Steph's daughter Annabelle was chief groom in Holland
Steph Croxford and Mr Hyde compete in their first Grand Prix Special in Holland, but disaster strikes on the way home...
"I’ve decided I need to get fit. So I went out for a run on Monday and just about died. The next day I decided I couldn’t be bothered, and went to go out on my bike instead. I discovered I’ve got flat tyres, so I dug out Simon’s, only to have the pedal fall off. I ended up running with the bike the rest of the way home and balancing on one pedal going down hill. I’m paying the price now and am aching all over.
I might just do what the Dutch and Germans do. After a recent trip to Holland to Joosland CDI, I realised the reason they are so thin is they live on espresso coffee, fags and alcohol. Plus they ride about 26 horses a day. So that’s obviously where I’m going wrong - I’m eating!
It was My Hyde’s first trip overseas and he tried his little heart out. If there was a score for effort he would get 11 out of 10. We only had only one small fluff in his first Grand Prix Special and we’d never even practiced it before. Just a shame the judges didn't know what to do with my carthorse, as marks ranged from 62 to 68 percent.
Richard Davison, my trainer, said Mr Hyde’s piaffe and passage is between an eight and a nine, but we got seven.
He didn’t disgrace himself, though as they were marking really hard. Anders Dahl got 65.7% percent and Nikki Crisp got 66.7 percent, so in the scheme of things our score wasn’t too bad.
Also, we had a lovely holiday with great weather – so I can’t grumble. That was always the plan – to have a nice family holiday and take the horse along.
We had a disaster on the way home though, as we broke down on the M25. We arrived at Calais at 2pm on Saturday and our ferry wasn’t until 5.15pm, so we were stuck there for hours waiting for the ferry.
Then, when we hit junction 22 of the M25 I heard a rattling noise in the middle of the wagon. It got steadily worse, and told Simon we have to pull over – NOW!
He pulled over on the hard shoulder to have a look and said he thought it was the rear axle, so decided to stop at the next service station. But when he went to release the hand brake we heard this expulsion of air. The air breaks were stuck on, which meant we couldn’t release the hand brake.
By now it was 9.30pm and we were stranded. There was freight flying past us, causing the whole wagon to shake – thank god the kids were asleep in the back! We rang the NFU and said we wanted transport NOW and luckily it arrived before the mechanic.
The police were brilliant. They shut down both sides of the M25 so we could get Mr Hyde off one wagon and onto another one safely. He looked at me as if to say: ‘On that one now? Really? Oh, alright mum whatever you say’. By this point he was too knackered to argue.
The kids and I got in too, leaving poor Simon to wait for the mechanic. We got back at 2am but Simon didn’t make it home till 8.30am the next day.
Simon said the rear axle has gone, which is where the horse stands – so in hindsight were pretty lucky.
To add insult to injury the recovery wagon they didn’t jack our lorry up high enough so they ended up trashing all four wheels behind! I’ve got Keysoe coming up, so I’m hoping the lorry will be fixed by then – with four new tyres and a new axle.
We’ll be doing the Grand Prix there. I feel more confident with Clyde now as I know it’s within his capabilities. I’m just going to go and do our best and if they like him, then great, but I can make them like him.
It’s the same when I started out with Mr P. The first few times they didn’t know what to do with him. But then as they got used to him they started judging him against his type, rather than against the flashy warmbloods that came in before him.
At least the other competitors like him! It was so nice at the show in Holland the number of people who came over and said 'we love your horse!' They loved how happy he is and how hard he tries for me.
The same, however, can not be said for Clooney. I took him to first his first unaffiliated competition. There were only 15 in it but the first test was 30 minutes late – so by the time I went in I’d ridden him for nearly an hour. Then, when I trotted around outside arena to start, the judge said ‘sorry we’re on a break’.
I’m afraid the dressage diva in me came out! ‘WHAT?!’ I said. ‘On a break! You’re half an hour late and you want a break?!
When they finally called me back in he did his trot work fine, but tried to gallop out of arena when we started canter. I dragged him back in, and he napped to horses standing at the door and went bolt upright!
At least, as Clooney was waving at the judge, we made my point that my youngster had seriously had enough by that time.
Simon said it was time to go home, but I told we were going back in and doing the Elementary – I wasn’t going to finish like that. This time they were 40 minutes late, but at least I managed to keep him inside the arena – just. It was like ski Sunday with him going in and out of the white boards.
I retired before the end of both tests as I really didn’t want to know the score.
So now I’ve realised we have to get him out once a month – it doesn’t matter where. He’s working to Advanced Medium at home, but all that’s immaterial if he can’t stay within white boards!"
Spring is officially here, and it's time for scurry driver Chris Orchard to get her ponies ready for the season ahead...
Spring has finally sprung at the home of The Orchard Scurry team, and the daffodils are in full bloom; naughty Dylan (Rough from "Rough & Tumble") decided to wedge his head through the fence & give them a good sniff - they smell nice, but it's a good thing they don't taste so nice!
It's time now to start thinking about the Scurry season ahead, the first event is at Southsea on the first bank holliday in May then on to the first HOYS qualifier at the end of May at Surrey County, after which the schedule picks up and the qualifiers come up thick and fast through the summer months.
