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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 modafinil online 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 viagra online 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: Abuse in the Sport Horse World, Part II

Continued from Part I … 

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

It is important to take the full context of any situation into account and understand that people often get into trouble because of ignorance rather than intent. The main aim of all equine organisations is education, support and early intervention to ensure the welfare of the horse.

If a competition is being held under the auspices of a National Governing Body, such as the USEA, then they are responsible for ensuring humane practices. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has a specific responsibility to end soring, under the terms of the Horse Protection Act, and there are a number of animal welfare charities who will respond to allegations of cruelty, neglect and abuse, including the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). In addition it should not be forgotten that your local veterinary surgeon will be able to give valuable advice in all matters relating to suspected abuse.

In the USA there has been a long-term problem relating to horses being exported for slaughter to Mexico and Canada. The key to preventing horse abuse in this area is to both discourage indiscriminate breeding and encourage a culture within the racing and sport horse world where we recognize our responsibility to keep older horses active, doing appropriate work, and therefore be valued and cared for.


Exhaustion: The recovery rate of the horse’s pulse is the most accurate measure to use. At rest most horses are between 30 – 40 per minute. As a general rule of thumb even after hard work the aim should be to have a conditioning programme that allows a horse to be back to 60 or below after 10 – 15 min, and back to normal after 15 -20 min. If this does not happen they need to see a vet.

Inability to perform: All competition requirements are part of a progressive structure of exercises, requiring training based on harmony and cooperation in order to produce a happy athlete. It is abuse of the horse if they are required to perform without this progression and therefore struggle to perform with reasonable ease. They may also struggle because of rider incompetence, or physical deterioration of the horse caused by age, injury or sickness.

In jumping competitions there are clear strategies to control this and prevent abuse, and in dressage qualifying scores are increasingly required in order to progress. In all competitions the warm up arenas have regulations for use and are stewarded. In competitions most falls of rider and all falls of horses now require retirement, although in hunting and pleasure riding this does not apply.

In eventing a real concern of mine is the type of mechanical and forceful dressage training that takes away the horse’s natural instincts and produces varying degrees of learned helplessness. As a result, when their rider makes a mistake riding cross country, they are either slow to react or fail to react. They lose their fifth leg and instinct for self preservation and may fall. I therefore believe that this dressage training constitutes abuse both because of the way it is done and the increased possibility of a fall and injury.

Tack: All tack and equipment should sit comfortably. Anything that causes anything but temporary rubs is unacceptable, including saddles rubbing the withers, nosebands causing bruising and damage on the head and inside the mouth, and bits cutting the mouth and tongue. I invented the Micklem bridle to overcome the five main areas of pain and discomfort created by cranked nosebands, low dropped nosebands and traditional bridles and thankfully there is now a hugely increased awareness of head comfort.

Weight of rider: As a general rule of thumb pleasure riding horses, doing largely slow work, should carry not more than a maximum of 20% of their body weight, and with competition horses the maximum figure should be 15%, although in both cases both performance and longevity of use will be helped with smaller burdens. Therefore a typical half-bred pleasure riding horse of 544kg (1,200lbs) should not carry more than approx 109kg (240lbs/17 stone) and a similar competition horse approx 81.75kg (180lbs/12.75 stone). With young horses it is important that they carry only light weights, up to 10% of their body weight, as the growth plate in the spine do not close until they are between 4 ½ to 5 ½ years. Generally speaking ponies are stronger than horses and will be better able to carry closer to 20% of their body weight even for competition work. NB: all weights including the saddle.

Feeding: Both underfeeding and overfeeding is abuse and colic is a regular cause of fatalities, so good feeding practices including regular worming are vital. There are three golden rules of feeding:

1) To feed little and often. A horse is designed to eat grass regularly and has a small stomach, consuming about 2.5% of their body weight per day. Therefore they do best with a majority of grass or hay and should not be given a feed of grain or nuts of more than 4lbs in one feed.

2) Horses must drink often. Therefore they need a constant supply of clean water that is neither very cold or very warm, although some horses prefer water that is flavored by a little hay or similar natural addition.

3) Horses need to balance food intake with work done. Many horses have too much high food value grain and haylage when they would do better with more low food value but clean hay or grass if it is available.

Shoeing: Not all horses need to be shod. Many horses can in particular cope well without hind shoes, depending on the work they are doing, the footing and the quality of the feet. However the vast majority of horses need their feet regularly trimmed and balanced. To leave a horse’s feet uncared for is abuse and as the foot lengthens and even begins to curl round a horse will become crippled, leading to terrible suffering and usually an early death.


A horse that is content and at ease will be calm but alert, with normal breathing, and be willing and comfortable in their work. They will have relaxed mobile ears and relaxed lips and happy to engage with those who ride and look after them. If they are not at ease mentally they will begin to lose these attributes to a greater or lesser degree depending on their individual personality.

Mental abuse is often difficult to evaluate but the unacceptable practices that cause mental abuse are well known, such as the use of brute force, pain and fear instead of harmonious progressive training. In addition ignorance relating to a horse’s essential needs or appropriate training exercises can cause mental abuse, including leaving a horse in isolation, or inactive in the stable, or the opposite abuse caused by working a horse to excess.

A horse will show signs of mental unease or abuse with some or many of the following:
1) abnormally raised temperature, pulse and/or respiration,
2) ears fixed back and looking back, with possibly the tail clamped down,
3) grinding of the teeth, lifting of the lips and tongue, and/or habitual mouth movement,
4) becoming nervous and tense in their work, or the opposite,
5) developing a learned helplessness, becoming depressed, unreactive or mechanical in their responses,
6) developing a stable vice such as crib biting, wind sucking, weaving and stable walking. However some horses have a genetic predisposition for stable vices that may be triggered not just by stress but also by excitement,
7) going off feed and losing weight.

Horses will also show many of these signs when they are in pain from injury or sickness, so it is important to have a good veterinary assessment. But what most of us are quick to learn is that the mental state of the majority of horses immediately tends to improve when they are:
A) turned out (Dr Green),
B) turned out in company
C) they enjoy their work. It is rare to see unhappy horses out hunting!

William Micklem: Abuse in the Sport Horse World, Part I

Image: Creative Commons/Wikipedia.

The recent social media outcry regarding a film of a U.S. rider struggling to do an international dressage test has implications for us all in the sport horse world. The outcry was in defense of the horse who had to suffer a rider who lacked the position and skills to ride at this level. But was it abuse? And should the judges and National Governing Body (NGB) have been the focus of the keyboard warriors rather than the rider?

We live in a new world where smartphones are ready to record the good and the bad of everything that happens in the horse world, but regrettably what usually goes viral is the bad. It will not be representative of horse sport as a whole but every horror video harms us all as negative perceptions are created in the minds of tens of thousands of people, many of whom could have been the sponsors and spectators we all seek.

Attitudes have changed. There was a time when millions of horses suffered terribly and gave their lives in the cause of war, a time when horses were an expendable beast of burden, and a time when strong ‘corporal’ punishment was normal in horse training, but these things are no longer acceptable, and there are now an army of people on Facebook who are ready to challenge our NGBs to take action regarding perceived abuse.

A 56-year-old Austrian show jumping rider has recently been banned for five years from riding or spectating and fined €5,000 by his NGB, having put up an appalling performance on his Irish bred horse at an international show in Germany last June. His round, crashing through fences and getting severely left behind before being eliminated, was viewed over one million times. There was general consensus that this constituted abuse of his horse but his severe punishment probably reflected the fact that the video had gone viral.

Similarly there is a rising tide of online condemnation in the dressage world of the practice of rollkur and hyperflexion, where a horse is allowed by the FEI to be ridden in the warm up arena with the nose almost between the forelegs for periods up to 10 minutes. There are only a minority of international competitors who use this technique, particularly in Holland, and the majority of dressage trainers and coaches consider this abuse. For example the British Horse Society and all the Fellows of the British Horse Society, including Chris Bartle and Ferdi Eilberg, have recently given their support to a move to get the FEI to ban this practice. However it was only when the films of rollkur hit the screens that the FEI began to consider action to control its use.

The horse has suffered for thousands of years by those who want a particular position of the horse’s head. Whether it was cavalry generals who wanted an impressive raised head carriage with their horse, combined with frothing at the mouth, or in carriage driving where a high head carriage was forced by an overhead check strap, as illustrated with poor Ginger in the Black Beauty story. Or the horse’s head being held constantly to the outside, as famously seen in Dr Zhivago with a troika (three driving horses in a line). Now we have the opposite lowering effect required with the widespread use of chambons and running reins, the latter even being used in international show jumping warm-up arenas and prize givings despite widespread negative comment.

In a different league of abuse is the physical abuse of the Tennessee Walking horses, with horses effectively wearing high heels and weights to produce an exaggerated action, often further encouraged by deliberately making the feet and pasterns sore with injections or blister. These practices are banned but still exist. Add to this the abuses and horse fatalities that have taken place in Dubai in the endurance world, with the FEI struggling to police the sport properly, and the whole picture of abuse in the sport horse world looks depressing and damaging for horse sports as a whole. As Jimmy Wofford said last year, “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.”

However the the reality within the sport horse industry is very different. I have little doubt that the majority of sport horses and ponies are well treated and in most cases much loved, particularly in the pleasure riding world. While in the elite competition world the World Equestrian Games at Tryon this year will undoubtedly be an outstanding advertisement for the excellent stable management expertise in equine sports. The vast majority of horses will look magnificent and there will be many outstanding performances across all the disciplines.

This does not mean we should rest on our laurels. Humane treatment of horses is vital for the future of horse sports and all NGBs need to have structures to protect the horses and educate their members. Education is the name of the game and we need to continue to spread knowledge and seek better ways to train and manage horses. For example recent research in France has shown that dressage is often more stressful for a horse than show jumping, and there is also much to suggest that we need to keep our horses more naturally, allowing more space, more socialization and a more natural diet. Zoos have to do this or face closure and the horse world may well be more guilty of stable management abuse than riding abuse.

Rough riding and force should not be accepted, from Pony Club to International level. Instead we should give the biggest rewards to those who do things with quality and ease. The yank and spank or bad tempered brigades have to be stopped in their tracks, while cranked nosebands, low fitting dropped nosebands, nerve lines, pinch boots and other similar ‘training aids’ should be banned. However naming and shaming can be counter productive for the sport and it is up to each NGB to be proactive and come up with measures to ensure riders compete at a level appropriate to their expertise. This is where the use of EquiRatings in eventing has been such a success and without doubt there is a place for such objective use of statistics in all disciplines.

What should not be forgotten is that in all disciplines the most successful riders in the world are consistently showing that their humane training and stable management regimes are producing new levels of performance excellence. Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin in dressage; William Fox-Pitt, Michael Jung, Phillip Dutton, Tim Price and Gemma Tattersall in eventing; Peder Fredricson, McLain Ward, Lorenzo de Luca, Marcus Ehning, Kent Farrington, Beat Mändli and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum in show jumping, and many others like them, are outstanding role models and without doubt the producers of happy, healthy, horses.

This is what we need to focus on, and then use social media to promote their inspiring achievements.


William Micklem: Guinea Fowl & Gold Medals, Part 2 – ‘Lighten the Reins,’ Carl Hester’s Presentation Cont.

Today William Micklem continues his articulate recap of a presentation by British Olympic dressage gold medalist Carl Hester to top British and Irish coaches. If you missed part one, read it here

Carl Hester riding Nip Tuck, winner of the FEI World Cup Dressage Grand Prix Freestyle at Olympia in 2016. Photo by FEI/Kit Houghton.

Carl was asked about LDR (Low, Deep & Round) and the ongoing controversy about neck shape and head position. It is well known that Carl does not use rollkur and hyperflexion but in recent times even he has been criticised on online forums for stretching the neck down. He replied that he didn’t like the phrase LDR and that the important thing was that the neck stayed supple and natural, with the area around the bottom of the throat latch staying open and the horse staying happy in the mouth.

“Daily work should be structured into three parts with the intense learning phase sandwiched between long, loose periods of stretching and relaxation in warm-ups and cool-downs. During warm-up and cool-down, the horse should be taught or encouraged to stretch his neck out and down without sacrificing a balanced frame. This evolves as the horse gets physically stronger and more educated. Also be willing to stretch a horse regularly throughout your training sessions to relax him and reduce the risk of tension.”

“If a horse won’t stretch at the beginning of a session, work on a contact sooner, then stretch when he is ready, as there is no point in riding on a loose rein with the horse going badly or unbalanced. Valegro was seven before he learnt to stretch. When a horse is tired, he’ll try to stretch down. Let him do it for a while, as it’s something you want to encourage.”

It was noticeable that the instruction Carl repeated most to Charlotte was ‘lighten the rein.’ After every more testing exercise he said it. Not only was this used as a reward but it is a central part of ensuring the horse is not held together and has a soft and natural position of the head and neck. Then this is combined with riding forwards: “If your hand is not in front of the saddle it looks like you are riding backward, whereas if your hand is in front of the saddle, you will ride forward and get forward movements. So many ride with the reins too long. The forward hand will help you ride to the bit, not from the front to the back.”

Rollkur and hyperflexion

In any sport methodology has to evolve. The essential search for incremental improvements inevitably involves change and an open mind, but this is not something that many in dressage training find easy, particularly as it is a sport that is full of mandatory ‘classical’ principles, revered truisms and largely subjective judging. But as Carl says “There is always someone who will teach you something new about horses, so remain forever open minded.”

Whether we are concerned with the welfare or performance of the horse the development of the natural paces and outline of the horse is a key performance goal. But this is often not easy or quick, so it is not a surprise that so many resort to gadgets or strength to get a quicker result. A result that is rarely long lasting or fulfills the potential of the horses trained in this way or guards the welfare of the horse.

In 2015, at the 11th International Society of Equitation Science (ISES) Conference, held in Vancouver, the results were presented of a review of 55 scientific articles dealing with the effects of head and neck position on various types of horses’ welfare and/or performance. The review was carried out by Uta Koenig von Borstel, PhD, BSc, a professor at the University of Gottingen’s Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics in Germany, and Paul McGreevy, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, MACVS (Animal Welfare), Cert CABC, animal behaviour and welfare science professor at the University of Sydney.

