Everything Else International Event Forum

Eventing Forum – Andrew Nicholson – Older Horses

This is the final instalment from the Eventing Forum. This was as good as the young horses session and fascinating to see Andrew’s thoughts on both his horses.

Jetset – 8yo advanced horse.

‘I think he is very, very good. Very good at all three phases. He is another Spanish one and he started with Luis 10959549_780009548714842_7727731899895121048_nAlvarez de Cervera the showjumping coach, he jumped as a 4/5yo and then he came to me when he was just turning 6yo. Shows you the difference in the stride pattern, he would have done all the little exercises since he was 4yo. They jump them nearly every other day over little grid type things and as he was a big horse with quite a lot of blood he was very quick to take a stride so his main training would have been to teach him to do short strides through combinations. Whereas I had to turn him around to jump very flat and very quick. I did think at the beginning that I might begin to pay the price in a combination in the showjumping. But it has actually worked the opposite, the less shortening we have done the better he has got at doing it for himself at competitions.’

‘He is a pleasure to ride cross country because you can add a stride if it’s a 5 stride distance and you can do 6 strides or you can do 4 strides. He can alter his stride pattern very easily and quickly. He had not been back in work that long and he will have been very excited to have got on the lorry.’

‘He did one at advanced at the end of last year and won it. He was very good at Le Lion and in his 2* competitions. We keep playing around to get him relaxed, moving the front around a little bit. He is a very good galloper and he has quite a lot of warmblood in him but it must be a warmblood which has a lot of TB in his breeding because he feels like a TB to gallop. He never really gets tired. You see I can add a lot more strides straight off than either Zach the grey one and that is through all the training he has done. He would take just as big a stride but because he has done so much of the training he is very happy to stay shortened until you tell him otherwise.’

‘I have a grid set up down the end here, it’s another exercise I will do with a lot of the horses once they have started eventing. The grid is to make them short and round.  We have a canter pole to vertical to a cross which is a bounce one stride to the vertical. I always like them to have the jump behind the vertical smaller, I think its too easy to ride a grid getting bigger. We always want them to know they have front legs and back legs and it’s up to him to jump. All I can do is ride on a level stride and let him deal with the jump. You will see as the vertical starts getting bigger they have to be quicker with their hind legs. This horse does not need to do wide distances, it’s better to be doing shorter at home.’

‘The reason I do it with them between events is  to shorten them and to get them doing that higher more 10959437_780009645381499_8501885401878456026_nshowjumping technique. They will have been galloping. At every event you go to you jump about 12 fences in the showjumping and then 23 on the cross country so for a novice you teach them to get flat and their stride long, this is why this is good to get it back up again. Often with novice horses I accept that the showjumping goes a bit pear-shaped sometimes because I am worried about the cross country. I know the showjumping comes back when they get stronger and can carry themselves. I have taught them to be brave. My horses have a lot of trust, I don’t beat them up, I ride them consistently all the time so therefore they get very brave, so for them the showjumping is not enough to make them back off. Normally half way through their 5yo year they learn about the showjumping, about sitting and doing it correctly.’

‘The other thing I don’t like is turning off the jumps. See how he is not that keen to go past people, but I don’t turn off. If you turn off you keep letting the same problem happen again and the horse begins to think that I will turn off but he has to jump the jump no matter what.’

‘See what I mean about the sharpness? He feels like he dances between the fences. This horse is very agile and quick on his feet. Now we have an oxer at the end. This is not something you need to do a lot of. I do a vertical like that then 4/5 times over the oxer and that is that. If you keep doing it the novelty wears off and you want them to do it correctly, smartly and when it becomes an oxer it becomes much harder. They have to go up on a short stride and stretch out.’

‘We will do it once more and then jump two simple fences. So the reason I have bought him along is to show you this and to show you what I mean about trying to be smooth up to the jump.’

‘We let him travel quite a lot, off the bend, I sit against him and look for the distance. The distance was too close but that is what you would do cross country. Now we will just add the strides, and you will see how the time starts ticking by.  I had a much more impressive jump and probably wasted half a second coming to it but it was a much better jump but it’s not what I want cross country. It’s what I want showjumping. I was not just galloping it, I was riding the rhythm and riding the stride. I could see I was going to be a bit deep but instead of pulling on him I just sat a little bit against him. I find if I go to the first two fences on cross country and I have to do that (have a more showjumper stride) you end up struggling to get round in a fast rhythm. If I can make the first two going forward then it sets them up. The horse starts to look at the fence and help you again.’

