Learning on the job

Before I worked for top riders I had plenty of preconceptions about what top event horses were like – to ride, to look after, to be around.  Things like:

  • That by the time they were established at 5* they were all sorted/predictable/reliable
  • That they obviously would have been really really expensive
  • And probably most of all, that they were born the confident, brilliant, beautiful horses that you see out competing at 5* level.  Yes, they would have been nurtured and brought on by a brilliant rider. Nonetheless I’d generally imagined these top horses always would have been pretty damn smart, albeit at a much lower level with a different jockey.


It didn’t take long to realise I’d been wrong on all counts and to appreciate quite how much top horses are ‘made’ by top riders.  And how to be at the highest level of the sport it really does take a top horse and a top rider working together as a team.

So how to apply this insight to the horses I’m riding now? How to help them reach their various potentials?

To take Donk (Leanorth JD) as an example.  Donk loves to jump and is relaxed and confident around 1m30 Show Jumping tracks; his XC is fabulous 99% of the time; but dressage he finds difficult.  What to do to help him improve the bloody dressage?

The circle we were stuck in is that his core wasn’t strong enough to enable him to carry himself in an Advanced frame. He struggled to do the fancy moves he was expected to be now doing routinely.  Because he found it physically difficult, he mentally switched off; heading into Kevin-the-teenager territory & refusing to cooperate.  This meant he was blocking us out of doing the very exercises which would make life easier for him in the long run! The work that would lead to happier dressage scores. Frustrating, for both of us.

But where to start for the horses?

First off when trying to break through any sort of ceiling is always to make sure everyone’s in good shape. Donk gets monthly checks & treatment if needed from osteopath Jim Hurden and all’s looking good there. Forelock & Load and #thedressagecompany have helped hugely with bitting and tack, and all’s looking good there.

So what else could we think of, to help make him be the best he can be? Something to help him build core strength without him realising it, without hammering through the same stressful routines again and again and a-dispiritingly-gain.  Something to help build his confidence & persuade him to release the inner Donk #donkalinatheballerina Dressage Diva…

Splish splosh

One of the answers, we’ve discovered, is splashing!

There’s a brilliant set-up in Newmarket, Longholes Equine Therapy Centre, that has pretty much everything needed ‘to help establish and maintain equine training and rehabilitation’. We now have a Mountford Sport Horse weekly slot there, primarily using the Water Treadmill but also occasionally the Gallops.  Both do huge amounts of physical good and, and for Donk in particular, mental good. He loves going on the water treadmill, comes away with a spring in his step, a smile on his face and is, unbeknownst to him, building up his core strength at every session.

This is having a huuuuge effect on his flatwork. He’s suddenly stronger and able to carry himself better, so is enjoying the Flying Changes etc etc which two months ago were causing such frustration.  He’s happy, cooperating, and growing in confidence.

I’m not saying we’re suddenly going to trouble the top spots at every competition from now on, but we are finding a way of helping us reach our partnership potential. Jasper and George are now muscling in on the weekly Longholes slot too.

Longholes isn’t just for post-injury rehab (another of my wrong preconceptions), it’s for all round strengthening, happiness and some fancy dressage moves as well!  Blooming brilliant…

Polly Mountford
Mountford Sport Horses

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