The review authors concluded that although some hyperflexion can lead to more expressive movements “the presumed gymnastic benefits are by far outweighed by both reduced equine welfare and undesired gymnastic effects.” Eighty-eight percent of these studies indicated that hyperflexion negatively impacts welfare via airway obstruction, pathological changes in the neck structure,impaired forward vision, and stress and pain due to confusion caused by conflicting signals and the inability to escape pressure.”

Following subsequent discussion by the Fellowship it was decided that we should do more publicly as a group to support humane dressage training methods, such as practiced by Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, and more to stop the use of hyperflexion and rollkur.

Rising trot is invaluable

Just as both William Fox Pitt and Michael Jung do in eventing dressage training Carl regularly uses rising trot in several situations. “Rising trot can help the horse establish and maintain the right rhythm, and as a test of your training technique go into rising trot and drop your reins. Your horse should stretch down, but if he sticks his head up, something needs adjusting in your training.”

In addition its ability to free up the horse’s back and open the stride makes rising trot a good mode for work with young horses, and for medium and extended trot in horses of all ages. He also encourages riders to experiment with rising trot in lateral work, again because of the suppleness it facilitates in the horse’s back. “It’s not a sin to rise in your lateral work,” he  says. “Watch jumper riders and you see they take a position over the knee and their horse is through and soft in the back. Then you see a dressage rider’s upright and strong position and the horse is bracing in the back.” (NB see show jumpers Marcus Ehning, Peder Fredricson and Ben Maher.)

In the past I have also seen Carl get riders to alternate between standing in the stirrups and sitting in the saddle for several walk steps. The aim is to relax the seat and note the impact on the horse’s back and he does the same in trot and canter. “Alternating a sitting and standing position is a good test of whether the rider’s seat is constricting the horse’s stride.” At times he even has riders use rising trot to work on passage. “You’ll get a slightly higher trot because you’ll draw him up with your upper body,” Carl explained. “It will help take the horse up and forward with you.”

Mental preparation & use of snaffle

During the morning Carl was asked two other unusual questions. The first about his mental preparation for competitions and the second about his views on allowing the use of snaffle bridles as an option in international dressage.

Carl said that he didn’t need additional help with his mental preparation as what he already did worked for him. A ‘no stone unturned’ preparation combined with a ‘just another day at the office’ attitude and a supportive team. However he said that the regular use of a sports psychologist was a valuable tool for Charlotte and he could tell by her riding if she had recently had a session. At a competition Charlotte needed her own space: “She needs to hide in a darkened lorry while other students need to have constant positive support. In most cases mental problems are about a lack of confidence, so we do what each rider needs as an individual to maintain confidence.”

Carl did not hesitate when saying that he did think snaffle bridles should be allowed as an option in international dressage. “I think most riders think the same but Kyra Kyrklund, who I have great respect for, believes that high level dressage should be ridden in a double bridle.” It was disappointing that Carl said he would not be pressing for a rule change regarding the use of snaffles while he was still riding, but there is no reason why other high level trainers and riders should not try and influence the FEI if we feel strongly enough about this.

Doing it well but keeping a balanced life

It was obvious during the morning that all the horses went either very well or wonderfully well … no surprise there! They were allowed to do quality work by the exercises being sufficiently easy and progressive … for example a few steps of walk before halt for the young horses, not worrying about medium trot until the trot can be collected, going a little forwards in piaffe to begin, and usually the command ‘lighten the hand’ after any more demanding moments, followed by an easier exercise. “The key to good training is small improvements, as this makes horses very trainable in the long term,” he explained.

In addition he liked his horses to compete at a lower level than the work they were doing at home so it would be easy for them. Two weeks before championships at any level they work specifically at riding the specified tests as he doesn’t see anticipation as a problem. “I don’t want the horses to have any surprises at the competition.”

All the work was what one would expect from his horses, especially natural paces, natural extensions that truly came from the hind leg, and piaffe that truly ‘sat.’ Training them this way he expected them to make Grand Prix level by the time they were 10. He made it clear that there was no point in any horse going badly, but if a flying change was incorrect he never punished any horse. “Punishment is more likely to create tension and long term problems. Just set it up properly and then do it again. We make too much fuss about changes. They will get the idea.” He showed most horses doing their changes along the boards to help the straightness.

The stable management is also done wonderfully well. To make this possible he invests in his grooms. “I have five staff for 18 horses, so we can do it properly. That’s why Charlotte and I can only ride four days a week, because we can’t take a wage so we teach on the other days. But I think it is worth it to pay attention to the detail and ensure we treat each horse as an individual.”

As we watched Carl present his horses various dogs came in and out of the school and at times lay down on the outside track, while outside a flock of Guinea fowl scampered around the outdoor arena. This is all part of the laid back attitude and lifestyle that is an integral part of Carl’s success. He is as passionate about dressage as anyone but he is also aware that when working with animals and people a rigid and totally driven approach will never get the best out of them. He sees the guinea fowl and the gold medals as two sides of the same coin. “I don’t work so hard that I don’t have a life. Always remember that. Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life. I love that saying. It is so true.”

Saving lives and Carpe Diem

For many years it has been my opinion that some dressage training methods have been at least a contributory factor in the fatalities in eventing. Dressage training that may be considered acceptable by some but is mechanical and forceful, looking for submission rather than acceptance, and in the process taking away the horse’s ability to react naturally and use their ‘fifth leg’. Chris Bartle, among others, has also spoken about this. The joy is that Carl’s work and training philosophy is ideal for eventing dressage, and of course show jumping as well.

However in recent times I have listened to two elite dressage trainers at National conferences who were preaching from a different song sheet. A song sheet that was more complicated and less appropriate for eventing or show jumping. Are all stakeholders doing enough publicly to highlight this difference, making the the right type of dressage an integral part of the drive for safer cross country riding? We need to seize the moment because currently we can stand on the giant shoulders of Carl Hester and make our case with renewed confidence and power.

In terms of seizing the moment I took the opportunity to show Carl a horse’s skull to remind him of the shape of the jaws and position of the exit points of the nerves. All of which is confirmation of the unacceptability of cranked nose bands. Then I fitted a Micklem bridle on one of his talented horses, who has had a long term history of failing to accept the bit and rein contact. Carl sent me a text two weeks later. It simply said “it worked immediately.” It was my very best Christmas present.

William Micklem: Guinea Fowl & Gold Medals, Part 1 – Carl Hester’s Presentation to Top UK & Irish Coaches

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

Even senior coaches can be inspired! An elite group of senior coaches from all disciplines recently spent a unique morning with Carl Hester, at his exquisite training base near Bristol, watching nine of his horses being worked and learning from the man who has changed the dressage world for the better, not just in the UK but world-wide. As a consequence of his success more leading dressage trainers and riders are trying to keep their horses happier, trying to use less force and trying to keep things more simple. Now harmony, lightness and ease are more than just an aspiration but a requirement for high level marks.

As Carl says, “People want to do what the winners do … There are going to be people who will never change their ways, but there’s going to be a bigger majority who want to know what you do, why you do it and would it work for them … and it’s not just about turning horses out!”

“It was interesting because after the Olympics, one of the biggest questions I kept getting, mostly from Dutch and German magazines was, ‘Do you contribute your success to the fact that you turn your horses out?’ And I’d say, no. I contribute our success to the fact that we train them the best we can. You wouldn’t go to an event rider and say did you win Badminton because you turned your horse out into the field. They’d just laugh at you. But we do work our horses in the arena less than many, with a four day a week training program.”

Wider advantages

So horse-friendly, no-force dressage is now at the top of the training agenda and as a result dressage has never been more appealing. As a result more riders are attracted to dressage and there is a growing audience wanting to watch and invest in the sport of dressage. Yes, Carl’s partnership with Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro has been instrumental in this process, but having worked with Carl for 10 years, since she was 20, Charlotte would be the first to admit that Carl has made her the rider she is today.

As a result life is also so much easier for dressage coaches, because once again they can have total confidence that there is a route to follow that is both logical and humane and can lead to the highest levels of dressage. I write this as someone who has always loved dressage, but became disillusioned as a young man when I found numerous senior dressage trainers using strength and bullying rather than lightness and partnership. One eminent dressage trainer even tied my thumbs to the saddle so I could hold my horse’s head down!

Echoes of the past

Our own horses at home were light and easy to ride. If they were like this I was a happy man, but after I left home I found few others who trained in this way and few who did not crank the nosebands as tight as possible. The exceptions to this ‘jank and spank’ brigade were Herbert Rehbein and Robert Hall, whose horses were light and easy to ride and went with great quality.

So when Carl talked about lightening the seat in the piaffe and canter pirouette I was immediately reminded of Herbert Rehbein, who always said the same thing, and when Carl said, “A good piaffe and passage come from a good trot; and a good flying change comes from a good canter,” I was immediately reminded of Robert Hall, who in addition would often say that a good transition comes from a good pace before the transition and a good pace after the transition. However, Carl also emphasized that the transitions themselves are a gymnastic exercise that improve the balance of the horse, and especially transitions within a pace. “Use lots of forward and back transitions within the canter to spice up the hind leg.”

“I went to Holland to Bert Rutten, who is a very classical, straightforward trainer, and people ask me what did you learn from Bert?  ‘On and back.’ That’s all he used to say, ‘On and back.’ So then I would ask, why do I have to do on and back all the time? And he’d say, ‘Because you need to get the horse to balance himself on four legs.’ Right, so then I knew what balance was and then I knew what self-carriage was.

A team effort

After their gold medal success in the London Olympics Carl and Charlotte gave each other some space to reassess how their training partnership was going to work, but after a period of uncertainty they have found a way to use each other’s strengths and suit their different personalities, so it is still very much a team effort. They both ride with each other and ride each other’s horses. “Charlotte is a trotter,” says Carl, “and I am a canterer. So it works well. I do enjoy watching other people ride my horses, and I do think for my horses as it’s good that other people ride them. I also know that the best way of learning is by feel.”

There is no doubt about their bright future together as they train probably the best group of horses they have ever had. They each have two Grand Prix horses aiming for the Tokyo Olympics, and Charlotte’s record breaking nine wins at the British Championships both confirms that their training delivers the goods at all levels and suggests they have a wonderful pipeline of future Grand Prix horses.

Charlotte has a new 5-year-old gelding she bought in the USA called Gjio. There is no doubt that she is already in love with him and there is no doubt that he is really talented, with more than a hint of Valegro in his temperament and way of going. The exciting thing for me is that he is just 15.3. Charlotte says 16.00 but he is certainly not big! I believe we are breeding horses that are often too big for a long healthy life and as a result wasting the resources of those investing in the sport and failing to breed horses to suit the whole range of riders. This particularly applies to dressage. So I hope Charlotte and Gjio go on to be Grand Prix winners and continue to change people’s perception as a result. (Valegro is small by dressage standards as well.)

In elite racing, eventing and show jumping there are many more successful horses below 16.1 than there are above 16.2, yet in dressage fashions have meant a majority of bigger horses are used at elite level despite the statistics clearly showing reduced longevity. It is also nonsensical to value size of step over quality of step and put so many smaller riders at a disadvantage riding horses that are too big for them.

What Carl looks for in a dressage horse

Little Gjio obviously loves his work, rising to the challenges, and is full of joie de vivre. It is essential for Carl that both riders and horses are happy and it was noticeable that all his horses are ‘self starters,’ horses that are willing and have a work ethic.

“Horses need bravery as they work, so they have that essential desire in the ring. Lazy horses I don’t do. If a horse is lazy because he’s weak or immature, then that’s absolutely fine and we just wait for him to mature. If the horse has that inherent laziness in him, I wouldn’t bother. I don’t ever want to be in a position where I have to make a horse do it, and the whip is an aid not something to make a horse keep going. For me the end result of dressage is that it has to be elegant, it has to be easy, it has to be a pleasure to watch and it should be in harmony. If it’s not, if I’m scrubbing away and shoving away on something, that’s not harmonious and I don’t enjoy it.” (Carl also mentioned how wrong it is that some trainers think forwardness means being strong into the hand.)

“When buying a horse I am not really interested in the breeding and I don’t look for the flashiest or biggest mover, especially in trot. The trot is the easiest pace to change and improve but you need to buy a good walk and a good canter. I am not concerned with winning young horse dressage classes as the horses that win these are not what I look for in a Grand Prix horse. I want quickness, neatness and tidiness, rather than massive movement. Beyond this I just look for a great hind leg and a nice physique, and the rest is training and temperament.”

Charlotte added that it was also about a rider’s position and ability to go with a horse, because “it is often the rider’s position that creates the problem.” She works hard at her core strength and flexibility by going to the gym four times a week, although she doesn’t do weights as she says she doesn’t need more strength. Some days she will ride up to 11 horses. Each for 20 to 30 minutes, but they are first warmed up for her and then cooled down.

Next Time: “Lighten The Rein” Part 2 of Guinea Fowl & Gold Medals
Carl’s opinion of Rollkur and Hyperflection, Mental Preparation and the underused Rising Trot.

William Micklem: Pau 4*, Part 3B – Love and Luck

In this three-part series William Micklem shares reflections and observations from attending the 2017 Pau CCI4.* If you missed them: Part 1 “The Calm Before the Storm,” Part 2 “Triumph and Tragedy” and Part 3A “Love and Luck.” 

Gwendolen Fer celebrates her win with Romantic Love. Photo by Libby Law.

6) It takes luck ….

It is easy to dismiss someone who blames something on ‘bad luck’ as being insufficiently prepared, but at times we all benefit from good luck and if there can be good luck there must also be bad luck.

When Gwendolen Fer went into the show jumping with Romantic Love she knew that nothing less than a clear round would give her a chance of winning, as Sarah Bullimore was now only 0.1 behind her after a clear on Reve Du Rouet. They jumped wonderfully until four fences from home, then approaching a four stride related distance, vertical to vertical, she did as many have done before and took a tempting forward and long stride into the first vertical. In doing this she both increased her speed and lengthened the stride and they landed over the first vertical going too fast to make the related stride pattern work easily.

Gwendolen tried to slow on strides two and three but Romantic Love just put his head in the air. It looked certain she was going to go very deep to the second vertical, and was he even looking at the fence? The crowd gasped but Romantic Love appeared to put her legs either side of his body as his belly skimmed over the fence with his head still in the air. Clear! A very lucky clear … then Astier Nicholas came in and hit three and Gwendolen had ridden her luck and won her first 4* competition.

