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2011 press releases

Posted: 10/06/11

Francesca Bullock talks to Lucinda Green MBE

Thousands of spectators will visit this year's Blenheim Palace International Horse Trials and enjoy watching some of the world's top riders compete in a spectacular setting. But for those who harbour their own ambitions in eventing, at whatever level, what can they learn from the experience?

Few riders have achieved more success in the sport than former World and European champion Lucinda Green, winner of Badminton Horse Trials a record six times on six different horses. She still competes at advanced level and continues to be fascinated by the sport and the different ways in which riders tackle the unique challenge it presents. She enjoys passing on her knowledge to others through her enormously popular "Petplan Equine Lucinda Green X-C The Safe Way" clinics sponsored for over ten years by the UK's specialist equine insurance provider, Petplan Equine.

Dressage

When it comes to the dressage phase the way that riders prepare their horse for the test is often the most interesting part to watch.

"There are different ways to achieve the best from your horse in the dressage," says Lucinda, "and the most important thing is to try and keep a fit horse relaxed. Some people try and work them into relaxation, which usually has the opposite effect; some will give their horse a gallop in the morning and then bring them out five minutes before they go into the arena. You'd be amazed how many different methods there are of trying to get into your horse's mind and relax him before the dressage and it all depends on the type of horse.

"What riders do in the two minutes before they go onto the arena is interesting as there are different ways of preparing depending on the temperament of the horse. What you're always looking for is a horse that looks as if he can breathe - if you feel on edge watching him then for sure he is on edge."

At a major event such as Blenheim there are three judges parked in different places in the arena and they will see the test from different angles, which is why riders can receive varied marks from the judges.

"What the judges are really looking for is a horse that is submissive and relaxed," explains Lucinda, "which is very hard to achieve with a horse that is fit and wants to gallop."

Cross Country

As with the dressage it is often very enlightening to watch the riders warming up for the cross country, something that has become more important now that the phase no longer includes the roads and tracks and steeplechase elements.

"The science of warming up for the cross country is so different now," admits Lucinda, "and nobody really knows what is the best way to prepare. To me there is a bridge you have to cross with your horse between dressage and cross country. In the dressage the horse needs to be really listening and responding to every single thing you say and for the cross country he has to listen to you and respond but he also has to use his own initiative and see the fence, size it up and work out how he is going to jump it and survive when things go wrong - none of which he has to do in the dressage. The bridge involves handing a certain amount of responsibility back to the horse and the steeplechase phase used to cross that bridge for you."

The riders can walk the cross country course as many times as they like in the preceding three days but the horse doesn't see the course beforehand so riders need to give their horse time to assess each fence, especially the combinations.

"The difference in 'gears' is interesting," says Lucinda. "When they come to the big bank with the drop down most of the riders will be walking or jogging and when they come to a nice big, straightforward, sloping brush or oxer they'll be galloping. If first gear is trotting and fifth is galloping riders will use the gears in between for different types of fences to give the horse enough time to see the problem and approach with enough balance and power to jump the fence.

"Riders will be leaning forward in between the fences to keep the weight off the horse's back so they can gallop along freely but they will then sit more or less upright in the last few strides as they prepare them for the jump. If they do put their bodyweight forward again then they can come unstuck if the horse puts in an extra stride or props - if the rider's weight is forward it becomes difficult for the horse to take off. The rider always has to be ready for things to go wrong."

Lucinda's top tips for watching riders across country are:

  • Look at how the riders use the different 'gears' for different types of fences
  • Look at how the riders present their horse at each fence

  • Check the rider's position and how this changes as they approach a fence
  • Watch the rider's hands on the reins and how they open their fingers to slip the reins when the horse needs to use its head and neck more to jump the fence
  • Watch how most horses come into a fence with their head up as that is how they see best - the bottom half of the eye is what sees the fence and the top half of the eye is what sees the ditch

The finish of the cross country is also an interesting place to watch as riders warm their horses down in different ways. Some riders choose to wind their horse down gradually with a bit of canter and trot but some events do not give you space to do this and direct you down a funnel where you have to stop quite quickly.

"We used to wash the horses down with warm water," explains Lucinda, "but it is now acknowledged that iced water brings the body temperature down quicker so they are less likely to get cramp and if it's a warm day you'll see lots of ice being used to keep the temperature of the water cold. The idea is to put iced water on a horse and then scrape it straight off as that will cool its temperature down quicker than leaving water on which then heats up very quickly to body temperature and is then as hot as the horse.

"On a hot day you'll see two or three people around the horse - one will be leading it, one will be throwing water over it and one will be scraping. The idea is that the quicker the horse cools down the less tired his muscles will be for the next day."

Show jumping

Show jumping on the final day of a three day event provides horse and rider with a different challenge to the same phase in a one day event when the horse will show jump before the cross country.

"After the exertions of the previous day the horse is tired," says Lucinda, "and its muscles are probably a bit stiff. A lot of riders now work them after the vet inspection to see just how stiff they are and so how much work they are going to need before the show jumping. Riders may work their horses for a while down by the stables before they come up to the collecting ring but the less jumping you do the better really as you don't want to use up all your best jumps in the collecting ring.

"Some riders put their horses over a big fence to really make them think and realise that they have to try harder. You are basically trying to get their withers off the ground and to jump in a more rounded way and riders will do that in the way they think is best.

"The show jumping now requires a high degree of skill," says Lucinda. "The fences are bigger and much easier to knock down than they used to be and the courses are more technical with the turns and distances between fences. The poles used to be much heavier but now they fall down very easily so you need a much more careful horse."

Whoever rides off with the trophy at this year's Blenheim International Horse Trials will have put in a special performance. The old adage that used to be directed at event riders- 'Jack of all trades and Master of none'- no longer applies.

Visitors to this year's Blenheim Palace Fidelity International Horse Trials will have the chance to meet Lucinda Green on the Petplan Equine stand. Visit the stand on event for personal appearance times.

For further information about Petplan Equine Lucinda Green X-C the Safe Way clinics visit www.petplanequine.co.uk/events.

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For more information please contact the Petplan press office on:

Name Telephone Email
Tolu Akisanya 0208 580 8194 tolu.akisanya@allianz.co.uk
Carl Stephens 0208 707 8335 carl.stephens@allianz.co.uk

Note to editors:

The Petplan Equine Census was conducted in spring 2010. An online questionnaire was filled in by over 1700 UK horse owners.

*ONS 2007

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