of the top three in all his 57 internationals from 1* to 4*. Not bad for a horse that was originally rejected by the German licensing commission as being “mediocre with a big head”!

Nereo is by the Thoroughbred Fines, who was both a good racehorse and has the type of back pedigree that is ideal for producing event horses. But Nereo is also the exception because Andrew openly admits that he has to “dig deep” to make the time. Sam is ¾ Thoroughbred, by Stan The Man, also sire of Leslie Law’s great grey medallists Shear H2O and Shear L’Eau, and out of a mare by the TB Heraldik.

Chris Bartle has recently pointed out that Michael Jung only became a winning machine when he started riding horses that were ¾ Thoroughbred with enough gallop. Of course it is not just a matter of having enough gallop to make the time but to do it going within their maximum gallop that helps enormously with staying injury free over many years. Interestingly the galloping machine Lenamore was by the Irish Draught Sea Crest, and Grasshopper, who was invariably fastest across country in long format days, was by a Thoroughbred horse but out of a Connemara mare!

Get the Right Horses Fit

So gallop and endurance can also be found in these native Irish breeds, and of course in a number of other individuals, but it is definitely missing in some horses. Even if their dressage and basic jump is exceptional it is important to recognize that some horses are just not equipped physically, or often mentally, for cross country.

Andrew Nicholson says that if a horse is short of blood that “you’ve got to gallop them a lot more, you’ve got to gallop them a lot harder than a Thoroughbred. I think that’s where a lot of riders get a little disheartened, they try to do the same preparation that you would with a Thoroughbred and they haven’t got the engine for that. That’s why I like to buy them when they are young, so I can start galloping them when they are relatively young, stretching their lungs, getting them hard.”

However this is not something that many like to do. Chris Bartle simply emphasises that you need to start off with a horse for three phases and that includes not only plenty of gallop but also the right type of jump. “A horse that has a big showy jump is often not suited to cross country.”

Chris also agrees with me that the training for the dressage and show jumping must be complementary to the cross country training: “There have been trainers in the dressage world, and this takes us back to the whole discussion of rolkur, where you are taking away from the horses, their spirit, their ability to look after themselves, you are internalizing them too much. That type of dressage training is contradictory to eventing.”

So as ever good training is vital and good training will not only bring more success but more success over a longer period of time. You will not find badly trained horses rivaling the longevity records of Kilkenny, Mr Medicott, High Kingdom, Nereo, La Biosthetique Sam … and my favourite the 15.3 Lenamore, who completed 24 four stars with Caroline Powell, was seven times placed at Badminton and won Burghley at the age of 17.

NEXT TIME: The concluding article in William’s “Fit to Do the Job” series, “Feeding for Fitness”





William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part 5 – Warm Up and Warm Down

If you haven’t been reading William Micklem’s series on fitness, you are seriously missing out! In case you missed it: Part 1 – So Much More Than Canter SetsPart 2 – Keeping You and Your Horse Safe and Part 3 – It’s All About Balance, Part 4 – Fit to Train and Fit to Compete. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Go Eventing.

“I do not think there are any shortcuts to fitness. Physical fitness takes a long time to develop, and it involves a great deal of effort. At the same time, if you make the effort, I promise you will never feel such a sense of pride and satisfaction as when your horse completes the cross country at your destination and pulls up obviously thinking, is that all you got?” – Jimmy Wofford | Photo by Samantha Clark

I have a specific performance philosophy that travels with me in my life. This philosophy is ‘under promise and over deliver’…in other words always give added value. So this article is the added value to my ten key points from the earlier articles, and in the sense of paying it forward it is my gift to you.

Are you serious?

In return the big question I have to ask all event riders, trainers and coaches is ‘are you serious about fitness?’ As well as fatigue killing a willing attitude it can also kill horses and riders. As JP King, one of our outstanding Irish Team vets says, “Fatigue in the galloping animal is a major risk factor for musculoskeletal injury to the horse and more pertinently, falling. The risk imposed to rider safety by a sub-optimally fit horse running cross-country should never be underestimated.” And as I said at the start of this series fitness is so much more than just about canter sets.

Even following Michael Jung’s or Philip Dutton’s canter programme exactly will not necessarily produce the right result, as the fitness recipe for each horse will be different, sometimes to a small degree and sometimes hugely.

This is because we have to take in to account so many variable factors, including the horse’s age, type and personality, their fitness history and their way of going. Not forgetting their aches and pains and past injuries, the facilities you can use and the ground conditions, and of course your competition program and your riding weight! Then having done all this and got a horse fit for a competition we need to know how to warm up in order to make best use of this fitness.

Warm Up

When at Galway Downs CCI in 2015 I was so impressed. Superb organisation, wonderful courses and good riding…but the one thing that did not impress was the cross-country warm up. I sat on the bank and watched most of the 1* and 2* competitors and I was surprised by what I saw, although obviously there were exceptions. In general horses were neither warmed up for long enough nor given the right type of work to make full use of their aerobic capacity on the track, and the jumping was often more like preparing for show jumping rather than cross country.

What we have to recognise is that the change from long format events to short format events has put so much more emphasis on the warm up for the cross country and it’s important to do it well, as an effective warm up has the dual benefits of enhancing performance and reducing the risk of injury.

The biggest weakness at Galway Downs was competitors not doing enough work to get the aerobic (with oxygen) system fully up and running before bounding out on the cross country at ¾ speed. As a result these horses must have been in a state of oxygen debt to some degree for approximately the first two minutes of the track.

Therefore the anaerobic system would have had to play a part in providing the energy requirement, and as a result the muscle clogging lactic acid produced would have hindered their performance to some extent over the rest of the track. This simply shouldn’t happen. So a better warm up programme is needed.

If you are going across country late in the day in a three-day-event, it is useful to take them out for a 30 to 45 minute ridden leg stretch in the morning. This works particularly well if you have an older horse that may be a little stiff, and all horses probably benefit mentally. Include 10 to 15 minutes of easy trotting and cantering with the aim of just loosening and suppling.

But whether or not you do this, as a rule of thumb you will still need to get up on your horse between 40 to 50 minutes before the cross country. (At a one day event I would reduce this by half to 20 to 25 minutes, because you will have usually done your dressage and show jumping shortly before the cross country.) In very cold weather you will need a few more minutes and in hot weather a few minutes less.

I divide the warm up into three periods: The first 15 to 20 minutes is just walk. Then the second 15 to 20 minutes is when you do individually tailored active flat and jumping work to prepare each horse for the track ahead. For example older horses may need very little jumping, while novice ones often need both a little more time and jumping. Excitable horses may also need more time but less jumping, and tense riders may need extra jumping to get their flow and calm focus going.

Good active flat work is required, with an emphasis on collecting and extending the canter, and then confidence building jumping to suit individual needs. The aim is to be ‘in gear’ jumping solid cross-country fences rather than show jumps. Get added value by jumping diagonally across fences, and at the sides of fences rather than the middle, and jump fences at different speeds, say 350m/m and 450m/m.

But the key requirement is to ensure the aerobic system is fully up and running at the end of this period. If your horse is laid back it is not sufficient to just slow canter to achieve this, instead the horse will need to work hard enough in order to take the heart rate up high enough to cause the spleen to contract and put an increased amount of red blood cells into the circulation. This increases the horse’s ability to carry oxygen to the muscles. However if the horse is excited this will happen automatically and the work done can be easier.

As JP King says, “The main purpose of both the pre-competition fitness work and the cross-country warm up should be more than just an exercise in getting the animal from the start box to the finish in the time allowed. Rather we should be capitalising on the enormous aerobic capability of the horse to ensure they are sufficiently fit to prolong the onset of fatique to complete the cross country safely.”

The third and final period is the 5 to 10 minutes before starting, when grease may be put on the front of the legs. This will leave 4 to 9 minutes of peace to walk around and focus on the course ahead, with less time for the laid back horse and more time for the excitable horse, before entering the start box confident that your horse has been well warmed up and is ready for the challenge.

Warm Down

After the cross country you should pull up slowly and ideally spend 5 minutes in trot, like a racehorse coming back to the paddock. Few do this but the research shows that active cooling is more beneficial than just standing still or walking because it allows a more gradual redistribution of blood flow. Suddenly stopping movement with a rapid decrease in heart rate may make your horse feel dizzy. In hot weather rapid applications and removals of cold water will be the most effective way of lowering temperature, followed by 15 minutes of walk.

During the first hour after cross country the legs can be iced in the traditional way for 15 to 20 minutes but after this is when the wonderful invention the Horseware Ice-Vibe Boots come into their own. At this time it is vital to maintain blood flow to the tendons.

As Ice-Vibe inventor Louisa Williams explains, At this time we need to shift our primary focus away from reducing inflammation and focus on healing and blood supply of our horse’s legs. We need to remember the fundamentals of recovery and that is allowing a good supply of blood flow and oxygen to assist recovery and repair of tendons. We need to understand that standing horses in ice for long periods at this stage can actually compromise healing and cause further damage.

“Although inflammation is problematic if it gets out of control it is an essential part of the healing process and a marker for the body to flag a problem. Therefore we need to keep in mind that whatever way we choose to look after our horse’s legs we must not inhibit blood flow and therefore compromise the body’s own ability to heal.