Getting the ponies back in harness after their winter rest is easier now that the clocks have changed so a quick whizz round the block before tea time is a good option at last. The less fun part of the preparations is getting rid of all that winter mud!
With my team of grey ponies I find the only way to get a good clip is to bath the ponies first, then leave them overnight in a heap of coolers and rugs, then clip them the next morning when they're warm and dry. I try to check the weather forecast to get a nice bright day to clip, but it's all a bit fingers crossed at this time of year. I usually go for a full clip but sometimes leave the legs on if the weather doesn't look so promising and do the rest in a few weeks' time.
So with preparations well under way and the physio for my previous leg injury and arm surgery on track, all I can say is look out 2015 Scurry Season, here we come!"
It's not just me on my own - I've got the lovely Rosie for company
H&C's web editor Victoria is going solo to her first horse trials of the season...
"Things were easier when I was young. My Mum would drive me and my pony wherever we needed to go – summer shows, Pony Club rallies, treasure hunts, gymkhana games. Later, when I got more into dressage, she’d trail me further afield, to larger shows, bigger venues.
I’d sit in the passenger seat en route to these competitions, reading a book, listening to the radio, learning my tests, and Mum did the driving. When we got there, she was in charge of checking the time, brushing boot removing, test calling and playing amateur sports psychologist. I just did the riding – that was the easy part.
Roll on a few (okay, rather a lot) of years, when I’ve moved from Scotland to Surrey. My mum, chief driver, entries secretary and all round organiser, now lives 400 miles away. For a while I was living and working in central London, and I barely rode at all. That all changed in 2009 when I got a new horse, and six months later a little horsebox followed. It was small and unglamorous, but it got me from A-Z. And suddenly, when it came to competing, I was in charge.
To begin with, I wouldn’t dream of going to shows on my own, and always had to find someone to come with me, and preferably do all the driving. Eventually, some months later, I felt brave enough to go to a lesson on my own. But it was stressful - forget riding nerves, I’d get in a total state about simply getting myself and my horse to the right place at the required time, with all our belongings.
I wasn't confident about tying my gelding outside the lorry, after a horse once cantered past him and he pulled back and took himself off for a tour of the dressage arenas. Because of this, I had to create complicated systems to ensure I could get tacked up, unloaded, then on to the horse, and later back off the horse and on to the lorry, with the ramps, partitions and all our equipment in the right place. I found I had to get used to doing things in a strict order, instead of my former aimless manner.
A lesson was just about all I could cope with – there was no way I’d go competing without someone to lend a hand.
Later, after the gelding went off to a new home, my young mare, Rosie (another chestnut ex-racer - it's all I've had for the best part of two decades) started going to shows. She did tie up outside the lorry, so I plucked up the courage to go to a dressage competition on my own. I couldn’t do several tests in long arenas, like I once used to, because I didn’t have a hope of remembering them and I couldn’t guarantee I'd find a willing caller. But I realised I could handle the act of arriving, getting ready, getting on and then loading at the end. I found it wasn’t that different to a lesson.
Then came the first solo combined training competition. My partner works every Saturday and isn’t always willing to give up his Sundays to trail round after me (disgraceful, I know) so I had the choice – be brave, go it alone, or miss out on lots of shows. And I did it! We coped with the dressage, I was able to change tack and get back on for the showjumping, I managed to track down my H&C colleague Jenny Rudall to help me with the practice fences before I went in, and I survived. Hey, I even enjoyed it.
So the point I’m trying to make in this blog? This Saturday, I’m going eventing, and I’m going alone. I’ve made it through combined training, and it’s just one more phase, right? My partner is working, the girls at the same yard as me are off elsewhere, and my horsey friends all have their own equines to ride and compete. Nor do I want to attempt to persuade my non-horsey friends that getting up an at ungodly hour and spending a day in a field is a fun thing to do; and my fellow equestrian journalists already spend their weekends at big events, and hardly want to spend their days off watching me coax my six-year-old round 80cm.
Yes, it's nice to have someone there to chat to, to have a coffee with, to discuss plans or dissect performance, to hold the horse, help navigate and to pass you things from the horsebox once you're on board. But there are some benefits to going alone. I can leave when I like, I can go home as soon as I’m ready. I don’t have to cope with the logistics of having more than my horse to get on and off the lorry. I can go to shows and events that suit me, instead of relying on when other people are free. I can just load my mare on my little lorry and off we go, whenever and wherever we want.
I've met lots of horse owners who are happy to compete on their own, who don't have a big entourage to support them, and I tell myself - if they can do it, so can I. Sometimes I'm lucky and will have someone to come with me to help, but if I don't want to miss out on all the other times, I just have to crack on with it.
I once said I’d never go to a show on my own, and this weekend I’m going eventing. Wish me luck."
What a busy time our blogger Louise Bell has been having - with her first international dressage competition...
Life has been a whirlwind for the past few months, what with training others and being trained myself! My goal and dream of doing my first ever overseas international CDI has been my focus for the past few months and it's finally happened. And did it ever!
