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Five-star event rider Sam Ecroyd (pictured) shares an exercise he uses to regain control on horses who have a tendency to get too strong

Event rider Sam Ecroyd was leading under-21 British rider in 2016 and 2017. He has finished second, third and sixth in the under-25 British championship and he hasn’t finished out of the top three at a national championship since he was 14. He runs a string of 15 event horses from his base on the Cheshire/Flintshire border.

Training the stars

Many other people had ridden Arco BB before I took him on at three-star level. He had been very strong across country, but I used this exercise often with him. Once he learned to go on a loose rein, he understood my aids.

Michael Jung taught me this exercise when I trained with him in Germany. I took a horse called Opera House who was strong across country and it transformed him. I use it in the school on all of my horses. Its beauty is in its simplicity and it translates so well from the school to a cross-country schooling course and then on to a competition.

Tackling the issue

1. Warm up in walk, trot and canter. During the canter, work on a loose contact and keep the reins close to your body — maintain the same rein length as if you would if you were doing dressage. At the same time, ensure that your horse’s neck is fully elongated.

2. Canter around the corner to the long side of the arena and, if your horse is relaxed, put your hand on his neck, lean forward and use your leg to make him accelerate. You should still have only the lightest rein contact.

3. When you are ready to slow down (before you reach the turn) sit back with your body, sit down in to the saddle and pull lightly and evenly on both reins. Avoid yanking on one and then the other. If you struggle to regain control, ride a small circle.

4. Repeat the exercise up to 10 times. Vary how soon you push your horse on and stop him so that he doesn’t anticipate it — he should wait for you to drop your hand. If he doesn’t, continue in a normal canter until he is listening to you. If he gets strong or stressy, return to walk, trot or normal canter and attempt the exercise again when he is calm.

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#SundaySchool: how to improve rhythm over fences

Event rider and coach Nick Gauntlett explains how you can use poles to dictate the rhythm that will give horse

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#SundaySchool: Sarah Bullimore’s figure-of-eight jumping exercise

The five-star eventer shows how the figure-of-eight jumping exercise can help develop balance, rhythm and the ability to land on

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Consider this…

  • It takes two to pull — your horse won’t pull if you don’t.
  • Help him to relax by riding with a light contact.
  • If you keep your horse on a tight rein and then ask him to slow down, his mouth will lack the sensitivity to respond.
  • Use whatever bit suits your horse but, if it’s a pelham, don’t do the curb chain up so tight that when you pull he feels it’s a punishment.

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Lesley Peyton-Gilbert (pictured), a senior assessor for the British Equestrian Federation futurity programme, has trained horses from youngsters to international grand prix, including stallions ZV Lagos and Woodcroft Garuda K. She has lived in the Netherlands and Germany, where she was trained by Ellen Bontje, Tineke Bartels and Ulla Salzgeber.

Training the stars

This is an exercise I use with all my young horses, but it is especially helpful for riders; it teaches them about timing, by half-halting and putting the leg on, after each pole.

In your test sheets, you may see the comment “on inside shoulder”. The judge is referring to a balance issue: the horse has fallen in on the inside shoulder on the circle — it feels as if the inside foreleg has become shorter. Learning how to ride a correct circle will encourage better engagement and balance, and result in higher marks.

Tackling the issue

1. I use the “50p coin” exercise with all riders and young horses — it encourages the hindleg to step under the body, helping engagement of the hindlegs and the connection between inside leg and outside rein. I had the idea for it when thinking of a circle as a train with carriages going through a bend.

2. Build an octagonal shape with poles on the ground (see diagram, above), using almost the entire width of the arena (about 18 metres). Ride just outside the poles, making sure you are parallel to them — use eight poles in the beginning so you get the feeling of riding parallel between two reins at all times. Later, as you become more proficient, you can remove some or all of the poles.

Remember that the horse has width, so the outside of the horse’s body has farther to go on a turn or a circle. We need to use our leg, light and quick, to encourage the horse to use his legs in the same way and step under — with the inside leg to carry weight, and with both outside legs to drive the turn.

If, on the turn, the horse steps against the inside rein, then you know he’s stepping against the inside leg, so this is the moment to use the inside leg to ask him to step forward and not “fall in”.

Conversely, should the horse fall out through the outside shoulder, correct him using the outside rein along the line of the body, not away from the neck.

The outside rein is there to provide support, and effectively contains the energy of the inside hindleg.