“When using the Ice-Vibe boots for recovery we recommend waiting until the horse is cooled off and then using the boots with cold packs with the vibration on setting two. This can then be repeated another two or three times with an hour’s gap in between each use. Combining cold and massage prevents making the legs too cold and causing further damage, whilst also allowing blood flow to help tired tendons recover, and prevent congestion and puffiness in the legs by stimulating the lymph system via massage.”

The final stage of leg care is then compression using bandages and leg wraps but being very careful that there are no uneven areas to cause pressure points and no risk of slipping and tightening.

Are we serious about fitness?

As children in Cornwall, in the West of England, it was not unusual when going hunting for us to hack an hour or two to the meet at 11am, then hunt all day and hack home arriving at approximately 6pm. I now marvel at how fit our ponies were and how much work they were capable of. But if we are going to be serious about fitness we should change our perceptions about what is possible and give a higher priority to fitness.

NEXT TIME – Part 6 – Feeding for fitness

William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part 4 – Fit to Train & Fit to Compete

We are pleased to spotlight a new series on the subject of fitness from guest columnist William Micklem. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns on EN.

In case you missed them: Fit to Do the Job, Part 1 – So Much More Than Canter SetsPart 2 — Keeping You and Your Horse Safe and Part 3 — Fit to Do the Job. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Go Eventing.

“A happy cooperation should exist between rider and horse, without the horse having to sacrifice its alertness, personality or interest.” — Bert de Néméthy, pictured here with William Steinkraus.

9. Fit to do the canter training

… do you have the CONSTANTS* in place for a good quality canter/gallop?

Putting your horse ‘In Gear’ = Controlled Impulsion

As ever Bert de Nemethy says it better than anyone. It is no wonder that those such as George Morris and Frank Chapot credit him with having the greatest influence on their careers. But what has this got to do with getting your horse fit?

The answer to this question is that there will be a considerable benefit to fitness achieved by a horse that is going well and well ridden. “A happy cooperation” is very much part of going well and ideally should be present constantly. It is an integral part of what I call The Constants, because they are constantly required in all activities. Check out my EN article on The Constants here.

In other words fitness is not just about energy metabolism and use of the heart and lungs but also about the way of going and happy cooperation. If a horse works truly as one connected unit and comes through in the back they will not only function more efficiently but also be happier because they are more comfortable. In turn they will almost certainly offer more and perform with better impulsion.

Increasingly the racehorse trainers are also beginning to pick up on this. That winning edge may well come from a better way of going, so increasingly better riders are being hired and more attention paid to how the horses are using themselves. So for event horses it is important to achieve all the dressage basics to a satisfactory level before commencing your canter programme.

Acceptance has to be quietly established, plus Calmness, Forwardness and Straightness, and of course there should be a natural outline and way of going. If any of these are missing athletic potential will be lost, but if they are in place then your horse will be ‘in gear’ and there will be controlled impulsion. Now the cantering can begin.


RULE OF THUMB using flat ground

Two/three weeks before One Day Event

Be able to canter three times the length of the cross country at ½ speed, in 3 sets of canter with a 1 min break between each, and recover totally within 5 min.

Two/three weeks before Three Day Event

Be able to canter twice the length of the cross country at ½ speed, in two sets of canter with a 1 min break between each, and recover totally within 5 min.

a) Using hills you can reduce these distances by up to a 1/3

b) A one day event, with all three sections on the same day, has an extra physical demand in comparison with a three day event over three or four days. This is why the rule of thumb is three times the length of the cross, rather than twice as with a three day event.

10) Fit to compete = at ease = prepared

… can you produce and control the VARIABLES*?

Start and finish with the right direction and the right speed

When I was in the USA in the 1970s I struck gold as a coach as it was the great days of Jack le Goff and Bert de Nemethy. Not only did they produce world class teams in eventing and show jumping but they also consistently spread their messages to a wider audience. They were two very generous men. Through demonstrations and lectures and question and answer sessions they influenced a generation of coaches and I was one of those keen and very lucky occasional students.

What also became apparent to me very quickly was that they worked together and discussed training to a far greater degree than would be expected. For example I remember asking Jack le Goff one day at a seminar in Groton, Massachusetts, about seeing a stride across country. As ever he had thought about everything in great detail and had a precise answer ready for me. “If you have the right direction, speed, impulsion, and balance, then timing, or seeing a stride is much less important.” I had recorded his answers and transcribed them later so I know this is exactly what he said.

Then later that year I went to Gladstone to watch de Nemethy work and asked him the same question about seeing strides, but this time in relation to show jumping. He replied “If you have the right direction, speed, impulsion, and balance, then timing, or seeing a stride is much less important.” I could only smile!

Over a period of years this team of five components became what I call The Variables and wrote about on EN last year — see here. The first two variables are direction and speed.

Whether it is dressage, show jumping or cross country competition it is true to say that if your horse is already ‘in gear’ and you have the right direction and speed then you are most of the way there to a good result, particularly in a pressure situation. I was delighted to read recent quotes from two of the British Olympic dressage team, Spencer Wilton and Charlotte Dujardin, confirming this, and in show jumping against the clock it is certainly true. All the preparation work has been done and the rider chooses the right direction and speed and then leaves it up to the horse to do the job.

It must be possible to control the direction and speed without a struggle otherwise it is not safe to do go cross country, and even then a novice horse may have to be ridden fairly slowly as they learn the job. As William Fox-Pitt says, “The longer a horse spends in novice the better, and they learn going slowly … take the adrenalin out of the cross … a horse you are training to be careful needs to be able to go slowly to big ditches etc …that really safe ’in tune’ horse takes 3/4 years to produce and going slowly cross country.”

So years of preparation and progress until both horse and rider are at ease and the challenge of the cross country, which was once a big dream, becomes simply a readily achievable action step.

The choice of speed and the changes of speed also has a significant relationship with the energy required. A smooth, fluent round is energy efficient. A good cross country rider avoids rapid changes in speed and hooking and pulling because it wastes energy. In particular they avoid rapid acceleration, as this is likely to put a horse into oxygen debt, requiring anaerobic work that produces most lactic acid and may well cause a horse to stiffen or tie up.

William Fox-Pitt says that modern riders don’t learn these things because few have ever hunted or done long format eventing. “They use the gears too early without learning how to stay at 500m/m or 600m/m and jump out of a really good rhythm in a consistent balance which is better, more efficient and SAFER … therefore education is even more important now.”

The pulled in, tight rein, restricted way of going, with many changes of speed is both inefficient and unsafe. So a fluent round will require not slowing down excessively in front of fences. It will also require Bert de Nemethy’s “happy cooperation,” so that the rider’s signals to the horse are small yet effective and the horse can go in a natural outline, being allowed to see and assess the fences easily and use their natural balancing mechanisms.


RECOVERY after cross-country

5m – substantially recovered,

10m – fully recovered

15m – if not totally recovered…get vet

American football coach Vince Lombardi said about football players that “fatigue makes cowards of us all.” It is certainly also true of horses and riders. In eventing it has even more serious consequences because tiredness increases risk of injuries and accidents to horse and rider. So the bottom line is this: Listen to your horse and in both training and competition always finish with your horse willing and able to do a little more.” Then they will be fit to do the job.

NEXT TIME – The concluding part to this series: Added Value – Warm Up/Cool Down & Feeding for Fitness

William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part 3 – It’s All About Balance

We are pleased to spotlight a new series on the subject of fitness from guest columnist William Micklem. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns on EN.

In case you missed them: Fit to Do the Job, Part I – So Much More Than Canter Sets and Part II — Keeping You and Your Horse Safe. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Go Eventing.

“My mother used to tie a metal curry comb onto the seat of my saddle
so that I would learn to stay balanced with the seat out of the saddle.” William Fox-Pitt and Chilli Morning. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The vital importance of getting your horse sufficiently fit was highlighted at Rolex last Saturday. It was hot and humid, so there was an increased demand on fitness, but too many horses ran out of petrol early on.

Some will say that it was willingness they ran out of rather than fitness, and this was probably true of some horses, but fitness and willingness have a connection as a tired horse may quickly decide it is all too much. Even if they are mentally struggling a little they are more likely to respond to a rider’s urgings if they are fit enough. This was probably the situation with Michael Jung and fischerRocana FST who did not have the easiest of rounds.

The other side of this coin is we don’t want to wear our horses out with unnecessary cantering, or leave our competition on the gallops because we do too much work. That is why a precise programme is required. A programme that balances the individual needs of each horse and rider with the demands of the competition.

7. Good rider balance and fitness makes it easier for your horse

The 3 S’s … do you stay Still and Soft? (+ Slow = Fifth Leg Training)

A still load is a light load (learn from the jockeys)

“A still load is a light load.” It is pure physics and is a vital part of reducing the energy requirement of each horse to a minimum. An event rider has to learn to ride with their seat out of the saddle and stay softly in harmony with the movement of their horse — then they will be a light load. Over the duration of a cross country this can make a significant difference.

