Samantha Clark has a lovely long chat with top German event rider Bettina Hoy, in which she discusses her training system and plans for the future.
Bettina Hoy generously spent some time to talk to Eventing Nation recently about her horses and her hopes for the future. I’ve been a huge fan since the Ringwood Cockatoo days – for her talent on and off a horse naturally, but also for her style and grace under pressure and in horrible circumstances, and her relentless and infectious sense of humour and bubbly joie de vivre.
Time Off and Preparing for Spring
Bettina has five horses to ride and compete, and after a brief break for herself and a slightly longer one for them they are all back in work in earnest, “Lanfranco had almost six weeks off after Burghley and he’s in full work again, Designer had four weeks off after Boekelo and he’s just started hacking now. When they have time off I don’t really believe in taking all their shoes off and roughing them off completely because they’re so overprotected throughout the season that I would feel bad, but I did let the five year old go barefoot for two shoeings – he’s now got his front shoes back on but I’ve left the hind shoes off. I also take into account what their feet look like; one youngster needs the support of the shoes behind. They go out in the field for most of the day, and sometimes they do a little while on the horsewalker on top of that so I know that they’re moving enough because the fields that I have in Warendorf wouldn’t be that big and I like to have them moving about, but I don’t ride them. The youngsters had a little bit of a holiday throughout the season as well so they didn’t need a long holiday, they just had a little bit of an easy time and now they’re doing a little bit more again.” Next year Bettina hopes to relocate to England, hopefully the Marlborough area, ” I haven’t got an exact date but I’d like to be there in time for the start of the season, so sometime in early March is the plan at this stage. I’d like to be at Maizey Manor but I’m not sure if there will be room because Caroline Powell is there with all her horses.” Before then Bettina has a busy winter schedule teaching in New Zealand and Australia in January to coincide with Tim Price and Jonelle Richards’ wedding, and here in the US in February.
“I do enjoy giving clinics. I think having done it for so many years to support myself financially from a very young age, and obviously sitting on those horses as well and riding lots of horses I’ve learnt over the years, especially when you just have someone for a short time such as a weekend or one or two lessons, to focus on what I think makes the biggest difference in bringing it forward, so you pick on maximum two things. Often you’ll see someone and there could be a hundred things that need working on, or a thousand things that you could say, but first of all there’s no way that anyone could remember all that, and they physically and mentally can’t take that on board so you have to nail it down to what is the most important to change first which is what I try to do. Having taught and ridden for so many years I’m normally quite good at working out where the problem is, and digging in and trying to give them exercises to work on until they come again, or even to move on with someone else if that’s how it works out. I really enjoy my teaching and I definitely want to do more of that so that at some stage, probably similar to Clayton, I’d say I’m just going to produce some young horses and focus more on the training side than the top level competition, it’s just taking me a bit longer to get there! Maybe then in time I’d even take a rider on that does the work with the horses and together we would produce them and sell them on which I haven’t done so much in the past, I’m a very bad seller of horses – if I don’t like the person it doesn’t’ matter how much money they want to pay me, I just can’t do it!”
So can Bettina picture herself as a team trainer in the future?
“Definitely, definitely – that’s definitely something I’d like to do, having some students based with me wherever I’m going to be and passing my knowledge on because I was in the lucky position of having had great trainers, my dad obviously above every other one but there was Klaus Balkenhol and a lot of our famous German show-jumpers and show-jumping trainers that I had lessons from, and also Andrew (Hoy) in areas of cross county and the fitness work with the horses, and I’d like to be able to pass that on. I’m happy to travel all over the place and teach and pass my knowledge on.”
How Bettina Got So Good
”I think we are very lucky in Germany to have such an amazing system in how we start to learn riding, and then obviously it depends very much on who your trainer is. I was in the extremely lucky position of working with my dad; in my eyes he’s the most amazing horse person ever because he’s jumped up to Grand Prix level but he never evented or did dressage, and a lot of things were self-taught. He has such an amazing feel and also eye for a horse. The one thing that probably made the biggest difference to me was when I got on a horse and I was physically not strong enough, my dad got on so I could watch what he was doing, and then he got the horse through, the horse was softer, then he put me back on so I could feel the difference. Once you know what ‘good’ feels like you can then try to work out a way of re-creating that feeling with your own physical strength, to bring out the best in the horse to his physical ability and your physical ability, but unless you’ve had that feeling once – how does it feel when a horse is soft, for a lot of people it is actually normal to have 20 or 30 kilos in their hands because that’s what it always feels like and they don’t know that you shouldn’t have that much weight in your hands, they don’t know what a big trot feels like, or an uphill canter feels like – unless you sit on a horse that does it you wouldn’t know what the feeling is like. That was one thing that certainly helped me a lot. In Germany we have so many good trainers and the basic foundation in our educational system is very good. We probably have easier access to learning the correct way of riding on the flat.”
