Peter Atkins and HJ Hampton “Henny” have stormed onto the eventing scene this spring by combining great rides, quality horsemanship, and awesome technology. Henny and Peter have developed a loyal base of fans who love the helmet cam videos–hint hint sponsorship companies. Peter was kind enough to answer a few questions for Eventing Nation. Let’s take a moment to get to know Peter and Henny.
1. Tell us about Henny’s personality.
He is a very complex horse, as are most “special horses”. He came to me quite brain fried from the Hunters and wouldn’t even canter a cross rail happily. He is the bravest XC horse, yet he is scared of anything different on the ground especially the shadows of power lines on the road, changes of color in the grass, even tire tracks after the arena has been dragged! He has a weird tongue fetish, he’ll see you coming, whip his head in little circles until he gets his tongue out the left side and then will ask you to scratch it. Though the thing he loves the most is looking after our son, Owen. Whether he is in a lead line class, or Owen is just holding him, Henny just loves him.
2. Whose idea was the helmet cam?
I asked one of my owners, who doesn’t get to many events, if she would like to see what I see going XC, she said yes and paid for the camera, www.equicamhd.com. I put the first one on youtube for her to see and it started. I was actually quite surprised how cool it looked and how quickly it caught the attention of everyone.
3. How is Eventing different in the US than Australia? Likes and dislikes?
When I was a younger (not sure if I have grown up yet) my father was a MFH and I was on staff from when I was 12 or 13. As well as eventing our family did a lot of show jumping, point to pointing (races for fox hunters over hunt type courses), trained steeple chasers, I rode in a few professional hurdle races and steeplechases. Most riders didn’t just event they rode in multiple disciplines. Here most event riders just event and (in my opinion) try to be too technical and controlling on XC. I see too many people trying to show jump every jump, especially combinations, then going really fast in between. I feel more riders need to get out of the ring and gallop/jump unknown jumps, ie fox hunting, before they start going XC. I learnt to jump the most “unsafe’ jumps in the world, when the hounds headed off in the bush you go where they go, if there is a four strand, 4ft, barbed wire fence in the way you jump it! That is how I learned to be defensive in my body position. I think too many Americans treat XC jumps like stadium jumps, they aren’t, XC jumps don’t fall down.
4. Do you have a good luck charm? Rituals? Superstitions?
Not really. I hate luck. I have had a lot of bad luck in the last few years. I would hate to come off a course and have someone say, “you were lucky to get round”. I prefer no luck, no bad and not needing good luck. I just want to ride well and have fun. Isn’t that why we do this? To have fun! I hate it when people say good luck, how about saying “have a great ride!” I seem to have a knack for finding 4 leaf clovers anywhere they grow but every time I have ever picked one, I’ve had terrible luck. Every time I have given one to a friend/client, they have had terrible luck. I saw a lot of them walking the course at Rolex, I left them all there. I guess the only superstition I have is to never pick 4 leaf clovers!
5. How did you begin Eventing?
I was born into it. My mother was on the Australian long list for the LA Olympics.
6. What are you doing when you’re not at the barn?
Not at the barn? Hmmm, now there’s a concept. I feed the boys every morning and night and ride them in between. When I stopped riding for a few years in ’04 and ’05, I got pretty competitive in IPSC pistol shooting. It is very much the same concept as eventing, various kinds of courses with 6 – 32 targets that have to be shot as quickly and accurately as possible. HUGE adrenaline rush, equal to running around Rolex XC. Unfortunately I only get to shoot 3 or 4 times a year.
7. What is the hardest lesson to learn with horses?
Humility, every time I think I have figured something out, something else comes up. I discovered a long time ago the more I learn about horses, the more I realize how little I really know and much more I have to figure out.
8. I love how verbal you are with your horses on cross-country! Do you find it makes a difference?
YES, I walk out in the morning to feed them and they say Hello, if I don’t say hello back they look unhappy. Henny especially is very verbal, he loves to be talked to. Training all my horses I am always telling them what I want them to do, it seems to work, after a while I just have to think it and they generally are trying to do it.
9. What do you tell your students about communicating verbally with their horse on course?
In all my training I teach my students to verbally “tell” their horses what to do. Just like when you are lunging a horse, if they are connected with you and you say canter they canter. If you are on a horse and set it up so they can do the correct thing, then verbally tell them to do it, they tend to do it. My whole riding philosophy is to figure out how to make it easy for the horse to do what you want him/her to do. If we make it easy for them to do what we want them to do they will make our life really easy. The next step is to figure out how to make them think it is their idea to do what we want them to do.
10. You and Henny now have a huge base of fans from the helmet cam videos. Did you expect such a big reaction when you made the videos?
No, it has been amazing. I had no idea it would take off like this. I am extremely excited at how many people are having so much fun riding with us. Henny is the coolest horse and you can see how much he loves his job by watching his ears. I can’t thank all of our supporters enough.
Thanks Peter and go eventing.