‘It’s always much easier to come from a tight turn to a jump which is a long way. With this horse because he is so rideable you can do whatever you want.’

‘Hopefully you can see why I like him. He gives you a very confident feeling at whatever you are doing with him. He feels like he wants to do it. He is very, very quick.’


Brave Horses – ‘At home I don’t have any cross country jumps.  I only have showjumps but I change them all around regularly. Sometimes when you have one from the start, every time you change a jump they look but then I ride them more positively each time. What I do when I start, is like you are not meant to (Andrew goes over a small fence in a forwards walk) it’s a no no to jump from walk now but to be honest when I am cross country schooling for the first time when I get to the jump I ride forwards. I know the strength in my legs. When I tell them to go, they go. On the flat they go when I tell them to go forward. When they are young they have not been messed up and they have no reason to doubt me. The fact that we are jumping does not matter. They are allowed to look but then I will squeeze hard with my legs so they push on the ground and pop over the jump, whereas if I come at a faster speed you cannot control things. Hunting is where I got the idea from. A very bad jumper could walk to that oxer and jump it. It’s also how you ride them, you need to be able to put your leg on and sit behind them and know that the horse sees it in advance and pat the ground and jump. There are ones which make a mistake. Sometimes you get make them brave, they feel brave but they never end up brave. They get through one grade and the next but the same problem appears again. Those ones I try and get rid of quick.’

Do you ever feel scared? ‘ I am very scared now! I have got King Joules to ride next! I get nervous, I get nervous at competitions but for me it’s part of why I do it. It’s living on the edge. I love going cross country schooling on 4yos. They might be struggling round the jumps at home but then you take them cross country schooling and with a little bit more pace and room to get a rhythm they feel like superstars. It’s easy nowadays that you get stuck in an arena and some horses find it difficult to get the power whereas if you give them the space they can generate the power with a rangier stride and they become a different horse. I get nervous the first time in case you do something stupid.’

Cantering to a fence and do you loose jump them? -‘Why do I always canter to a fence? Most of my Spanish ones have loose jumped from 1 year old but most of the others I have, have never loose jumped. They pretty much do the same system. You can trot to very big fences and look beautiful doing it but I always feel awkward. I feel like I am not as effective as I am in canter. I can assure you I have tried it for long enough and now I am very confident that if I go to a trainer who wants me to trot, I can do it but I tell them I have had enough and that I am cantering in. You have to learn and respect what works for you.

Rushing Horses? -‘If I had a horse that was rushing, would I let it make a mistake? That bit is quite tricky to do, you have to have a feeling that the horse is learning why its making the mistake. If I canter to this and get 3 strides from there and I go whack and he shoots over and flies it and then after 3 goes he is now going flat out then that is my fault. If I come to the jump and he starts to go faster and I sit still and he hits it he only has himself to blame. I have not distracted him, I have not told him to rush it and it’s a little the same as doing the opposite of pulling them up before the fence. If you pull them up they can start anticipating and leaping around which is worse. I try to get them to jump everything on the turn which helps. They are quiet in their minds and they have to look at the jump. Land and look at the jump. I find horses which rush, it does them good. Once on a grid like that is enough. After three goes they are making up ground. I would rather ride single fences and ride the rhythm.’

King Joules 

‘This is a former Mary King ride. I had seen him at competitions and he had always looked strong. He has plenty of jump but he looked to be quite strong. Mary got into a little difficulty at Bramham with him, which is when she rang me. I got him a while after Bramham and I did not have very long to get to know him and I found for me that even on the flatwork he goes on and off the contact. One minute you have nothing in your hand and then next minute you have a lot. He was doing some quite smart dressage tests with Mary, he is a beautiful mover but I found that when I got on and touched him with my leg he would shoot forwards and drop the bit which makes him very difficult to go fast on cross country. You need to have a feeling in the mouth even between the jumps when you are letting them glide along, you should be able to loosen them off and they stay in the same rhythm and then when you pick them up they don’t alter their stride. Whereas this one would get strong and then suddenly drop it by tightening his neck but his stride was still massive and he is very fast. He is very fast and does not get tired and can go from 0-60 in a couple of strides. That makes it very difficult to gallop to a fence as the moment you realise you are going to be a little deep, on horses like Jetset I can sit a little against them, this one would shut his neck in and his legs would get faster. So what was going to be a little deep would end up a tip up.’

