Everyone knows that getting to the Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials is an incredible achievement; it’s a long road, littered with hurdles and punctuated by highs, lows and everything in between. There are many roads that lead to a competition like Badminton and this weekend’s starting list is as diverse as you will find in any sport. But what does it take to train a rider to this level? Can money buy success? And where are the champions of tomorrow going to come from?
These were the sorts of questions being discussed at the round-table debate organised by the British Horse Society (BHS) – the official 2018 Badminton charity – at which a panel comprising of some of the most highly qualified equestrian coaches in the world – Fellows of the BHS – had the chance to air their views. The result? A fascinating debate about training, success and the future of the sport.
Former British Team Performance Manager Yogi Breisner kicked off proceedings by talking about the sorts of pressures young riders face.
Here’s a taster of what was said…
Yogi: “There is an enormous amount of pressure on young riders today. As coaches we see it all the time. Pressure comes in different forms. For the top riders, the more backing they can get in the form of horse power, sponsorship and owners, the better. But for younger riders this doesn’t always translate. Pressure comes in many different forms: from parents, coaches, the need to succeed on the expensive horse they’ve been bought… and it can be very detrimental. Training systems for young athletes in all sports are trying to mimic the programmes set for adults and we are seeing burn out.”
Joanie Mitchell, guest panel member and Managing Director of USA Eventing: “[In America] there is a lot of money spent on young rider horses, so there immediately becomes pressure to produce a result.”
Danny Anholt added his perspective as a coach who uses sports psychology in his teaching: “It’s an interesting topic from a psychological point of view because research has shown us that when riders are told they are talented and are bought talented horses it stifles their ability and desire to learn through process. Those who believe they are not particularly special apply themselves more, and over time, will go on to achieve greater things.”
Eric Smiley, four-time Olympian and now coach: “The danger of riding coaching following an education-based curriculum is that it becomes a results- and performance-driven system rather than a system that encourages riders to feel, learn and question. This stifles an exploring mind.”
Jennie Loriston-Clarke, Olympic dressage rider-turned-coach, who is renowned for speaking her mind: “The system nowadays is all about goal-setting. If you ask a teenager what their goal is they will say it is to compete at the Olympics, then they get thoroughly demoralised when the steps they need to get there don’t happen. They need to start at the bottom and work up.
“Also, I think young riders specialise too soon. Rather than an all-round education that encourages good horsemanship, teenagers now say they want to become dressage riders or showjumpers, for example. This is not conducive to a sound grounding in any of the sports.”
Nick Gauntlett, four-star rider and coach: “How many juniors and young riders today would pass the lower level BHS exams? A lot have huge gaps in their education and they get found out when they start competing at the higher levels.”
Judy Harvey, dressage trainer: “Life doesn’t end at 21, it starts. I trained Charlotte Dujardin as a young rider and she didn’t get on any teams. If it happens, then great, but if it doesn’t it’s not the end of the world.”
The solution? The general consensus from the panel is that there is no one easy answer, but education has to be a number one priority, particularly for the younger generation. Money may be able to buy success initially, but for longevity in the sport what is needed is a system that nurtures dedicated, hardworking riders with a will to better themselves and be the best they can. Education at the lower levels is essential because without it, horse welfare becomes an issue. And that affects every branch of equestrianism.
For more information on coaching and education, visit the BHS stand at Badminton (94 Somerset Way) or the website: www.bhs.org.uk