Positives coming out of negatives: Covid-19
When Covid-19 struck hard back in March and we rapidly went into lockdown we took stock of the situation and turned the horses out at grass and stopped training most of them. I couldn’t see it being a quick recovery and the Spring grass was coming through for the horses so we had to make the best out of a bad situation. We dug for Britain as well as everyone else and made a veg patch at home, of which we are reaping the benefits! I hope that the horses have done the same.
We feel the enforced break for the horses has been very beneficial for them. Spring grass is ‘Dr Green’; they were able to live out in herds and benefit fully from the lovely pasture we are fortunate to have here at The Beeches Farm in Sutton Veny, Wiltshire.
A few are now back into full work; including a new horse from Ireland which I’ve mentioned in a previous blog. He has needed a lot of time, thought and attention to hopefully fulfil his potential. So, an enforced break was an excellent opportunity for us to really take our time and think of better ways of really helping these horses.
We have introduced trotting on the lunge over raised poles. We are starting to see the benefits - the horses are stronger through their backs and seem to have more power behind over their hind quarters. One of our owners who came to visit recently remarked how much stronger his horse looked from his visit before. This is gym work for equines.
I am looking forward to seeing if it makes any difference for those jumping this season. When I was a professional jump jockey, I would find that some horses had more scope than others at an obstacle and it didn’t seem to matter how big or small the horse was. A small horse would be able to take off way before a fence and land just as far the other side, making lots of ground in the air each time. Then I might ride a big horse and quickly you would realise it had no scope at all and the horse would need to get in close to an obstacle and would then be losing a fair bit of ground at each jump. I thought back then that that was just how the horses were - either they had scope or didn’t, that’s the way they were born.
The picture above is me riding ‘Way of Life’ (No 19) for owner Trevor Hemmings, trained by the late great Stan Mellor over the chair at Aintree. This horse had plenty of scope and was able to stand way off a fence and was able to land just as far the other side, making ground on the other runners. If he hadn’t had so much scope and took off in the same place as the others we would have landed in the fence and our race would be over. Instead we made considerable ground in the air and he was quick away from the fence – what an amazing feeling it was too! This shows how important and what a gain it can be in a race over jumps.
This other shot is of me on 'Mister Christian' (No 34), trained by Charlie James in The Grand National, again at the chair. He was nowhere near as scopey as Way of Life and would never be capable of making so much ground. Here, Mister Christian is just about to put his hind feet down inches before the big take off rail – that was a good feeling too as approaching the chair I thought we will turn over but he got us out of trouble (good boy!). Horses tend to know what they can or can’t do – sometimes we ask them to do something like stand off a fence and they take no notice – usually for good reason!
My thought and interest now are - can we actually help and change this? with precise work on the ground at home (and ticking the obvious: nutrition/care etc). We know we can make a horse stronger through its back, more powerful behind and through the hindquarters. Will the horse then become more scopey at its obstacles and cover more distance in the air and therefore make more ground at its fences? I saw signs of results last year, which is why, before we put a rider on their backs, I have been doing this intensive gym/workout sessions with them.