Ireland’s Daniel Coyle and his mount, Farrel, won the World Cup at tbird, the last big in-person event at the local show park in August 2019. Their strong showing demonstrated the importance of the horse-and-rider team. (MOI Photography,tbird/Special to Langley Advance Times)

Ireland’s Daniel Coyle and his mount, Farrel, won the World Cup at tbird, the last big in-person event at the local show park in August 2019. Their strong showing demonstrated the importance of the horse-and-rider team. (MOI Photography,tbird/Special to Langley Advance Times)

TBIRD ACTION

Nations Cup: Making of a great equestrian rider

Together horse and rider make a powerful jumping team, and rider must bring A-game to elite contests

by Ronda Payne/Special to Langley Advance Times

It’s been said that a horse and rider team consists of 51 per cent the horse and 49 per cent the rider – or vice-versa on any given day.

What that ultimately means is that horse and rider make up an athletic team where both athletes need to be at their best to compete and have a shot at winning.

What makes a good rider? Chris Pack, tbird’s president and operations director, said it’s a combination of factors.

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“I think hard work and the ability to keep on learning,” he shared.

“There are 60- and 70-year-old riders who are still riding and having their best rounds because they continue to adapt and apply what they learn.”

Also, because every horse is different, with different strengths and weaknesses, a rider must be able to adjust to that horse and allow it to be its best.

“You don’t want to hold your horse back,” he said, noting each horse brings a different lesson to the rider.

Part of helping the horse half of the team excel, surprisingly, comes from human strength, Pack explained.

Because professional equestrian riders make their job look easy, it’s common to overlook the amount of training they do to make sure they have the strength necessary to let the horse do its part.

“It’s all these things you don’t see,” said Pack.

“All these top riders in the world, they work on core strength and leg strength. The science of fitness and diet is huge now.”

For a horse to make jumps appear effortless, the rider must be able to maintain the optimum balance in the saddle so the horse is never pushed the wrong way with undesired momentum.

It takes an incredible amount of core and leg strength to stay still, using only the desired muscles, while on top of a 1,200-pound animal clearing jumps of 1.5 to 1.6 metres.

One of the riders that Pack points to for athleticism is 42-year-old Kent Harrington, who will ride for the U.S. team at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup at tbird.

Harrington has always had an interest in fitness and talks about it on various social media channels.

He has a video on his Instagram account showing him doing a handstand on a half-ball balance trainer.

With that much strength in his upper body and core, it’s no wonder he’s one of the best riders in the world and has a sponsorship from TechnoGym, Pack noted.

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Mental fitness is essential, as well.

Competing as a horse and rider team is stressful, but when that team of two is part of a larger team, representing a nation and the goal is to make the Olympics, the pressure ratchets up.

“You’re competing as a team and with your team,” said Pack.

“It’s not just for you. It’s for your team and your country.”

Getting enough sleep and taking time to become focused before a round are other aspects that bring a complete package to the ring, Pack elaborated.

Bottomline, a great rider makes use of their own mental and physical abilities, but also their relationship to the horse to ensure everyone succeeds.

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