I travelled to Barcelona with my young horse Into The Blue, in convoy with my great friend and trainer Michael Eilberg and his family. It was my first time for a lot of things. Driving on to the boat, driving on the wrong side of the road and riding in a different country, representing Great Britain. I can honestly say I loved every single minute - forget 'staycation', it's all about the SHOW-CATION!
I'm pretty sure Geri Eilberg (Michael's mum) and I could be on Masterchef! Each night we cooked up deliciousness that was totally needed, after long days with seven horses in total to organise. Helen and Jo were our fabulous grooms and we did all the riding and hand walking and general duties. Long days, yes, but totally brilliant. The Barcelona dressage tour is run by Topiberian and the great Collins family with Victoria Krausse, and I have never been so welcomed and looked after before, so great credit to them. The horses all travelled well and with our great grooms Jo Jo Marshall and Helen Babington Smith they wanted for nothing.
Michael and Maria dominated the arenas in fine style and I didn't let the side down, even though I am a newbie at this game. I held my own even if my horse let the whole experience go to his head and decided to show the judges how expressive his flying changes could be! He did a lot of squealing in the twos and I found it hard to keep a straight face, but we powered on through. We had three top ten placings, finishing fourth in the CDI4* Inter I - on the same marks as the winner but the collective marks were counted and my changes need to be calmer.
I think with all the attention he was getting out there for being such a character and his unusual colouring made him feel a million dollars but made riding him a little tricky. He will teach me patience that's for sure but what a star of a horse. What an honour it was to go and be a part of something I love doing and hope to get better and better at. My reigning national Working Hunter Champion is now officially an INTERNATIONAL dressage horse! So proud of him. I had to work my butt of to get there but I tell you now nothing is more rewarding!
As soon as I got home it was back to the grind. I had three full day clinics to teach and lunches to make and unfortunately the weather did not help but had a great fun day at my place. My clients had a day of learning and getting ready for the show season ahead but what was great was really getting to know everyone over lunch and everyone enjoying themselves. Horses too! Major thanks to Lizzie Drury from Saracen Horse Feeds, Sam Forrest, Zebra Products, Amerigo, Veredus Products for their goodie bags for clients and making this day a real treat for everyone. We've had great results already from my pupils, one of whom has already qualified for HOYS on their first attempt.
I have been doing a lot with retraining racehorses over the winter months, and I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing both horses and riders changing and improving. I have also been getting my young horses ready for the show and dressage season and cannot wait to get going, although I may be a late starter this season. I'm looking forward to bringing out my lovely Blue Hors Zack youngster into the show ring. He's a jumper too, so why not let him see the world in a few working hunter classes before he starts his dressage career later on in the season. He is a beautiful, beautiful horse and I hope I can do him justice. I'm also hoping that later this year my great 'W Get Smart' will proceed up the levels too. Working on the Grand Prix movements after his winter holiday is our next goal.
It's been a crazy winter and this spring weather is a real treat. Hunters are out early on their hols and the competition horses are enjoying their afternoon sun bathing. Happy horses, and I'm exhausted!"
Jenny jumping Finn at home - no starting with the cross-pole classes for them.
Read Jenny’s latest blog, which is all about finding the right horse for you…
"How do you know when a horse is the right one for you? Can you find the perfect horse when you have a strict budget and an ever-growing list of desirable equine qualities? How many parents have faced the mammoth task of tracking down the perfect pony for their horse-mad child?
And when you've done your searching, your viewings, your travelling around the country in search of your perfect partner, and you finally get your new purchase home - and the quiet, 100% no vices, dream ride suddenly becomes spooky, refuses at fences and dumps you in a heap before kicking up their heels and refusing to be caught - what then?
Is it the job of the seller to be more completely honest with you when you come to try their horse? I would like to say yes, but let's be realistic, no one is going to write in an advert '99.9% perfect except throws in an occasional buck or two.'
Also, it's easy to blame the horse, or the seller, but some times we must take a hard look at ourselves.
For example, say you've bought a horse from a professional. It went like a dream for both them and you when you went to try him or her; and then when it arrives things start going wrong. Could it be because the horse is used to being ridden by someone very skilled and experienced? It the horse confused by your different approach, or does he spot weaknesses in your ridding and take advantage?
Also, what is this obsession people have with buying youngsters? Why oh why, if you are still a relative novice yourself, would it be a good idea to take on a horse so early on in its career?
I have been backing and starting horses for years but when I bought my first horse just a few months ago – you may wish to read my blog about him – I bought an eight-year-old. And oh, the joy of owning an older horse. No starting off in the cross-pole classes, no loading practice, and no worries about doing basic tasks like grooming or clipping.
When I go into a dressage test, my main goal is not just to stay within the boards but to produce the best test we can; and when we're done competing he will happily munch on his hay in the lorry without any fear of him kicking the box to bits. If he has more than two days off I don’t fear for my life the next time I ride, and we can hack for hours on our own with no danger of a complete meltdown. It's bliss.
I appreciate that not all horses get better behaved with age, but generally they will settle as they get older. Not only do they become better behaved but they also become more confident with the rider. A younger horse needs you to be on your A-game all the time and that takes a lot of skill and patience.