The sting in the tale for Sarah is that if she and Gwendolen repeated these exact performances next year the positions would be reversed and Sarah would be the winner of her first 4*. This is because it is almost certain that the coefficient that spreads the dressage scores will be removed in 2018, putting a little more emphasis on the cross country. Therefore Sarah would be the winner with the better cross-country score!

7) Yes, it does take luck ….

At the 2012 Olympics in London Andrew Nicholson on Nereo were about to go into the dressage when the judges called an unscheduled break because of a storm. The New Zealand team had prepared for bad weather by training outside at all times, rather than using indoor schools. Andrew wanted to do his test but was delayed in the end by 10 minutes. By this time Nereo had gone off the boil and performed a test that was probably five or six marks less than anticipated. Marks that probably cost him an individual bronze medal and possible the New Zealand team a silver medal. That was bad luck.

Also at Pau was one of our Irish selectors Vina Buller. Vina is one of the few riders in the world to ride at the highest level successfully in both show jumping and eventing. When I first came to Ireland I saw her ride her wonderful pony Caramel Cream on which she won the gold medal in the Junior European show jumping championships.

Caramel Cream was quality and fast and clean and wonderful. A Connemara type he reminded me of wonder pony Stroller in his ability to slide over oxers in an impossible flattened trajectory. Without Caramel Cream it is unlikely that Vina would have had her international career in horses. So how did Vina and Caramel Cream come together? Her father, a totally non-horsey doctor, bought Caramel Cream for his young daughters as an untested, unbroken 2-year-old standing in the field, for £100 including a saddle! That was extraordinary good luck.

8) It takes TB blood ….

Karen Donckers with her mare Jalapeno led from start to finish in the 2* at Pau with a very impressive performance. Jalapeno is over 80% TB as she is out of a TB mare by William Fox-Pitt’s Olympic and WEG ride Chilli Morning, who is having a great start to his stud career.

The debate continues about the role of the TB in sport horse breeding, with many using TBs less because of relatively poor prices as young horses. But I think the tide is turning. For example two of the top prices for young horses, both €26,000, at the recent elite Monart sales in Ireland were both by TBs. While just two weeks ago the TB received support from an unlikely source, Dr Thomas Nissen, breeding director and managing director of the Holsteiner Verband. “We try to use Thoroughbred stallions but it’s not so easy just now … because the Thoroughbred sires are not well known in the sport horse world. Everyone knows you need Thoroughbreds, you cannot work without Thoroughbreds. At the moment it is difficult but I am sure within the next five or six years we will need Thoroughbreds and then we will come to Ireland to find them.”

My horse of the event, the one I would have loved as a young man, was Feldale Mouse, by a pure bred Connemara stallion and out of a high class TB mare. He has jump, courage and a great brain and despite being 15 now could have a great year ahead now his rider Isabel English is being directed by Michael Jung.

9) It takes a special dam and a little breeding research ….

The dams so often still get forgotten but in the vast majority of cases these top horses have special dams with special pedigrees. I noticed three horses with striking elements of their dam’s pedigree.

The 4* winner Romantic Love is out of the TB mare Sherlove Ville, whose grandsire was Shergar. Shergar won the Epsom Derby by a record 10 lengths in 1981 and is one of the top rated TBs of all time. But in 1983 he was kidnapped in Ireland, probably by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and never seen again. Shergar only produced 35 foals, so to see his genes appear in Romantic Love is very special.

Jonelle Price’s little mare Faerie Dianimo, who finished 10th , has an unusual sire for eventing because she is by top Hanoverian dressage sire Dimaggio, but her dam side includes both Welton Gazelle and Ben Faerie, two legends of event horse breeding.

Welton Gazelle is out of the TB mare Welton Gameful the foundation mare of Sam Barr’s hugely successful Welton Stud that produced the stallions Welton Louis, Welton Crackerjack, and Welton Apollo. These stallions all competed at the highest level and have produced multiple winners of international events.

Ben Faerie was only 15.2 but was a hugely influential TB event horse sire, producing not only Ginny Leng’s great champions Priceless and Night Cap, but was also damsire of Primmore’s Pride who won three four-stars for Pippa Funnell.

Finally I was deeply impressed by Sammi Birch’s Hunter Valley who finished in 4th place. He is out of mare by Brilliant Invader who is a sport horse breeding God in New Zealand and Australia. He certainly ranks alongside Heraldik and Master Imp as a producer of event horses and with Cruising as a prolific sire of both international event horses and show jumpers. His success is no surprise genetically as he brings together the genes of three sport horse TB stallions of the highest quality, Hurry On (sire of Precipitation), Hyperion and Fairway (sire of Fair Trial).

His most famous event horse progeny is Reddy Teddy, Blyth Tait’s world and Olympic double individual Gold medallist. What is so striking is that when the genes of his dam, Double Summer, are added in there are five crosses of Hurry On (3 x Precipitation), 3 x Hyperion (1 x Owen Tudor) and 2 x Fairway. The sadness is that although we know this combination produces jump and exceptional performance these genes are becoming a rarity.

So I have an understandable excitement about my stallion Jackaroo as he has 4 x Hyperion (1 x Owen Tudor), 3 x Hurry On (1 X Precipitation), and I x Fairway. Plus he has crosses of the hugely influential sport horse sires Tourbillon x 2, The Tetrarch x 2, Big Game, Buisson Ardent, Chanteur, Umwidar, and Foxhunter. Everyone will understand why I simply love this breeding and why I believe you can specifically breed the event horse … but success only comes with good training.

10) It takes your breath away ….

The depth and breadth of skills of so many of the riders at this level are extraordinary. With some exceptions the dressage and show jumping skills of international event riders used to be moderate, but no longer is this the case. Now they can be competitive in pure dressage and pure show jumping at an equivalent level. Then to see these same riders with a quality horse in full flow across country, showing both courage and precision control of line and speed, it just takes your breath away. The huge cheering crowds at Pau agreed with me … it is our glorious good luck to be involved in eventing.

So in the enraptured words of the commentator during the lap of honour: “Suuupair Gwendolen … mag nif ique … vive la France! … et suuupair Pau … mag nif ique … et suuupair le concours complet . mag nif ique … vive le concours complet!

Read more: Part 1 “The Calm Before the Storm,” Part 2 “Triumph and Tragedy,” Part 3A “Love and Luck.” 

William Micklem: Pau 4*, Part 3A – Love and Luck

In this three-part series William Micklem shares reflections and observations from attending the 2017 Pau CCI4.* If you missed them: Part 1 “The Calm Before the Storm,” Part 2 “Triumph and Tragedy.”

Sarah Bullimore gets the job done with Reve Du Rouet. Photo by Libby Law.

1) It takes an eventing coach ….

It is noticeable that after their team success in the European Championships the British riders have not only a refined competence but also a heightened confidence, especially now that they have eight riders in the top 20 of the world rankings. (Germany, New Zealand and the United States each have three.)

Much of the credit must go to Chris Bartle, their team coach. At his wish he is not chef d’equipe but is very much in control and leading the coaching all three phases. Some thought this was impossible in modern eventing, but it is working for the British team who love what is happening, finding it easier for both horses and riders who have a more joined up and complementary training programme.

2) It takes humility ….

It is always a fascinating exercise to watch and listen to the different coaching relationships at a competition like Pau. What is certain is that every rider is an individual and has individual needs, and the same applies to the horses. This means that coaches in equestrian sport have to be flexible enough to cope with all these variables and avoid being too prescriptive. This requires humility.

Humility is also needed because the coach is not riding the horse and should not act as though they were. In addition they are not going to make big changes, as to a large extent a competition is won not on the days of the competition but on the many previous days and months of progressive training and competition. So instead at a high level competition a coach is primarily in a supportive and motivational role rather than a directing role. But they can still make a crucial difference by being a constant positive influence, and by being a sounding board, giving constructive feedback and making small practical interventions.

And of course they need to know when to stay quiet! Quiet as as their student gets into their performance ‘bubble’, quiet if their student chooses to discuss the challenges ahead with one or two of the world-class riders and coaches at the competition, and quiet as they listen to their student before jumping straight into advice.

Then after a competition coaches needs to be humble about their own performance, including weaknesses. It is a powerful part of progression.

3) It takes a little spirit and a half naked man ….

This is nothing to do with alcohol but everything to do with attitude. The sheer spirit and joie de vivre of so many event riders reflects well on the sport as a whole. A good example of this is Louise Harwood. Her web site tagline ‘Live to Ride – Ride to Live’ sums up her attitude. Her wide smile and enthusiasm bear out her complete love of eventing, matched by her Mum Jackie, who is a constant cheering (and sometimes gently swearing) voice on the sidelines.

Louise is very slightly built and rides at this level despite a thin pair of part functioning legs that are held together by pins as the result of a car crash. She also largely rides very big homebred horses, that would favour strength over speed and like to hunt and feel their way round the cross country. At Pau she and Mr Potts completed their 12th 4*, leaving her very happy and her many supporters emotionally exhausted!

But what is interesting is that when given a class horse she produces the goods. In 1914 riding Whitson she finished a close up 13th at Pau and the best British bred horse for their results during the whole year. What is very appropriate is that on Whitson’s dam side is a stallion called Cruise Missile, who was bred and owned by the supremely spirited British amateur jockey John Thorne.

John’s daughter Diana finished second at Badminton and Burghley in the ’70s on The Kingmaker, while his son, Nigel, was also an amateur jockey who rode the dam of Cruise Missile to win several races. Then tragically Nigel was killed in a car crash and John came out of retirement, despite having broken his back before, to ride a half brother of Cruise Missile called Spartan Missile. John was 54 years old when they came a magnificent second in the four and a half mile Aintree Grand National won by Aldaniti and Bob Champion in 1981. A film was made about the race based on the story of Aldaniti, who came back to win having previously broken down, and Bob Champion coming back after cancer. But the story of John Thorne and his horse Spartan Missile was probably more worthy of a film.

A year later John Thorne himself lost his life riding in a point-to- point. A few months earlier he had showed me the almost 100m trench he had dug to flood and then swim Spartan Missile to fitness. The only horse to do seven lengths he said. It was a cold spring day but he then took off his shirt, jumped on a young horse bareback and swam a length in the trench! A very spirited man.

4) It takes a man in uniform….

Without doubt Astier Nicholas is a heartthrob! A clutch of girls follow his every move and both his triumphs and disasters are greeted with the same reaction … tears! But at Pau he had a rival. A Cardre Noir uniform on an elegant body takes some beating and Arnaud Boiteau has it all. On top of this he is one of the world’s most elegant riders.

His show jumping round on Quoriano was the round of the day. Perfect form and function from both horse and rider, a round that most can only dream of achieving. They have has five top five finishes in 3* events and and were 3rd at Pau in 2014 and must be dark horses for the French Team next year at WEG if Quoriano remains sound, especially as in all their competitions together over eight years they have only ever hit three fences in the show jumping!

5) It takes control of the maggot in the mind…

Sarah Bullimore had to jump first in the show jumping on Valentino, despite being in the top 10 with all three of her horses after the cross country. This is normal as there has to be time to warm up each horse without delaying the class. But Valentino hit two fences, and then 20 minutes later she came in on Lily Corinne and hit three, one of the worst rounds of the day. With scores being close in the class both of these horses inevitably dropped out of the top 10. Suddenly her hold on 3rd place looked less secure, especially as Reve de Rouet had lowered three fences at Badminton this year and seven at Burghley last year.

It must have been incredibly difficult to remain positive as she brought him into the arena. But she came through with a solid and calm clear round, in the process putting the top two riders under real pressure as they would both have to jump clear to stay ahead of Sarah.

I asked her afterwards how she coped with the pressure and the negative ‘maggot in the mind’ that often harms the performance of many performers? “I was so delighted with how they went across country yesterday that anything reasonable today was a bonus,” she replied. “So I was not concerned by my first two rounds or what happened at Badminton.” This is definitely a good way for a rider to ‘stay in the moment’ and avoid the tension that is produced by thinking of winning. Of course as a result they are more likely to win.

When hitting a fence this strategy also helps to avoid the tension and wrong focus of cursing a mistake or bad luck as you approach the next fence. As far as Sarah was concerned she was riding her own race and the event was already a PB for her, therefore she was a winner.

Next Time: Pau 4* – The concluding article — Part 3B, Love and Luck

Read more: Part 1 “The Calm Before the Storm,” Part 2 “Triumph and Tragedy,” Part 3A “Love and Luck.” 

William Micklem: Pau 4*, Part 2 — Triumph and Tragedy

In this three-part series William Micklem shares reflections and observations from attending the 2017 Pau CCI4.* If you missed Part I, “The Calm Before the Storm,” read it here

Astier Nicolas and Molokai lead the Pau field after cross country. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

1) It takes disappointment ….

It all began to fall apart on cross country day for Andrew Nicholson and Mark Todd. First Andrew on Qwanza retired, having run past the arrowhead at the third part of the first water and getting confused at the first Vicarage Vee. Having placed 5th at Luhmuhlen last year and 12th at Badminton this year this was a big surprise.

Then Mark Todd went out on his 2012 Olympic Team bronze medallist NZB Campino. Having been 4th at Badminton this year and 5th at Luhmühlen in 2015 Mark was optimistic but like Andrew they refused at the first Vicarage Vee and Mark retired. On his second ride, the 17-hand Kiltubrid Rhapsody, he ran out early on at the first corner, and so was left uncompetitive. No reward for a huge effort but still a wonderful season for this icon of the eventing world. He is perpetually modest about his achievements but the eventing world should not be shy about putting him on a pedestal and benefitting from the reflected glory.

Andrew had a golden chance with his second ride, the 10-year-old Jet Set. Although in his first in his first 4* Andrew said in 2014 that he was his Rio horse and he arrived with a big reputation, having placed 2nd in the 6-year-old class at the Lion D’Angers Young Horses World Championships and then 6th in the 7-year-old class the following year. In addition he has had 30 top 10 finishes with Andrew! He also has great genes, being bred by Spanish international show jumper and eventer Luis Alverez Cevera, by his Grand Prix jumper Nordico out of a TB mare.

