Top form as Olympic delection draws near

“I wish it was tomorrow,” says Britain’s top showjumper, Tim Stockdale when he talks to Island Life about his preparation for the Beijing Olympic Games this August.

Time is ticking away towards the summer, but not quickly enough for Tim Stockdale and his grey mare Fresh Direct Corlato. “She’s one of the top horses in Europe,” he says proudly. Although Corlato has been on top drawer form throughout the winter show circuit, in order to secure her spot on the British Olympic show jumping team for the event to be held in Hong Kong from August 15, the British selectors still ask each potential team member to nominate two outdoor competitions on which their form will be formally judged. No pressure there then Tim!

Tim has chosen the super league shows in both Rome and St Gallen, Switzerland for Corlato’s assessment. “She doesn’t have to win , but she does need to go well,” he explains. “I just have to prove that we can replicate our good winter form. The trick of preparing for the Games is convincing to the selectors that my horse can go very well on those four Olympic days.”

It sounds, oh so simple, but with horses it’s never that easy. “At this moment in time, everything is grand, but June 22 seems a very long way away. I wish it were tomorrow,” Tim says wryly. “Things can go wrong with horses, so it’s a tense time. You can’t wrap them up in cotton wool, but realistically, Corlato would have to go disastrously or even go lame, not to be selected.”

But should he get the nod, and he is confident that he will, then he will be part of the British Olympic team which will be sent to compete at Germany’s top show in Aachen, one month before the horses go into quarantine. “Aachen will be a really good workout prior to the games. It will give us time to make adjustments and do any work necessary,” he explains.

After that, the British team horses will spend two weeks in quarantine. There are three or four locations they could be sent to, including Towerlands in Essex or Addington in Buckinghamshire, but it will depend on where the horses are scheduled to fly from as to which venue is eventually chosen, and as yet, this is undecided. Quarantine is not as bad as it sounds. The horses will be installed in first class surroundings along with their regular grooms to look after them. The same grooms will also look after the horses in Hong Kong. The quarantine yard will be secure and will be off limits to any other horses. The riders will keep their riding clothes inside the quarantine zone and change to ride once inside, passing through disinfectant on the way in and out.

“It’s not the horses’ home, but is made as good as possible,” says Tim. Towerlands would be his preferred choice. It has superb facilities and is only an hour or so drive from Tim’s yard, making daily riding easier. “My groom will live there with Corlato, in special quarters with catering on site, and the team vet visits every day to check the horses,” he adds.

So although at the moment, Tim’s focus is entirely on Olympic selection, when it comes to searching for a star of the future, just like every other show jumper, Tim has a bunch of novice horses coming along in the background. His novice horses, even as four-year olds, are schooled extremely well on the flat and can all perform flying changes and lengthen and shorten their stride before jumping a serious fence and he trains them over lines of fences which encourages them to be elastic and use their bodies. A vertical fence with three strides to an oxer (parallel) would be the sort of fences where, according to Tim, you educate a horse best.

But at what level do the youngsters get their first outing? The unexpected answer is: “Clear round jumping, same as anybody else,” laughs Tim. “But we move them up through the grades quicker though. We do two or three shows at British Show Jumping Association’s British Novice level (90cms) and then go straight to a BSJA Newcomers class (1m10). The horse develops his technique when he has jump something. If you jump too many small classes, you create ‘steppers’. I’m a great believer in jumping 1m10 or 1m15 with our four-year olds as then they have to use their body and learn from it. All Tim’s youngsters are ridden in a straight bar bit made from either rubber, copper or soft plastic, as the nutcracker action of the frequently-seen snaffle bit can be quite severe.

Tim also uses a running martingale to help guide a young horse from lifting it’s head to high if necessary, but it must never be too tight Although, having said that, every horse is different!

When it comes to breeding a showjumper, although Tim likes the German Holstein breed of horse and Corlato is one of those – he isn’t actually that fussy. “Train-ability is key, I’ve even ridden a Shire cross [Ed. Note: Phil Legge breeds these at Brickfields] they can be good too. I like a horse that uses himself and works things out. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish. Some horses can be quite average at five years old, but be at grand prix level at 10.”

Tim will be taking his favourite Holsteiner – Fresh Direct Corlato – to her first outdoor show of the season at Royal Windsor in May. And after that, well it’s all down to Corlato, Tim and the British Olympic Team selectors. We will follow their progress in detail.