I go back to my favourite saying: it is meant to be fun. When looking for your perfect partner a cob can be just as much fun and talented at the grassroots levels as a flashy warmblood. The worst thing you can do is end up buying a horse that's too much for you, so you end up losing your confidence.
Yes, some four- and five-year-olds are quiet and never put a foot wrong, but that can change if you have not got the ability and skill to produce them correctly.
Buying and selling horses will always be a minefield. My advice is to recognise your own riding ability and level of experience, take your time to get the right match, and seek expert help if you need it, both during the buying process and then to help you develop a partnership with your new horse.
Most importantly, find a horse that fits your needs. For many, buying a youngster is the most rewarding challenge of all - but for others, a major challenge isn’t necessarily a good thing."
We're delighted to announce that horse trainer Emma Massingale has joined our team of bloggers. Read her first update to find out about her amazing new challenge in Ireland...
"Hey everyone, it’s super exciting to be blogging for Horse & Country TV!
For those of you that don’t know me, in a nutshell my life is simple, I love adventure, having fun and working with and training these amazing four-legged animals (horses, of course!) I am completely self-taught, from the first horse I ever backed right up to today, some 17 years later! I'd like to say I am most definitely not a part of any weird cults! For example, I shoe my horses that need shoes and don’t shoe the ones that don’t.
It seems such a long time ago, that first horse I backed, I had persuaded this lovely old lady to let me start her horse. I clearly remember getting on him in the field (we didn’t have any arenas then) and I sat there and thought 'Wow, this is awesome’. The adrenaline rush was totally exhilarating - even though I was yet to actually move! There lay the issue, this kind chap had let me climb on (to be honest by this point he was probably thrilled I had stopped faffing about and just got on with it!) I sat there for a few minutes (might have only been 30secs but at 16 years old that felt like a long time!) before I realised I didn’t actually know how to get him to move or understand what I wanted him to do… That was it for me, those jigsaw puzzles that are there for the solving, and from that very moment onwards I realised my total love and fascination for working out how to train horses.
There aren’t any prizes for training horses, you have to just love it, love everything about it. I dabbled with the competition world for a while but to be completely honest, at the moment, it’s not for me. Maybe that will change in the future... Who knows!
Working with horses at Liberty (meaning the horse is completely free with no saddle, bridle or headcollar) has been a big part of my life over the past few years, it fascinates me that you can teach a horse something and then they are so clever that they can do it completely on their own with alarming ease! I made this promise to myself and to all the horses that I have had or have in my life to always try to improve, there is always a better way - it’s just a case of wanting to find it.
Around 18 months ago I brought my Connemara Liberty team, a group of five (now seven) pure-bred Connemaras, with this goal in mind. I want to understand how to be better with horses, not just my Liberty horses, but every horse I have in for training. Starting the Connemaras from scratch taught me a lot, I managed to learn from the mistakes I've made over the years, and now I am so proud of what the team have achieved in just a year and a half.
Whenever I’m doing a demo or filming a commercial I still smile every time I see my team do something cool and think - how on earth do you know that? It would be easy to get complacent; the horses are all going really well, life is great, however there is still so much more to learn and understand.
After buying the Connemara team I became friends on social media with some guys in Connemara. It is impossible not to feel totally inspired by Connemara National Park - it really is one of the world’s most beautiful places. I came up with an idea that means I get to combine my love for adventure with this drive and determination to be better with horses. In June, I am going to spend one month on a 70 acre island off the coast of Connemara. I am going to take four of my Liberty team ponies back with me and also I am going to purchase two more to take to the island with me. The goal is to start these two new Connemaras completely at Liberty, while surviving on the island.
I am taking just rice, flour and cous cous with me to eat and shall go fishing for the rest of my diet! I have no idea if I can actually achieve this; the romantic part in my head says 'oh yes, how lovely it will be' but the reality of having two completely unhandled ponies in a 70 acre island and to be able to back them seems quite a large challenge... I currently ride my team reinless all the time, but the big difference is I started them all, even if it was just for two or three rides, with a bridle and in an enclosure, either an arena or round pen.
I don’t think you would take on this kind of challenge if you weren’t prepared to fail, however as life is a pretty short one time offer I am super excited to have a go and for sure I shall enjoy the challenge!"
H&C's web editor Victoria shares her reflections following the Crabbie's Grand National - a race that always attracts some criticism...
"The Crabbie’s Grand National is a race like no other – and a race that splits opinion like no other. The Aintree spectacle is watched by millions (600 million worldwide, according to estimates), a sporting event that enthrals the nation, an annual occasion that has been part of British sporting history since 1839.
But it’s a race that also attracts fierce criticism, both outwith and within the horse world. Often, it has to be said, the loudest critics are those who pay little attention to racing any other day of the year, apart from the Cheltenham Gold Cup perhaps, another race that dominates the media headlines and therefore comes under similar criticism.
Personally, I like watching all equestrian sports, including racing, but I’m fully aware that not everyone does. My views are along the same sort of lines as those of respected charities like World Horse Welfare, which promotes the ‘responsible use of horses in sport’ and seeks to constantly improve welfare standards throughout the equine industry. I don’t want to see any horses injured or killed in ANY sport, including racing, but I also accept you can’t eradicate risk completely. Horses die every day, out in fields and stables, on hacks, at local shows and at major international events - sad, but true nonetheless.
