Eventing Champion Harry Meade shares his experience of keeping busy and staying positive during lockdown.
It’s extraordinary to think that every sector in every country has been affected by what’s going on in the world. Like everyone, we’ve had to adapt and adopt what we felt was the best strategy, which has been to keep our full team of staff intact and devise a new programme for the horses, trying to see the positives and find opportunities.
In many ways, having an enforced period of training at home is no bad thing for the horses. Mine are very much continuing with their training and they have made huge strides in the couple of months since the start of the hiatus. The first move was to swap their fastwork for a more strengthening-based programme – working in walk and trot on the steep hills or on a water treadmill, rather than galloping – as the strength they develop through this time-consuming work will stay with them throughout their career, whereas any fitness gained through fastwork is temporary and more attritive.
Each horse is also having more frequent days off. I’ve focused on test riding in order to maintain structure to the training and used the time to work on the flying changes for all the intermediate horses. The aim has been to make progress during the enforced break so that when we start eventing – whether that’s imminently or not until next season – they’re all much further on in their training than they were when the stop button was hit.
From May to June is usually one of the busiest periods in our calendar; back-to-back international events mean I’m usually away from home and the yard the majority of the time. Being around has been a positive, largely because it’s allowed for really in-depth training of the horses. Much of the work during the season is short-term tweaking for the next event, so the past eight weeks has been more like the pre-season routine when you get right to the essence of a horse’s way of going. It’s also a benefit to our team as I’m able to teach them myself on a daily basis.
We’ve had eight members of staff living with us throughout lockdown with no let up, and my wife, Rosie, has been amazing to make this work. In many ways it’s been a fun experience and has brought the team closer together with campfires and games in the evenings, as well as formal inter-team competitions to put the training into practice and give everyone some goals and fun.
During the winter we purchased the yard I’d rented for many years and the house in which I grew up. It was about to go on the market, and we’d been trying to buy it for some time. It’s a huge relief as our whole training philosophy has been shaped by the set-up here, and it’s where my father’s horses were produced before mine.
There’s been plenty of projects to get on with – we’re on top of the office work and we’ve done a huge amount of sorting, clearing, planting and fencing. This week’s project has been making a crossing place in a stream next to our lane, so the horses paddle through water every time they do roadwork. It was two full days’ work for four people, which isn’t time we’d usually have. We’re excited to be putting in a new Equestrian Surfaces arena and lunge pen. Given that soundness is the most important factor in the production of horses, the surface they work on is absolutely key. I’ve been particularly keen to find a surface that’s consistent and stable in all seasons, but most importantly that isn’t too waxy, allowing a greater degree of movement underfoot, whether that be ‘life’ on impact, or freedom for a horse’s foot to slide rather than jar, and to rotate rather than twist the limb.
There’s often little time to concentrate on the bigger things in life, so we’re trying to make the most of it and see the good in this break.