by Sophie St.Clair
As I examine the last year of competition with Sjapoo and contemplate the experience I have in front of me it occurs to me that I am not alone in that process. Over the last year my trainer David Sterckx has been prepping in his own way. Originally from Brussels, Belgium David moved to California 5 years ago to join his sister Caroline, the Riding School Director at my barn. He is a former student of Nelson Pessoa and Jos Kumps. His accomplishments include being a former member of the Belgian Junior National Show Jumping Team, Belgian Junior Champion and 4th in the European Junior Championships. Additionally, he was the winner of the European Puissance Championship at 2.25M when he was only 17. He’s no stranger to the pressure of performance for a junior rider. With that in mind, I sat down with David recently to have him talk about his training methods that have brought us to this point.
Q: What is your basic philosophy of training a horse?
A: My philosophy of a show jumping horse is to consider him like an athlete. To insure he feels good and he’s in good shape. And, to do all that we need to do have him ready to perform.
From my last blog I mentioned “I am working very hard to stay mentally and physically relaxed and to stick with the program that has been working for us in the past several weeks.”
Q: What is the program and what has been working?
A: It’s a matter of helping you to understand that you need to get Sjapoo to be your friend and not to fight with him when he does a mistake or he does something wrong. Otherwise, he’s not going to help you when you need it. When you were making little mistakes he didn’t want to help you. He was afraid to go in the ring and his eyes were coming out of his face and the same with you too. I think you understand that now and when you’re more relaxed it works better. But we still have to work on some things….the jump offs. (laughs)
Q: What did you think when we bought Sjapoo?
A: What I thought is still the same as today it was something that was going to be challenging and difficult but when it was going to work it will be very good. I remember I said to you at the beginning of the year when you were running into trouble that when everything is going to work and you will be in tune with him you two will be hard to beat. And it’s almost the case right now.
Q: Why did you think Sjapoo would be good for me?
A: I don’t know….(laughs) . I think he would be good for any rider. The rider needs to be ready to work harder than the others and go through some doubt and trouble. But, like I said, when everything is working well and he feels good, the rider is good then it’s going to be really good.
Q: What did you discover about me and Sjapoo as a team?
A: That I was right!
Q: What was the biggest challenge in our partnership?
A: The biggest challenge was to have you and Sjapoo to understand each other and to have fun. You are a little aggressive rider. If a horse is going to stop.…well… with you he’s going to be in trouble. You’re a fighter and some times it’s too much and Sjpaoo is very careful, very sensitive. If you press him a little too much he starts to panic and then nothing works anymore.
Q: What were 3 things you worked on most with us this year?
A: First just the basics of riding that we would work on with any horse. To be smooth, relaxed and not so aggressive. That’s the way you need to ride him. With some horses it’s better to be aggressive but with Sjapoo that doesn’t work. He’s fast anyway no matter what. Even if you think you’re going slowly, if you’re clear then you’ll be in the top 3-4 at least. Second, to tell you the truth the next thing is not so easy…. It’s to work on you when you go in the ring. To go to have fun and not like you’re going to war and your life depends on the result (laughs). The last thing is more about the horse itself. For you to take some time with your horse and keep in mind that it’s an animal with feelings.
Q: What are your plans for us going forward?
A: Right now we need to keep going on the track we are on. We’ll see up to what level we can go without being too hard on Sjapoo. To keep it safe and good for him.
Q: How do you address the sport psychology aspect of the sport?
A: I need my own sports psychologist! I think it’s great and very important. I don’t think an athlete can perform at high levels without having someone to talk with besides the trainer and parents. It needs to be someone from outside who knows about sport and knows about the pressure that an athlete has. I think it’s as important as a good trainer and a good horse.
Q: What are you most proud of with this team?
A: That we didn’t give up. (smiling)