A Word for Word Recital of 28th March Demo Written by Anna from Salute
“I believe she was the best event mare ever”, says Lucinda Fredericks, of Headley Britannia, the plucky, 15.2hh, chestnut mare whom Lucinda piloted to victories at Badminton, Burghley and Luhmuhlen and with whom she picked up a silver medal for Australia at the 2008 Olympic Games.
There is a time, BB, ‘Before Brit’, when mares were rare to grace the top echelons of eventing, and if they did, it was perhaps regarded as a one-hit-wonder.
Lucinda’s trademark finger-point to her equine partner at every lap of honour predated Mo Farah’s ‘M’, or Usain Bolt’s ‘U’, but has been copied by riders ever since, all understandably in awe of their horses’ achievements.
AB, ‘After Brit’ we’ve seen the likes of Faere Dimaggio, Classic Moet and Vanir Kamira competing – and winning – at the pinnacle of our sport and the ‘market’ for mares is on an even footing as geldings.
What’s even more apparent is that as Lucinda explains, “Brit was not really that good – but she was trainable, tough and sound.”
And those three elements are certainly echoed by Jonelle Price and Piggy March, riders of Classic Moet and Vanir Kamira – who notably claim it is the ‘heart’ of these mares that brings success – not their paces, power or ability.
And so on a chilly March evening at West Wilts Equestrian Centre, Lucinda brings forward four descendants of ‘Brit’, to showcase how she trains horses to fulfil their potential – whatever their strengths, weaknesses, size or personality.
Piloting these horses are none other than Ellie Fredericks – another homebred of Lucinda’s! – and Megan Elphick, the darling of social media whose ‘Elphick Event Ponies’ You Tube Channel is inspiring riders – and non-riders – into the sport of eventing.
But neither of these riders took to the spotlight, their quiet, effective riding letting the horses and training exercises excite the audience.
Setting the tone for the evening was host sponsor, HUSK, the founder, Louise Butcher, introducing her brand’s saddlecloths and unique cross-country and work boots that were designed to prevent tendon injuries caused by over-heating.
Louise’s scientific approach to development of her products was then mirrored by Lucinda’s lecture demo – all witnesses being left in no doubt that what Lucinda says, WORKS!
Lucinda also made mention of Pure Feed – the horse’s all looking incredible, and spectators were also able to take advantage of the code ELLIEFREDERICKS for 10% off www.saluteequestrian.com – the inventors of the Click & Connect Neck Strap as sported by all the horses. (Readers can also use this code!)
At 15yrs old Britannia’s Mail (Marley) was the first embryo transfer of Brit’s and is himself an established eventer – and popular sire with over 160 children.
Lucinda produced him to Advanced before her injury and after a couple of years with professionals deputising, the reins were handed over to a then, very young, Ellie, and he’s taken her to her first Advanced and onto a top 10 placing at Rockingham CCI-L 3* against senior riders.
Lucinda also introduced three grandchildren of Headley Britannia.
We meet Britannia’s Bijou (Timmy), out of a daughter of ‘Brit’, Bella Britannia and sired by a 12.2hh stallion ‘Catherston Bright Star’ he sadly is just a squeak over being eligible for ponies but being small himself, he’s giving people the option of an event stallion for their bigger mares.
He is cocky, with a pony brain and is rarely let off the lead rein – but when he does, wow is he incredible to watch, especially as he’s only rising 6 years old and it is no wonder this stallion scored 10/10 for his jumping technique at the Stallion gradings.
Then we met two rising five year-old siblings born using embryo transfer.
Upper Class Brit (Daisy) and Upsi Britannia (Upsi) share their parentage – being sired by the incredible Upsilon, and with their dam being Little Britannia – the first daughter of Headley Britannia and by Jaguar Mail.
Thanks to the ground-breaking ability of embryo transfer, Little Britannia was born in the same year as her parents were both competing in the Olympic Games in eventing and show jumping.
Little Britannia herself reached Advanced level but was then sold on as a broodmare after Lucinda herself was injured.
Lucinda explained, “They have the same parents but are totally different in temperament and physique.”
Upsi was gelded due to his temperament but thankfully there’s some frozen semen stored, while there’s no doubt people will be interested in embryos, should they be collected from Daisy in the future.
Thus the siblings and their relations, gave an insight into Lucinda’s philosophy for educating young horses – with a curriculum that can be adapted to the horse as an individual.
Lucinda says, “I’m not a fan of feral four year olds who are already able to bring some muscle and strength behind their opinions so I like my young horses to be well handled and use their sponge-like brains to teach them plenty without even sitting on them.”
Thus the young horses are brought in to the yard, perhaps have two weeks of handling or ground work and then, when they appear saturated, are turned out again but as soon as they appear bored or interested in coming in again, so they return – even if that break is just six weeks’ or so.
It is under saddle that we are able to appreciate these horses.
UPSI BRITANNIA – ‘UPSI’
Ellie rode rising five-year-old Upsi whom Lucinda described as a, “Ping, pong ball of power”.
The NEXGEN four year-old champion proves himself cheeky, quick thinking and full of energy.
Lucinda says, “Last year he did two events to give him exposure and although I lunged him for nearly all the warm-up time, the best you could say about his dressage was that he stayed within the boards!”
Bucking meant the pair were far off the leaders and rarely scoring above 5s.
But his jumping is something else and conversely Lucinda says, “We must be careful not to get too excited and to rush him just because he can jump big fences and doesn’t mind what you put in front of him.”