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Credit: Trevor Meeks
#SundaySchool: perfecting pirouettes with Rebecca Hughes

The international dressage rider and young horse producer explains how walk pirouettes can improve engagement for medium trot

#SundaySchool: how to improve your horse’s medium trot

Follow grand prix dressage rider Anna Ross’ tips for improving the medium trot in our new regular Sunday evening training

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Consider this

  • Sit “inside” your horse’s forelegs — so don’t lean in or over the inside shoulder through turns and circles. To prevent this happening, think of the point between the horse’s ears as a table to rest a tea cup on. You don’t want the tea to spill, so look through the ears and keep that point level through all turns and circles. This will also ensure the horse isn’t tilting.
  • Never push down or pull back on the inside rein. Thumbs must be up, and thumbnails must face the direction of the ears. There should be a small gap between the inside rein and the neck — I like to put my fingers inside this gap.

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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When watching top dressage riders perform, it can be easy to feel that you and your horse are somewhat detached from the glittering world of grand prix dressage.

But, as demonstrated by international grand prix rider and trainer Anna Ross in her lively masterclass at last weekend’s Hartpury Festival of Dressage, every rider can start to apply grand prix principles to their horse, no matter what their age or level.

1. Identify your ‘model’

Anna uses two of her horses to demonstrate the different “models” and the variation in how they need to be ridden. The first, the hot, expressive eight-year-old Ampere mare Habouche (Holly, pictured top), is currently competing at advanced medium, and ridden by Beth Bainbridge, while Anna piloted the more laid-back 11-year-old gelding Delgado (pictured below), who is on the cusp of grand prix.

“Consider your own personality when looking for a horse, and deciding whether to buy crazy or lazy,” Anna advises. “If you’re a bit crazy, get a lazy one, like Delgado, but if you’re more a calm, placid person, you could consider a slightly more crazy one, like Holly.”

2. Learn to adapt your riding to your horse

She goes on to explain the basic difference in how to approach riding these two models of horse up the levels.

“If you have a lazy one, you need to learn to ride with your legs off, so they react when you put them on,” Anna points out. “You must be quick with your aids — all horses are sensitive and feel everything. It’s not about how hard I use my legs on Delgado — if there’s a fly on his side he’ll feel it so you don’t have to kick and flap,” she adds, showing how she “buzzes” her legs on him and gets a quicker reaction than using one hard push.

“But Beth must ride Holly with her legs kept on, and used more subtly — if you breathe on her side she’ll react.”

3. Develop the gears

Anna explains that a good horse is not about jaw-dropping movement, but more to do with adjustability.

“Dressage horses don’t have to be unbelievable movers, but they do have to have gears — to able to go slowly but keep moving their legs,” she says. “A horse that can shorten is worth its weight in gold.

“At grand prix you need the horse to be electric for piaffe and passage, but then it must be able to switch off and be relaxed in walk. You have to be able to turn it on and off, and this is why it’s the transitions that are the hardest thing about grand prix.”

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6 tips to help produce a ‘wow’ trot from your horse

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4. Keep the grand prix training in mind

Anna goes on to give a few suggestions of specific exercises riders can incorporate into their schooling with horses of any level, to help develop the responsiveness and adjustability required for work at the higher levels.

“I used to look at grand prix horses and think, ‘What’s that got to do with me?’ But what you do on your four-year-old or novice horse at home can correspond to grand prix — see how many strides you get into the long side, and then adjust it. Practise transitions: such as sending them forward, and then walking.

“A really good way to balance the horse in canter is ride walk to canter transitions. Canter is difficult to change once you’re in it — one reason to buy a horse with a good canter as it’s a harder pace to improve than the trot — so make sure you start with a good transition.

“We can’t all be Charlotte Dujardin, but we can all teach our horses this.”

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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Amy Smith, a champion working hunter rider, shares her tips for introducing the fence successfully, as told to Gill Kapadia

Amy Smith is one of the most successful working hunter competitors in the country. Specialising in mountain and moorland ponies, she works full time as a hairdresser, while training and producing horses and riders with her sister Vikki at her base in Burnley, Lancashire. Amy has ridden Horse of the Year Show and Royal International Horse Show winners, and represented England at the International Connemara Performance Hunter Competition in Dublin in 2015.

Training the stars

My best pony, Laburnum Richard, wasn’t confident over bullfinches when he began his career, so I spent time practising these exercises to build up his confidence. He is such a natural, careful jumper, so he felt he needed to clear the top. Now, however, he’ll jump a bullfinch like any other fence.

Bullfinches are often more frightening for the rider than for the horse. I think mistakes tend to happen because riders approach them in the wrong manner, thinking that they need to gallop at the fence to get through it, which is not the correct approach.

Careful horses usually want to jump the top of the bullfinch to avoid touching it, therefore exercises to improve confidence and help your horse understand what the bullfinch is asking are essential.