The same applies to racing where the top jockeys have no unnecessary movement and blend with their horses, and in eventing there are many examples of good balance across country. Zara Phillips, Andrew Nicholson, Hannah Sue Burnett, Lauren Kieffer, Caroline Powell, William Fox-Pitt, Tim Price, Phillip Dutton and Michael Jung are all great role models but there are many other riders from all levels who have room for improvement.

So riders must spend time in training keeping their seats out of the saddle until it becomes easy and there is muscle memory. William Fox-Pitt learnt about this at an early stage from his mother: “My mother used to tie a metal curry comb onto the seat of my saddle so that I would learn to stay balanced with the seat out of the saddle.” But William found a useful aid to help him balance — a neck strap. “If I got left behind over a fence and pulled on the mouth I had to get off my pony and the lesson finished. I soon learnt to use my neck strap and I continue to do this to this day.”

He points out that this also has one additional major benefit. “I always ride with neck strap … ridiculed but part of my riding … I put a finger in when jumping or when one bucks … it also keeps me from interfering with the rein … a rider interfering with rein on the way down to a fence is fundamentally dangerous.”

A balanced rising trot, with the weight through the leg staying the same during both the rise and lower, is a great way to begin making the balance with the seat out of the saddle second nature — and it’s very good for the horses. In his recent master classes in the USA Carl Hester emphasised that he mostly uses rising trot with his young horses as too much sitting trot too early tends to make them hold the back.

Out of balance riders and sitting trot has a great deal to answer for restricting the use of the back and the overall athletic performance of the horse and it applies to high level show jumping as well. As George Morris says, “What I am teaching is the light school of riding, the school exemplified by Bill Steinkraus. If you look at the jump off in Rio, then five of the six riders in the jump off — Peder Fredricson, Nick Skelton, Steve Guerdat, Kent Farrington, and the most forward of them all, Eric Lamaze – are from that same light school.”

Once an easy light seat balance is established then riders can begin learning the variations, the most important of which are for drop fences and how to deliberately have a more defensive position. In addition riders need to ride enough or go to the gym to get fit enough so that there is no tiredness or strain in a competition. The most efficient way to do this is to regularly spend periods of the dressage and show jumping training with the seat out of the saddle. It will also benefit both the dressage and jumping training.

8. The dressage/show jumping is an integral part of your fitness programme

… do you work both aerobically and anaerobically?

Madness not to have an integrated program

There is a need to work an event horse both aerobically and anaerobically (see below) and get the balance right between the two. Ironically, bearing in mind the sport’s military origins, many riders today seem to forget the aerobic and endurance work, which should be a major part of the fitness program. Instead they work their horses more like a showjumper where there is more emphasis on working anaerobically with short periods of intensive exercise.

This cantering programme is an example of a canter programme, using intervals of work and rest, taken from my book, The Complete Horse Training Manual. It gets the balance right as long as the dressage and jumping training is done as well. But it is only an example that must be tailored to your needs, and with regard to all the seven points mentioned already in this series, and with regard to the riding and cantering facilities you have available.

The majority of riders would be safer and more efficient if they and their coaches worked within one overall compatible, integrated structure, both for the fitness and for the technical work. It is a no brainer. As William Fox-Pitt says, “I like to canter my horses myself, because the way they canter and gallop has a direct connection with the show jumping and dressage.”

The truly great event riders and coaches have a high-level understanding an ability in both dressage and jumping and train one discipline with the other two in mind. This also helps to keep things simple and practical. In general the Australian and New Zealand riders seem to exemplify this simplified, no-nonsense approach, so perhaps it is part of their national culture. In contrast others suffer from a paralysis by analysis culture that springs from a lack of balance between the practical and theoretical.



An event horse works approx 75% aerobically and 25% anaerobically, whereas a dressage horse is the reverse, approx 25% aerobically and 75% anaerobically and a show jumper approx 50%/50%

Aerobic exercise – aerobic means ‘with oxygen’ and powering the ‘slow twitch’ muscles. It is exercise of low to medium intensity that develops both the heart and lungs using primarily the ‘with oxygen’ energy-generating process. For example when you are hacking and slow cantering.

Anaerobic exercise — anaerobic means ‘without oxygen’ and powering the ‘fast twitch’ muscles ––but produces high lactic acid that is the primary cause of tying up! It is exercise of medium to high intensity of the type where your horse gets out of breath in just a few moments – in oxygen debt. For example when your horse does jumping grids and high intensity dressage exercises.

NEXT WEEK: Fit To Do the Job, Part 4 – ‘Fit to Train’ and ‘Fit to Compete’

William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part 2 – Keeping You and Your Horse Safe

We are pleased to introduce a new series on the subject of fitness from guest columnist William Micklem. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns on EN. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Go Eventing.

“The horse’s intuition is being trained out of them and they are waiting for instructions from the athlete without thinking for themselves.” — Mike Etherington-Smith & Capt. Mark Phillips, Safety Conference Tattersalls 2017. Photo by Shems Hamilton.

The first three keys to producing a fit horse are covered in the first part of this series. Click here to read William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part I – So Much More Than Canter Sets.

4. Hills and varied terrain are golden

… do you use hills? Use them and you can reduce both speed and distance by up to 33%

‘Don’t Fence Me In’ is not just a song title, it is the key requirement

It needs to start early but slowly, especially for event horses. Up and down hills, over banks and through water, slow hacking and gradual exposure to their working lives. Not forgetting plenty of time … plenty of time to develop both physically and mentally.

The phenomenal success of the Irish event horses, and even their soundness and longevity, undoubtedly has both nature and nurture components, and the nurturing component is done well in Ireland. We have space and relatively little flat land, and hundreds of small breeders with just one or two mares who largely avoid the hurry and worst excesses of equine factory farming, with too many horses in small paddocks and small arenas being fast tracked to sales. But the right nurturing needs to start early when horses are in the equivalent of their child and teenage years, otherwise the chance is missed.

The New Zealand young horses also have an upbringing that is similar to those in Ireland and their hills and space are good for their riders as well. Andrew Nicholson and the majority of the New Zealand international riders started their riding over varied terrains and all these riders believe this has been a significant factor in the eventing success of a country with very few event riders. As an interesting comparison there are currently over four and a half times as many registered international riders in the USA as there are in New Zealand, so the New Zealand riders punch well above their weight.

The research also shows clearly that using hills for canter work can reduce both the speed required and distance covered by up to 33% to get the same effect as by using flat areas. The obvious huge advantage this brings is the reduction in risk for tendon and ligament damage, and generally less wear and tear. In a sport in which long term soundness is vital using hills is therefore a no brainer,

So the bottom line for both physical and mental fitness is that ‘Don’t Fence Me In’ is much more than a Bing Crosby song title, it is a key requirement for success. 

5. Fifth leg training

… is essential for mental fitness for cross country

… do you teach your horse to stand on his own four/five feet?

It’s all about how much your horse can do for you

Andrew Nicholson is rightly critical of modern training that doesn’t prepare a horse for the inevitable surprises across country and the inevitable times a rider will make a mistake. He wants a horse to use their intuition, to look after a rider and respond in times of need, and to find what I call the fifth leg to get them out of trouble. I describe some of his schooling exercises to achieve this in my report of his presentation at the International Eventing Forum in 2016.

I often say that the sign of a good coach is not how much they have to do for their student but how much they can do by themselves, and the same applies to good horse training. So in everything you do there should be an effort to avoid over riding and avoid over organising. It is often hard to do, particularly if you find seeing strides easy. But it is vital.

Allowing a horse to go in a natural outline with a natural head and neck position, making sure the rein contact is a communication point rather than a support point is the foundation of fifth leg training. This should happen in all activities including both the dressage and show jumping, and it can be very helpful to jump grids with no rein contact.

They can also be jumped without a rider, just as they do with National Hunt racehorses. National Hunt steeplechasing in the UK and Ireland is not for the faint hearted. Horses gallop flat out over a standard 1.40m fence and also do this at the end of a race when tired. So there is a big emphasis on good jumping and all the leading trainers regularly jump their horses loose. So I often suggest to a group of riders that they get together and hire a suitable facility and coach to loose jump their horses.

It is also possible and helpful to put sleepers or small solid fences between fields and in other places where the horse has to go slowly on a daily basis. Banks can also be built near stabling and along the side of access roads so that your horse has to regularly look carefully and develop care and dexterity when you ride them out. This should be done slowly, with the horse in walk or slow trot. It can form part of an overall fifth-leg programme combined with riding out over varied terrain and progressive exercises in the school as described by Andrew Nicholson and shown by Michael Jung as he jumps schooling cross country fences on the lightest of rein contact.

You can read more about fifth leg training in my article entitled Safety and Responsibility. 

6. Strength and suppleness comes before speed

… is all your horse fit to go faster?

Can they easily do a 2 hour hack including 20 min trotting up hills?

Slow canter is very safe, gallop is high risk

Strength, suppleness and and a good basic fitness should be developed before doing any faster galloping work. It is an obvious necessity but as ever so many are tempted to cut corners, especially with talented horses and riders who are tempted with big prizes in the short term. This will inevitably lead to injuries and long term delayed and restricted progress.