1621892_780009772048153_621680265086718041_n‘So you then have to manufacture it by saying “I mean whoah”. So the first couple of events was a trial run and I found I had the strength on the single fences but the problem was the turning fences especially when you jumped an oxer and had to turn sharp. The moment he landed and I would go to turn, he would drop the bit shake the head and slip on his backside. I did that at three competitions in a row. Only because he is having a wobble at you asking him to turn. He wants to jump the jumps but won’t give himself the chance. I made it through the season and had a couple of good runs but this season at home I have started to do all the other exercises I have already shown.’

‘When I first went round the circle it was a disaster. I tried him the other day and he was very good so I then changed the circle which I will show in a minute. He could not pop that little pole and keep the contact and the rhythm. He would pop the pole, speed up and then trip over the next pole. He must have gone round 6 times before he realised what he had to do. Now he is getting a crash course on jumping and turning. The odd thing is down straight lines he is spectacular because you are in a straight line. You turn into the jump sit there and it’s like a show jumper, So for me I need to work him down to try and get him to take the bit. At least now I have a feeling in each hand. For sure he is too short in the neck and Christoph Hess would be doing his nut in! But I feel like I now have a feeling in each hand and I can put my leg on the way I want to and he does not shoot left or right. Every rider trains them differently. I don’t have any of my own horses that I have had from the beginning which are strong cross country. They learn from the beginning to go fast at the correct speed. I expect them to be able to go inside the time as novices from their third event onwards quite easily if I want to.’

‘A lot of people think you are teaching them to be strong but it’s not, this horse has spent a lot of time going slowly and I don’t think it has helped him at all because he has got such a range of stride, it’s like the jump is not big enough to help him. Then he has got the other problem, he is very spooky so you can be trotting round the jumps and he will spook and you will think he is verging on the chicken side but he is not he is very brave so it is quite a fine line being able to ride with enough leg pressure to get over the spookiness without making him want to run off.’

‘His circle system is slightly different from the others. Its a bigger circle. Vertical, oxer, vertical and then bounce.’

‘It’s just rhythm. We don’t have to look for the stride we ride the rhythm. See how now he keeps the contact. We can go round the other way, slower. See, what I mean about him being spooky? Going to jump that in a minute!’

‘We have the circle with a variety. What I want him to do is jump, land and look at the next. You will see with the 10945749_780009788714818_8920031550154911368_noxer that if I get a nice big jump how difficult it makes the turn to the next.’

‘So you can see he is a beautiful jumper if he gave himself a chance. He wants to spook at this so I move him into it with a lot more leg pressure than I had at any of the others. I sit off his back so he lands quiet. Sit off his back quiet, quiet, quiet and then move up. See what I mean about sitting off his back so you get a quiet jump and see how quick we can turn. I will come round this time a bit more moving and see what happens. It’s getting good!’

‘He is a beautiful jumper in his technique, if you saw the photos from Bramham, you would think no, but it’s because he can see the jump. When they are moving their head around they have no chance. It’s important to have the rideability of them. It’s more important than the gallop. This one has so much gallop but unless he starts giving me the rideability then you are struggling. The thing I like about the bigger circle is you can change the jumps. Skinny, water tray, so it’s very fair and clear to them that when you jump and turn that there is a reason. They have to concentrate. They have to help you to get to the right place. Even with this one, and he was very bad, when I first started with him at doing this but he has learnt this very quick. It does not mean he will go to an event and do it straight off but I would like to think that he will start to keep the contact and keep the neck a little more open.’

‘It’s very much me having to ride him accordingly to fit in with him. I cannot expect him to fit in with my system. I have got to adapt a a bit to him as well. After about 5 minutes on the course I have to hold him off fences because he will begin to get too keen but I try and keep still and keep against. I just sit against him as he speeds up and hopefully he keeps his neck open. Having a shorter neck they seem to keep their big stride and they are the hardest ones to ride. He is not strong, it’s more that he does not let his mind work for you. I would rather have a horse that was strong because they keep their neck out. The stride pattern is then easier.’

‘When I first got him, I did not have very long until my first competition with him and I knew the coffin had been an issue for him so, I am not completely mad and head off to an event, so we put a vertical up probably 1.25 and then a big blue water tray 3m behind it and I then galloped him at it, he jumped the rail beautifully and bounced over the water tray and if they are bad horses they don’t do that. You know he wants to be careful but it’s getting him to see the jump. If you go slowly you give them a chance to see the fences but he now has to go 570mpm safely which is the tricky bit.’