There are people who think recent safety changes made in racing are dumbing down the sport. At the other end of the scale, there are those who think any sort of horse riding is cruel and humiliating, and that horses should be allowed to roam wild. Everyone has their view point, so where do you draw the line? Ban the Grand National? Jump racing in general? Point-to-pointing? All Flat racing? Eventing? Polo? Showjumping? Endurance? Dressage? Showing? Schooling? Hacking? All horse sports contain some degree of risk, so at what point do you decide whether an equestrian activity is ethically acceptable or not?
What’s so different about the Grand National?
The Grand National is 4miles and 3½ furlongs long, with a total of 30 jumping efforts. The fences are different to traditional birch steeplechase fences – they are bigger, and consist of a plastic core topped with layers of spruce. But it is not the only long distance race in Britain. For example, this weekend's Coral Scottish National and the Midlands Grand National, held in March, are both over 4 miles long. Nor is it the only time the Grand National fences are used in racing. At Aintree’s April meeting, horses in the Topham and Fox Hunters chase will jump over the exact same fences. But with a maximum of 40 runners, it’s the biggest race in the country in terms of field size.
Is it dangerous?
Any horse activity involving galloping and jumping at speed contains a degree of risk, and there have been a number of fatalities in the race in its history. Two horses died in 2011, which led to a number of safety changes being made to improve safety. In 2012, a further two horses died – but one was fatally injured while running loose, and another was brought down, making both accidents very difficult to prevent or predict. The following year, ahead of the 2013 race, a number of other safety changes were made, including moving the start of the race and modifying a number of fences. Since then, in the past three runnings of the Grand National, no horses have been killed in the race. Of course that’s no guarantee there won’t be another fatality in future, but it’s a clear sign that things are moving in the right direction.
What sort of horses take part in the race?
High quality staying chasers, and by that I mean steeplechasers that are used to running over longer distances. They have to be at least seven years old, and have a minimum rating of 120. How do they get this rating? By their past performance in a number of other races. The Grand National is a handicap, which means that the best rated horses carry more weight than the lower rated horses to give the latter a better chance of winning. So by the time the horses reach the Grand National start line, they will have several years of experience of jump racing under their belt. There were 98 entries for this year’s race, of which less than half were allowed to race. This is based on the ratings, meaning only the best of those horses get to line up for the race.
Think of four-star eventing. All of these horses have started at the lower levels and shown the ability to move up the grades in order to gain enough points to compete at the major events. It’s the same with racing.
Why do the horses have to gallop and jump for so long?
Compare racing to athletics. Usain Bolt runs over 100m and 200m – in racing terms he's more like a Flat sprinter, who runs over five furlongs; Grand National runners are more like long distance runner Mo Farah. These latter horses are able to stay long distances, ie they’re blessed with stamina and staying power ahead of pure speed. Obviously, a horse racing in a 2m steeplechase will go faster than one in the 4m+ Grand National, while a horse in a Flat sprint race will be going much faster still. It's horses for courses. In horse sport, for example, a warmblood could go on to excel at dressage, showjumping or eventing – different horses have different skills, strengths and abilities, and the same applies in racing. Grand National horses are asked to gallop over long distances and jump big fences because that's what they're good at.
Why are the horses ‘forced’ to do it?
One of the comments I’ve seen a lot in a few days is that horses don’t have a choice to race. But the concept of ‘choice’ when it comes to horses is incredibly tricky, and could be the subject of many a thesis. Given the choice, my ex-racehorse would probably opt to spend her days doing nothing but eating, sleeping and roaming around the field. Unfortunately, I come along and ‘force’ her to do dressage, jumping, a little low level eventing, hacking and schooling. Would she rather just go out for a straightforward gallop instead, as she did in her racing career? Quite possibly, but how can we truly know?
Some of the best horses in the world in dressage and showjumping, for example, may not love their jobs and choose to do them if they had the ability to make decisions. Even those horses going out for a nice leisurely hack around the countryside may not see you approaching with a saddle and bridle and think, hurrah, exercise! Then there’s other horses who love work, who neigh with delight at the sight of you appearing with your grooming kit and riding hat, who kick their stable doors if they think they might not get taken on the horse box to go to a competition.
In eventing, some horses will shoot off out of the cross-country start box the minute you allow them to; others maybe need a nudge or two with your legs to make them move. Do these horses have a choice of whether to go? Incidentally, I’ve been to hundreds of horse trials and I see no difference in the way a horse generally looks at the start of the cross-country, to the way they look at a start of a race. Both sets of horses tend to be on their toes, ears pricked, alert. They’ve done this before, they know their job, and they’re raring to go. Of course, in a race, there’s the aspect of ‘herd instinct’, when horses will gallop with the others because that’s what comes naturally to them. But then some racehorses become wily – think of Mad Moose, for example – and decide they don’t want to go with the others, and will plant at the start. And it is very hard to persuade a racehorse to race if he really doesn’t want to.
Why do they whip them?
In racing, as in many other equestrian sports, the riders carry whips. The difference is the design – modern racing whips have a long, soft, foam pad, that is designed to make a loud thwack but not cause pain. Not only that, a jockey must adhere to strict rules about use of the whip, including how many times they can hit the horse. Often, when you see the jockey waving the whip, it’s not actually coming into any contact with the horse.
