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Top Tips from William Fox-Pitt

Expert advice from an Eventing legend...

As one of Eventing’s most successful riders of all time, William Fox-Pitt was not only the first British rider to become World No.1, but he’s also represented Great Britain at almost every major event over the last couple of decades including the Olympics, FEI World Equestrian Games, and FEI European Championships.

Oh, and there’s the small matter of the 14 five-star events he’s won.

He also played a supporting role in the coaching of the Japanese team who excelled at Tokyo 2020 – and plenty of eagle-eyed fans spotted him walking the course with the Japanese riders!

Here are some snippets of advice we’ve garnered from various clinics, books, interviews, demos, and more. Hopefully, one or more of them will be useful in your riding!

1. You Don’t Need the Fanciest Horse
In an FEI interview with William, he said that he doesn’t like a horse who is “too good.” That is, a horse who over jumps with huge scope, or moves like Valegro. Not for Eventing anyway, where your horse only needs scope and movement for around 1.30 jumping and Advanced/PSG Dressage at most.

In fact, he says, a horse who is extravagant in their style is less likely to cope with the demands of Eventing and might suffer soundness issues. So go and look at that plain but reliable horse instead of the one with huge flashy paces!

2. The Right Warm Up is Important
Do you know the purpose of your warm up? Many riders, when asked this question, aren’t actually sure. You should always have a structure and a plan for your warm up; the main aim is to get your horse relaxed, loose in his body, and responsive to the aids. The exact way you achieve this will depend on your horse.

Additionally, when it comes to Eventing you’ll often ride all three phases on one day, so it’s more important than ever to not overdo your warm up. The last thing you want is an exhausted horse in the cross-country phase.

William says he often only jumps two or three fences in his XC warmup, and says the first five fences on course are a bit like a warm up anyway. So, resist the urge to jump 20 fences for your own nerves, especially if your horse has already worked hard that day.

3. Incorporate Trot Jumping
Trot jumping is often incorporated by showjumpers into their training regime, and William Fox-Pitt is a fan too. There is a myriad of reasons you might use trot jumps. One of the main ones is that it teaches the rider to stay loose and follow the movement of the horse, so they learn to always be “with” the horse.

It’s also great for improving the reactions of both horse and rider, and can help a lazy horse improve his technique without having to jump huge to see benefits.

4. Don't Go too Big too Fast!
Fox-Pitt also maintains that it’s important to always start small and simple when you jump. Even if you’re an experienced rider on an experienced horse, confidence can be dented easily. And once you’ve lost that confidence, it’s much harder to gain back.

So always start with something simple, and then build up to bigger/wider/skinnier/more complicated instead of over facing your horse too early on.

5. Aim for a 7!
Even though lots of event riders find Dressage pretty boring, there’s no denying that a good test is often what decides the winning combination. William’s approach to the Dressage phase is that you should aim for a “clear round” – in this case, always aim for a 7.

Hopefully you’ll get a few 8s and 9s as well. If you have the occasional “fence down” or mistake. and get a lower mark as a result, don’t stress about it. Just focus on riding the next movements right.

If you’re consistently scoring 7s with a couple of 8s and even a couple of 6s, your overall marks will still be good enough to get you on the leaderboard.

6. Give your Horses Enough Rest
William is a big fan of not overworking horses. Which makes sense logically, because an overworked, sour horse isn’t likely to soar around 5* courses with no problems. But it’s still quite hard for a lot of us to implement in reality.

Not only do his horses typically get a long holiday in the field 24/7 over winter (basically, they turn into feral hairy ponies!), but they also need peaks and troughs in their training and prep for an event. So make sure to incorporate days off, as well as days of light work like stretches or trail rides. Even (especially?) in the run up to a competition.

7. Don’t Lose Sight of the Bigger Picture
Despite his impressive record, Fox-Pitt says that winning really isn’t everything. He advises that you set goals around specific events you’d like to win or do well at for a specific season. In between those events, you can view competitions as training and growth to bring yourself closer to those goals.

So at “training” events, the focus should be on doing things as well and competently as you can, not on compromising your goals by going faster or turning tighter when you’re not quite there in your training schedule.

We really appreciate all this great advice from such a champion! For more tips, visit our Teach Me section.

Words by Sophie Baker

Article courtesy of FEI

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