On average most horses will take about 2 months to get to this stage but it depends on each horse: 1) whether they have ever been fit before 2) how much weight they are carrying 3) how long a holiday they have had 4) what type of horse they are, and 5) what exercise they have been taking when turned out. Therefore some will take three months to get to this stage and others just one month.

Many trainers just walk their horses for the first three or four weeks but I prefer the method that Jack Le Goff often recommended, of alternating the walking with short periods of lungeing. The problem with long periods of walk is that there is no variation of muscle group use and the riders weight stays exactly the same for long periods. So it can be tough on the horse’s back. When trotting and cantering is introduced this is not a problem but until then quality lungeing sessions will do what is required and can help the way of going enormously.

Good lungeing can put the horse ‘in gear’, thinking forwards with contro;;ed impulsion. Being ‘in gear’ does not mean going fast but going fast requires being ‘in gear’. So the sooner this is established the better for your cantering and galloping programme. It is also obviously detrimental to every aspect of your training program if your horse gallops with a stiff or inverted back or in a manner that is out of control.

You rarely get into trouble with slow cantering but going faster, and in particular going close to a horse’s maximum speed, increases the risk of injury exponentially. This is why it is so important for event horses to have plenty of gallop so they can go well within their maximum speed. It is no coincidence that the majority of long lasting upper level event horses in the USA are TB or have at least 75% TB and we should not be led astray to using horses that are impressive in the dressage and show jumping but short of gallop and endurance.

As a rule of thumb a higher-level horse needs to be able to go at approximately 800m/m at maximum and the majority of the basic cantering is done at half speed = 400m/m. NB: A racehorse may have a maximum between 1,000 and 1,200m/m, so you can see why our eventing half speed is much slower than a racehorse half speed.

It is important to be precise and learn how to judge speed precisely. So do you know what speed you are going and what speed is required? It is easy to measure a distance and put markers at 100m intervals and start this process even when slow cantering. For example rider needs to regularly practise going at 300m/m, 350m/m, 400m/m and eventually 500m/m and faster and know they can easily judge and control the speed. After the right direction it is the next most important component in a performance.

NB Alternative training aids for fitness: There are now many more opportunities to use training aids for fitness such as walkers, treadmills, aqua treadmills and swimming. What is important is to recognise that they all have obvious advantages and disadvantages. The major disadvantage of all these aids is the very real possibility of depressing your horse. It is impossible for a horse to understand why these aids are being used, so they should be used carefully and should be a comfortable experience for them.

I hate horse walkers that are fully enclosed and become like a never ending tunnel but more open ones are good. All round walkers also have the huge advantage of helping to put the horse in shoulder in position as they walk because they cling to the inside of the walker not the outside rail as in a dressage arena. This is a significant advantage with developing straightness.

It is also a significant disadvantage with all types of treadmills. Particularly as the come under physical pressure they become crooked as they rely more on their stronger hind leg and side. This is obviously unhelpful for the even development of a horse. While swimming is a lifeline for horses with old injuries the same crookedness can appear.


 Length of time before a horse is ready to start a proper cantering program

When you can do a 2 hour hack easily, including approximately 20 minutes trotting up hills, or approximately 30 minutes on the flat, you are ready for cantering.


Slow Canter = 300 m/m

Novice Show Jumping = 350 m/m

1/2 Speed = 400 m/m

Basic Gallop = 500 m/m

3/4 Speed = 600 m/m

Max Speed = 800 m/m

NEXT TIME: Fit To Do The Job, Part 3 – It’s All About Balance

Rider balance and fitness, an integrated training programme, and an example of a competition cantering programme.

William Micklem: Fit to Do the Job, Part I – So Much More Than Canter Sets

We are pleased to introduce a new series on the subject of fitness from guest columnist William Micklem. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns on EN. Many thanks to William for writing, and thanks for reading. Go Eventing.

“It’s not about the winning; that comes easy. No, that comes easy. It’s about the horse: how to care for the horse, how to ride the horse, and how to look after this great animal — the horse.” –George Morris. Photo by Jenni Autry.

We live in a horse world increasingly dominated by small arenas. Riding out, hacking out, and long rides through the countryside are increasingly threatened by urbanisation and by a training culture that puts so much emphasis on treating a horse like a human in a gym. As a result the fitness programmes for event horses are often missing some vital elements.

So I have 10 key points to help my students produce a fit horse … fit to do the job of going cross-country.

1. Do more than enough

… does your plan go far enough? 

Going that extra mile with your horse.

I said in my safety series that that cross country riding is very different from racing, because in general no event horse has to be worked maximally.

This means three things: They should have enough gallop so that they should stay well within their maximum speed, enough scope so that the fences are well within their ability level, and unlike a racehorse they should not finish tired.

So let’s prevent our horses becoming tired and get them fit to do the job …. plus a little more. However, when getting a horse fit there is a natural human tendency to do ‘just enough.’ To do just enough so that they are fit to do the cross country but no more.

Unfortunately this strategy increases the risk of an injury to your horse, requires a longer recovery period, and worst of all increases the risk of a fall if you slightly misjudge things or the conditions change and your horse runs out of petrol before the finish. So the aim should be to train so that your horse is fit enough to do a cross-country at least 20% longer than required in the competition.

You can of course go more slowly if your horse is not fit enough, or you may wish to go slowly because you or your horse are not ready to go faster, but the general rule still holds good … your horse should not get tired and they should be able to do more than required in the competition and easily go that extra mile.

2. Mental fitness goes hand in hand with physical fitness

… is your horse content and willing? 

Your horse doesn’t have an Olympic dream.

Your horse is not a machine so mental fitness has to go hand in hand with physical fitness. If your horse is not responding well to the work, possibly getting either lethargic or buzzy, or possibly going off their food and generally showing the signs of being depressed, then you have to make changes to your programme, even if this means having to change your provisional competition programme as well.

What all riders must understand is that our horse doesn’t have an Olympic dream! As riders we may be inspired by possibilities and be excited by our smart goals and action steps and colour coded timetables but to a horse these things are meaningless!

So much of what we do can appear pointless to a horse, unless they do it because they both enjoy the work and enjoy the relationship and communication they have with their rider. Unfortunately this is sometimes forgotten, particularly by the riders who are very disciplined and hardworking and always stick to their training programmes as a matter of pride.

Horses are generally speaking hugely generous team players that will learn to like most of the activities riders like to do, and they will be stoic and long suffering if a rider has built up sufficient brownie points and trust. However, they can also switch off and lose all spark and spirit if they are bullied into doing things in a mechanical way or asked to do the impossible. And once a horse becomes switched off it is a difficult and long-term process to rekindle their love of life and working with humans.

So we must train humanely and progressively, using a wide variety of varied work and experiences, and be prepared to change both the type of work and workload if your horse is not happy. Ironically the equine activity that is criticized the most, hunting, is usually the activity that a horse enjoys the most. This is not surprising when one remembers that that a horse’s natural lifestyle is moving about as part of a herd of horses, and there is a key lesson here.

Treating a horse more naturally is often the road to improved mental health. This will probably mean more contact with other horses, more low calorific roughage, more riding out and about, and more turn out in the company of other horses … and when riding more attention to a natural outline and way of going instead of tying them up in gadgets!

3. Every horse is different, every horse is an individual

Do you put each horse on your programme or their programme?

Small changes in stable management, feeding, tack, variety of exercise, way of riding, etc. make big differences.

This point is obviously strongly connected with the point outlined above about mental health and not treating your horses mechanically. In fact all these 15 points are connected because the only way we can make the best of our training is to have an integrated holistic programme involving all aspects of stable management and riding.

However, the tough challenge we face, in all activities of the modern equine world, is to maintain and develop stable management skills. These skills use to be a normal part of the lives of most riders but now they are often either delegated to others or done on a minimal basis. Undoubtedly this is to the detriment of riding and training success.

Trainers often tell me that a new horse has arrived and “has been put on our programme.” But this suggests every horse is treated the same and put on an identical programme. On the contrary each horse should have ‘their own individual programme,’ and all aspects of their individual needs should be considered when making up the programme. In particular some horses get fit very easily and need little cantering whereas others may take two or three times longer to get fit for a competition.

Horses are more like children than adults and each will have their own likes and dislikes. For example small changes to stabling arrangements, feeding regime, turnout companions, tack, and way of riding can make big differences. We need to be very observant and discover more about their individual personalities and needs. We also need to see how a horse responds to changes over a period of time … a period of time that is much longer than just riding them in an arena for an hour a day.


Bits, bridles and saddles that comfortably fit each individual horse are obviously essential, but the success of the Micklem bridle suggests that in the past there were thousands of horses not happy with their bridles and nosebands, which may well have been the cause of unwillingness or poor performance. This is also certainly true of saddles that are too low on the withers or pinch the withers.

In addition the current fashion for getting saddles to be fitted further back is causing discomfort. Veterinarian and trainer Dr Gerd Heuschmann said earlier this year:

“… I want to stress, is how small the place is where we put the saddle on. Normally we sit on the long back muscle line on the ribs. The ribs join to the spine, so they move, they are flexible. But if you put the saddle too far back, then it is sitting on these transverse spines.