So why do they need to use a whip at all? Well, that could form a whole other lengthy blog. The jockeys ride with short stirrups and can’t use their legs to the same extent as other riders. The whip is used as a back-up aid when jumping. It helps to keep the horses straight so they don’t drift left or right, which could potentially cause accidents. And some horses are more naturally competitive than others. It may not sit comfortably with everyone, but the whip encourages the horse to keep trying, to stay on instead of dropping back, to go for the chance of victory. Again, in this regard, racing is no different to any other top equine sport.
It’s all about the money, isn’t it?
The say there’s one way to become a millionaire in horseracing, and that’s to start with several million in the first place. In jump racing in particular, a tiny, tiny portion of participants are making a significant profit – for many, it is just a very expensive hobby. The Crabbie's Grand National comes with a £1m prize pot, but this is very rare in the sport.
The Grand National is also one of the most gambled upon races in the world, with millions of pounds placed on the race in the UK alone. And yes, many of these ‘casual punters’ who put some money on the race might not care much for the horses involved and might be more interested in their winnings than anything else. But on the other side of the coin, a proportion of money taken by UK bookmakers on horseracing is paid to the Horserace Betting Levy Board. The Levy Board then takes this money and spends it on things like prizemoney, improving racing, research and development. In the past 15 years, a total of £27million has been spent on veterinary research, helping to benefit not just Thoroughbreds but all breeds of horse in Great Britain.
What happens to racehorses after they retire?
Some will go on to second careers, some might go abroad, some go point-to-pointing (amateur racing), some are retired to pasture or will go to stud, and the whereabouts of some racehorses are unknown. Sadly, a proportion of ex-racehorses will go to slaughter or end up in the wrong hands. But this is the case across the whole horse world, and is more prevalent in the thousands of low value indiscriminately bred horses and ponies up and down the country. After the credit crunch in 2008, the racing authorities took steps to reduce the number of Thoroughbreds foals being born, to prevent an oversupply of racehorses. Sadly no such restrictions on breeding exist outwith the racing industry.
In 2000, the charity Retraining of Racehorses was set up to encourage people to rehome ex-racers. There are now more than 10,000 horses registered as being in second careers, in anything from eventing to polo, showing to endurance and nearly every other horse sport in between. Owning and competing a racehorse is now a common and popular option for horse owners, and the opportunities for such horses are growing all the time.
People in racing don’t care about the horses
Would anyone really want to dedicate their lives to racing and horses if they didn’t care at all? A trainer might have a yard full of horses, and a jockey may ride multiple different horses per day, so the likelihood is they can’t develop a deep loving affection for every single one, or have the sort of bond that a one-horse owner might aim for, but that isn’t to say they don’t care. And those stable lads and lasses who look after the horses on a daily basis, who feed them and muck them out, who take them to the races, who lead them in the paddock, who get to know their characters - to suggest they don’t care about the horses would be deeply unfair and inaccurate.
What about this year’s Grand National meeting?
Balthazar King took a heavy fall in this year’s Grand National and is being treated for suspected broken ribs. These require time to heal, but he should make a full recovery. The winner, Many Clouds, looked a very tired horse after the finish line. But he had run a long distance on a warm day, he set a very fast time, and he carried the second-heaviest weight of the day. Within minutes of being taken to the quiet, covered cooling down area he looked brighter, and an hour or so after the race he was towing his handlers round the racecourse, looking full of energy.
However, promising novice hurdler Seedling did have a fatal injury in the first race on Saturday, while the decision was made to put down the popular chaser Balder Succes on Sunday after he was injured during a race two days previously.
So what more can be done to reduce occurences like these? The overall fatality rate in racing has dropped by one-third within the past 20 years. The industry is incredibly thoroughly regulated. Racehorses are among the very best looked-after horses in the country. On course fatalities are meticulously recorded, trends noted, and jumps altered. At Aintree, the recent changes are definitely helping. Jockeys are being encouraged to pull up if their mount has no chance; loose horses are channelled away from the other runners into pens so they can be easily caught; and the immediate after-care of the horses has been radically improved.
It would be a wonderful thing if the people and animals we know and love could be guaranteed a long and happy life, dying peacefully of old age, but this is an impossible dream. All we can do, in racing as in all equestrian sport, is to aim to keep improving and evolving, to strive to reduce risk and to continually monitor the sport, in order to pay back the extraordinary debt we owe to these brave and wonderful horses."
International showjumper Yazmin Pinchen has just returned after seven weeks of competing internationally with rather a lot of horses and dogs...
I am finally home after a long seven weeks away competing!
We started our trip in Vejer for the Spanish Sunshine Tour, bringing with us a total of 10 horses and two dogs! I drove my car down with my mum, it was 1,400 miles altogether and it took us two and a half days. But it was a fun drive, Mum and I saw some lovely places and stopped at a beautiful beach in Biarittz one evening and gave the dogs a run.
When we finally arrived at the huge showground, the sun was shining and there was so many familiar faces. We had fantastic permanent stables with a tack room and feed room. My grooms were happy and so were the horses.
