On Course With Harry Meade
We sat down with Harry Meade to talk about his safety tips, training philosophy, and plans for the rest of 2017!
Airowear: Besides wearing a helmet and body protector, what is your top safety tip?
Harry Meade: To compete the horse at the appropriate level. In other words, not moving a horse up prematurely to the next level before they’re ready. Another would be, from the start of the horse’s career, to allow him to think for himself. So, as a rider, you’re guiding the horse – you’re not dictating.
AW: What’s your favorite competition venue?
HM: I love Badminton; Badminton’ has always been very special. I live a mile away. I’ve lived right next door to Badminton all my life, so I know the park like the back of my hand. I’ve grown up hunting in the park and I haven’t missed a year of the events in my lifetime. I proposed to my wife in the park. I think, for so many reasons, it’s in many ways the biggest event there is. It has all the history that goes with it and then also it’s the event that both parts of my world meet at, which is sort of your life in eventing but also my life outside eventing because, being local, for everyone around here, Badminton is a big deal. It’s always been the one I’ve wanted to win.
AW: What is your favorite part about each phase of evening?
HM: For the dressage, it’s very rewarding seeing the improvements in you and the horses. You get the very clear sense as they move up grades and I enjoy the almost academic side of dressage – the classical principles and the theory that goes with it. With the cross-country, I love cross-country; it’s something I’ve always found naturally quite easy. I was very much brought up with it and I’ve always sort of enjoyed the instincts, almost where you don’t have to think too much about it, when it comes very naturally. I feel that I was sort of born to do it and you get in the groove and I love it. I really enjoy showjumping and I particularly enjoy the three-day events having show jumping last and the controlled pressure of jumping in reverse order. I quite relish the pressure that puts you under.
AW: If you were going to do another discipline besides eventing, which one would you choose?
HM: I would like to have been a jump jockey. Lots of people who are very tall say I would have done that, but my height stopped me. I could’ve done it, but obviously I was brought up in eventing and I love eventing, but if I had been born into a racing family, I might have been a jockey and I would have enjoyed that.
AW: Can you tell us more about your top horse, Away Cruising?
HM: He’s a horse I’ve had since he was a four-year-old and he’s now a 10-year-old. He’s taken a long time to mature but I’ve always felt that some horses, you don’t know how far they’re going to go, whereas I’ve always felt with him that he would be in his element at the higher levels and I’ve always felt that he’s going to be a four-star horse.
AW: What about him gave you that feeling?
HM: He’s a rangy horse. He finds it very easy to travel in an economical way across country and he’s a brave horse. He’s always sort of had a natural bravery; he’s a horse who wouldn’t be in his element around twisty one-day events, but he’s built to gallop around 12-minute long park courses.
AW: Why is it important to allow horses to think for themselves on course?
HM: If the horse and rider are coming to a fence and you’ve got that moment where something begins to go wrong like, for example, if a horse slips on the approach to a fence coming around a corner, and the horse is used to following the direct lead of the rider and the rider basically makes a mistake, the horse ends up in a non-jumping place. The horse has evolved to get themselves out of trouble very easily and the biggest problem is when the rider interferes or takes away the horse’s ability to have that independence and sort of mindset to decision-make on their own. So if you train your horse to be able to think where his feet are the whole time and not interfere, then if something goes wrong, a rider who allows a horse a head and neck so they shift their weight back can allow the horse to get out of trouble. Whereas the rider who goes to grab hold and take control in that moment – it’s a less safe way and you’re more likely to get a misunderstanding.
AW: Do you have any other tips for safe riding?
HM: For cross-country, not to get in front of the movement. I always tell my pupils, if you get in front of your movement, it’s almost a bonus if you don’t fall off. If you get in front of the movement, you’re asking for trouble.
AW: Do you have any horse-related pet peeves?
HM: I don’t like bad horsemanship. I always think that, as a competitor, you want to be a horseman first, closely followed by a competitor.
AW: What qualities does your ideal horse possess?
HM: Athleticism and a lightness of foot. I like a refined horse. I think also a horse with a real desire to draw from A to B, to travel forwards. I like a quality, refined horse that is up for it. In terms of the mental characteristics, that they’re focused at drawing forward and wanting to do the job and that your job as the rider is just to channel that. Then physically, a horse that is light on his feet with reactions.
AW: Do you have horse or competition-related superstitions?
HM: No, I actively try and avoid witchcraft.
AW: What is one piece of advice that you would give to aspiring young event riders?
HM: Rather than chasing short-term goals, try and produce a horse so that he can fulfill his potential and so that he can become the best horse that he’s capable of, so when you look back at the end of the horse’s career, you can say that he’s fulfilled his long-term potential.
AW: What’s your daily routine like at home?
HM: Hugely varied. Obviously we’re competing probably three days a week on average, so I spend the main hours of my days riding and working horses. We can do all our galloping from home; we’ve got the surrounding yards in the Cotswolds, so we’re surrounded by hills. I normally start with horses that are doing dressage and then there’s a mixture each day. Some horses jump and then do fast works and some work on the hills on the gallops. It’s a real mixture. I think that’s what keeps it so interesting, that every day is different. We work the horses on different bits of ground different times of the year, so it makes it quite interesting because the work you’re doing is always different. I think that really helps the interest for both me and the horses, and also makes you focus on different things different times of the year and always keeps it fresh.
AW: What is your earliest riding memory?
HM: My riding probably predates my memory! I have childhood memories; I do remember being on the leading rein and lots of just riding bareback and lots of fun. My father [Olympic event rider Richard Meade, OBE] was keen not to teach us because he felt that it was very important for the child to develop a feel and learn through experience. When adults learn, they learn through almost cognitive thought process where they have to be told how to do something and the instructions are a bit like learning a language, whereas when a child learns a language, it’s all subconscious. It’s a bit the same in this sport, where you just develop that feel. So it was just lots of messing around on ponies and playing cowboys and Indians and those kinds of things.
AW: Who would you say has been your influential mentor or model in your riding career?
HM: My father has played a huge part; he was very hands off but a huge support. Before I could walk, I wanted to emulate what he did. He was a real horseman and an artist with producing the best performance when it really mattered. I also worked for William Fox-Pitt for several seasons when I first started out and he’s remained a good friend and somebody I’ve bounced ideas off or called to discuss a horse, so he’s been a big influence.