They flew round the course in normal Nicholson style and were up on the clock going into the final fifth of the track, but every fence has to be jumped and fence 25, a brush arrowhead with a drop, that no other horse faulted at, was Andrew’s Waterloo. Jet Set caught the back of it and Andrew was jettisoned and sent tumbling down the hill. He was on his feet immediately and running to catch Jet Set but his competition was at an end. Said Andrew, “Everything was normal on approach but he just didn’t stay in the air long enough!” But Andrew will feed off this disappointment and come back stronger as this is his nature, and nothing can take away from his extraordinary recovery from a career threatening fall and Nereo’s Badminton win this year.

2) It takes broad shoulders ….

Jonty Evans and Art (Cooley Rourkes Drift) have become world famous this year, with the wonderful crowd funding response that raise €500,000 to buy Art and keep him with Jonty. Since then nothing has gone quite right and Pau was the ideal competition to bring success and complete the fairy tale for the year. But the first water was the wicked wolf to many competitors and so it proved for Jonty with a run out at the second part, an arrowhead off a slight turn with four short strides.

Jonty retired, and then had to face up to reporting the bad news, not to just one or two owners but to the thousands of people from Ireland, Britain and North America who contributed to his purchase. But Jonty is both brave and honest and was quick to accept that things had gone wrong as he concentrated on the crowd funding rather than his preparation.

Jonty has broad shoulders and Art is a very good horse, so there is still hope and excitement. He will regroup and come back to remind us that keeping Art with Jonty was a project that shows us all in a very good light. The next page of the fairy tale has to be turned but we all still believe he will slay the dragon and marry the Princess!

3) It takes perseverance ….

I was first introduced to Sarah Bullimore when walking the cross country at Aldon Horse Trials in the UK in 2008. The next day I was watching as a horse ran away on the cross country, in the equivalent of the 1* class, before being circled several times to regain control. But instead of retiring the rider went back on the course and finished the track despite having to circle again before the finish. The rider was Sarah Bullimore! Earlier in the year she had introduced a 4-year-old to eventing called Reve Du Rouet.

In the intervening nine years she has ridden approximately 25 different horses in well over 500 competitions at all levels, and in the process she has gone from a rider on a runaway, looking for the right opportunity to progress her career, to an experienced and very competent rider at the highest level. Her perseverance has been extraordinary and cross country day at Pau was her eventing graduation and doctorate combined as she rode three superb clear rounds to finish in the top 10 on all three horses. It was a huge achievement and Reve Du Rouet finished the day in 3rd place.

Sarah has always described Reve Du Rouet as quirky and many riders would not have persevered with him. In 2014 he made a very promising 4* debut at Rolex, placing 13th, but in the following three and a half years and seven 4* starts he failed to live up to his promise. Last year he even found fame by bolting down the centre line at Badminton, and then getting so tense in the show jumping at Burghley that he hit seven fences. However, in Pau he looked the complete package and a huge credit to Sarah’s strength of mind.

4) It takes a good position ….

It is of great concern to me that many younger riders fail to keep a good balance and harmony when jumping. For both safety and efficient performance a good position is vital, and when riding across country its effects are magnified. There were several examples of weak positions at Pau, with riders sitting on the back of the saddle on the approach, then throwing the body and lying on the neck over the fence and being slow to recover on landing. You frequently see the same thing in Pony Club.

There are many great role models if riders and coaches want to study their subject. In eventing William Fox-Pitt’s immaculate balance and harmony can be seen in thousands of photographs and films and Leslie Law is another example of a rider and coach who is excellent in this area. Andrew Nicholson’s minimum movement and stickability should also be closely analysed.

I believe that his success and that of so many other New Zealand and Australian riders has much to do with their jumping balance and harmony. To watch him, or younger riders like Kevin McNabb, Tim Price, Jonelle Price and Dan Jocelyn come down to a fence is to see simplicity in action and horses that are unhindered.

What is also very clear is that there are elite show jumpers jumping much bigger fences and winning against the clock who have a better balance and harmony than many event riders. Riders such as Beezie Madden, Lauren Hough, Peder Fredricson, Kent Farrington, Harry Smolders, Eric Lamaze, Ben Maher and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum show what is possible on a daily basis.

5) It takes a willingness to change ….

The question is are riders and coaches prepared to change? Change is always difficult, particularly if something has been done for a long period of time and egos get in the way of accepting that a good idea has to give way to a better idea.

The Irish international event rider Captain Brian Cournane, who is now living in the USA and concentrating on show jumping, is a very good example of a rider who has been brave enough to make a change despite already riding at a high level. To anyone who has seen him ride recently the change and improvement in his riding is obvious and therefore his story is beneficial to others.

“I started training with George Morris in March of this year after having been introduced by our mutual friend Mark Todd. When I was in the army equitation school, the riding style was very upright, dramatic, and old fashioned European. Since riding with George he has really helped me ride in a more light and forward seat. He has an excellent system that has been tried and tested for a very long time in so many places and with so many different riders … the army was a great experience and afforded me a lot of opportunity, but I love the American style of riding and the system that he’s teaching me.”

The key point from Brian is that not only does he feel that he is a better rider as a result of working with George but it would also make him a better event rider. “The light forward seat makes it easier to be fast and it’s easier for the horse to jump out of that balance. Therefore George’s system would definitely help cross country as it’s very much about teaching the horse to balance itself and to watch where it’s going.”

6) It takes the right dressage training …

A depressing day for me a few years ago was seeing a promotional film for the Irish Army Equitation School. It had a section showing a group of horses all heading off into the Phoenix Park, all with draw reins and all with fixed head and neck positions. There is not a big jump from this to rollkur and our continuing ability to turn spectators and sponsors off equestrian sport because of the perception that we abuse horses. Of course in general we probably now treat horses better than ever before in eventing but the sins of the wider sport horse world diminish us all.

However, George Morris is a beacon of hope in this respect. As Brian Cournane says, “The flat work is all to do with getting the horse to engage its hind leg by doing transitions, shoulder in, half pass, travers, turn on the haunches. All very classical. The neck looks after itself then and the horse carries it where it suits his balance, usually just in front of the vertical. George always emphasises leg to hand … and never uses draw reins.”

Brian goes on to explain that “the goal of show jumping flatwork is to have the horse in self-carriage that’s able to turn and jump quickly and deal with changes of pace without losing its balance.” This sounds an excellent basis for good dressage as well, especially as for good cross-country work self-carriage has to be a golden key for efficiency and safety.

7) It takes tragedy and a sense of perspective ….

Do we need tragedy in the sport? No, but sometimes it takes tragedy to reassess what we are doing with horses and reassess our priorities. The tragic loss of Crackerjack, almost at the end of the cross country, was horrible and heart breaking. After a fast and fluent cross country Boyd should have been sitting in 5th place before the show jumping, but instead he faced a barrage of negative comment on social media and the loss of a horse that had become his teammate. Anyone who knows about horses will have seen the very close relationship these two had built up. It is simply not possible to do what they did together with such ease and class unless they had this closeness.

As I write this on Armistice Sunday it is worth remembering the over 70 million men and women, and approximately 11 million horses, that lost their lives in the two world wars. The days when they still charged barbed wire and machine guns on horseback in the First World War, and the dark days of the Second World War when horses were still the main carriers and pullers of munitions and supplies. This is when both humans and horses really suffered.

It was not surprising that the attitudes of this period leached into the early days of eventing, that of course was then called the Military and was just a sport for the military. Things have changed enormously, although as recently as the Jack Le Goff days many feel we asked horses too much. Jimmy Wofford, that most honest and reflective horseman days about this period, said, “I am sad that we had to abuse so many horses for so many years, before we started to improve our care of them. For this reason I have bittersweet memories of my competition days.”

However, the important point is that we have improved their care significantly and we have created a wonderful sport that gives happy lives to so many thousands of horses, and is both a life enhancing and healthy sport to millions of riders. This should not be forgotten as we grieve over a horse fatality.

8) It takes just one eye….

Tony Kennedy lay flat out on the sand like a huge heaving starfish. It was in the main arena just 30 seconds after finishing clear, with just 2.8 time penalties, in his first 4* cross country on Westeria Lane, the horse he started competing as a 4-year-old and had taken him three times on the Irish Young Rider team in the European Championships.

Was he injured? Exhausted? No, simply ecstatic, and putting all his brain power into savouring the moment and replaying his fantastic round. A satisfied smile stretched across his face as he praised his extraordinary partner. “He just gave and gave. Whatever I asked he just gave!”

What few would have known as they watched these Irish rookies make little of Pierre Michelet’s track is that Westeria Lane has only one eye, having lost an eye in a field accident as a 3-year-old. However, at Pau the Gods were on his side as every one of the combinations except one involved turns to the right. Not good course designing possibly but a gift to a horse with just a right eye!

An uncharacteristic four down in the show jumping moved them down to 17th, but Tony and his veterinary surgeon father Con were still smiling and probably dreaming of Badminton next year.

9) It takes a French commentator ….

Almost last on the cross country was France’s number one equestrian pin-up, Astier Nicholas, winner of Pau two years ago, individual silver medallist in Rio, and fresh from winning the 2* in the world young horse championships in Lion d’Angers the previous weekend. He was 14th after the dressage on Molokai but knew that a fast clear round would leave him at the top of the leader board, and so did the French commentator!

He had an English co-commentator but the possibility of Astier’s high placing and his own excitement left no room for anything but his fence-by- fence crescendo of compliments and exclamations that had the spectators cheering and Astier throwing caution to the wind. Molakai will never be the fastest of horses and has only come in within the time twice since Astier started riding him in 2015, but he is careful and Astier is brave and that was a winning combination. With a standing ovation and the commentator at maximum volume they crossed the line six seconds under the time, one of only two to have no time penalties. It was not pretty but it left Astier at the top of the leader board and guaranteed a full house for Sunday’s show jumping.

10) It takes your breath away ….

There were a number of young horses being offered for sale during Pau, including some 3-year-old horses that were loose jumped. This was not a very pretty sight, but one afternoon Australian team rider Kevin McNabb tried a chestnut event horse for a client. The horse’s immediate positive response and physical improvement was startling, and Kevin’s beautiful balance when jumping simply takes your breath away. He credit’s his technique to the Italian coach Tony Manca who influenced him as a young man. “I was very lucky to meet Tony,” he says. “Many people have tried to change me but I refused. He was ahead of his time. Tim (Price) does the same and he is an artist across country.” As I often say ‘good coaches make all the difference.’

Next Time: Pau 4*, Part 3 – Love and Luck

Read more: Part 1 “The Calm Before the Storm,” Part 2 “Triumph and Tragedy,” Part 3A “Love and Luck.” 

William Micklem: Pau 4* — It Takes a Village, Part 1, The Calm Before the Storm

William Micklem shares reflections and observations from attending the Pau CCI4* in this three part series. Look for Part 2 tomorrow!

Andrew Nicholson and Qwanza pick the right moment for a PB. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

1) It takes a team ….

It takes a team to realise the dream, and it’s not just the grooms that are indispensable. Most of the riders and horses made long journeys to Pau, including a 17-hour drive across France for the British and Irish that didn’t go to Lion D’Angers. So assistant drivers are needed, and a hardy and resourceful support group capable of making do and making meals, making up games for the pack of attached children and making the most of this end of season French equestrian celebration. In the case of Jonelle and Tim Price a team of babysitters was also required for their 10-week old baby Amos.

There can’t be many sports that provide such vital roles for husbands, wives, parents, grandparents, friends and lovers! Most are resident in the lorry park, placed around the huge schooling arena and bounded by a perfect raised grass viewing platform. It’s a vibrant village of coloured gazebos, national flags, barbeques and bottles of wine. It’s a joy.

2) It takes all types ….

I should have had a camera. Two elite riders at the first trot up side by side. Mark Todd, 6ft 3ins, and Britain’s European team gold medallist Ros Canter, 5ft 3ins. Eventing is truly a sport for all and it is something to be proud of all. It is also a sport for all sizes and sorts of horses but there is a noticeable change at the 4* level to horses with more quality.

Ros rode Allstar B in the European Champs, a 17-hand giant, but here in Pau she was riding the 16-hand Zenshera and still making him look big. Also 16 hands and catching the eye were two Australian horses, Hunter Valley bred and ridden by Sammi Birch, and the half Connemara Feldale Mouse with Isabel English. The very talented Sammi was reserve for Australia in the Rio Olympics and both riders now have WEG next year and then the Tokyo Olympics in their sights. Twenty-two-year-old Isabel will base her herself with Michael Jung for the next two years, so big progress is expected especially as Michael thinks Feldale Mouse is “super special.”

Then coming in at 15.3 was the exquisitely beautiful grey mare Faerie Dianimo, Jonelle Price’s Rio Olympics ride, who was also 4th at Pau in 2014 and 2nd at Luhmühlen the following year. They are aiming for the New Zealand team in Tryon next year and must have a very good chance. Certainly they will be one of the most photographed combinations. In contrast Alexander Bragg had brought his towering 17.2 Dutch bred Zagreb, who was 5th at Pau last year, and French hero Astier Nicholas had the 17.1 Molakai.

3) It takes patience ….

Ros Canter was 5th and best of the British on Allstar B at Badminton this year. British team trainer Chris Bartle has given her the confidence to relax and be more patient in her training and her results this year are stunning. Having finished 2nd in the dressage here at Pau she made a telling remark at the press conference that emphasised the long term training focus and patience needed by these elite riders. “He has been capable of this test for four years but this is the first time he has delivered in the arena.”

Anyone looking up the records of the horses at Pau would find the same story of long term steady progress with some short term periods of setbacks and stepbacks. Most of the horses are between 12 and 14 years old and have done approximately 50 to 60 competitions over six or seven years before arriving at their first 4*.

4) It takes courage ….

To outsiders it is the cross country that requires the most courage, but numerous riders will tell you that it is the dressage and show jumping that produce the most stress and pressure. Knowing that you are under the microscope of both judges and audience for every second, with every little mistake being spotted, creates a vicious circle that sees courage shrink and tension and mistakes increase.

What riders have to do is to focus on how wonderful it is to have the opportunity to enter the arena and keep it simple, concentrating on the precise direction, speed and flow of the test or round. In this situation less is usually more.