Tackling the issue

1. Build a simple fence on the long side of your arena and, at an appropriate distance away, set a pair of empty bullfinch boxes between a set of wings. With someone on the ground, build the bullfinch up from the sides, gradually making it thicker towards the middle, jumping as you go.

2. The simple fence before the bullfinch makes you and your horse think about the striding and riding an even rhythm, instead of just focusing on the bullfinch. Repeat until your horse is popping the bullfinch confidently and in an even rhythm.

3. Take the first fence away and repeat the bullfinch, trying to keep the same rhythm and confidence. Gradually increase the height and thickness of the bullfinch, being careful not to overface him before he’s ready.

4. Avoid over-riding and keep your hands wide and soft to encourage him to go forward over the fence. Allow him to see the bottom of the bullfinch as well as the top. You can place V-poles on either side to help guide your horse if he is still a little uncertain.

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Consider this
  • It’s power rather than speed that gets you over a bullfinch. Keep the same forward, controlled rhythm you have as when jumping a normal fence.
  • Course-builders are introducing more bullfinches into doubles and trebles, so practice makes perfect.
  • Do your homework by going to watch other riders compete or ask about the course at shows you’re attending. If they have a bullfinch, make sure you’re well prepared before you go.

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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Charlotte Dujardin never fails to impress in the ring, and this season is no different; she’s had grand prix wins at Windsor and Bolesworth CDIs and plus-80% personal best scores at the latter with her world bronze medallist Mount St John Freestyle (pictured).

We all know how many weeks, months and years go into training a horse to perform at this level, but just what does Charlotte do nowadays when she’s schooling Freestyle and her other top horses at home?

“I don’t ride the tests at home — I don’t even ride the extensions,” reveals Charlotte. “It was the same with Valegro too — I would wait until we get to a show to ride the extended trots; I want to save them for when I really need them.

“You have to be quite wise in what you actually do with these horses at hone,” adds the double Olympic gold medallist. “We focus on the things that keep them fit and strong, and we use the aqua trainer — we want to keep them long-term fit.”

But when she does school at home, what does she tend to include in her sessions?

“We practice pieces of the grand prix, though I don’t usually ride the lines from the test,” says Charlotte. “I might ride a bit of a canter pirouette and then a bit of the zig-zag. I’ll practice half-passes but I’ll also work on travers to help improve the half-pass, and ride leg-yield zig-zags up the wall of the arena.

“I also tend to train the changes along the wall, not across the diagonal, to help keep the straightness.”

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With Mount St John Freestyle having only recently made her competition comeback after nine months out of the ring, how does Charlotte go about bringing a top horse back into work after a break?

“It’s actually unbelievable that they don’t forget a thing, but they don’t,” says Charlotte. “With Freestyle the movements are secure, so I can still press a button and they’re there.

“Of course if a horse is less secure in a movement, you do have to practice it more, but so many riders always want to do things over and over again — most of the time, they don’t need to do it as much as they think.”

For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.

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Young showjumper Kirstie has been based with Guy Williams in France for the past three years, competing alongside him in Europe and internationally. Partnering chestnut mare Thais D’La Verrerie, whom Kirstie has produced, she has enjoyed success in international four-star classes and earned a placing in the 2018 Hickstead Speed Derby

The warm-up is crucial to the outcome of your performance. Every horse is different, so it’s important to tailor your warm-up to your horse and build on an effective routine for future competitions.

My top mare, Thais D’La Verrerie, has always been incredibly sharp wherever we are, but particularly in the warm-up. Over time we have developed a really effective warm-up routine.

For sharp horses like Thais, who are used to being turned out each morning, I will always get up early at shows to lunge her when the exercise arena is quiet. It is important for her to get out and stretch while staying relaxed away from all the other horses.

At any show, but particularly shows where your horse is staying away from home, it is key to try to replicate his home routine as best you can. The warm-up should be a reliable and practised part of his daily management routine.

Tackling the issue

1. Start your warm-up with about 12 horses to go — aim to keep your horse as relaxed as possible while still being focused on the job. You don’t want to be in too early, nor do you want to be rushing. For a sharp horse, the warm-up is about focusing him on your aids and blocking out external factors.

2. With about eight to jump, start over small verticals, coming off both reins; use a bounce pole to slow the jump and keep a level stride. Sharp horses can be spooky, so rather than applying too much pressure and forcing a flat jump, allow him to have a look. He is only trying to respect and work out the fence.

3. Once you have jumped a few bigger fences, take your horse away from the hustle of the arena and dismount until you have one to go. As sharp horses can get their blood up quickly and lose focus, this will allow your horse time to relax before entering the ring. Use this time to watch a rider in the ring and go over your plan.

