Sunday always begins with bleary eyes from sleepless nights and the sound of horse’s hooves walking and trotting around the stables. Like any athlete after a significant performance, these horses are the best of the best, but they’re still stiff and sore from their efforts. The critical thing from my perspective is time: like no other day it leaks away from you on a Sunday and riders can end up underprepared for the final phase of show jumping.
It really is as simple as being organised, but with the knock on effects of yesterday’s exertions and a physiological low after an extreme adrenalin-fuelled high, combined with the stress of the horse inspection means the riders can be sluggish. In my eyes there is an huge preparation imbalance: we spend several days drilling the dressage, walk countless course walks and go through detailed planning, but for the show jumping they get changed, walk the course a few times, watch a few and then get on and do it! I’m acutely aware that this is the “pointy end”, and the pressure of riding into that arena with the live TV cameras around warrants a much higher level of preparation than we’re able to get done.
So I try to grab riders straight from trot up to talk through a plan from a time perspective. The key factor is that they have time to learn the course and work out how they will ride it. The course yesterday was quite twisty, and so this can challenge the quality of canter for instance, so we are looking to identify just a few base elements that will give them a focus. Walking the course, taking some advice (from the right people) and watching a few early if we have that luxury all help us to narrow down the plan. As I mentioned with the dressage, the beauty of show jumping is that it happens in a sequence, so we can form a pathway for their mind to follow.
To give you an insight, some riders hold their breath almost continually through a round, something that makes them tense and rigid in the body, and so we insert points in the course where I want them to take a deep breath. Others are quite analytical, and they can start listening for poles so our aim is to keep their mind working forwards so that they don’t get a nasty shock when the next fence appears! All sounds so simple doesn’t it?
Massive congratulations to WFP on his win, his titanic ongoing battle with Nicholson keeps going. You can see how the exertions both mentally and physically on horse and rider accumulate over the 3 phases and the final day is about what you’ve got left. Yesterday William and Chilli Morning had more left. Speaking to William earlier in the week, he was concerned that he only had the one horse, but maybe this was a blessing in disguise this time?
So there we are, another Badminton gone, and a positive one for the sport. I hope these blogs have been insightful. This week I’ll be picking up with riders, reviewing and then forward planning, and off to Chatsworth next weekend. I’d like to take this opportunity to get across that whilst these elite riders are amazing, there is a lot we can learn about how they do it and pass it on to you. I’m about to launch my new initiative RideSmart something that is designed to do just that, so please watch out for that!