By Hardin Towell
How do you plan your horses’ show schedules through the winter? I want to get my horse fit for Winter Equestrian Festival without tiring him out in the December shows.
You have to look at what your goal is for the year with the horse, and backtrack from there. If it’s a young horse, it’s a little bit different because you’re developing it, so you probably wouldn’t do a ton in Florida because it’s the same rings. If it’s a 6-year-old, you’re going to stick to the Young Horse classes and you’re not going to go jump a 1.35m or 1.40m class. You just need to look to see how they’re coming along. If they’re jumping great the first two weeks of the season and go clean in every class, I wouldn’t do much more. Maybe you wait until one of the last weeks of the 6-Year-Old Finals if that’s one of your goals.
As a trainer, I talk to the junior or amateur riders and see what their goal is for WEF. If it’s a hunter, maybe it’s the hunter derby at the end or WCHR week. If it’s jumpers, it might be the U25 Final. Once we set that goal, we backtrack and see what’s going to point towards that goal. With the U25 series, if you aren’t ready by the beginning of WEF then you aren’t going to be ready since those classes only get bigger as the season progresses. So we usually decide if those riders are going to do the whole series or just parts of it.
If it’s a Grand Prix horse, you have to pick different goals based on what the rest of the year looks like. It really depends on the horse and what the person’s goal is for that year. When it comes to our junior and amateur clients, the U25 Final is typically their goal. You have to backtrack from there, thinking about how you can have your horse and your rider most set up to perform best for that big goal class.If it’s a Grand Prix horse, you have to pick different goals based on what the rest of the year looks like. It really depends on the horse and what the person’s goal is for that year. When it comes to our junior and amateur clients, the U25 Final is typically their goal. You have to backtrack from there, thinking about how you can have your horse and your rider most set up to perform best for that big goal class.
What’s the best way to transition my horse from cooler weather to warmer weather in Florida?
All of my horses have been to Florida before, so they take the transition quite well. It’s difficult when they come from Europe sometimes because they’ve never really had that type of heat and humidity. The main thing is keeping the fungus and bacteria off of those horses that aren’t used to the Florida climate. Ones that have been to Florida have a stronger immune system and they can handle that, but when horses come from Europe they typically get fungus since nothing really dies in Florida. Most of the horses handle it fine.
How do you keep your horse(s) from getting bored of the same routine during such a long period of time?
The past few years, we’ve had big farms with big grass fields. The show does get boring, but having big grass fields or being able to take the horses on trail rides and give them plenty of turnout, keeps their minds occupied. By April they’re definitely ready to get out of there and go somewhere new, but a lot of turnout and trail rides help with that.
We also like to keep the exercises at home interesting for them. This exercise is one we use across the globe at Oakland and at every level: We like to jump a series of four or five verticals in a row with one stride in between and a rail in the middle. We also put up guide rails so the horses are forced to rock themselves back and stay straight throughout the whole exercise. We think that’s one of the best exercises to do at home, whether it’s a rest period or you’re gearing up for a show. The biggest thing is shape for horses, and by doing this exercise, they can’t twist and really have to rock back on their hind end.
Is there anything special that you do as a rider or trainer to prepare?
Mentally, I think it’s important to understand that WEF and the winter season is not the end-all. A lot of people put a lot of pressure on the winter season to always get great results, but you really have to use it as a training device. It’s a stepping stone to your goals for the rest of the year. Of course it’s nice to get some good results because it’s a long season, but sometimes those wins can be from just training and developing young horses or getting to know a new horse. There’s more than one way to look at the winter circuit.
Hardin Towell comes from a very prominent equestrian family, with his parents operating Finally Farm in Camden, South Carolina, and his sister, Liza Boyd, dominating the hunter ring. Having great success as a junior hunter and equitation rider, he soon became a professional and continued this success in the jumper ring. Some of his career highlights include qualifying for the FEI World Cup™ Finals in Las Vegas in 2015 and in Gothenburg, Sweden, the following year, when he also won the CSI5* in the Shanghai leg of the Longines Global Champions Tour. Hardin has continued to have international success, and is currently based in Wellington, Florida, where he’s focusing on teaching students.