4. Before you enter the ring, finish on a bigger vertical to back your horse off and focus his mind on the job in hand. Remember that he will feel what you feel, whatever you do as a rider, so keeping relaxed is key.

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#SundaySchool: controlling the canter with Jessica Mendoza

The international showjumper uses a canter-on-a-circle exercise to help develop balance and control, which can be used in the ring

Credit: TI Media
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Consider this…

  • Concentrate on your own warm-up, don’t just follow what others are doing — all horses are different.
  • Allow yourself time so you don’t end up rushing.
  • Try using massage rugs prior to your warm-up to help reduce muscle tension.
  • Always ensure you have good help on hand during the warm-up, whether it be a trainer or groom.

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday.

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The five-star event rider explains how bounce fences in a grid can improve a horse’s jumping technique

Aim

I use this simple row of four fences on bounce distances with all my horses. It helps to improve their footwork and jumping technique, while allowing the rider to focus on their position. It can add variety to your jump training and is a good exercise where the horse does most of the work, encouraging him to really use himself and work out where to put his feet. It is also a great exercise for creating independence in the horse when he is jumping — he has to work everything out for himself and get himself out of trouble, which ultimately makes him more agile.

The fences don’t have to be high, and you can come in trot to keep it simple. All the rider has to focus on is maintaining the correct position and balance, and then leave the horse alone to do the rest.

Because it is quite a gymnastic exercise, it is also beneficial for improving strength, fitness and suppleness, which is one of the reasons why I use it with my older horses through the winter to keep them ticking over, without making them jump too high.

The exercise

1. Depending on the age and experience of the horse, start with poles on the floor where the bounces would be. The poles should be placed at 3.6m (12ft) intervals. If your poles are normal competition length, they’re 12ft long, making them the same length as the distance, so it’s really easy to measure. The first pole should be 3ft closer to the second, as this will act as a place pole for the first fence. If the horse is young, I suggest trotting over the poles on the floor a few times first to get them used to where everything will be.

2. Raise the second pole — about 60-80cm, depending on experience — and approach in trot, as it gives the horse time to assess the jump and prevents him from using speed to create power.

3. Raise each fence, one at a time, until all fences are up and there are three bounces, allowing the horse to jump through the grid each time.

4. If the horse is jumping down the grid with ease and confidence, add an oxer one stride after the final bounce. Continuing to approach in trot means the horse has to create his own power without rushing, usually resulting in a better technique.

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Credit: Peter Nixon
#SundaySchool: Sarah Bullimore’s figure-of-eight jumping exercise

The five-star eventer shows how the figure-of-eight jumping exercise can help develop balance, rhythm and the ability to land on

#SundaySchool: using cavaletti to improve the horse’s canter and balance

Take a look at this exercise from five-star Irish event rider, Clare Abbott (pictured), designed to steady and balance the

Credit: TI Media
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Tips and pitfalls

  • Once the horse understands what is being asked, leave him as much as you can safely, with just a gentle contact on the rein and a light lower-leg aid. This will allow him to use himself, ensuring he’s not relying on the rider.
  • Make sure to approach at the correct speed, which should be a forward-thinking trot. Too slow and the horse won’t have enough energy, too fast and he won’t have time to place his feet correctly.
  • Be wary of getting in front of the horse when jumping bounces. He will need room to lift up his shoulders, so a light seat position is preferable to leaning forward.

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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The five-star event rider explains how bounce fences in a grid can improve a horse’s jumping technique

Aim

I use this simple row of four fences on bounce distances with all my horses. It helps to improve their footwork and jumping technique, while allowing the rider to focus on their position. It can add variety to your jump training and is a good exercise where the horse does most of the work, encouraging him to really use himself and work out where to put his feet. It is also a great exercise for creating independence in the horse when he is jumping — he has to work everything out for himself and get himself out of trouble, which ultimately makes him more agile.

The fences don’t have to be high, and you can come in trot to keep it simple. All the rider has to focus on is maintaining the correct position and balance, and then leave the horse alone to do the rest.

Because it is quite a gymnastic exercise, it is also beneficial for improving strength, fitness and suppleness, which is one of the reasons why I use it with my older horses through the winter to keep them ticking over, without making them jump too high.

The exercise

1. Depending on the age and experience of the horse, start with poles on the floor where the bounces would be. The poles should be placed at 3.6m (12ft) intervals. If your poles are normal competition length, they’re 12ft long, making them the same length as the distance, so it’s really easy to measure. The first pole should be 3ft closer to the second, as this will act as a place pole for the first fence. If the horse is young, I suggest trotting over the poles on the floor a few times first to get them used to where everything will be.