Lucinda uses pole work exercises and says, “Now he’s obedient, potentially we might be able to train his brain”, says Lucinda, adding, “It doesn’t matter how brilliant you are as a rider, if you haven’t got the horse’s brain, you can’t use his talent either.”
UPPER CLASS BRIT – ‘DAISY’
Meg is best known for eventing her 15hh Connemara ponies and to transition onto Daisy would be like landing in another country with a different feel and language.
Riding a strange horse, Lucinda says, “You can assess a horse’s training by whether it can whoa, go, move off your inside leg, move off your outside leg and by how well it can rein back.”
Rising five, Daisy is described as being like spaghetti. And Lucinda says, “She’s a lot like some of the teenage riders I teach – all leg and with no strength – so despite her being the same age as Upsi, she’s at least six months’ behind him physically.”
That said, her brain is quiet, methodical and Lucinda says, “She’s careful; she likes to ponder over things, and Brit was like that – I made a post and rail jump from our property onto Salisbury Plain and Brit wouldn’t go near it, whereas the geldings would jump it and then land in a messy heap as the ground wasn’t good.”
Because of her brain – which Lucinda sees as a huge positive towards her potentially being the best horse she’s bred so far, she is also aware Daisy needs time to mentally, not just physically, adapt to training.
Lucinda says, “I’ve got to let her have rest periods in her training sessions and between sessions.”
With Meg working in trot, Daisy’s long stride is apparent and Lucinda says, “Meg has to sit still and support Daisy.”
Part of that is ensuring Meg has a strong lower leg to support her own balance and Lucinda says, “The rider’s kneecaps must point outwards and toes point outwards and then, if they put weight down onto their big toe and bring their little toe up so their lower leg will wrap around the horse.”
First working on the centre line, Daisy loses energy as she ‘thinks’ about the polework placed in front of her and Lucinda says, “Looking at the poles and counting your stride helps you realise if the energy is changing.”
Gradually the partnership improves and Lucinda admits, “As a child it was clear I wasn’t interested in schoolwork, couldn’t sing or dance, but, I could judge ride in a rhythm and judge a distance, and that’s what I’ve had to learn to teach riders to do.”
BRITANNIA’S BIJOU – ‘TIMMY’
Timmy or Britannia’s Bijou demonstrates more clearly the importance of the horse keeping the rhythm after the fence – not just before it.
“He is young and obnoxious” says Lucinda – although the audience might just see him as uber talented and enthusiastic.
First jumping from trot, Ellie halts after the fences to bring him back.
But then in canter she has to maintain the rhythm.
Lucinda says, “If you think of a half-halt as being half-way to halt, you’ll only pull but the important element is to whoa and then let go.”
In the arena are two corner obstacles, hip hedges and a T bar fence.
Lucinda says, “We forgot to bring the arrowhead to go with the wing so he’s never seen the T bar fence before so we’ll show him that fence at walk before we ask him to jump it – there’s no point giving the horse as shock and encouraging it to run out.”
With this in mind, he’s asked to jump each corner off each rein individually before linking them together on a curving line; and each hedge individually before joining them as a double and then a triple.
Each time Timmy tackles the combinations he does so with a different number of strides – but the rhythm is kept consistent.
Echoing the earlier work shown with Upsi and Daisy, Lucinda says, “I don’t mind how many strides he takes but the line and rhythm must be constant.”
BRITANNIA’S MAIL – ‘MARLEY’
Meg is the first to warm up the schoolmaster stallion, Britannia’s Mail.
“I did a flying change!” says Meg, with delight.
Lucinda explains, “Flying changes really help identify if you’ve got the quality of canter you need to have.”
Lucinda recalls when Brit led the dressage at the 2008 Olympic Games despite not having natural paces.
Lucinda says, “The last movement was riding the two short diagonals in canter with a flying change over the centre line. With my counting, I knew exactly where to position the canter to be exactly on the centre line and pow, Brit performed two exceptional flying changes – the judges had to give her 10s and that was one of the proudest moments of my competitive career with her.”
Their warm up also includes some leg yielding, especially into the corners.
Lucinda explains, “All your communication comes from your body”.
Drawing on the earlier exercises, Meg is encouraged to open and close the canter stride, keeping the rhythm, line and energy, and counting!
Then as she comes to the fence, rather than soften the rein, Lucinda encourages Meg to increase the contact by riding Marley up in to it.
With the aid of the canter poles, Meg and Marley are soon flying down a grid.
Lucinda says, “Consistency is the hardest part of riding and while you don’t have to be perfect, you do have to be fair to your horse.”
Likewise, training the horse to be consistent in its way of going reaps dividends.
Lucinda says, “When a horse is consistent it’s easy but if they are inconsistent then there’s an element of guesswork for the rider.”
Ellie then takes over the reins to practice over the corners and hedges as if riding cross-country.
Impressive, near impossible turns are achieved though Marley’s scope and Ellie’s commitment are evident.
Lucinda says, “That’s cross-country riding – managing in the moment when it’s not perfect and not losing focus”, adding, “It’s unlikely to be a perfect round if you are going fast enough to win!”
That said, Lucinda urged riders to consider their safety, saying, “If the day is not great or there’s a fence you don’t like or ground that won’t suit your horse, remember there’s always another day.”
Peppering her instruction to the riders with praise for their decision making, riding and praise for the horse’s efforts, Lucinda also thanked her team of enthusiastic grooms and course builders throughout the lecture demo.
Concluding, Lucinda said, “It is thanks to Louise from HUSK, to the team here, to my team, to the lovely horses and a special thank you to Brit – She’s done us proud!”