The villa where I was staying was beautiful, right on the beach and just a short drive to the show. I went to ride all the horses and get to know my way around the show. There was eleven different arenas to jump in, some grass and some sand, which is fantastic for the horses. The horses never got bored as they were forever jumping in different rings. The young horses jumped during the week while the older ones jumped over the weekend.
I couldn’t complain one bit about the show, all the horses went incredibly well. The course builders started us off with straightforward tracks, which was perfect for the younger horses and also those jumping for the first time this year on grass. Later came more technical tracks for the Grand Prix horses, and the time allowed became stiffer each week. I was having plenty of clears and places in classes, but it wasn’t till the third week when I got really into it. I came second in the big Grand Prix with Van de Vivaldi. I was absolutely delighted, there were only five clears and two double clears, which were myself and Janika Sprunger. I actually had two time faults in the jump off but I was second to last to go so I had to secure a place by going clear. It was a great line up with four girls in the top places.
On the final week the weather had turned really nasty, we had so much rain suddenly and all the arenas started to flood. The show did everything they could do maintain the arenas but the rain was defeating us. By the Sunday it was outrageous, the main arena was soaked and all the sand arenas had flooded. We had the final Grand Prix with big money that day so everyone was determined to jump. Luckily the show had great course designers and team management to organize the class to continue. Unfortunatly they did have to make the track slightly easier and less technical due to weather conditions, which did mean more clears, but it still provided a good class. I came fifth on Ashkari, we had the second quickest time but I had the last fence down. It was such a shame but I had such a good show I couldn’t complain. I will definitely go back there next year, my young horses came on so much there and my rider Alice Emsley gained a lot of ring experience ready to start her season off.
From Vejer we decided to go to Vilamoura in Portugal for the final two weeks, they had plenty of ranking classes and good weather. By the time we got there the horses were not as fresh as they had been on the last day in Spain! It was probably not our best last minute plan, the show was a nice place but the facilities didn’t quite meet up to the Spanish Sunshine Tour. I found the classes too small and built only for speed horses, which didn’t suit me at all. Having said that, the actual place was lovely, there was a beautiful marina with so many restaurants and bars.
I am back at home now, my horses arrive tomorrow and they will have a good three weeks off in the fields and then do some hacking before we start back at one of my favourite shows, Royal Windsor. This show has been upgraded to a 4* and I absolutely love competing there.
From there I will do some shows in France and hope to take more young horses. I hope everyone has been having many successes wherever you have been competing - hopefully see lots of you at Windsor."
H&C's web editor Victoria reflects on the latest Global Champions Tour leg in glamorous Miami Beach...
"You've got to take your hat off to the organisers of the Longines Global Champions Tour. The series, which was launched in 2006, has grown quickly and now features 15 events across 13 countries. The locations are always stunning, with beautiful backdrops forming the setting for some seriously top class showjumping.
The latest leg to be added to the schedule was on Miami Beach. As in, actually on the beach, with the sea just metres away from the arena. In terms of Global Champions Tour essentials, it ticked all the boxes - scenic surroundings, a glamorous city location, attractive to VIP visitors - but the Miami leg did much more than that.
Anyone who loves horse sport will know that our big events are among the best attended of any in the country. Think of Badminton and Burghley; Hickstead, Olympia and HOYS, all of which attract thousands of spectators each year. But how many of these visitors are total newcomers to the sport? Equestrian fans are a loyal tribe, we follow our sport, we attend our top events - but do we do enough to attract new fans to join us?
The Olympics certainly helped on this front. Demand for tickets - any sort of tickets - was so high, and the buying process so random, that plenty of people ended up with equestrian tickets that probably wouldn't have put horse sport at the top of their wish list. But it gave people a chance to see our best horses and riders in action, it took horse sport to the centre of our capital city, and it got people talking (the gold medals helped, of course). For once equestrianism wasn't on the periphery, for die-hard fans only, an exclusive club that outsiders couldn't begin to understand.
And that's what was so brilliant about the GCT in Miami. Imagine strolling down to the beach to spend the day on a sun lounger, and finding the world number one Scott Brash jumping his horse a few metres away! You could literally see right into the arena from the beach. Not only that, entry to the first three days of the new event was free, on a first-come first-served basis. How brilliant to give those with a passing interest the incentive to watch our sport. To give non-horsey people the chance to see those superb equine athletes up close.
Sadly, I wasn't in Miami - which was particularly galling considering my countryman Scott Brash did so well, with his compatriot Andy Murray playing in the Miami Open tennis final the same weekend. But I've visited there a couple of times and I think it's a fantastic location for showjumping, and another great addition to the GCT calendar.
At least I got to enjoy seeing all the amazing photos from the event (see our gallery below) and I can't wait to watch highlights this Saturday at 9pm on H&C (Sky 253 and via H&C Play, if you want to join me in watching). Sun, sea and showjumping - simply superb for our sport."
Rosie (far right) looking like she's standing still for a moment. Looks can be deceiving though. Image courtesy of Lynn Russell's team.
H&C's web editor Victoria has an educational trip to a showing Masterclass for retrained racehorses...
