TeamGB Eventing Coach and Equestrian Surfaces client, Chris Bartle FBHS, shares his insight on training during the coronavirus lockdown, and its impact on the Eventing season.
As we start April in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is a frustrating time for us all. In my role as Coach to TeamGB Eventing, only a month ago I was looking forward to the countdown to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo at the end of July. Then the pandemic wave hit us, just after the new season had kicked off. We’d all been more worried about the state of the ground after such a long, wet winter, little knowing that it would be a global pandemic which would bring everything in our lives to an abrupt halt.
But that’s behind us and we can now look forward to the cycle turning upwards again. The horses are of course oblivious! They’re fit and well, ticking over in slow conditioning and muscle building work. The opportunity presented by this enforced competition break gives riders the chance to focus on training, bringing on the horses’ development and education through Dressage and gymnastic jumping at home.
It’s important to try and give the horses variety in their work. Pole work, cavaletti, gymnastic exercises, both in jumping saddle and in dressage saddle, can all be useful. It’s also a good time to work on the rider’s seat position, for example by riding without stirrups, as well as riding sometimes with quite short stirrups.
Riders can set goals in the work in terms of developing the paces and way of going. We cannot transform event horses into Valegro in terms of their paces, but riders must aim to maximise the marks they can consistently achieve for each movement.
For example, for the horses that might be Team contenders next year, the quality and consistency of the flying changes will be a definite training goal to aim for. The degree of difficulty of the new Olympic Dressage test is not far short of Prix St George. What are often thought of as simple movements, such as halt and rein back, can be perfected.
One positive to come out of this week is that the Olympic Games has already been rescheduled for the same weeks (end of July to beginning of August) in 2021. Hopefully, the FEI will soon confirm what the Horse & Rider qualification requirements will be for the postponed Games. We’re all hoping that there will be a second half to the season. I spoke with the organisers of Luhmühlen in mid-June; they have not yet decided if it will have to be cancelled and do not have to make that decision until the end of April.
So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the strict movement restrictions will be lifted soon to at least allow horses, riders and trainers to move around and recommence normal training. After that we will have to see how it goes and whether the events can start again.