2. Raise the second pole — about 60-80cm, depending on experience — and approach in trot, as it gives the horse time to assess the jump and prevents him from using speed to create power.

3. Raise each fence, one at a time, until all fences are up and there are three bounces, allowing the horse to jump through the grid each time.

4. If the horse is jumping down the grid with ease and confidence, add an oxer one stride after the final bounce. Continuing to approach in trot means the horse has to create his own power without rushing, usually resulting in a better technique.

Article continues below…

You might also be interested in:

Credit: Peter Nixon
#SundaySchool: Sarah Bullimore’s figure-of-eight jumping exercise

The five-star eventer shows how the figure-of-eight jumping exercise can help develop balance, rhythm and the ability to land on

#SundaySchool: using cavaletti to improve the horse’s canter and balance

Take a look at this exercise from five-star Irish event rider, Clare Abbott (pictured), designed to steady and balance the

Credit: TI Media
Subscribe to Horse & Hound from just £9.99 per month

Take advantage of our sale on Horse & Hound magazine subscriptions today

Tips and pitfalls

  • Once the horse understands what is being asked, leave him as much as you can safely, with just a gentle contact on the rein and a light lower-leg aid. This will allow him to use himself, ensuring he’s not relying on the rider.
  • Make sure to approach at the correct speed, which should be a forward-thinking trot. Too slow and the horse won’t have enough energy, too fast and he won’t have time to place his feet correctly.
  • Be wary of getting in front of the horse when jumping bounces. He will need room to lift up his shoulders, so a light seat position is preferable to leaning forward.

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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Even leading names like Laura Tomlinson (pictured above), Francis Whittington and Katie Jerram look up to people, and key pieces of training advice have helped them win medals and national titles. Here are the tips that 10 top riders credit with putting them on the road to success.

1. Laura Tomlinson, dressage rider

“The best piece of advice I’ve had is never to say, ‘I can’t’ or ‘The horse won’t’. If you have this in mind it forces you to look around and through a problem, rather than accept it’s not solvable. This is an adaptation of what I’m used to hearing from [German Olympian turned trainer] Klaus Balkenhol — he won’t ever accept you saying you can’t.”

2. Trevor Breen,  showjumper

“If at first you don’t succeed — work harder! The more effort you put in, the more you get out. If you take shortcuts in training during the week, it’ll show when you’re competing at the weekend.”

3. Katie Jerram,  showing producer

“Never use a gadget as a quick fix. I learnt this from [renowned trainer] Ruth McMullen — I never saw a gadget at her yard. I use a martingale on horses I’m breaking for a little extra security, and I may hack the babies in a Market Harborough, which is kind on the mouth.”

4. Francis Whittington, eventer

“Just keep it simple in every way. If it’s complicated, it’s probably not right. [Former British World Class Performance showjumping manager] Rob Hoekstra told me this and I keep it in mind all the time.”

5. Gemma Tattersall, eventer

“My mum used to make me ride come rain or shine. She said that consistency is the key to good training and it is something I have always carried with me. Horses need to have regular training and you need to be consistent in what you are asking them to do.”

6. Anna Ross, dressage rider

“[German Olympic team gold medallist] Ulla Salzgeber once told me that if you keep your hands still, you’ll start using your legs. A wise man at Goresbridge Sales also once advised me, ‘Never get back on for a third time’.”

7. Geoff Billington, showjumper

“[Multi-medalled British showjumper] David Broome told me years ago that you can’t put pressure on top of tension. So you must have a relaxed horse before you can ask any questions of it.”

8. Dan Jocelyn,  eventer

“When I first came to the UK in 1995, I stayed with Andrew Nicholson. Walking courses with him was invaluable. He said: ‘Dan, across country you just go between the flags’ and when showjumping, ‘Just leave the poles up’. This was the best advice ever, especially when others were trying to overcomplicate things. I still enjoy walking courses with him.”

9. Andrew Gould, dressage rider

“Don’t let your personal issues or emotions get in the way. This is something I picked up from [renowned trainer] David Hunt and I realise its importance even more now that I train lots of people. It’s hard if you’ve had a busy, stressful day at work — you want to ride to relax, but sometimes it is easier said than done.”

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10. Jessica Mendoza, showjumper

“Don’t try to win every class. My father, Paul, told me this and there are two lessons I have learnt from it. First, if I’m jumping at a three-day show, I need to save the horse for the class that really matters. Second, if you try to win a class by three seconds, you will often have a fence down and lose. So be cool and just do enough.”

For all the latest equestrian news and reports, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday

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