“Some dressage stables do this, using a fore-girth, and push backwards the saddle, they press on the long back muscle between the saddle and these transverse spines, they ‘fix’ the back muscle, and the horse drops down away from the pressure, and you get this wrong movement.

“If you want to have a loose back, you want to have a supple horse, then you have to be sure that you are not sitting on the first transverse spine. Feel it. Feel the last rib, and that is the last point where the saddle is allowed to be.”


Temperature – at rest 38C (100.5F)

At exercise max 40C (104F)

Pulse – at rest 36-40

To have training effect 60 -120

Respiration – at rest 8 – 16

At exercise keep under 100

NEXT TIME – Part 2 of “Fit to Do the Job”

Keeping you and your horse safe: An integrated training programme, the relationship between strength, suppleness and speed, and fifth leg training

William Micklem: Safety and Us

We are delighted to start the new year with a series on safety in eventing from EN guest columnist William Micklem. This is the final column in the series: part onepart twopart threepart four, part five. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns on EN. Many thanks to William for writing. Go Eventing.

It’s all about opening doors for future generations of riders. William Micklem’s homebred Mandiba is pictured here with Karen O’Connor at Rolex. Photo by Josh Walker, used with permission from the USEA.

Safety is not an ‘us and them’ issue. It is just ‘us.’ The ‘us’ refers to the fact that everyone in our sport has a role to play in safety issues and only by working together can we say we have done our best to keep riders safe. Whether you are a rider, groom, owner, official, supporter, farrier or veterinarian there is no one in the eventing world that has not been personally touched by at least one fatality and no one should fail to take the issue seriously.

How does the world tell the difference

In addition the rider fatalities in eventing do not just reflect badly on eventing but on all of us in the whole sport horse world.  Just as the six horses that died last month during FEI-recognized endurance competitions in the UAE has a negative effect on all horse sports.

As Jimmy Wofford said last week, “Although this scandal is taking place in a separate international discipline, it affects all horse lovers … If we tolerate people who are willing to kill horses for sport, how is the world to know the difference between them and the rest of the horse-loving community?” And similarly (but worst) how is the world to tell the difference between a sport that has killed 65 riders since 1993 and the rest of the sport horse world?

So we as a sport have to take action. It’s not just the ‘powers that be’ but all of us that need to engage with the challenges we have and work to be heard.  But we have failed to do this in recent times. For example the new format for team championships has been greeted with almost universal dismay from international riders from all disciplines. It could have been different but regrettably there was little consultation in advance of this major decision, and that is not acceptable.

So the national governing bodies and the FEI need to remember that it’s not them and us, but just us, and work harder to ensure FEI members and delegates have made a genuine effort to communicate clearly with the riders and all those they are supposed to be representing. And in turn all other groupings need to be willing to engage and communicate … and in the case of eventing all of us should do this with a main aim of eliminating rotational falls.

We can prevent rotational falls

Three of the riders who have died from rotational falls were friends of mine. What has driven me to stay involved in safety issues is that all three of these deaths could have been prevented, as they were all accidents waiting to happen rather than freak and inexplicable accidents.

One of these deaths could have been prevented by using the EquiRatings Quality Index system; one by dressage training that did not create huge resistances; and one by dressage and jumping training that did not enslave the horse. However, and this is the crucial point, almost certainly all three lives would have been saved with deformable technology.

We need to prevent rotational falls because the indisputable fact is that the majority of cross-country fatalities (55%) have been caused by rotational falls. Yes we need to raise training standards, yes many riders need to ride better, yes we need to use data to ensure partnerships compete at the right level, and yes we need to use more horses that are truly suited for cross country with great brains, good gallops and stamina.

However, all this is a medium and longterm strategy that will always miss out some riders. But what we can do in the short term that will protect almost all riders is to use deformable technology. It is difficult to see how anyone can argue against this.

The advantages outweigh the disadvantages

Is it going to encourage more riders to take risks and get away with bad riding? Possibly in a few cases. But surely this is a price worth paying to save lives and surely we can find ways to penalize bad riding more effectively in a parallel strategy to prevent accidents.

The other great advantage of this strategy is that it will allow course designers to continue to challenge the best with the right combination of demands on both bravery and technical ability, without turning courses into lower level challenges with masses of brush for the horses to go through. The talent and ability of the top riders and horses is wonderful and the sport will be the loser if we downgrade the level of the cross country. Especially as the cross country is the central discipline and heart of our sport.

Ironically the new FEI championship proposals, that are intended to make championships easier, actually does the reverse in one way. As Mark Phillips wrote last month in Horse & Hound: “Another concern is that championships and four-stars have historically been run at at least 140m per jumping effort. We are now proposing to come down as low as 126m per effort — halfway to the CIC ratio, but over a ten minute course rather than a six or seven minute CIC track. Isn’t that a safety worry?” 

Yes, it is an obvious safety worry, and one that would have been picked up long ago and changed if it was ‘us’ as opposed to ‘them and us.’

All for one, one for all

Education and shared knowledge between all parties must be at the heart of all cross-country safety initiatives. So we all have to share and let good ideas give way to better ideas, and this includes course designers, technical delegates, riders and the FEI. Anyone who wants to be a success in horses knows that you have to be part of a team, working for each other, and putting safety as a priority.

This was not always the case in the early days of eventing, and sadly occasionally in more recent times, when decisions were not always taken with safety in mind. For example, in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics. Mexico City proved a challenging site as it was 2,300 meters above sea level, resulting in 30% less oxygen in the air.

It was also known for intense rainfall from October to March, a fact that was ignored and which resulted in very serious difficulties for the competitors. Huge rains caused the river at the second last fence on the cross country to burst its banks towards the end of the day and became a 12-meter wide torrent.

Were the competitors stopped on course? No! Ireland’s Tommy Brennan and his horse March Hawk bravely jumped in but were swept downstream in the raging torrent. The horse could swim, but Brennan couldn’t and he only survived by clinging onto the saddle until he was hauled out of the water by the then FEI President HRH Prince Phillip! Another example of the good auld days not being so good, especially as two horses died that day.

Good for the rider …

Tommy Brennan had been fourth at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games on Kilkenny, who was later to find more Olympic glory with Jimmy Wofford. In addition he also rode on the show jumping team at the Mexico Olympics, and after retiring from riding went on to design the iconic track at Punchestown for the European Championships in 1991. So he knew a thing or two about high-level performance.

But at heart Tommy was a hunting man and a people man. He loved the thrill of crossing the country jumping whatever was there in the company of his friends, most of whom were lower level riders. He knew what a huge contribution cross-country riding made to the lives of these people, not just their riding lives but their whole lives.

Riding outside is good for the vast majority of us. It stimulates our brains and allows us to do more with our lives as we feel better and more empowered. We can’t live our lives in some super safe cocoon, and it’s not living if we stay anchored to the couch in front of the television. The very nature of cross country means that there is more risk for rider and horse than in dressage, but riders round the world have had their lives immeasurably enriched and senses heightened by riding across country and we need to recognise how important this is.

What is also true is that horses love getting out and about.  The gradual change the horse world has experienced to riding largely in arenas is probably the biggest challenge we face, both in terms of humane treatment of horses and introducing the next generations to riding.

As Bing Crosby sang:

“Oh, give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above,

Don’t fence me in.

Let me ride through the wide-open country that I love,

Don’t fence me in.

Let me be by myself in the evenin’ breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Don’t fence me in.

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle

Don’t fence me in.

The sport of eventing is the driving heart of pleasure riding because the research shows that the majority of us don’t want to be fenced in. In addition the event horse is the ideal pleasure riding horse because we need a horse that can go outside of an arena and easily do a little of everything, rather than be anchored to a sandy rectangle.

This also puts eventing training and riding at the heart of equestrian training. All national equestrian training authorities already agree about this, ensuring that their coaches have a wide training foundation before specializing. This gives eventing added value and unique value at the heart of riding and training … and of course at the heart of eventing is cross-country riding. What it is really all about is opening doors for future generations of riders and realizing the full potential of the sport.

… and good for the horse

What is more event riders will quickly learn to make decisions in favour of their horse rather than their own performance goals. It has to be that way because eventing brings an increased emphasis on horsemastership and partnership. Such lessons are rare in sport, but sacrificing individual goals for the need of others is a vital life lesson and gives added value to eventing.

Yes, a very small number of horses break legs or have other fatal injuries when doing cross country, and to lose even one horse is a tragedy. But the the room for error can be increased, making it safer for horses as well as riders, and I totally believe that the majority of horses would metaphorically vote in favour of cross country.

Who has not observed the pricked ears and enthusiasm of a horse going out for a ride in a bigger area, or who has not experienced the squeals of delight or playful leaps of a horse going across country? The research shows lower stress levels for a horse riding outside rather than in an arena and I believe it puts our sport in profit and justifies the inherent risks to the horse.

Safety and us

It is so easy to do nothing and say nothing about these safety matters, leaving it up to ‘the powers that be’ to possibly take action? But all of us have a stake in our sport and we need an ‘us’ philosophy if there is going to be definite action both to successfully promote our wonderful sport of eventing, within and outside the equine world, and substantially reduce the number of fatalities.

It is not only for what we do that we are responsible, but also for what we don’t do. If we don’t improve complementary training for eventing, and if we don’t use deformable technology to a greater degree, then we are all responsible for the consequences. It is up to us.