So many riders come out saying that they wish that they had a second chance because they only relaxed after the final salute or final fence. A technique that can help greatly here is visualization. Clearly visualizing your performance in advance has been proved to get brain and body in sync, give the right rehearsal, and put you in the competition bubble that has no room for judges and spectators. It is a technique that needs to be practised but it is worth it.

Andrew Nicholson even uses it for the cross country. “The last few minutes, I run through the course in my head. Some people might think I’m a little crazy because I’m pointing and prodding the air with my finger, counting out the jumps, talking through their approaches, and how I’m going to tackle them, counting strides. The starter is telling you — you have one minute — and people might be watching thinking you’re doing something weird, but in my mind I’m just quickly going through tactics, visualising.”

It is also worth remembering that you cannot do better than a new PB. Working in the same warm up arena as a few Olympians often leads riders astray as they seek the impossible. There is no point suddenly trying to be Michael Jung in three days when your starting point is 20% behind! However, aiming to emulate Michael in the long term and using him as a role model is a great idea and the right long-term strategy.

5) It takes you by surprise ….

The first course walk is always the most important because it is the closest a rider gets to seeing the course through the horse’s eyes. As we approached fence 11, a rolltop on the top of a hill, we did not suspect that just three strides away to the right was an angled rail over a big ditch, like the design of the Vicarage Vee at Badminton, followed four or five stride later on a turn to the left by another angled rail over a ditch.

The same surprise element was there for the first water and the three angled and very wide cottages at 29. However, riders have to remember that their horses don’t ever walk the course, so they get used to being surprised all the time and they get used to trusting their rider and responding to new situations, sometimes with only seconds to work things out. This is an important difference to understand. We may not like surprises but event horses get totally used to surprises and being able to cope.

6) It takes scope ….

Fence 10 on the cross country course was a maximum height and width brush oxer, 1.45m (4ft 9ins) high with a spread of 2.00m (6ft 6ins). (The maximum height for a solid oxer is 1.20m but with brush you are allowed an additional 25cm). To put this in context, in a 5* Nations Cup show jumping competition the oxers would be at a maximum of 1.50m, just 5cm bigger, with the same maximum spread of 2.00m.

Of course it jumped very easily, but this was also a reflection of the ability of the modern event horse and the good ground. In particular if the ground conditions deteriorate the difficulty of fences can significantly increase, as at WEG in France in 2014 and to a lesser extent at the European Championships at Blair the following year. It is an area that needs further discussion within the sport’s stakeholders.

7) It takes an open mind ….

It does not pay to jump to conclusions when cross country course walking. Course walking requires an open mind because searching for options is important. Yes the route to the first fence in a combination may be obvious, but would the second and third parts be easier if we took a different line and made the first fence more difficult? What if we ran out here, how do we proceed with the minimum of wasted time and effort? What if my horse gets tired? How do the fences relate to each other? Do we need to jump an early fence in a particular way because of the demands of a different fence later on in the course?

In addition timing is usually an issue so we need to know how the fences are distributed through each section of the course. For example if there are eight jumping efforts and a water combination in the last minute and a half we need the last three minute markers to be further on round the track. And always the questions, is there a different way and is there a better way?’

8) It takes saying ‘why not?’ ….

The vast majority of competitors at 4* level are full time professional riders. They have strings of horses, usually at least two or three at 4* level, and riding and competing is their life. The days of the amateur with one horse are gone … unless you have one good horse and you are prepared to say ‘why not?’

Aidan Keogh, CEO of Tredstep Ireland, was entering his third 4* at Pau on his 15-year-old Traditional Irish horse Master Tredstep. He has never been easy in the dressage, but they have formed a great partnership over 11 years of competition together. In particular Aidan has been confident enough in his strengths to aim high, while simultaneously being humble enough to keep training and working at his weaknesses. All the time finding creative ways to do this knowing it can only be a part-time activity. Many more could achieve extraordinary things with this attitude.

Chris Collins, the British eventing team member in the ’70s and owner of the Goya perfume business, used to say that it took any two out of three things to be a success at the highest level in eventing … hard work, great talent and pots of money. He suggested he had the hard work and pots of money elements and this allowed him to be a success.

However, standards have risen so significantly that this theory is now probably untrue. The current primary drivers of elite success in eventing, as in most sports, are hard work and talent. Aidan shows that this is true and encourages other talented riders to persevere and make use of the fact that in horse riding success is possible even in your fifties and sixties.

9) It takes a match between two of the true greats of the sport ….

Two of the greatest examples of the longevity that is possible in equestrian sport, New Zealanders Andrew Nicholson, now 56, and Mark Todd, now 61, were both at Pau with two horses each. There was an added reason for their participation – the world ratings.

Going into Pau Michael Jung was leading the world ratings. His late decision to compete at Pau with his wonderful partner La Biosthetique Sam was undoubtedly due to his wish to protect this lead from Andree and Mark who were snapping at his heels. Then his withdrawal before the dressage opened the door to two of the best event riders of all time going head to head, with the real possibility that one could become World No 1.

Both men have backstories that have already interested film producers. Andrew’s fall and near paralysis two years ago, before clawing his way back to fitness and winning Badminton this year, and Mark’s retirement and return to high-level competition, are both the stuff of legend. For either to be the new World No 1 was a major story and major bonus for the Pau organisers. They are two of the best riders our sport has ever seen in a match against each other with high stakes – what more could anyone want?

Sadly as things stand Andrew Nicholson will not be seen at WEG next year or the Tokyo Olympics. The continuing standoff between the New Zealand authorities and Andrew harms not only the New Zealand team but also the sport, as championships need all the major players for credibility and marketing. As one senior FEI official said to me, “the New Zealand high performance people are small minded, selfish and short sighted. They have lost sight of their priorities and we all lose out as a result.”

10) It takes your breath away ….

Sometimes it is a whole dressage test that takes your breath away, like Charlotte Dujardin in a freestyle with Valegro, or sometimes it is just a brief moment of brilliance. On the Wednesday morning Andrew Nicholson was riding in the large warm up area on his little mare Qwanza, the three-quarter sister of Rolex winner Quimbo. Nothing spectacular in walk but then a little nudge and they were in canter. A glorious canter, with such a beautiful balance and period of suspension. So light on his feet, so soft, so easy … it takes your breath away.

Next Time: Pau 4* Part 2 – Triumph and Tragedy

Read more: Part 1 “The Calm Before the Storm,” Part 2 “Triumph and Tragedy,” Part 3A “Love and Luck.” 

William Micklem: Focusing On the Right Priorities at Pau

Fence 30 of Pau 2017: Le Balcon. Photo by Tilly Berendt.

The outpouring of comments and emotion following Crackerjack’s tragedy at Pau has one huge positive. Probably more than in any other equestrian sport it shows that we care. We care deeply about our horses and care deeply about our sport, and in this we set an example to the rest of the equestrian competition world that may not have such high standards.

We must continue to care and continue to ask questions and continue to be open to change. We must continue to do everything we can to make our wonderful sport better, while also treasuring its huge advantages and central role in equestrian sport as a whole.

As I said on Monday I am so saddened by what happened to Crackerjack. He was a wonderful horse who was thriving under Boyd’s care. It is a huge loss for both all those who have been with him on his very special journey and for all the hundreds in our sport that have followed his career.

However, his fractured leg was also a classic case of misdirection, that meant we missed something else that was hugely important that took place only an hour earlier 100m from the point of Crackerjack’s slip.

A fatality avoided

Just five weeks ago, at a fence without frangible technology, 29-year-old Maxime Debost died in a rotational fall while competing in the CCI1* at Châteaubriant Horse Trials in France. Now in France once again and in light of the overwhelming support for frangible technology, we could have expected a significant use of this as at Pau this year.

However, when walking the course, despite some use of MIM clips, I saw that that there were two gates, fences 19 and 23, and a vertical on the top of a mound, fence 30, that did not have frangible technology. The two gates in question both had good ground lines and jumped well, but this does not mean that frangible technology was superfluous, as the fence in Châteaubriant also had a good ground line.

The vertical, fence 30, was a different matter. Being so near the end of the 32-fence course, with a drop behind and jumped on a curve, it obviously needed special respect and frangible technology. However, there was no frangible technology. Being constructed like a balustrade and on a curve, it was not a natural fence for pins or clips, but it is possible.

During the day several horses got away with putting in an extra short stride before take off, having run out of courage or energy when their riders were inaccurate, but there was one who was not so lucky. Britain’s Laurence Hunt suffered a heavy fall here with Wie Donna’s Niieuwmoed. It was a slow motion fall that began as rotational, but then finished with Wie Donna’s Niieuwmoed, falling vertically and then to the side.

Laurence was taken to hospital, and it appears he just suffered bruising and shock rather than anything worse. But with a little less luck and a little more speed, there could have so easily have been another fatality at Pau. Surely this is not acceptable. Frangible technology needs to be made compulsory before next season and before we jeopardize the future of our sport.

Putting our energy into the right priorities

A rider fatality is obviously in a different league of horror than a horse fatality, yet what concerns me is that there has been relatively little response and support for the USEA, the Canadian Eventing Committee, the International Eventing Officials and Badminton Horse Trials, who in the last two weeks have all called for the mandatory use of frangible technology in FEI eventing.

The contrast between this lack of response and the huge response regarding Crackerjack suggests that we need to have a discussion about our priorities in eventing.

What happened with Crackerjack

For most of the cross country day I positioned myself at the entrance to the arena in front of the big screen showing the horses on the cross country. From this position I was directly in front of the horses as they galloped round a slight right hand bend into the arena. So I was just 50 meters from where Crackerjack slipped and stumbled.

I had watched Crackerjack and Boyd especially closely throughout most of his round because as is well known I love a horse with good Thoroughbred blood, and I think Boyd is an exceptional rider. They took all the direct routes and were fluent and confident throughout. Without a doubt it was one of the very best rounds of the day, and they approached the arena with ears pricked and full of running.

Things happen so quickly that short of seeing the slow motion footage I can only say it looked to me like his near fore slipped to the outside as they reached the sand — sand that was already loosened by all the horses that had gone before.

I had a conversation with Chris Bartle earlier in the day about the need for the rider to ride this turn with care, keeping their horses balanced and following a line like a racing car would take. There were several in the two-star competition who failed to do this, but Boyd had set up Crackerjack beautifully for the turn, and they were both in a great balance.

Did Pierre Michelet get it right?

Was the course at Pau too challenging? Did it ask too many questions? I would say definitely not, especially as it did not have the size and fear factor of a Badminton or Burghley. Did it have an exceptional number of skinnies and corners? Yes, which is why few got clear rounds.

The first corner at fence 7B produced 11 runouts, including such experienced riders as Mark Todd, Caroline Powell, Izzy Taylor and Maxime Livio, while the first water complex with two arrowheads produced nine runouts, including Andrew Nicholson and Jonty Evans. The fact is that the vast majority of faults on the course were not falls or refusals but runouts. In the main arena the horses jumped very well off the ground and few struggled at any time if they stayed on the right lines.

Course designer Pierre Michelet placed a significant question near the end of the course, the three angled cottages at fence 29, so the riders made sure they did not go so fast that they ran out of petrol before this. In fact, it was noticeable that in general riders rode sensibly and did not just chase the time. I only saw three horses finish tired, and I hope the officials spoke to them and/or gave them yellow cards. It should be remembered that this was not an almost 14-minute track plus steeplechase as in ‘the auld days’ but just a little over 11 minutes — a much more reasonable demand on horses.

There were five horse falls, with three at the Vicarage Vee combination at fence 11, one at the first water and Laurence Hunt’s fall at the third last. The Vicarage Vee, combination severely punished those who lost their line, but it was not big and easier than the Vicarage Vee at Badminton. So overall I did not consider the course unfair, and the results confirm this.

Getting better for high level sport horses

I am encouraged by what is happening at the higher levels of competition in all three major disciplines. Dressage has taken a huge leap forwards with the Olympic and World Championship success of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro and the methods of Carl Hester. Not only has it put a new emphasis on ease and harmony, that without doubt has arrived both at the judges’ huts and in the minds of leading trainers and riders, but it has also had a beneficial effect on eventing dressage.

I was not busy at Pau so I spent the majority of three days looking at the dressage, and I was delighted to see so many more happy horses and much less aggressive riding and use of strength both outside and inside the dressage arena. It is still not a totally clean sheet but without doubt the horses show less tension, and double bridles are almost a thing of the past. We still have to find a way to consign cranked nosebands and all rollkur and roughness to the dustbin, and in pure dressage we still need to allow the use of a snaffle bridle in international competitions, but things are better.

In show jumping a combination of shallow cups, lighter poles, greater technical demands and in particular smaller courses at the highest level than in the past has put more emphasis on training and rider ability and less on sheer courage and brute strength. So performances are much more refined and harmonious and horses are more gymnastic and less abused, although we still have some way to go on stopping the the habitual use of pulley reins and pinch boots.

Huge progress in eventing standards

It is in international eventing where we have seen the biggest positive leap forward in riding and training standards. To win an international competition a rider has to produce a level of dressage that would be competitive in pure dressage at the equivalent level, and on the final day be fit enough and sufficiently well trained to jump a show jumping track that is significantly bigger and more technical than in the ‘good auld days’. So now more than ever the show jumping is fulfilling its role in ensuring horses are well prepared and ridden on the cross-country so they can perform well on the final day.

Good cross-country performances have probably been hindered in the recent past by riders neglecting the cross-country training, not using suitable horses and not getting the fitness levels right, but I think there is a change in all these areas now. Of course many in the sport do not like the increased use of technical cross-country challenges, but they do reward those who train well and in general the fundamental requirements of cross-country riding remain. Riders still have to jump at speed over varied terrain displaying huge courage and fitness, even if they do have to do it now with more control and precision. But we need to allow them to do this over fences using FT, or otherwise we will risk both more unnecessary fatalities and risk killing the sport.

The extraordinary skill set, both width and depth, of the riders at the top of international eventing is almost certainly better than it has ever been. There are a host of riders who are consistently producing results on many different horses that are simply superb. Among others riders such as Michael Jung, Andrew Nicholson, Caroline Powell, Tim Price, Kristina Cook, Piggy French, Phillip Dutton, Ros Canter, Mark Todd, Kevin McNab, William Fox-Pitt, Astier Nicolas, Gemma Tattersall, Chris Burton, Boyd Martin and Maxime Livio all show that the sport has riders leading us into a new era of excellence.

