The Hickstead Effect

I grew up with stories about Hickstead – my Mum and Aunt recounted endless tales about sinking in the mud and being stuck there for days, about seeing legends being made when they tackled the Derby bank, about trudging from the stable field down to ring 5 with a pony in each hand – even the tales of getting there before the M4 existed. It is a place of dreams and somewhere that has always been significant to me – it is where I first rode my horse of dreams Floyd, it is where John Whittaker saw me sat under a tree watching him warm up and gave me a wink – it’s also where I was unceremoniously launched into a ditch by a young Pie before he was perfect! It is magical.


Watching Hickstead
Sitting there with Mum last week watching the fantastic horses and riders competing I was so jealous but I was also a little appalled – why do people make such a mess of it? It is important – yes. You work to qualify, work to be ready and have 3 minutes to shine. So what is it about this place that makes people mess it up? I am going to call it the Hickstead Effect.

Symptoms include:

Dopiness – you are going to jump an awesome round in a huge ring at Hickstead so you… walk into the ring, casually on a long rein like in a daydream? Is it avoidance that if you walk really slowly you have a few more seconds before the serious stuff begins? Have you been thinking about the moment for so many weeks that you are literally struggling with reality and unable to trot? Is it the Hickstead bar is just too much fun the night before so you aren’t quite awake yet? If you are going in the ring to win, act like it!

Ditch denial – for my 19th birthday I asked for an afternoons hire of a digger and no one thought this was weird. Why? Because my 19th birthday was 6 weeks before the first time I jumped at the Royal International. There will be a ditch at Hickstead – this is almost a certainty. So dig one and jump it every day! The number of people that had problems at the ditch – the number of professionals that had problems at the ditch was shocking! Yes you can be super prepared and your horse can still let you down but not this number – this was lack of preparation.

Clapping denial – a similar symptom to the above. A clap is the percussive sound made by two striking surfaces. A human clap is performed by the palm of hands, often quickly and repeatedly to express appreciation or approval – also referred to as applause. This is a major event, there will be clapping so why do people look so surprised? Preparing your horse to compete should include work on standing still and dealing with applause. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that people clap when someone wins!

The Freeze – you go out to do your show and ask for canter and nothing happens so you….. Sit there doing nothing? Your horse jumps really stickerly into a double so you ….. Sit there doing nothing? If something doesn’t go to plan then this is not the time to sit there doing nothing! Change your route and act like you never intended to ask for canter there, push on and get out of that double then ride with more determination into the next fence – do something. If you want to win then fight for it and do everything you can, this is no time to sit and do nothing.

Lack of fitness – not many showgrounds have the luxury of huge rings and qualifiers are often held in minuscule arenas but when you go to Hickstead the ring will be huge, it will possibly be on a hill and you need to be ready for it. Do some extra fitness work – it’s no good having the best horse, going great but falling flat before the end because you just aren’t fit enough!

The change – everyone has routines and rituals, sports people are often obsessive about them. So why go to Hickstead and change something? Because it is more important, the routines that work should be even more important. This is not the time to try a new bit, do a new warm up or even wear a new tie!

So next time you are lucky enough to be competing at Hickstead, please be vigilant. The Hickstead Effect can claim anyone!


Floyd flying at Hickstead – courtesy of Simon Palmer

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