Did you miss one of William Micklem’s column in this series?

William Micklem: Safety and Reality

William Micklem: Safety and Trust

William Micklem: Safety and Responsibility

William Micklem: Safety and Blindness

William Micklem: Safety and Forwards

William Micklem: Safety and Forwards

We are delighted to start the new year with a series on safety in eventing from EN guest columnist William Micklem. This is the fifth column in the series: part onepart twopart three, part four. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns on EN. Many thanks to William for writing. Go Eventing.

Lucinda Green and Be Fair forwards and in flight over the notorious Fence two at the Kiev European Championships in 1973. Photo courtesy of Lucinda Green.

Lucinda Green and Be Fair forwards and in flight over the notorious fence two at the Kiev European Championships in 1973. Photo courtesy of Lucinda Green.

Over 4,400 Allied soldiers were killed on Tuesday 6th June, 1944. ‘D’ day in World War II. The Allied landings in Normandy were not for the faint hearted as they came under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, with a shore that was mined and covered with wooden stakes, metal tripods and barbed wire.

Commanding the floating tanks on this day was Col. Errol Prior-Palmer. He went on to become a Major General, and was awarded a Legion of Honour, a Croix de Guerre and a DSO for bravery and service.

His natural modesty meant that few in the eventing world ever knew of his military life, but as many know his daughter Lucinda was for a time the most famous event rider in the world, with six wins at Badminton and seven championship gold medals in the 1970s and 80s. She is pictured above flying high on Be Fair at the notorious fence two at the Kiev European Championships in 1973.

Blood, guts and thunder

So is there some genetic predisposition here? Were father and daughter both natural warriors? Does a good cross-country rider need the attitude of a warrior? One often reads in the sports pages of various individuals or teams ‘going to war’ and the last thing my father always said to me before starting a show jumping or cross country round was “over the top.”

Getting a rider and horse ‘in gear’ for cross country is obviously vital, but does it mean that we should ‘stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood,’ as though we were going to war?

This is a serious point because it is a safety issue. The ‘old school’ riders often describe many of today’s riders as soft, lacking in both physical and mental strength, and forgetting how to ride forwards boldly. Getting your horse to go forwards is vital, but using ‘blood, guts, and thunder’ to put a horse ‘in gear’ will not produce what is required, and will put the rider who does this in danger.

This approach will never produce a partnership. It may produce a horse that submits to the rider’s dominant will, but that horse will run into difficulties as soon as the rider makes a mistake, or it may produce a horse that is so fired up it just runs blind, and that is a result that has killed riders in recent years.

Of course the other side of this coin is a horse or rider that is not in gear. This is a serious problem, particularly at a slow speed, and we all know it will bring things to a grinding halt very quickly. Perhaps this is why it is so tempting to err on the side of a little extra fire and brimstone!

Adrenalin is not the answer

However there is no point riding in a way that creates considerable tension and anxiety, because this tension inevitably has a paralyzing effect on the horse’s performance. And exactly the same applies to you as a rider! No human athlete will perform at their best if they are stressed and tense. Instead they need to be calm, focused and confident … ‘in the zone.’ Without these positive mental qualities high-level physical performance is impossible … and some degree of blind panic is the more likely result.

‘What we need is a bucket of adrenalin’ many will say. But what we need to understand is that although it increases blood flow to muscles and raises the pain threshold it helps neither horse nor rider to think more clearly or more positively. So don’t hope for self-control or good decisions or a positive experience under the influence of large amounts of adrenalin, as it largely just helps the flight or fight response, neither of which are conducive to a happy cross-country experience. A little adrenalin is sufficient.

What is so interesting is that the research shows clearly that the greater amount of adrenalin there is the greater the state of negative feelings. So with humans there is a greater sense of fear and awareness of the things that could go wrong, and with horses there will be the unhappy memories of these experiences. So much so that when in a similar situation they become less willing or even unwilling to perform. This is not uncommon with young racehorses and young sport horses that have initially been asked to perform in a stressful environment that has meant they were full of adrenalin.

Of course there are degrees of all these responses, but it shows clearly how important it is to take the time to build acceptance and calmness alongside forwardness, and take the time to get a horse used to the whole competition environment a step at a time. Then they can be taught to go with ‘controlled impulsion,’ which is another way of saying the horse is ‘in gear,’ and ready for the right exercise in the whole progression of exercises.

Therefore for rider safety it is vital that riders across the board understand what being ‘in gear’ means and understand that to have either horse or rider too full of adrenalin increases the risk of an accident. Our coaches and our training material need to sell this message more powerfully.

Coolness under fire

Looking to the best is a good start to gaining this understanding. Andrew Nicholson, William Fox-Pitt, Michael Jung and their horses always seem cool, calm and confident yet fully committed. And those such as Philip Dutton, Caroline Powell and Mark Kyle demonstrate this same fluid and invariably foot perfect forward style across country. These days we are also lucky enough to be easily able to study these riders as there are hours of film footage available, as well as written details of their training programmes.

There is another rider who opened my eyes to how a supremely positive approach does not mean ‘blood, guts and thunder.’ It was Lucinda Green. In 1973 I was at Badminton to see close up how a 19-year-old first-timer shut herself away in the stable with Be Fair, in advance of what was then called the ‘speed and endurance,’ and put herself in the zone and at ease with the task ahead.

Their partnership across country was extraordinary. They totally believed in each other, as befits a talented pair that had literally grown up into adulthood together with the same ‘yes we can’ outlook, and together they won Badminton. What is fascinating is that Lucinda has a different opinion, feeling that adrenalin is essential! But communication is not easy and I firmly believe that my ‘in the zone’ is her ‘adrenalin.’ To me she has always epitomized coolness under fire, able to think clearly under pressure, unlike competitors who are stressed.

More than just a massive fence

Later that year Lucinda and Be Fair went to Kiev in the British team for the European Championships. This competition has become famous because of the notorious fence two on the cross country. A maximum dimension oxer over a massive ditch off a short right hand turn on hard ground … and yes it was just fence two!

However with the steeplechase and roads and tracks in advance of the cross country horses were more warmed up than is often the case today, and few felt it was going to cause so many problems. Horse after horse struggled over it or fell there, including both Princess Anne and Janet Hodgson of the British team. It was not pretty!

Lucinda was well aware of the challenge when her turn came. Deliberately she approached slightly faster than the turn allowed, meaning that she had to jump slightly across the oxer but was truly in gear. She also took out her stick. “I put my whip like a fishing rod in my right hand. It was something that I have never done before or since.” From the photograph at the top it can be seen that all looked well in mid-air, but this is what happened:

Photo courtesy of Lucinda Green

Photo courtesy of Lucinda Green.

So why did Be Fair almost fall on landing? Lucinda believes that Be Fair was simply short of scope, but there were many who fell who had bags of scope, including Princess Anne’s Goodwill who was a high-level show jumper. My theory is that the fence created an optical illusion, as often happens when you get parallel lines with connected offset lines at 90 degrees, and this is something that needs research. In general we need to know more about how and what a horse sees.

For example we all know how much a ground line helps a horse judge a fence but we see tables without ground lines contravening most guidelines. Should this be allowed? Many of the falls at tables are probably caused by poor training and riding, but without doubt horses can misread a fence, particularly without ground lines, and then rotational falls happen. In addition to using deformable technology the whole area of optical illusions needs to be examined to see how they can be countered.

Seeking mastery

In terms of horses being able to read a fence better I was heartened this week, reading on Eventing Nation about William Fox-Pitt’s clinic in Ocala, when he emphasized about a horse looking and thinking for themselves when jumping. “The most important thing is for the horse to be thinking on its own. Unless you’re Michael Jung, you make mistakes and things go wrong. You have to teach the horse the stride isn’t always right, the line isn’t always right, and that’s why we start from trot.”

I was lucky enough to jump Be Fair a couple of times, albeit over small fences, and it was the first time I had felt a horse slightly lengthen or shorten all by themselves. It was the something that I won’t forget, but most of all I will remember from Lucinda that good cross-country riding is not going to war or a kamikaze exercise.

As the Washington Post sports journalist legend, Sally Jenkins says, “What separates risk takers from suicidal idiots is mastery.” The same applies to cross-country riding, so progress must be dependent on establishing quality cross-country work at each stage for each partnership. This quality progression makes riders safer, but it does require specific training for the cross country. It is simply foolish and dangerous to only do dressage and show jumping training.

Relative danger of different activities

It is the accidents waiting to happen because of bad training, bad riding or bad fences that we need to prevent if at all possible, but we should not fall into the trap of thinking that riding across country is in the same category of dangerous sport, as for example motorcycle racing and mountain climbing, or indeed war.

Statistics are notoriously difficult to compare but in terms of the number of fatalities, water sports are the big killers in Ireland, with an average 140 people drowning each year. In 2014, when I last looked at this subject, I found another interesting comparative statistic. That year there was one fatality for every 16,447 starters in FEI horses trials, which means this is almost exactly the same degree of risk as childbirth in Ireland, with the year’s figures showing 1 fatality per 16,666 births … a country that has fewer fatalities in childbirth than many.

