There’s a lot of talk about your new conditioning pool. Can you tell us about it?
One of the great things about working with US Eventing Team Chef d’Equipe Erik Duvander is he’s a constant source of new ideas. One of the thoughts that he put in my mind last year was how to improve the horses with cross-training. Over the years I’ve noticed, schooling cross-country, how the horses take an elevated trot step while schooling the water jump. I’ve also been a customer of the Aquatread that is available near home. I’m always quizzing top horsemen and I’d noticed a couple of good friends who are racehorse trainers nearly submerging their Thoroughbreds in water to improve their fitness.
Earlier this year, I got together with Eric Bull of ETB Equine Construction, who’s built me a couple of water jumps already, and started discussing construction of a conditioning pond at Windurra, our main facility in Pennsylvania. I wanted to be able to change the water level so that we could use it for lunging as well as exercise with a rider on the horse’s back. With competitions closed down for the coronavirus, Eric had plenty of time to bring his team to Pennsylvania.
They made a 4-foot-deep hole in the ground and sealed it like a water jump, then came up with a very elaborate way of changing the depth of the water. There’s a drain in the pond and from the outside, we can open valves to change the level of the water, from 3 inches to 4 feet deep.
I feel like the work we’re doing in our conditioning pond is just an add-on to our normal training; I don’t think it’ll be a total game changer but I think our horses will have that extra bit of strength and conditioning over time. I’d think over a six-month period they will have used muscles they didn’t use before and I believe it’ll help with their core strength.
How are horse sales during the lockdown?
To be quite frank, I’m not a big horse seller; over the years I’ve sold a lot of horses but it wouldn’t be my main source of income. A lot of horses we have to sell go to Lillian Heard, who’s based on our property and specializes in horse sales. But with the coronavirus slowing things down, we’ve had more time to market a few horses.
I was surprised anyone would be interested in buying a horse at this time — I thought they’d be nervous to spend the money during this unstable economic climate, and I’d think they’d want to come try a horse but would be too nervous to travel and meet in person. I couldn’t have been more wrong; we have several horses for sale at the moment and the phone’s been ringing hot! I think that’s partly because we’ve had more time to put into making videos and advertising horses, and buyers have more time to focus on finding horses to purchase. With everyone’s schedule lessened, they have more time to focus on finding a horse that suits them well.
My experience since the plague hit is that people are still going to out find the ideal partner. We’ve allowed people to come to the farm and try them, taking all the safety precautions to make sure they’re not bringing in the virus. People also seem ready to get on with life and continue their passion.
Can you talk about your teaching schedule this spring, with so much shut down?
Usually at this time of the year, I’m dialed into the competition schedule. With a list of good horses competing, I’m hard at it every weekend, competing the horses that are in work. Part of me misses the shows, but another part of me doesn’t miss waking up at 4 a.m. every weekend, walking courses in the dark, riding horse after horse and getting home at midnight.
I recently had a small surgery to loosen up my hip joints and I’m taking a break from riding while I recover, which has opened up the opportunity to do more teaching. To stay busy, I’ve taken on a few younger riders in a training camp at my farm, in a very focused, concentrated working pupil situation. That’s working really well and I believe the riders doing this are getting a lot of out of it — there’s a lot of action at our farm with lots of world-class riders using the facility to train their horses.
The shutdown has hit our income, and teaching clinics is a good way of making a bit of coin while things are quiet. Clinics are also a nice break from the monotony of working every day on our farm. Driving around or hopping on a plane to visit a new area and meeting new people is quite enjoyable for me. It’s also fun going back to the same spots year after year and watching horses progress, and making some great friends all around the country that share the same interests I have.
I’m also getting the hang of teaching some good lessons. Deep down I feel like I’m a little bit of a fraud because a lot of the lessons I teach are lessons I’ve been taught by legendary riders over the years. I’ve been lucky to work with some of the great trainers of the world in Australia and America, and experienced lots of their lessons that have really worked for my horses and that I recreate for the clinics that I teach. But now I feel like I’m developing my own style as a teacher.