Eventing — an exceptional sport for horses 

Without doubt eventing is also good for the whole horse population because of the very high standards it encourages for both stable management and all round equestrian education, including a more varied and natural lifestyle than is often the case. For this latter reason alone eventing is so important for the sport horse industry as a whole.

In addition an event horse is more likely to have a long useful life instead of spending far too many years in bored retirement. The all-round event horse qualities and abilities, even in smaller quantities, make the event horse type the ideal sport and pleasure horse for all the activities and levels that the majority of riders require. Therefore a retired event horse will always have several other jobs to do.

Another top priority — Mutual respect

There is a final point to be made: One of the greatest strengths of eventing has always been the humane values that are on regular display. At the core of these values is the need and desire to treat both humans and horses with respect, and the willingness to support those in need or difficulty. Long may we continue to do this and long may we treat each other with mutual respect as we work together to protect, develop and treasure our wonderful sport. Both in the short and long term this should be our focus.

William Micklem: Magic Thoroughbred Jumpers and an Unsung USA Superhero

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 present the series finale, Part 10: Magic Thoroughbred Jumpers and an Unsung USA Superhero. Be sure to read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8, Part 9

A Thoroughbred, a mare, and just 15.3, yet Olympic Individual Gold Medalist —
Joe Fargis USA on Touch of Class at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Photo by Alice Conroy Donovan.

“We teachers are rather good at magic, you know,” said Professor McGonagall. It certainly would appear that the best teachers produce results so much better than expectations it does seem magical. But of course behind all the best magic is meticulous preparation and practice, exceptional timing and wonderful stories, and of course knowledge led by simplicity.

In addition it is not uncommon to hear someone talk of a great horse and say “that horse was magic.” Again it is usually because once again they perform well above expectations. So much more difficult to enjoy a horse if they have been given a big write up from the very beginning!

Thoroughbred gods of the warmblood world

Talking of magic horses, it was encouraging to see four full TBs in the top 10 at Burghley this year, including two from the USA, Lynn Symansky’s Donner and Boyd Martin’s Steady Eddie, and two from the UK, Gemma Tattersall’s Arctic Soul and Tina Cook’s Star Witness. While many near my home will have heard my wounded howls of frustration as Zara Tindall fell from my homebred High Kingdom at the third fence of the trout hatchery. She was so close to another 4* top ten finish, and being 97% TB it would have further complimented the TB horse.

The problem is these TB horses slip under the radar as there is no strong marketing behind them in the sport horse world. So generally speaking they are the unsung poor relations. As a result fewer and fewer people search to find the TBs who could be future stars in the sport horse world, or the ones who could be breed improvers for other stud books.

For example few know that Cavalier Royale, the Irish warmblood god of eventing, is actually slightly over 51% TB, and that these TB genes include the four of the five thoroughbred gods of the warmblood show jumping world, FURIOSO, COTTAGE SON, RANTZAU (sire of Cor de la Byrere) and LADYKILLER. The fifth is LUCKY BOY who has had such a huge influence in Holland. There is no statistical doubt that the influence of these five thoroughbred stallions is the equal of Hyperion and Northern Dancer in the racing world. They are more influential than any other sires of any breeding in the jumping world … and they are Thoroughbreds!

Bonne Nuit

There was another TB show jumping sire in the USA who has an extraordinary influence, producing Grand prix jumper after Grand Prix jumper. As many of you will know he was called BONNE NUIT. He was by the imported Irish Thoroughbred stallion Royal Canopy, out of the wonderfully bred English mare Bonne Cause, who as with most dams must have been a major influence on his success. Bonne Nuit’s offspring were mostly just like him, unusually clean and careful horses yet also brave and full of scope.

His owner Mrs. Whitney regularly rode Bonne Nuit and was well aware of his ability. Having not been invited to a party at a club after a horse show, she tacked up Bonne Nuit and galloped him down to the six foot high stone wall surrounding the party. He soared over the big wall and into the party, much to the surprise of the guests!

A son of Bonne Nuit, New Twist, (who had Bonne Cause on both sides) sired Frank Chapot’s very good jumper Good Twist, who in turn sired the incredible Gem Twist. Even today Gem Twist is still considered one of the best of the very best. Another son, Night Lark, also made a name for himself as a sire of great USET jumpers, including Night Spree, Out Late, and Catch On Fire, who himself was a successful sire particularly in eventing. Some of the other top horses sired by Bonne Nuit were Riviera Wonder, Night Owl, Hollandia and Evening Out.

50+ Great North American Show Jumping TBs

This reminded me of the huge group of wonderful full TB jumpers, bred in North America, who consistently won Grand Prix in the USA and Europe, and Championship medals at the Pan American Games, World Championships and the Olympics. They say TBs can’t jump but these top horses that would suggest otherwise, and there must be more out there if we kept looking. In addition, as speeds increase in show jumping, the influence of the TB as a breed improver may well become more important again just as it has in eventing. Without question the warmblood world are producing some magnificent jumpers but it is not accurate to suggest that TB blood is not an option.

The talent and longevity of these fifty extraordinary TB international horses is well documented, and many would be included in ‘best of all time’ lists. With a few exceptions they competed largely in the period from the 1950s to the 1980s, before the warmblood breeding and marketing machine went into overdrive:

Aberali (Kathy Kusner), Albany (Leslie Burr Howard, A Little Bit (Buddy Brown), Allegro (Norman Dello Joyo), Australis (Danny Lopez, Barbara Simpson CAN), Balbuco (Rodney Jenkins, Conrad Homfeld), Big Dee (Thomas Gayford CAN), Branch County (Michel Vaillancourt CAN), Brother Sam (Ian Millar CAN), Canadian Club (Jim Day CAN), Chase The Clouds (Leslie Burr Howard), Circus Rose/Miss Budweiser (Joe Green, Arthur McCaskin, Bobby Egan), Coast Line (Rodney Jenkins), Czar (Rodney Jenkins), Democrat (Franklyn ‘Fuddy’ Wing, John William Russell), Do Right (Dennis Murphy), Fleet Apple (Diane Langer, Kathy Kusner), For The Moment (Lisa Jacquin), Gem Twist (Greg Best, Leslie Burr Howard, Laura Chapot), Good Twist (Frank Chapot), Hand In Glove (John Charlebois), Jet Run (Bernie Traurig, Melanie Smith, Fernando Senderos MEX, Michael Matz), Hollandia (Warren Wofford, Dawn Wofford GB), Heatherbloom (another 15.2 pocket rocket! Dick Donnelly), Idle Dice (Bernie Traurig, Rodney Jenkins), Jacks Or Better (Ben O’Meara, Neil Shapiro), Johnny’s Pocket (Katie Monaghan-Prudent), Ksar D’Esprit (Bill Steinkraus), Night Owl (George Morris), Night Spree (Neil Shapiro), Number One Spy (Rodney Jenkins), Out Late (Carol Hoffman), Play Back (Rodney Jenkins), Philco (David Broome GB), Riviera Wonder (Bill Steinkraus), San Lucas (Frank Chapot), Sandsablaze (Buddy Brown), Sinjon (George Morris, Kathy Kusner, Bill Steinkraus), Sloopy (Bernie Traurig, Neil Shapiro), Snowbound (Bill Steinkraus), Southside (Robert Ridland), Sun Beau (Bobby Egan, George Braun, Sympatico (Anthony D’Ambrosio), The Cardinal (Bernie Traurig), The Jones Boy (Katie Monahan Prudent), Tomboy (Mary Mairs Chapot), Touch of Class (Conrad Homfeld, Joe Fargis), Tuscaloosa (Dennis Murphy), Totilla (Franklyn ‘Fuddy’ Wing), Unusual (Kathy Kusner), Untouchable (Kathy Kusner), White Lightning (Mary Mairs Chapot) … + Eros (Australian TB – Anne Kursinski).

I suppose it is not a surprise that most of the riders and trainers who worked with or knew these horses say they would still be competitive today, while many who breed and work with warmbloods say they wouldn’t! But what must be true is that event horses can benefit enormously not only from the gallop of TB blood but also from the genes of those TBs that jump.

Bold Minstrel was just such an event horse and jumper. He was my first extra USA superhero but I promised you two. My second is a surprise, because the majority of the equine world will not know her, but she had a breadth of spirit, goodness and talents that makes her without any doubt my second superhero.

The unsung USA superhero

Marietta ‘Lalla’ Withington Brewster

I met Lalla Brewster in the 1970s in Plymouth, New England. Lalla was an extraordinary teacher with true grit and verve. She was a real Professor McGonagall figure, well illustrated by this quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “Get back!,” shouted Ron, and he, Harry and Hermione flattened themselves against a door as a herd of galloping desks thundered past, shepherded by a sprinting Professor McGonagall. She appeared not to notice them: her hair had come down and there was a gash on her cheek. As she turned the corner, they heard her scream: ‘CHARGE!'”

This personality and her leadership qualities were reflected in her obituary in 2012. “The planet probably shifted a bit the day she was born. She was a force of nature … she was a teacher into the very fiber of her bones. She taught not only at pre-school level and at the First Parish Sunday school and girl scouts, but to everyone she met, at every level, every day, like it or not. She had a way with children, and people in need of immediate or critical adjustment … she was fast-paced, fearless in speaking her mind, and always acted with boundless love.”

“She courted the love of her life, Spencer Hatch Brewster on horseback, and together they produced and cherished six children, and rode and drove their horses and ponies in singles, pairs and tandem in cross-country and over obstacle courses. She was a portrait painter, a sculptor, jewelry maker, furniture maker, gardener and seamstress extraordinaire. According to some of her children and nephews, on Halloween, she could even fly! Known for her great energy, in addition she was competitive as a swimmer, diver, tennis player, golfer, skier and passionate equestrienne.”

“But most of all she was a teacher. Her true philanthropy was toward those she could help by plunking them on the back of a horse, which she deeply believed was a place of transformation.”

A breadth of coaching expertise

Lalla also symbolized the grit and spirit that I believe makes certain people and horses special. Combined with her huge breadth of interests, skills, and knowledge, it enabled her to make a colossal difference to many lives. Of course there are other coaches in the USA and the world cut from the same cloth as Lalla, but their number is decreasing.

To ensure we have the next generation of teachers more like Lalla (six children not required!) we need to recognise their importance, and then support and help them, focusing on their breadth of education and the gathering and utilising of complementary skills … and in general treating them as the superheroes they are.

What coaches like Lalla contribute is not just technique but also an attitude of mind that makes students more resilient and more courageous … to have more grit. In today’s ‘softer’ world these qualities are often neglected, but they are key to fulfilling potential.

Usually these teachers will remain largely unknown on the International stage and they are unlikely to produce Olympians directly. But indirectly they are a vital part of the jigsaw, being the coaches who are most likely to do what is required at the foundation level to produce the next Phillip Dutton, Karen O’Connor or Leslie Law.

Something so simple represents so much

All the articles in this series point strongly to the importance of eventing as the core discipline and event horses as the core type for sport horse riding. They are also linked by some simple messages from Harry Potter that can empower us all. The ten main ones are worth repeating:

1) “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?”

2) “You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.

3) “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are.

4) “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 (mentally)!

5) “I’m not as good as you,” said Harry ……. “Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery …

6) “It’s high time your grandmother learned to be proud of the grandson she’s got, rather than the one she thinks she ought to have.

7) “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.

8) “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.

9) “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.”

10) “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other.”

The majority of these articles are about sharing, and it has been wonderful that so many people have responded and added to my stories and knowledge store. Training and coaching should not be looked on as a marathon, but as a relay, that depends on great riders and coaches passing the baton on to the next generation, and sharing their stories, experiences and knowledge. Of course, as Harry Potter has been guiding us, that baton of equestrian gold is actually a very powerful magic wand … all covered with a golden thread of simplicity.

© William Micklem

William Micklem: The Mental Attitude Empowering Riders and Coaches

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 9: The Mental Attitude Empowering Riders and Coaches. Be sure to read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7, Part 8.  

Bernie Traurig – A unique record representing the USET at home and abroad,
reaching the top level in all three of the FEI Olympic disciplines: eventing, show jumping and dressage. Photo courtesy of Bernie Traurig.

There is a key sentence from Dumbledore in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban: “But you know, happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” Undoubtedly we all have dark times, but rather than denying this, or giving in to self-pity, or giving up the struggle, we need to learn how to turn on the light.

This is particularly true for event riders, as eventing is not an easy road to follow with the many skills it requires. It is especially not an easy road if you want to do it with quality, without force, without short cuts, and without treating your horse as a machine. It takes time and discipline, attention to detail and a progressive and complementary system of training for the three disciplines, and there will be dark days when you wonder where you took the wrong turn and whether you can finish the course.

Most agree that the fundamental strategy for turning on the light is to be positive and keep moving forwards with bite size steps. As Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The engine for taking these steps comes from the quality that most of us look for in a horse, a big heart, what might also be called grit or nerve. In the dictionary grit is defined as ‘keeping one’s resolve when faced with an unpleasant or painful duty’, and nerve as ‘steadiness, courage, and sense of purpose when facing a demanding situation’. So once again we are back to the thought that if potential is to be fulfilled, with people or horses, it is the size of the heart that makes the difference.

All the special people and horses I have mentioned in this series have had big hearts and the grit and nerve to keep going; and there is considerable research to show that this is the key distinguishing component between successful performers and those that
end up saying ‘coulda, woulda, shoulda … didn’t’.

The tramp’s heartbreak

They say a tramp’s heartbreak is a long straight road that just looks endless, with a horizon that never seems to be getting closer. But if that road can be broken up into easy sections, each with a wall to rest on when finished, and possibly a stream to drink from and a few friendly people, then life becomes good for the tramp. The same strategy can make life easier for riders and horses. The secret is to use short-term goals and those bite size steps to get there, and to reward often!

The main thing that holds people back from taking these forward steps is fear. Fear of failure, fear of change and often fear of the unknown. But as the actress Helen Mirren said to a group of graduating students this spring, “don’t be afraid of fear, don’t let fear rule you … throw caution to the winds, look fear in it’s ugly face and barge forward, and when you get past it, turn around and give it a good kick in the ass!”