Bettina, who still works with her father occasionally, acknowledges that he was a hard taskmaster who didn’t lavish praise readily, and when she teaches now she tries to strike a balance, “I keep saying to my students the more I shout the more I care! If I don’t shout and just speak to them in the same nice tone then they should worry! If I get really excited about someone and really want them to do it then I shout but I am aware that you do need to praise because you need to get this positive feedback for motivation.”
Lucinda Green’s daughter Lissa is spending some time training with Bettina in Germany, and Bettina uses her as a classic example of an English versus German upbringing though riding, “Lissa is a really good kid and she really wants to learn and she asks a thousand questions every day with those wide eyes, and I put her on various horses so that she feels everything. In comparison to when I leant how to sit and what to do, she’s already done a lot on her own before learning the basics really which is not easy, it’s the same as with a horse in a way, you have to undo everything that was done wrong. If you have raw talent there it’s very easy to form here in Germany because from the beginning you learn correctly how to do it and then it all falls into place really quickly, whereas with Lissa or people like Lissa who have done a lot on their own and then maybe had some time away from riding and come back, and now at her age are wanting to do it seriously it is hard work, it really is, and you have to grit your teeth. She told me she was so sore and I replied that we haven’t even done that much! ‘But I am so muscle sore’ she told me again, and I replied that was cool, it means you’re starting to use the right muscles, and I can give you a few exercises for when you’re not on the horse so you can work those muscles even more, but she’s very willing and I enjoy that! “
“The British riders were always taught not to look at the horse and so then you have these people, they have this vague look on their face, like Lissa for example, it looks as if she doesn’t focus on the horse but she rides a turn and she looks into the circle onto the floor, and I keep saying, ‘What information do you get from the floor?’ and she replies, ‘Nothing, but I’m supposed to not look at the horse!’ If you look at the horse you can see if he’s tilting, you can have your hands in your eyesight, because I keep telling her to straighten her left wrist, and that all comes back to learning in Germany; we get drilled from the word Go to sit correctly, and then if you sit correctly it’s so much easier to give correct aids because you then feel the instant result, you can’t do that in the wrong position. That’s what I mean with undoing a lot of things with Lissa because she’s got a lot of habits…the horse follows your eye the same as your body, I find it really bizarre and a lot of English people have this vacant, faraway look on their face and I wonder what they’re thinking because it looks so completely detached from what they’re doing!”
What surprised me when I first met Bettina in person is how petite she is and very feminine, and then this year when I saw both Querdolan and Lanfranco up close and personal I was intrigued to find out more about her program – they’re both huge horses, relatively speaking, and they both looked as fit as fiddles when I saw them and impossibly strong and bursting out of their skins (Querdolan breathing fire at Aston le Walls, and Lanfranco oozing rude health at Burghley) and couldn’t appear to be more different to the immaculately behaved Irish Sport horse Ringwood Cockatoo.
“In a way, the more difficult the horse the more of a challenge I feel in trying to get them to give me 100% of their ability, obviously not every time out, but I enjoy the feeling of bringing them physically into the position that they can easily do what I would like them to do. As an example I had a young horse that breeding-wise we thought would be an amazing eventer and then he turned out to not be careful enough over the colored poles; he was great cross country and amazing on the flat so I turned him into a dressage horse because I recognized that eventing was not his destiny. I love to try and figure out each horse’s destiny. I sold that particular horse as a dressage horses and in no time he was placed at Prix St George level, and was sold very well to a nice lady who wanted to do dressage but also hack, and having previously done some eventing he was obviously the perfect horse for a mother of two that wants to do some proper dressage but also go for a safe hack and just have a little bit of fun. “
Lanfranco TSF will be aimed at Badminton next Spring
“I’m really looking forward to it. Now everyone is saying that Burghley is much more difficult and bigger than Badminton, so now that he’s done Burghley and gone so well there I’m really excited. I just hope that, with him being quite a nervous horse and getting upset very quickly, that the competition environment at Burghley was still a good experience for him because he’s the type of horse that if he’s had a good experience he comes out the next time and is more confident with people around, and with noise and with music and atmosphere and all that. I think overall he had good experiences this year so I can definitely get him to do the dressage test to his ability, which theoretically if he can pull off what he produces at home, then he can go equally as well as Ringwood Cockatoo. I think with the experiences he had this year he’s going to come out a different horse in 2013.”
