Pammy Hutton asks if professional training should be akin to a degree
What does it really take to become the next Charlotte Dujardin or Carl Hester? Dreams are certainly not enough; one cannot just pitch up at a yard and miracles happen. It takes blood, sweat, tears – and a lot of luck – to get there. Weight must be watched; days off don’t exist. Ask any Olympian.
I’m not sure how many riders have that “something” to get there. Although maybe, in some cases, the perception of what’s required misses the mark.
In Germany, one is encouraged to train for three years for a professional role in horse sport. Whereas in Britain, a three-month, fee-paying course is often considered sufficient.
Should training for a professional job with horses be on a par with achieving a university degree – including the investment of three fee-paying years?
I asked a Tokyo prospect what their life would be like without that Olympic goal. How single-minded do you have to be? Can you maintain relationships? Have children? Is a medal the only thing that matters? You can guess most of the answers…
Having made it to an Olympic Games as a trainer and missed out as a reserve rider only when my horse pulled a suspensory ligament three days before leaving, I still maintain that the best things in my life are my family and my work. But as someone who lives with competitive urges every single day, I know how tricky it is to keep life’s balances.
Reaching the top in anything means being focused, tough and talented, while also keeping the money coming in. But it’s only by nurturing precious connections with partner, family, staff, friends and of course one’s horse that the best support network is achieved. And that takes kindness.
Do new rules lack common sense?
DO we need all these new rules? For starters, adults are not allowed to ride-in ponies at the Great Yorkshire Show. Of course, ponies shouldn’t be worked in by riders who are too large. But some need a small adult’s guidance for safety’s sake in a busy atmosphere.
Equally, my fiery mare has been known to run backwards, showing off her athleticism. Yet under FEI rules adopted by British Dressage, grooms can only walk a horse on a loose rein while mounted. So, if there’s a car park or similar to be negotiated, I have to hope the ambulance is on standby.
These rules are made with the best of intentions.
But whatever happened to common sense and good horsemanship?
Spoilt for sport
ONE benefit of the pandemic has been the improvement in online viewing of competitions. One weekend recently saw me getting into a spin, with sport in Kentucky, Hagen, Tryon, Opglabbeek and Keysoe all available to watch. It’s a great way to compare scores and form across the world.
Live-streaming also allowed us to enjoy Hagen’s grand prix special to music. I was spellbound. Even when the volume is limited and the music is not marked, it made for a fabulous new idea.
Meanwhile, watching the live-stream from Wellington CDI3* on my computer, with my phone simultaneously on another site tracking the scores from each judge for every movement, highlighted some diverse marking.
My takeaway is that if Britain’s top horses and riders all stay fit and sound ahead of the Olympics, skilled selection will be needed to decide who is to join Carl and the two Charlottes (Dujardin and Fry) – my prediction for the team of three – as the alternate combination to travel to Tokyo.
Ticket to train
AS trainers, we’re like trains. People get on and get off, and sometimes catch different trains for a while. However, in the close-knit horseworld, it pays to take care of your trains – because you never know when you might need them again.
The first part of this thought process comes from my great friend Ian Woodhead; the second is mine. As an “older” trainer, a pupil’s 20-year gap between coming to me is my record. How chuffed I was to see them book a ticket again.
This exclusive column is also available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 10 June 2021
You may also be interested in…
“Everyone stops and stares at him at shows because he’s so big. I don’t think people quite expect what happens
Alice Oppenheimer on breeding dressage horses and why it's so special to produce and train home-breds up to grand prix
Withdrawals, retirements and disrupted competition schedules have led to a late shake-up of nations and squads ahead of the Olympic