Another disturbing comparison is with car driving in Ireland. That years figures show 1 fatality for every 13,025 drivers on the road! While World War II produced a mind-boggling, heart-wrenching estimated total of over 15 million military fatalities.

It is therefore not surprising that there is a generational amnesia about such horrors, and although not comparable in any direct sense it is not surprising that attitudes were different in the early days of eventing. At Kiev, Janet Hodgson and her brilliant Irish partner Larkspur, winners of Burghley the year before, both went face first into the stoney ground on the landing side of fence two. Janet broke all her front teeth in the process and damaged her shoulder, but pouring blood she remounted and completed! Different times and different attitudes.

Sport not war

So when I shout “forwards” in a lesson I often remember my Father having to go ‘over the top’ into battle and how lucky my generation is. I also never forget that horse riding is an activity where peaceful humane attitudes, progressive training and good sportsmanship should always prevail. And when going over the top down to fence one on the cross country riders should have every expectation, not of traps and danger, but of a course that is fair and appropriate for well-prepared partnerships … and a course that makes full use of deformable technology.

Next time: The final article in this series, SAFETY AND US, including the safety issues of the new FEI championship rules and why we should be heartened not depressed about our sport.

William Micklem: Safety and Blindness

We are delighted to start the new year with a series on safety in eventing from EN guest columnist William Micklem. This is the fourth column in the series: part one, part two, part three. Click here to read all of William’s guest columns on EN. Many thanks to William for writing. Go Eventing.

Leo Micklem on Arrow Flight getting properly fit for cross country. Arrow Flight is a half brother to Jackaroo and High Kingdom, being out of High Dolly and by the Irish Draught Grange Bouncer. Photo by William Micklem.

Leo Micklem on Arrow Flight getting properly fit for cross country. Arrow Flight is a half brother to Jackaroo and High Kingdom, being out of High Dolly and by the Irish Draught Grange Bouncer. Photo by William Micklem.

If humans could literally look at the world through the eyes of a horse they would be very disappointed. The human eye is an incredible instrument. For example the lens can alter shape almost instantly to change between long and short sight, we can see things in glorious technicolor, and many of us have 20/20 vision. But the horse has none of these powers!

If good human vision is 20/20, a horse rates as 20/60. This means that details a person with 20/20 vision can see at 60 meters are only visible to a horse at 20 meters. They also probably see things in fairly drab hues with no strong reds or greens, more shades of grey, yellow and brown. But worst of all their lens is immobile, so primarily they rely on changing the position of their head to see short and long distance.

In addition they basically look down their noses, so when the head is vertical and they are trying to look forward they see just the ground directly in front of them but almost nothing further forward and higher up. To look further ahead and higher they need to change the angle of the head more towards the horizontal. So a rider stopping a horse from changing the angle of his head in front of the fence is limiting a horse’s sight.

To have a contrast in colours is important, and its absence was probably a factor in William Fox-Pitt’s fall at Le Lion d’Angers. This was probably also a major cause of the difficulties at the final water complex at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy. It was not comfortable viewing as the majority of horses struggled up the bank and bounce in the middle.

When I walked the course after the competition it was obvious that the colour of the water and the bank was almost identical, making it hugely difficult for the horse. The cross-country guidelines also say not to use white fences in water but Will Faudree’s very serious fall, with Hans Dampf at Five Points in 2015, was over a white table in water.

Horses must be able to see clearly what they are jumping. Another example, from last year, when this probably did not happen, was when Liz Halliday-Sharp lost her four-star partner, HHS Cooley, jumping a fairly small but maximum width open oxer off a turn.

Liz said, I arrived at the fence with the correct pace and a good shot and plenty of leg on, and as Cooley jumped he must have suddenly thought it was a bounce, and he came down in the middle of the fence, just in front of the back rail.” Logic and an understanding of a horse’s eyesight would suggest this fence should have been narrower and better defined. The same applies to the increasing use of wide flat tables with a sloping back section that the horse cannot see on take off.

It has to be asked why some course designers and some technical delegates can occasionally be blind to the logic behind the FEI guidelines for cross-country fences? Surely they need to work together more so there can be better checks and balances, combined with being held to account in a more transparent and official process. Such a process would result in higher standards and spread the responsibility, making it a win-win situation for riders and officials, and therefore also our sport. 

Blind to logic

My suggestion in ‘Safety and Reality’ that we need to create more room for error has confused some readers. But the logic is obvious if we look at it like this: There is little room for error, and therefore a higher risk of an accident, if a horse is going close to their maximum scope, or close to their maximum speed, or close to their limit of energy. However if a horse is jumping fences that are well within their ability level, are going well within their maximum speed, and are full of energy there is more room for error, and therefore a lower risk of an accident.

One reader wrote to disagree, saying that it was an important skill to learn how to ride a tired horse. If it was racing I would say yes, but we are talking about eventing. If the fittening and conditioning is as it should be I see no reason why an event horse should finish the cross country feeling tired. In racing it is normal for a horse to be taken to his limit in terms of speed and energy — it is the very nature of the game — but this should not be the case in eventing.

In terms of both safety and success, for the short and long term, it is logical and sensible to have your horse fit enough so that they can do more than what is required in the competition, rather than being only ‘just fit enough,’ as is often the case, or the dangerous ‘not quite fit enough.’ Tired horses are an accident waiting to happen. It also has to be remembered that a horse going close to his maximum speed will become tired much more quickly than a horse going at three-fourths speed.

At some recent championship events, including the last two Olympics and the WEG in Normandy, horses have finished tired or not been able to finish at all as they ran out of steam. Therefore it has to be asked if the right type of horses, with sufficient gallop and stamina, are being used at the higher levels. Fortunately there is now a swing back to more quality horses and more Thoroughbred blood in four-star horses, and I believe this will make for a safer sport.

In addition it is still important that competitors recognize their responsibility to ride according to the ability and fitness of their horse and be prepared to pull up when things are not right. The future of the sport depends both on our success in ensuring the humane treatment of horses, and the public’s perception of the sport that this is true.

However I have no doubt that one of the great strengths of our sport is the wonderful way we look after our horses and example we set for the rest of the horse world. It is always a joy to go to a competition and see hundreds of well fed and happy horses and see new generations learning to both ride well and learn good stable management. The value of this aspect for the horse world in general should not be underestimated when selling our sporting product, because I am not aware of any other equine activity doing it better. 

Blind to dressage coefficient dangers

There is one issue that a number of us have tried and failed to draw attention to for several years. It is the issue of the dressage coefficient. From 1977, when they introduced marks out of 10 for each movement instead of 6, a coefficient or multiplying factor of 0.6 was used on the dressage scores to bring the scores closer together. This had the desired effect of reducing the influence of the dressage mark.

Then in 1998 the coefficient was very quietly changed to 1.5, thus increasing the influence of the dressage and thereby decreasing the influence of the jumping. Apart from having the opposite effect on the relative influences of the three phases than most think is right, it also makes following the scores very difficult for the wider audience. It also means that in the subjective world of dressage judging the bad scores of a judge having an off day have a greater chance of ruining the competition!

The movers and shakers in our sport are always talking about how the influence of the cross country can be increased, but they come to a dead end because of safety considerations. No one wants an increase in fence size or required speed. But by removing the dressage coefficient and reducing the influence of the dressage it automatically means that the influence of the cross country is increased. It also means that the audience can immediately understand the scores, based on a simple percentage, and the subjective side of the sport can be decreased.

But the worst thing about this coefficient is that it impacts negatively on safety. To win at the one-star and two-star level the dressage has to be very good, even more so than at National competitions where there are no coefficients. Therefore the top riders look for horses of a dressage type to win at this level.

Unfortunately many of these horses are not the best cross-country horses, both because of a lack of gallop and lack of efficiency in their jump. Some also have stamina problems. However the obvious result of winning at the two-star level is to take them on to the three-star and four-star level. Then life becomes more of a struggle on the cross country, there is little or no room for error and the risk of a fall and a serious accident is increased.

I have written about this several times and Jane Heidelberg from the USA has sent the FEI full breakdowns of championships events in recent years to show the impact of removing the coefficient. There has been no response, but possibly now is the time for the FEI and all of us to take this matter seriously.

Helping riders see the light

There has been one outstanding addition to rider safety in the last year that the FEI should also grasp. It is the EquiRatings Quality Index (ERQI) run by Ireland’s Sam Watson and Diarmuid Byrne. It operates a simple method to help show at what level a horse and rider should be competing. Without a doubt the evidence is there that its use would have saved lives in the past and therefore the strong probability is that it will save lives in the future. For example, in their first year working with Eventing Ireland falls at two-star level in National competitions fell by 56%.

Irish team member Sam Watson, son of John Watson, who was silver medallist on Cambridge Blue (TB) at the 1978 Lexington World Championships behind Bruce Davidson on Might Tango (TB), explains:

“The ERQI is one more tool in the safety toolbox. It is based on factual results and uses data science to assess both the risk and likelihood of success in the cross-country phase. It works because those with poor form and low likelihood of success are far more susceptible to falls, particularly horse falls at the higher levels. Therefore the system can step in before the fall does. The reaction has been overwhelming positive. The talk of increased awareness, better decision making and more targeted training, all as a result of using the ERQIs, is making our sport safer.” 