“Simplicity is the hallmark of genius.” Einstein

Alongside positivity and grit, I would place the one word that has more power in training and coaching than any other, and in a sport that involves horses, who don’t read books, it has added importance. It is the seed from which everything else grows, it is simplicity. A quest for simplicity will lead to both finding true priorities and to efficiency in training, and therefore fewer diversions and less wasted time. As a result this will almost inevitably bring accelerated progress and greater achievements. In eventing, with the daily potential for complexity, simplicity has special value.

In addition coaches and trainers who have found a simplified approach, that works for the three disciplines, will also have a method and progression that gives a better basis for each individual discipline. Better because it is both more simple and more flexible.

Simplicity and doing less obviously has huge advantages for every level of riding, while flexibility is something that offers the possibility of more varied roads and homes for each horse and more options for riders. For children and novice riders flexible basics are essential so that they can easily progress to the equine activity that interests them, while even an elite rider may decide they need new challenges in their equestrian life and will benefit from a system and skills that allows a change of discipline.

There is a truly exceptional USA competitor and coach who believes in the simplified approach so much that simplicity is probably his favourite word! He explains his simplified training system in Fundamentals Of Flatwork on his website  This coach is also another name to add to any list of elite multi-discipline riders, as he has a unique and distinguished record representing the USET at home and abroad, reaching the top level in all three of the FEI Olympic disciplines: eventing, show jumping and dressage. It is of course the groundbreaking horseman Bernie Traurig.

Bernie is in no doubt about the value of both simplicity and a broad education for riders and coaches. “I would encourage any rider with high goals to experiment with many disciplines to become a well rounded horseman. I really feel my experiences with all the disciplines has helped me enormously to develop a style of coaching that is simple and clear, as well as solidifying a training system for hunters and jumpers that I call ‘Riding Simplified.'”

Elite in all disciplines

Bernie Traurig is a wonderful example of good basics allowing a huge flexibility of activities. When he was sixteen he won the hugely prestigious and competitive AHSA Medal Finals and the ASPCA Maclay Medal Finals, judged on rider ability to a very precise and exacting standard. As a contrast he then spent a year riding steeplechase horses under the master horseman Mike Smithwick, “learning to jump fences at speed.”

When just twenty-one he was qualified for the Eventing Team at the Tokyo Olympics (riding alongside Bold Minstrel then ridden by his owner Bill Haggard) before he changed to show jumping when his event horse, Envoy, broke down. He won over sixty Grand Prix and represented the United States Show Jumping Team several times including the 1982 World Championships in Ireland. Bernie also competed in eight World Cup Finals and was the winner of the United States World Cup League four times.

When Bernie took up dressage his progress was beyond exceptional, winning his first Grand Prix in the same year, and going on to win 15 Grand Prix and Grand Prix speciale classes. “Perhaps my most influential training opportunity came in the ’80s when I was introduced to Johan Hinneman, Olympic coach and dressage rider. Jo put me on his best Grand Prix dressage horse and 30 min later I was hooked!” Bernie was also short listed for both the 1986 World Championships and the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games on the US Dressage team.

On top of all this Bernie rode many National Working Hunter Champions and was inducted into the National Show Hunter Hall of Fame. He has had a long professional career, riding and training some of the finest Hunters and Jumpers including Gozzi, Sloopy, Royal Blue, The Cardinal, Jet Run and Idle Dice. “It gave me,” Bernie says, “real insight into what superior equine athletes were capable of and how they think.”

Four unbeatable Grand Prix TB Jumpers

This is no idle boast as riding Jet Run and Idle Dice means Bernie rode two of the four truly outstanding full TB USA jumpers that ruled the roost in show jumping in the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s. The third being the barely 16 hands mare Touch of Class … yet another pocket rocket! While the fourth was Gem Twist, Frank Chapot’s sublime grey ridden by Greg Best.

Jet Run was reputed to be the world’s most valuable jumper at the time and was ridden by Bernie to win several major classes when a 6 year old. He went on to win two Pan Am individual Golds and then the World Cup with Michael Matz. Idle Dice, who Bernie discovered, trained and showed and later sold to Rodney Jenkins, were winners of a World record 31 Grand prix, the last when he was 21, while Touch of Class won the
Individual Gold at the ’84 Los Angeles Olympics with Joe Fargis. “She has a lot of heart,” said Fargis at the time. It was needed as this was all at a time when the tracks were actually more difficult in some ways than today’s courses, with bigger fences, wider oxers and often longer distances. “It was not unusual,” says Bernie “to have two maximum width oxers on a 27ft distance in one stride doubles and combinations.”

Gem Twist won the individual Silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and was named “Best Horse” at the World Championships in Stockholm in 1990. He was a son of Good Twist, one of Frank Chapot’s former mounts. Gem Twist is the only horse to win the American Grandprix Association Horse of the Year title four times (with three different riders) and is considered to be one of the very best show jumpers of all time.

A man who was an exceptional student

But it wasn’t just Bernie’s physical talents that were exceptional. Mentally he had the positivity, grit and uncomplicated approach to his riding that made him both a superb student and competitor. His education started in the Pony Club and then he had the good fortune to be coached as a Junior by the legendary Captain Vladimir S. Littauer and progressed to equitation, hunters, and jumpers.

This led to world class training possibilities that Bernie grasped with both hands. As he says, “I have had many fortunate opportunities in my equestrian career and blessed with coaching and associations with some of the finest masters and horsemen of the sport, including Bertalan DeNemethy, Rodney Jenkins, Mike Smithwick, Richard Watjen, Christalot Boylen, Johan Hinneman, Bill Steinkraus and George Morris.”

But to make full use of these world class trainers Bernie had to be open minded and therefore humble, the fourth of my key mental attributes. It a word that is not in the vocabulary of some very successful competitive young riders, who as a result will inevitably fail to fulfill their potential. As Dumbledore suggests, “The best of us sometimes eat our words.” When he was a student Bernie would also have recognized the wisdom in the words of American writer David Foster Wallace, “good education teaches us to be a little less arrogant … to realize that much of what we think as certain is in fact wrong and deluded, to critique ourselves and not just the world around us.”

Bernie Traurig is now 72 but still shares his knowledge on a daily basis during his worldwide clinics. He has also built up a fantastic library of training films and information as an invaluable resource for other coaches – He remains passionate about both good coaching and good attitude. No lesson would be complete without some reference to the fact that mental strength is vital for a rider. As he says “talent by itself is not enough for success in riding or coaching.”

Next time: BREADTH AS WELL AS DEPTH + Lessons from Harry Potter

The conclusion of this series:
Part 10 – An unheralded USA Superhero

William Micklem: The Size of the Heart – Five More Pocket Rockets

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 8: The Size of the Heart – Five More Pocket RocketsBe sure to read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

Worth The Trust, ridden by Karen O’Connor and owned by Joan Goswell. The 15.3-hand Thoroughbred won the 1997 Rolex Kentucky CCI3* carrying the mandatory weight of 165lbs. Photo credit (c) Mary Phelps/

“Humph,” snorted Professor McGonagall [to Neville]. “It’s high time your grandmother learned to be proud of the grandson she’s got, rather than the one she thinks she ought to have.” The professor could say the same thing to many breeders, who are often disappointed that things haven’t quite work out as planned … the most common disappointment being a horse that is smaller than expected.

“A good looking horse but didn’t grow. Sadly just too small.” That’s what so many breeders say with a big sigh. We forget that breeding is not an exact science, the variations can be numerous, both physical and mental, even with line breeding to reduce the genetic combinations, or even with cloning. However what we should not forget is that small horses have many advantages and can still have many roads to follow and even have Olympic ability.

Not the size of the horse but the size of the heart

Some responses to my article ‘Is Size Important?’ suggested that the number of small horses in eventing was exceptional small. But a provisional look at registered FEI event horses at 3* and 4* shows that the number of horses 16.00 and under exceeds the number of horses 16.2 and over by about 6 to 1. This confirms that the smaller horse is more durable, but this ratio is likely to decrease if fewer small horse are bred in future years because of market misconceptions. However it does show a proven role for smaller horses and here are five more pocket rockets that excelled at the highest level in eventing:

Who could forget Torrance Watkins riding the little 15.1 coloured mare Poltroon with the wonderful step and perfect jumping technique? As Jimmy Wofford said, “Her ride on Poltroon really captured the general public and was one of the reasons we got more air time and changed the image of our sport.” Poltroon was by the TB Hopper’s Pride out of a pinto pony mare. In 1980 she won both Rolex and the individual bronze medal for the USA at the alternate Olympic Games in Fontainbleu, France, amazingly making her the first woman in eventing to win an Olympic individual medal. Additionally they were second at Burghley 4*.

Karen O’Connor not only rode the world’s best eventing pony Teddy O’Connor (not quite 14.2), but also the extraordinarily tough and sound TB Upstage. He was only 15.1 but he completed eight 4*s and completed Rolex six times, and is in the top twenty of all time USET points winners. Of course Karen also won Rolex on the brilliant 15.3 TB Worth The Trust, owned like Mandiba by Joan Goswell. When he won Rolex it was long format days, and he had to carry the mandatory weight of 165 lbs, yet he won on his dressage score. The year before he finished 5th, once
again on his dressage score.

Then there was one of my absolute favourites, the athletic star Sunburst, the 15.3 full TB who was ranked No 1 in the world in 1996. He and Australian Wendy Schaeffer started working together in Pony Club when Wendy was just eleven and won the famous Gawler three day event five years later. Then when Wendy was just 19 she took Sunburst to the World Equestrian Games in The Hague and placed 16th, with one of just three cross country rounds inside the time.

At Badminton in 1996 he was placed 11th, but her place in the Australian Team for the Atlanta Olympics appeared lost when she broke a leg only weeks before travelling. But held together by plates and screws, she produced a performance that no one else could match. Best of the Australians after dressage, 4th fastest clear across country and clear show jumping. Sunburst and his 21 year old rider led the Australians to back-to-back Olympic Team Gold and led the field, a feat that at previous Olympic Games would have also won him the Individual Gold, but not in Atlanta where there was a separate competition for individuals.

Finally a female pocket rocket. I can think of only five horses that have ever won three 4* competitions. Kim Severson with Winsome Adante, Michael Jung on both La Biosthetique-Sam and FischerRocana FST, Andrew Nicholson with Avebury and Lucinda Fredericks on her extraordinary mare Headley Britannia. ‘Britt’ is the first mare in this group and created a unique 4* record winning Burghley in 2006, Badminton in 2007 and Rolex in 2009. Yet she was only 15.3!

In another extraordinary triumph for Irish Draught genes both Avebury and Headley Britannia were by the Irish Draught stallion Jumbo. Although an Irish Draught Jumbo was actually 37.5% TB, so Britt was almost 70% TB as she is out of a well bred TB mare.

Ireland is taking action

The good news for eventing is that Ireland is well placed to continue to produce exceptional quality event horses with great brains. We still have wonderful TB blood, with the Irish TB industry being simply a phenomenon, consistently producing more high-class steeplechasers than any country in the world. In addition, while France and the USA reduce distances and favour racing over shorter distances, Ireland and particularly the Coolmore Stud instead continue to invest in producing 2,400m – 3,200m (1.5 mile – 2 mile) flat racing horses. Steeplechase breeding remains a huge and important part of the thoroughbred breeding business and together with a thriving point-to- pointing industry makes Ireland the global leader in this area.

With some pony blood also being a valuable asset to sport horse breeding it is relevant to mention that Irish ponies are also a phenomenon, with Irish Junior show jumping riders consistently being the best mounted and most successful in the European championships. In addition the Connemara pony is the most successful pony in the world with large numbers Throughout Europe and North America, and riding across country at speed is still an Irish national passion!

The Traditional Irish Horse Association, working with Horse Sport Ireland, has made significant progress with the official and separate recognition in the registration system of the Traditional Irish Horse (TIH); and with the groundbreaking DNA work of Dr Emmeline Hill are close to being able to identify both the precise origins of the TIH and TIH horses that may not have full documentation.

They also have a development plan that will be implemented for the benefit of the TIH … and hopefully mean the production of more legendary Traditional Irish horses like the nine, out of a total of 13, in the USEA Hall of Fame: The Grasshopper, Plain Sailing, Biko, Kikenny, Custom Made, Irish Cap, Gilt Edge, The Gray Goose, and McKinlaigh.

In addition the Warmlood Studbook of Ireland (WSI), partnered with the KWPN, has a specific strategy for the production of event horses that is already up and running. They have approved three half bred event type stallions, and two years ago approved the German TB eventing stallion Asagao.  They have also approved a number of mares, including Fenyas Elegance (by Ricardo Z out of a Good Thyne TB mare), winner of three 3* competitions at Blenheim, Bramham and Ballindenisk with Ireland’s Aoife Clarke and Britains Ollie Townend, and two approved mares and a stallion from Heraldik’s direct dam line.

WSI Managing Director, Dr Thomas Reed, has consistently been pushing for specific breeding of event horses with sufficient blood. In 2015 he wrote a hard-hitting article in Horse International entitled ‘A Critical Shortage of Blood.’ It is worth quoting three sections from this article:

“We are seeing show jumping and dressage horses that look like ‘blood’ horses but are often ‘faux blood’ horses, and many of these are pointed to eventing when they fail to excel in the sport for which they were bred. But they are ill-suited for the demands of this uncompromising sport at the medium and upper levels.”

“Many horses that have no business competing on a cross-country — I call them ‘faux blood’ horses — are pointed to the sport for commercial reasons. And (as a result) too many riders and horses are perishing or suffering devastating, life-altering injuries on the cross-country without adequate policy responses from the FEI and national equestrian federations.”

“Showjumping and dressage breeders are acting rationally and enhancing their own self-interest by avoiding thoroughbred sires, but they might be harming the population of showjumping and dressage horses – and are definitely harming the population of eventing horses — by diluting the ‘blood’ in the population.”

More than one discipline

Dr Reed also believes in sending his horses to some of the best riders in the world as he understands that good training is the engine of the breeding world. But he actually doesn’t have to look far from Ireland for a clutch of really exciting riders.

The European Gold medal winning show jumping teams at both Junior and Senior level this year emphasize the breadth of talent available in Ireland. Additionally we have more riders than is normal in other countries competing successfully in more than one discipline. Geoff Curran, from the Irish Army Equitation School, is a regular member of our eventing championship teams rider, but loves show jumping and has won a number of big Grand Prix classes this year and was third in the Puissance at Dublin Show. His wide skill set means that if he had the horses he could be one of the most competitive event riders in the world.