‘You see that he had to bounce around first then and that’s the trouble at competition. I hope you don’t think I rode willy nilly to that one that he hit out, I tried to gently tell him to whoah but he sped up, well you have to find the jumps on the course that you think you can do that safely to keep reminding them up here that when you say whoah you mean whoah. You know you might get away with it at that one but at the next one things might get really messy and I know that I am strong enough that I need to at the last minute that I can grab and say no and pull them off the ground. But ideally we want to encourage them to think for themselves. To help me when we are cantering fences at a faster rhythm that he is looking and paying attention ready for me to say move forwards, to wait or to stay the same instead of just thinking of just run.’


Will you be going cross country in a snaffle? – ‘I will go through the schooling in the snaffle and to be honest he feels very good in it but when I went off to the early events with him I wanted to be sure that I would be safe and I knew that with a normal pelham on that I can manufacture that and say no to help him off the ground. So I rarely tried a snaffle but I might well do at the start of the season. I have another type of bit which looks vicious but it isn’t and horses seem to like it so I will probably try him in that one first.’

Have you tried a hackamore? – ‘No after one minute you cannot stop them, I once went cross country in a hackamore and after one minute if you pull and not release it their nose goes numb. So no I won’t use a hackamore!’

Do I normally school without groundlines? – ‘Yes on these sort of exercises, for the novice horse when they jump normal fences they will have groundlines. The verticals will, but not always on the oxers because the oxers you want to encourage them to get up close to jump the back. A lot will have a filler but not a proper groundline. The idea of the groundline is to get them making a nice proper shape. By having a single pole on the circle exercise it’s very simple for the horse to look at and if it goes wrong you do not get tangled up in a lot of poles. You give two poles they have the chance of looking below it. You want the horse looking at the top of the pole.’

Strong horses? – ‘ It’s very different to have an extreme puller which is wooden in its mouth. This horse has the problem of dropping the bit while the body keeps going. If you have a proper strong one with the neck open normally the only problem is turning which is where these exercises can help. They learn very quickly that if you sit behind very slightly that they are going to turn left or right. It is why when I have them as babies they don’t get strong, they learn quickly my body language. There are lots of different bits you can use but at the end of the day if they are very strong they are very strong. I had one who was very strong and I would not jump the practice fence to increase the surprise factor.’

Did you warm up before you came in? – ‘Will I be in the bad books if I say yes, or in the bad books if I say no? They have been standing out the back and I just hopped on. There was no point tiring out the baby ones by warming them up. If you have tired baby horses they don’t learn. You use today like a training day while hopefully entertaining the crowd. For horses like Jetset its better to come in fresh and show you what they are like. At home they would not do anymore warm up to what I did today. If you are jumping 18 horses at home in a day like this time of year there is not time for it and it does not help the muscles. People warm them up, and warm them up. I try to hop on and jump them. I school some very good racehorses. I hop on them walk them to the end, turn around and we are off. I can see the logic of it a horse is a horse, it’s muscles are harder. It’s different if they have injuries but if fit and sound have a walk and trot around, jump a couple of jumps and then away. I have a walker which they go for 30 minutes after they are worked. Some will go on before they are worked but I have not found it makes any difference to them. The naughty ones don’t get any quieter so go on after work.’

Calmer? – ‘Do I think a calmer would work on a horse like this? You have got the wrong rider! It possibly would, but it’s not something I do. I just feed them normal feed it’s very, very rare I feed any supplements. Then I can feel like I know what I have got.’

Why doesn’t he ride mares? – ‘I have got some mares, got a very good one called Quanza. The reason I never used to have mares was that when we had steeplechase they were difficult to sell because people had this assumption that they would get muscle problems in the 10 minute box after the steeplechase. When I started watching. the ones who tied up were often mares. That has all gone and I will buy mares, I ride them and sell them. But the mare has to be very much better than the gelding to be in with a chance of selling it.’

What does he look for in a horse? – ‘The price? I go very much on my first impression, I am very confident buying unbroken 3yos. Their head is the first thing, they have to have a head which says try me. They don’t have to be pretty or beautiful but just have something. I am not overly critical on conformation apart from there are certain things I don’t have – bad wind or hocks I don’t have. I don’t mind if they twist a front foot in or out, if they dish, if they are pigeon toed. If they look athletic and have a good attitude to work I can forgive them quite a lot of things and I am safer buying unbroken than ones I am riding. I have a bad habit of buying ones I think I can fix and I think most good riders make that mistake. You should feel like you can ride it and not feel that you can buy it and in 3 months make it, but you might make it and it goes pear shaped afterwards.’

It was a fascinating insight into the system and for me one with many take homes.

It was announced at the end that next year Ingrid Klimke will be one of the guest speakers. We are already looking forward to the International Eventing Forum 2016!

About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.

1 Comment