Did Nick Skelton’s Olympic feat inspire to take your showjumping to the next level? International show jumper Jessie Drea, who represented Team GBR at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy and has also made regular Nations Cup appearances, shares her top showjumping tips with Julie Harding.
Drea also runs a show jumping yard in West Sussex where she offers training and horses for sale.
He has to want to be a winner. You may find a horse that has all the talent, but if his mind isn’t in it, you won’t be able to progress. You need a horse that wants to work with you. It is equally important to avoid the temptation to over-horse yourself. I see riders who believe that they require a flashy 17hh warmblood, but this may not be the right choice for them. Foreign horses have often been brought up in big systems and they don’t always adapt well to an individual set up.
You are better starting off with an Irish horse or a pony type; something that has maybe hunted and has been around the block and so boasts plenty of general life experience. It is this type that will be better equipped to help you out when you get into a bit of trouble while jumping a course.
So many people go straight into their school to jump, but it is better to work on your flatwork — look at the Americans, who all ride beautifully because they are disciplined from a young age. I would also recommend doing fun things, such as hunting, which is brilliant for balance if you are just starting out. If you approach riding in this way, if something goes wrong in the ring, you will always have a back-up plan thanks to your extensive background knowledge.
Ensure that your hors has a varied regime. For example, my horses don’t get jumped every day and they will only go in the school roughly three times a week. On other days they will hack out, doing plenty of road work, which is great for fittening.
I also take them for a canter in my field and pop them over a few solid fences. I’m lucky enough to have cross-country jumps at home and riding my horses over these not only improves their level of fitness but ‘hardens’ them so they are better equipped to cope with the rigours of jumping.
He needs to be turned out regularly for his mental wellbeing. I put mine out with rugs and boots and copious amounts of fly spray, and it keeps them happy. I may keep the sharper horses in a relatively small turnout pen, so that they can’t gallop around and injure themselves, but the quieter ones will be allowed out in a larger field.
Turnout is great if a horse is struggling with something in the school. It allows him to relax and unwind and think about what he has learned and the next day he will invariably perform better.
Equipment needs to be useful and relevant to your situation. If you look back at old photographs, showjumpers can be seen riding in snaffles. Today, I see horses bitted up to the hilt. This only serves to make them get ever more strong, when actually the key is to take things back to basics, establish the flatwork and keep the bitting simple, although maybe use something a little stronger at a show. The same goes for sheepskin nosebands. A lot of people use them because it’s the fashion. They do have a purpose — I use one on a sharp horse because it makes him put his head down in front of a fence — but don’t use one just for the sake of it. Strip everything back and use equipment only when necessary.
If you are fortunate enough to have a groom, that’s fantastic, but it is still very important to play a key role in your horse’s daily routine. I know riders who aren’t even aware of what their horse is being fed. That is a recipe for disaster. If my horse is too fresh, for example, I will be aware that I need to cut down on his competition mix, so knowing what goes on back at the stable is an essential part of being a successful rider.
Whatever level you plan to compete at, it is essential that you find someone you can rely on and trust and who is interested in teaching you the basics, watching you progress long term and not just after a quick fix.
If you are serious about the sport and can afford it, the perfect solution is to base yourself with a professional. You will pick up everything from their way of riding, to their stable management. You will also see how hard they have had to work to succeed. A massive part of any sport is discipline and hard work, and while we often can’t see behind the scenes, the top riders work incredibly hard.
Tell yourself that this time next month you will have mastered flying changes. That way you will know if you’ve improved, even if ever so slightly. Progress, once again, goes back to having the right horse. There is no point over-horsing yourself and riding something that frightens you.
Everyone’s biggest problem is their nerves, but it is so important that when you feel nervous you embrace it, even though that is easier said than done.
The key here is to have prepared well. If I’m jumping in a big class, there is no way I would let anyone else clean my tack. When I was competing at the World Games, I got up early to clip my horse, too. That is because when I’m in the saddle, I know that my preparation has been perfect because I’ve done it myself.
The better you prepare, the more comfortable you will feel when competing and the more you will be able to concentrate on the course in front of you. Yes, you will still feel nervous, but you will then be able to use the adrenaline in a positive way — for fight rather than flight.
Affiliated jumping shows offer courses that are made for the size of the horse — so they are perfect for beginners. I would also recommend registering with the BSJA early on in your career as it will give you access to some great trainers, good advice and professional shows.