"Everyone thinks their own horse is beautiful, right? I'm convinced my mare Rosie is just about the prettiest equine to have ever graced this planet – it’s a horse owner’s prerogative. Yes, she’s a big, gangly youngster, she has no spatial awareness, her brakes leave a lot to be desired and she does a wonderful impression of a giraffe at times (usually in the middle of a dressage test). But for sheer angelic-faced prettiness, she’s right up there with the best of them.
In the 18 months I’ve had her, since she came out of training as a Flat racehorse, I’ve occasionally considered taking her to do a showing class so I can have my theory about her prettiness confirmed. Then I quickly come to my senses, usually when I remember the aforementioned points about no brakes and giraffe impressions.
But when I saw the Retraining of Racehorses charity was organising a showing clinic with top producer Lynn Russell on Saturday, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to discover whether she was the equine equivalent of Miss World without endangering myself or everyone around me at an actual horse show.
At this point I’ll add that Rosie is rising six and has done a couple of BE80s and a fair bit of unaffiliated dressage. She shows some promise on the flat (occasional safari animal impressions aside) and she adores jumping. But I did showing as a kid and I think it’s a great education for a horse, not to mention a litmus test for an ex-racehorse. No matter how quiet and sensible they are, some horses will find the whole idea of cantering round an open grass ring with a dozen others far too exciting for words, not to mention the ‘having to stand still in a line-up’ part, coping with crowds and banners and loudspeakers, and so on.
The Masterclass started with an assessment on conformation, trimming and turnout. What struck me straight away was the sheer variety of horses. All of them were Thoroughbred, all had raced - with varying success - but they were all such different shapes and sizes, from the tall, rangy ex-chaser to the compact, chunky little Flat horse, and everything in between. Pretty ones, plainer ones, ones that needed condition, ones that needed the opposite.
We each had to bring out our horses in turn and present them in front of Lynn and the group, then walk and trot up our horses in hand to look at straightness and the activity of the pace. Finally it was my turn to bring my horse forward. “This is Rosie-who-doesn’t-stand-still,” I introduced, as my mare proceeded to fidget and barge instead of standing quietly. Lesson one – some more manners in-hand required.
The feedback was generally good, aside from that she was weaker behind than in front – unsurprising considering she hasn't stopped growing since I got her and now towers over 17hh – and needed to fill out a bit.
As well as assessing the group’s horses, Lynn also showed us a couple of her own winning retrained racehorses. Many of hers come from Ascot sales, and she was quick to point out that she doesn’t go there looking for an ex-racehorse that might show, but for a show horse that happens to be an ex-racehorse. There are loads of different showing series and classes for ex-racers, catering for differing levels, but at the major championships - the Tattersalls/RoR final at Hickstead and the SEIB championship at HOYS - only high quality horses qualify, and many of those are doing well in other classes such as hunters, hacks and riding horses as well as the retrained racehorse classes.
Our group then split into two and the first half rode, so the others could try our hand at judging. We were told what to look for – the quality and activity of the walk, trot and canter, the balance and the overall picture. Even so, the group was divided, with half preferring a bay and the other half opting for the chestnut. This judging lark isn’t as easy as it looks.
Then it was my turn, and after I eventually struggled into my long-forgotten showing gear and tacked up Rosie-who-doesn’t-stand still, and headed down to the arena. And then it started. Four horses in a big open arena = meltdown for Rosie. She drifted, she didn’t listen to my aids, she wanted to stop dead and stare at her surroundings. She wouldn’t go forward or when she did, it was rushed and unsettled. As always, the worse she went, the worse I rode, and vice versa. Cringe.
Eventually she started to settle. “Now this one is starting to look like she knows what she’s doing,” said Lynn to the group, referring to Rosie (or perhaps to me). We moved off into canter, where I just about managed to retain control for a couple of circuits. Whoever says showing was ‘easy’ should try controlling a fit Thoroughbred with attention-deficit problems during a mock go-round.
Somehow, amid all this excitement, Rosie managed to give the impression of having the best canter in her little group – result. Then we were lined up in order, and the mare-who-doesn’t-stand-still lived up to her new nickname. Fidget, fidget, paw, spin, for 20min, while the other four horses stood quietly and looked nonplussed by her antics.
The individual show didn’t get any better and we were moved to the bottom of the line-up in our mock class. It just goes to show, however pretty your horse or however nice it can move when it wants to, it doesn’t much matter in showing if your behaviour leaves a lot to be desired.
Saturday was a sharp reminder that showing is all about appearing effortless while actually requiring a huge amount of skill. It is about harmony, balance, seamless transitions, of doing a lot while appearing to do very little. It’s about having a horse with manners, movement, charisma and good conformation – not necessarily perfect conformation, but the best of all the other horses on that day. It is about having the entire package.
There are dozens of career options open to ex-racehorses, and it's a case of finding the right one for you and your horse. Some Thoroughbreds might take to showing instantly, others will take time. For Rosie and I, we’ll now go back to doing what we’re already doing, dressage, showjumping and low-level eventing, lots of lessons, lots of outings until she settles and matures. In time, when she becomes more established in her second career, I might have another go at showing, but we have a long way to go before we can give that impression of effortless to wow in the show ring."