Blind to the need for change

A good idea has to give way to a better idea and the EquiRatings Quality Index is a great example of this. There are other good ideas that need to take root in relation to course design, training and progression. Unfortunately a few traditionalists are blind to the need for change. Instead they would like both officials and participants to take a more robust attitude and take a step back to the ‘good auld days’ of eventing.

But a quick look at the old films will show falls galore and many unacceptable sights. In many ways they were the ‘bad auld days,’ with some fatalities of both riders and horses, but records were not kept and as ever memories tend to be blind to the difficult days.

There are better ways that treat horses humanely and avoid the accidents waiting to happen. We can develop the EquiRatings model and have data not just on clear rounds but on the quality and level of risk of a cross country round. We can also improve the cross-country guidelines and the training culture so that horses are always allowed to see clearly what they are jumping.

Next time: SAFETY AND THE FUTURE, including the worst fence ever jumped in a cross country and an unforgivable drowning.

William Micklem: Safety and Responsibility

We are delighted to start the new year with a series on safety in eventing from EN guest columnist William Micklem. Click here for the first column and here for the second column. Click here to read all of William's guest columns on EN. Many thanks to William for writing. Go Eventing.

William Fox-Pitt and Reinstated at Le Lion d'Angers. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

William Fox-Pitt and Reinstated at Le Lion d’Angers before their fall at the keyhole. Photo by Libby Law Photography.

I sat on the path just staring at the green screens. Any fatality is tragic but what would happen to our sport if this man had been killed? The man who has won more international events than anyone else, and is probably the most recognizable rider in the world. The man who is a role model to thousands, including me, and consistently gets things right.

As we all know William Fox-Pitt survived his fall at the keyhole fence at Le Lion d’Angers in France, and recovered to ride in his fifth Olympics in Rio, but to say the least it was obviously a very close call.

A contract between rider and horse

So was anyone or anything responsible for his fall?

We all have specific responsibilities in our sport … officials, trainers, coaches, riders and of course not forgetting the horses. Let’s start with the rider and horse: I think about it as a contract between the rider and the horse, because both parties need to metaphorically sign up to the deal that is safe cross-country performance.

Initially the rider has a responsibility, often with the help of a coach, to give their horse the right progressive preparation for cross country, and in particular learn how to keep a consistent positional balance so they become an easy load for their horse. Then for each cross country session the rider must first put their horse ‘in gear’ in a very positive manner, then give their horse the right direction and speed for each fence. After this it is the horse’s responsibility to ‘take ownership’ of the fence and do the jumping.

Teaching and allowing the horse to take ownership of the fence is a key part of safe cross country riding … and there is common agreement about this from the best of riders and coaches.

“The horse’s responsibility is to do the jumping and to do this they need a clear view of the fence and a rider who leaves the horse alone in the final strides.” David O’Connor

“When schooling I like to trot to fences on a loose rein … and in canter I want a horse looking at the fence and judging it, deciding to pick up early or late … I like to let go my rein and leave it up to them … I believe my horses have to learn to be wrong.” William Fox- Pitt

And finally Jimmy Wofford with an echo of last week’s article on trust and previous articles about the need for acceptance rather than submission. 

“Certainly we need great movers and powerful jumpers, but above all we need a partner, not a slave … teach him that you will trust him with your life. Give him the education he will need, and then sit quietly while he does the job you have very skillfully and very patiently taught him.”

Fifth leg training

More riders and coaches need to realise the importance of training their horses from the beginning to take responsibility for the jump, and to find that extra leg when required … what I call fifth leg training.

If your horse looks carefully at what they are jumping, is able to make small alterations when getting a little too close or far away from a fence, then produces an appropriate jumping effort and copes quickly with the unexpected slip or stumble, they can be said to have a ‘fifth leg.’

The traditional Irish horse has a legendary fifth leg and this has been a major reason for buying Irish event horses. However there is also undoubtedly a nurturing component to this, with young Irish horses spending their early years in big fields in a more natural environment, and often hunting as young horses. There are also thousands of ponies showing a wonderful fifth leg and a good ‘brain’ every weekend in Ireland, and a little pony blood undoubtedly works well with sport horses.

I will never forget Camilla Spiers on the brilliant little four-star dynamo Portersize Just A Jiff at the 2014 World Equestrian Games, simply dancing through the first water complex. ‘Jiff’ is one-half Connemara and one-eighth Irish Draught and has an extraordinary fifth leg.

There was a big maximum drop, followed by a big brush drop into the water, followed by a wide skinny on a bending line with an awkward distance. Many horses struggled with the skinny and few jumped it cleanly, but ‘Jiff’ turned it into a Pony Club exercise by neatly banking the skinny like a gymnast on a vaulting horse!

If you want to be safe across country the fundamental aim in training should be to develop a horse’s ability to look after themselves, even when in a little difficulty as ‘Jiff’ was in France. Therefore all horses should have a ‘fifth leg training’ programme as an integral part of their preparation for cross country. I believe it is the one area that is often neglected in the training of event horses despite its obvious need. The huge pay off is that training in this way will allow more room for rider error and keep riders safer.

Without exaggeration I make fifth leg training for the horse part of every single lesson in the same way I make ‘feel’ part of every lesson for the rider.

To turn a horse out on varied terrain and hack up and down hills and over all types of ground is fifth leg training. To have a horse in a natural outline with self-carriage and a soft ‘allowing’ rein contact is fifth leg training. To ensure the rein contact is a communication point not a support point is fifth leg training. To jump grids and small fences without a rein contact, while keeping a consistent balance with no body throwing, is fifth leg training. And especially if this type of training starts when a horse is young it is hugely beneficial.

However there are some horses that are slow in their brains and slow to react who may never be suitable for cross country. The worrying thing is that we are probably now breeding more of these unsuitable cross country horses as we move away from traditional event horse breeding, and away from rewarding a good ‘brain’ in young horses in preference for a big trot and an exaggerated jump … neither of which help produce a good cross country round.

The opposite of fifth leg training

It is also a regular occurrence that some horses don’t take sufficient care across country simply because they are listening too much to their rider, a rider who is over demanding and over riding. The root of this is often bad dressage, with a rider who uses the rein too much and seeks submission rather than acceptance. Then when jumping this rider may also distract their horse close to a fence as they dominate, and the result will be a greater risk of an accident.

As William Fox-Pitt says: “I always rides with neck strap … ridiculed but part of my riding … I put a finger in when jumping or when one bucks … it also keeps me from interfering with the rein … a rider interfering with rein on way down to fence is fundamentally dangerous.”

So when a rider is doing this continually, or is obviously out of balance, or has obviously and regularly the wrong speed, we should not be afraid of taking action to send this rider ‘back to school.’ But William Fox-Pitt has no need to go back to school except to teach other riders. He rides beautifully, he is patient and progressive in his training, and he rides talented horses. So although every rider, no matter how good, will have freak falls, it is worthwhile looking in other directions for reasons for his fall in France.

The technical delegate and ground jury

Two horses fell at the keyhole fence, four horses stopped and several left legs, so it did not jump well, especially bearing in mind this was an elite field of some of the very best young horses in the world. However it was reported that neither the technical delegate, the ground jury, nor the rider representatives made any comments about the fence beforehand. 

It is very surprising that they made no comment because this fence had no brush or equivalent at the top, despite the FEI guidelines stating that with a keyhole fence ‘any surface that can be touched by the horse must always be soft.’ British Eventing suggests “at least 25cm brush above the solid part of a keyhole fence.” This is obviously sensible because many horses jumping a keyhole tend to be very economical with their jump because of the roof over their heads.

Then when you add into this equation a large crowd on the road below (it was a main access point), a downhill approach towards the end of the course after a galloping section, with width on the fence and a steep slope on the far side, it all adds up to a very challenging fence. In addition the fence was in a group of trees and all the fence was of a similar colour, meaning the part to be jumped was camouflaged, yet most guidelines state that materials should be of light color in situations where shadows come into play.

The very experienced and well-respected course designer Mike Etherington Smith, who is in the process of updating the FEI guidelines for cross country, thinks that these fences should have no spread. But international stars Buck Davidson, Doug Payne and Lucinda Green all go further and say that they should not be used, especially as Irish rider Samuel Moore was killed in a fall at a keyhole at Blenheim in 1997, and in more recent times Harry Meade had two bad falls over them, and Andrew Nicholson’s bad fall was when jumping a fence under a banner — all in addition to William Fox-Pitt’s fall.

A joint responsibility

It is easy to be wise after the event but in fact coaches and riders have been concerned about keyhole fences for some time, and ways need to be found for us to communicate more effectively on all safety issues. It is also possible that we need a separate specialist cross-country ground jury to inspect the courses, rather than the present system of using a ground jury whose primary task is judging the dressage. It is also possible as Mike Etherington-Smith says that “some of the (cross country) guidelines could become rules.”

So together we should accept our joint responsibility for the future and go forwards.

Next time: SAFETY AND BLINDNESS … including specific ideas for fifth-leg training and further concerns regarding fence design.