“I had a chat with Chris (Bartle) and Hans (Melzer) about him the other day; Chris said he would like me to do Bramham and Hans said he would like me to do Luhmuhlen CCI**** next year, because obviously Hans said we need to protect the German competitions which I can understand, and obviously Chris likes people to go to Bramham because it’s close to him and he loves Bramham. He [Designer 10] has done quite a lot this year – he’s done two intermediates and he’s done eight Advanceds and he was placed in every single one of them. I wouldn’t even mind only doing one CCI***, for example Blenheim, in the autumn, and not do two, and maybe not do a four star this early and just give him another year. He’s done everything so easily and he feels amazing but I just don’t know whether I’m asking a nine year old too much to do Luhmuhlen already, I don’t know. The horses that do it so easily and offer so much, it’s very tempting to keep doing one step after the other without ever having to take a step backwards. I was talking to Jacky Green about it in the summer and she agreed – he started eventing when he was six and did Le Lion CCI* the first year, did the CCI** there last year, and now in his third year eventing he’s already successful at three star level – she said it’s so unusual that you never feel you have to take a step back to keep the confidence growing or keep them happy and I’ve never had that feeling, I’m just a bit nervous that I’m asking too much by asking one competition and one level after the other. I don’t know, I listened to both of them and I think I’ll see how he starts in the season, and just do some quality CIC***s and just make sure he’s really understanding every single question on cross country so that I can take him to a four star, and then I’ll think about it. At the end of the day I don’t have anything to prove anymore, I’ve done my bit. As much as I’d obviously love to represent Germany again at a big Championship, it’s not the be-all and end-all to me, and I still have Lanfranco as well so I can take it slowly if I feel it’s in the interest of the horse.”
” I do feel with the kind of horse that he is a decision needs to be made about whether he is going to be a breeding stallion or a sport horse, he gets very affected by other horses being around and loses concentration very quickly, and it almost feels a bit unfair; concentration-wise he finds that very tough and then he switches off and you don’t get the performance that he’s capable of. From a breeding point of view he’s so amazingly bred as a show-jumper as well as for eventing that it would be a shame to cut him, and from what I understand he’s also got some amazing young horses on the ground but I think with him it might be difficult to ask him do both.”
“Ringwood Cockatoo just finished 7th at the Interschool Championships in England. He probably should have won, he produced the most amazing test, apparently it was faultless and he’s won every qualifier and every other competition with over 70%. What I love though is that he’s treated like the star that he is , and for him he doesn’t’ know it’s only the Interschool Championships, it’s probably feels the same as the big Championships and that’s great, he loves being there and they’re absolutely fantastic with him.”
Christmas, New Years, Hopes and Dreams…
”I haven’t discussed with my groom yet whether she wants Christmas or New Year off, knowing her and she’s the big party girl she’ll probably want New Year off so I’ll probably spend Christmas with my parents who are only about an hour away. I normally vaccinate the horses on Christmas Eve so that they have two easier days anyway. On New Year’s Eve last year I stayed with some friends nearby but I left their party at about 11pm when they start the fireworks, because especially a horse like Lanfranco gets quite upset so I had my little glass of champagne at midnight with my horses, and I stayed with them until all the fireworks were finished at about 1am and then I went back to the party. I wished for the divorce to be finished so that I can move on, and for my horses to have some cool performances. With all this personal mess it was such a huge relief to have the horses step up at Burghley, Boekelo and Blenheim, it made such a difference to me personally, and having such a great time with everyone at Maizey. It was such a cool team and we got on so well and it made a real difference to all of us because we were all so highly motivated, we bounced ideas off each other, we helped each other, it was a really good training environment. That’s another reason why I’d like to go back to the UK; the facilities here in Warendorf are great and there are amazing trainers here but the atmosphere in England is much better for me personally than it is here. This year I would probably wish for the same thing – I just want some really cool performances for my horses, it would be amazing to do well at Badminton, that would be amazing, and if I get picked for another team whether it’s the coming year or the year after for the World Championships. There is still the dream of going to another Olympic Games, no doubt about it, Rio would definitely be something that I’m aiming for long-term and that is always in the back of my mind whatever I’m doing.”
Many, many thanks to Bettina for chatting to us, and we can’t wait to hopefully bring you a report on her Stateside clinics early next year. Raising a glass to her and the entire Eventing Nation on New Years Eve and of course wishing that all your dreams come true – Go Eventing!