What would you be willing to do with your young horse? Each on board a wide-eyed four-year-old, eventer Oliver Townend and showjumper Geoff Billington entered the SEIB Arena to  a packed crowd and loud applause as they began their demonstration at Your Horse Live.

The duo quickly introduced their mounts to the crowd as they began warming up.

Oliver was riding Diacondrik, a handsome grey stallion who Oliver hoped to event before he took up his breeding duties at Caunton Manor Stud.

“I’m excited about him for his mentality as much as anything else. He has a beautiful temperament for how babyish he is,” said Oliver. “He’s not been anywhere – one cross-country school, one arena hire. This is obviously a big occasion; he thinks his first show is Olympia!”

Geoff was riding Elton, – “as in Elton John, because if you look at his eyes he looks like he’s got some of those big daft glasses on,” he explained – who was broken in at the beginning of 2022.

“He’s been to one show and a couple of training shows,” said Geoff. “He went out in the field after breaking; we brought him in two months ago and he’s ready to start work now.”

Rhythm and balance

For all their jesting and banter, the pair shared valuable insight into how they train their young horses with a long career in mind during their warm ups.

“Whatever you teach your horse in the early stage of his career, if you train him correctly, that’ll go with him through his life,” said Geoff. “Even if it’s a horse who’s not good enough for Oliver [Townend] or Scott Brash, if you train him correctly at this stage, he’ll be a nice horse for anybody. Rhythm and balance, that’s what we’re trying to achieve.”

As Oliver pilots his horse around the outside of the arena, he talks through his process.

“As I’m trotting around, all I’m thinking about is keeping him in a nice rhythm. I’m concentrating on all the basics: my hands as a pair, my knee relaxed, all my weight into my heel,” explained Oliver.

Keeping things simple

To conclude their warm up, Oliver moves up into canter.

“I ask in the corner and come into a lighter seat. I’m not holding his head down, I’m just there with an elastic rein contact as a nice support,” he said. As he came down the long side, he put each hand forward in turn. “I put my left hand forwards and nothing changes; my right hand forwards and nothing changes; both hands forward, rhythm doesn’t change. I just keep encouraging him with my body language, my core and use my stomach muscles as leverage to keep him in canter.”

Oliver comes back into trot, changes the rein and repeats, explaining that the key is to make everything as straightforward as possible for the horse.

“You can see he’s now becoming really nice and relaxed. As I open my fingers, he stretches his head and neck down. That’s a really good sign that he’s working over his back and pushing from behind,” explained Oliver. “You should be able to chose wherever you want to put your horse’s head.”

Meet the experts: Eventer Oliver Townend is a former FEI world number one ranked rider. He has won Badminton, Burghley and Kentucky – the latter two on multiple occasions – as well as medalling at European Championships and the Tokyo Olympic Games. 

Showjumper Geoff Billington has ridden in over 50 Nations Cups for Great Britain, as well as representing his country in the Atlanta and Sydney Olympics in 1996 and 2000. He won team bronze in the 1997 European Championships and individual and team bronze at the 1998 World Championships. 

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