We also have extraordinary young talents in Sophie Richards and Cathal Daniels. Sophie was on the Irish Team at Aachen this year but is also an outstanding rider of elite young show jumpers. The same applies to Cathal Daniels, who has been a consistent medalist at Junior and Young Rider European Championship level for the last four years on his brilliant 15.1 mare Rioghan Rua. This spring he also stormed round Badminton on her with real class and they are due to run at Burghley this week. But Cathal is also recognized as an outstanding talent in pure show jumping and was selected as part of a group of elite young jumping riders to go to Wellington on a scholarship.

Australian, Canadian and Swedish multi-discipline stars

Wendy Schaeffer, Sunburst’s hugely talented Australian rider, went on to show jump at a high level including winning World Cup qualifiers, at the same time as continuing her eventing career.  Canadian Jamie Smart also proved that this multi-discipline challenge is possible.

Canadian Jamie Smart also proved that this multi-discipline challenge is possible. He began in show jumping, winning several Grand Prix and the Puissance at the Royal Winter Fair, then moved on to eventing. He was a member of two Canadian Olympic teams in Fontainbleau and Seoul and was a part of Gold and Silver winning Teams in the 1987 and 1991 Pan American Games. He also won the leading Foreign Rider award three times at Rolex, twice on his best known horse the huge hearted Connemara TB cross Sudden Impact, who was famous for his extraordinary extended trot with huge front leg action.

Then just this weekend Sweden’s pin up boy Peder Fredrickson won the European Senior Show Jumping Championships on All In, his Silver medallist at the Rio Olympics, having originally represented his country in eventing at the Barcelona Olympics, placing in the top fifteen. Peder is 6ft 4ins but All In is just 16 hands and 1/2 of an inch. So yet another pocket rocket with a massive heart.

What is right and what is easy

Peder is a great stylist and educated horseman. His continued success at the highest level must delight George Morris who wrote recently that horsemanship must come before dressage and dressage before jumping. However this is not an easy road to follow, but as Dumbledore said “We must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.”

My strong belief is that the road that gives a breadth of training is vital for long lasting success, just as breeding horses with a breadth of abilities is vital for the sport horse industry, and this must include horses of all sizes. But there is also the most vital area of all where breadth is required … all will be revealed in the final article of this series next time!

©William Micklem

Next Time: BREADTH AS WELL AS DEPTH + Lessons from Harry Potter
Part 9 – Key lessons and an Unheralded USA Superhero

William Micklem: Friendship and Bravery and a USA Superhero

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 7: Friendship and Bravery and a USA Superhero. Be sure to read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, Part 6.

A Bold Minstrel painting by Richard Stone Reeves.

Hermione got it totally right in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as she talked about the qualities of a person that were really important. “I’m not as good as you,” said Harry … “Me!” said Hermione. “Books! And cleverness! There are more important things — friendship and bravery …” Without doubt these are two key qualities, shown in abundance by those who have gone into battle for their country, not just by those in a sporting arena but also in war.

Many in Europe have recently been honoring the almost 500,000 who died in the mud at the battle of Passendaele a hundred years ago in the First World War. It was a terrible and largely senseless waste of life and the effects are still being felt today. Huge potential and possibilities were lost in this battle, and in addition who knows how these men may have impacted each of our lives if they had lived. So as we strive hard to do well in our sport it is good to have some perspective.

A sense of perspective

To have a breadth of perspective is a powerful tool for any competitor as they work to handle the successes, failures and varied challenges of their life. Part of this perspective is also appreciating how many people, usually totally unknown, play a part in our progress and achievements.

I was reminded of this by one aspect of the huge response to my recent article about the best event horses of all time. I had left out some heroic horses that had a huge breadth of ability and fully deserved to be in any list of exceptional event horses. There were three in particular: Kim Severson’s Winsome Adante and Rachel Bayliss’s wonderful pair Mystic Minstrel and Gurgle The Greek.

What neither Kim Severson nor Rachel Bayliss knew was that indirectly their successes owed much to my Father, Dick Micklem, or more precisely his collection of Weatherby Thoroughbred stud books, which before the days of electronic communication were a vital aid for breeders. When I was 9 years old a local Cornish baker, Jimmy Snell, came to our home for many evenings over a period of about a month, searching within these books with my Father.

The result of these meetings was the arrival in 1962 of two Hunter Improvement Society (HIS) Thoroughbred stallions at Redruth station. In those days it was still normal to travel horses by train. I had never seem such muscling on horses. Both were magnificent chestnuts, one called Fair Gledhill and the other one I cannot remember or discover. But how well I remember the site of these two striking stallions being ridden through the middle of the town by my brother John, just 13, and my 16-year-old sister Marianne, to our home four miles away.

The reason for this story is that Jimmy Snell went on to stand a number of successful Thoroughbred stallions, including Saunter, the sire of Winsome Adante, and Derrick, the sire of Mystic Minstrel. And it all began with a set of Weatherby’s stud books in our very small sitting room!

The wonderful Winsome Adante

Winsome Adante is the second highest points winner of all time in the USEA and held the title himself for nearly a decade. Brilliantly produced and ridden by Kim Severson, he was an extraordinarily consistent winner at the highest level for six years and a cornerstone for the USA team during this time.

Having won Blenheim CCI3* in 2001, Winsome Adante took the first of his three Rolex CCI4* wins the following year. Then it was team gold and sixth individual at the World Equestrian Games in Spain, and team bronze and individual silver in the Athens Olympics in 2004, followed by another WEG appearance in Aachen, where the team finished fourth, and a classy third at Badminton in 2007.

Winsome Adante was bred in England, by Saunter out of a mare that was barely 15.2. He was 84.5% Thoroughbred, 6% Irish Draught and 9.5% Anglo Arabian. The Arabian genes come from the grandsire of his dam, Carbrooke Surprise, who also sired a little 15.3 that I once worked with and adored called Carbrooke Charles. He first show jumped internationally with Caroline Bradley, before changing to eventing at Junior level. Then when he was 19 he partnered his 19-year-old rider, Sonya Duke, around Badminton in long format days, jumping a wonderful clear show jumping round to finish.

Kim Severson is a wonderful example of someone who leaves no stone unturned in her preparation. She is also a great student, who is skilled at ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ and fitting what she needs into one cohesive whole. As a result she has no obvious weakness in any of the phases. As Jimmy Wofford says, “Kim has incredible feel, and the extremely unusual ability to never repeat a recognized error.”

Rachel the remarkable

Rachel Bayliss was cut from the same mould as Kim. She was originally spotted as a potential international dressage rider and as a result of a scholarship was given help by some of Europe’s best dressage trainers. But her heart was always in eventing and cross country riding and she always proved difficult to beat having inevitably established a solid lead in the dressage.

Rachel is probably most famous for sliding under the trakehner fence at Badminton on Gurgle The Greek in 1973 without fault. They changed the rules after this! It took Rachel two years to get his confidence back with ditches but she persevered and he became a great champion.

Gurgle was a full Thoroughbred who at the beginning used to buck Rachel off with great regularity. He also had an extraordinary gallop and Rachel still has the postcard, from champion steeplechase trainer Fred Winter, asking her when she was going to put Gurgle in training with him as he thought he could make a 2 mile chaser!

Mystic Minstrel was 75% Thoroughbred by Derrick, whose sire Persian Gulf was the very successful sire and half brother of Precipitation, who was the sire of both European super sire Furioso and Irish show jumping legendary sire Prefairy. Derrick’s dam was by My Babu, by Djebel, by Tourbillon — all extraordinary influences on successful sport horse breeding.

As part of the British team Rachel and Mystic Minstrel won gold in the 1982 World Championships in Luhmühlen, and then the following year individual gold at the European Championships. That same year they represented Britain in pure dressage at Prix St George and Intermediare level.

Rachel says that Mystic Minstrel got a few strange looks when her very fit horse worked with the rather rotund dressage horses! Rachel still coaches and is still what she describes as being very purist. “I find it offensive to see horses strapped down in gadgets or doing rolkur.”

The best eventing dressage test I have seen

People talk of dressage standards in eventing rising each year. In general it is true but there are many exceptions, including Mystic Minstrel, who regularly scored over 80%. The best dressage test I have seen in eventing was in 1977 in Aschselschwang, Germany, when a stallion called Habicht, ridden by Martin Plewa, produced an 86% test. Not surprisingly he won the whole event, which was at three-star level. The interest here for USA breeders is that Habicht was the sire of Ingrid Klimke’s prolific winner, the stallion Windfall.

Tim Holekamp made the inspired decision to bring Windfall to the USA, where he was competed so successfully by Darren Chiacchia that he is currently third in the all time USEA points list. He has been a very special addition to the USA breeding world with his outstanding performance and genes.

However, it is important to understand that although registered and approved as a Trakehner stallion, Windfall is in fact 62% Thoroughbred, 12.5% Arab and just 25% Trakehner. So as I pointed out with the German event horses, it is important for breeders to realize that the genetic recipe for each brand of sport horse can vary enormously. Another example would be William Fox-Pitt’s Badminton and Burghley winner Tamarillo, who is often described as Arab, but was actually 58% Thoroughbred.

The superhero known as ‘Fatty’

I have an addition to my list of ‘best of all time’ event horses, and also an apology. The horse I forgot was a champion conformation hunter, eventer and show jumper. He was twice part of the event team that won team gold in Eventing at the Pan American Games and then went on to the Tokyo Olympics, where he was part of the silver medal winning team.

Following that, he became a USET show jumper, competing on many Nations Cup teams, winning team silver in the Pan Games, and finishing 9th individually at the World Championships. He was the totally beautiful horse whose stable name was Fatty, because he did himself well. He was of course the grey legend Bold Minstrel, and he was big (16.3), beautiful, brave, and blessed with huge talent.

Bill Haggard rode Bold Minstrel initially, taking him to two Pan American Games, finishing ninth and fourth individually and winning many conformation hunter championships on the A circuit. While Haggard never had any formal training, he competed at the highest levels of sport. From steeplechasing to show hunters to eventing, Haggard proved himself over and over again as one of the top riders of his time.

They were selected as non-travelling alternates for the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo, but when Mike Plumb’s horse had to be euthanized on the flight to Japan and left the top rider without a mount for the Olympics, a phone call was placed to Mr. Haggard asking for the use of Bold Minstrel.

Although Mr. Haggard had hoped that the team wanted him in addition to his great horse, he generously loaned the team Fatty and flew on the plane with him to Tokyo. Mike Plumb only got to ride Bold Minstrel for two weeks before competing in the Olympics, but their excellent dressage ride, clear round in jumping, and good round on cross-country combined for a 15th place finish individually and a team silver medal.

After the ’64 Olympics, Bill Steinkraus pleaded with Mr. Haggard to let him turn Fatty into a Nations Cup horse. After three years, Mr. Haggard gave in and Steinkraus picked up the ride on Bold Minstrel. Starting in 1967 when he was 15 and continuing until Bold Minstrel was 18 they had huge international success as members of the US show jumping team.

Bold Minstrel even won three classes at Lucerne in 1970 when he was 18-years-old. At the 1967 Pan Am Games, Steinkraus and Bold Minstrel finished ninth individually and were part of the silver medal US team. They were also ninth individually at the World Championships in La Baule in 1970.

The breeding of a superhero

Bold Minstrel was 75% Thoroughbred and bred for the job. By the Thoroughbred stallion Bold and Bad, whose sire Blue Larkspur is in the four generation pedigree of 37 champion jumping horses, he was out of a half-bred hunter mare by the Thoroughbred Royal Minstrel. Royal Minstrel’s sire was Tetratema, the undefeated champion sprinter, whose sire was the extraordinary spotted stallion The Tetrarch, also unbeaten on the racecourse.

The Tetrarch

The Tetrarch was one off the first Thoroughbred horses I was aware of as a child because of the white spots all over him. By a strange coincidence when I first came to Ireland I worked for a time just a mile from where he was born and is buried at Ballylinch Stud in Co. Kilkenny, and as every year goes by I am increasingly aware of his importance in both racing and sport horse breeding.

The Tetrarch and Tetratema’s stallion boxes at Ballylinch Stud in Co. Kilkenny are architectural gems with mosaics of their names on the floor and glazing in the roof so they could see the moon and stars at night, or perhaps see Harry Potter flying by! The Tetrarch was plagued by infertility and only sired 130 foals in his life, but still enough to put him in the list of top four sires three times. He has left a lasting legacy with horses on the racecourse and in eventing.

The Tetrarch was voted the best British-trained 2-year-old of the 20th century according to the National Horseracing Museum in the UK, and in the USA the Thoroughbred Heritage website calls The Tetrarch “probably the greatest two-year-old of all time” and “possibly the greatest runner ever.” In addition his daughter, Mumtaz Mahal, went on to become one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century. 

Friendship and bravery

Bill Steinkraus, who had cherished Bold Minstrel ever since her first saw him as a 5 year old, said, “Bold Minstrel had everything I look for in a jumper — courage, intelligence, a phenomenal jumping mechanism, and scope to spare.” But what does scope to spare mean? My ‘best of all time’ horses all had the scope to jump over 6-foot-6 (2 meters), but Bold Minstrel did better.

By all accounts his most thrilling victory with Bill Steinkraus was the International Puissance indoors at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden in 1967, when he jumped a record equaling height of 7-foot-3 (2.21 meters). Bill Haggard had a bookshelf built in his home to the exact dimensions of the 7-foot-3 wall and placed the trophy on top of it, just to remind himself of Bold Minstrel’s huge ability and bravery.

Harry Potter said, “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other” and jumping a 7-foot-3 Puissance wall must be one of those things, and another must be just completing an international three-day event. So we are back to friendship and bravery again. Great challenges require friendship and bravery, especially in the horse world, and it has to be a two-way street.

As John Ledingham once said to me as a first response when I asked him about his long time Derby and Grand Prix show jumping partner, Kilbaha:“God I loved that horse.”

Next time: BREADTH AS WELL AS DEPTH and Lessons from Harry Potter

Part 8 – The Unheralded USA Superhero and Grit & Simplicity

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.