KAN ambassador Jeanette Brakewell tells us how she got started, about Over To You, Olympics and the secret of her success.
Olympic, European and WEG multiple medallist Jeanette Brakewell was in Northern Ireland recently as a guest of KAN body protectors and the British Horse Society. We caught up with Jeanette Brakewell to find out a bit more about what inspires her and what the legendary Over to You is up to.
KAN – Jeanette, how did the daughter of a Lancashire dairy farmer end up eventing?
Jeanette Brakewell – I remember watching the Olympics and Burghley on TV and aged eight, I decided that I wanted to compete at the Olympics. I was plonked on a pony age four and I did all the usual pony club stuff, such as tetrathlon and horse trials, but to be honest, I wasn’t that brave doing cross country!
KAN – So what happened? How did you end up riding some of the biggest three-day courses?
Jeanette Brakewell– I just knew I could do it. I left school at 16 and went to work for Chris McGrann, who was very strict. My apprenticeship with him lasted until I was about 20, during which I did all the hard work – breaking horses, dealing with youngsters, for no pay. My parents were very supportive.
KAN – How did this training pay off?
Jeanette Brakewell – I was able to get real hands on experience, learning young horses’ behaviours, expressions and how to handle them. You need to have respect for horses, but equally they have to respect for you.
KAN – Over To You is the world’s most medalled event horse. What was he like and how did you come across him?
JB – Jack was a weedy 16h thoroughbred, brought over from Ireland. He had been tried at racing but that didn’t work out so he was rebroken by Jonty Evans. His owner brought him for lessons with Chris McGrann. However his was a bit sharp and opinionated and after one incident too many, I was asked to ride him. He was eventually bought for me to ride by Richard Holdsworth and we took it from there.
KAN – When you say sharp?
JB – Hacking was entertaining – he tried to kick the cars. However he is very brave, snaffle mouthed and never backed off.
KAN – Jack is now 27. How did you keep him sound?
JB – I never did anything special or different with him. He tended to look after himself. He was very light on his feet and also had good leg conformation and feet. He is still in work, looking after the young horses.
KAN – You are renowned for being the GB team pathfinder from 1999 to 2005.. Is that a role you enjoyed?
JB – yes indeed. Christopher Bartle put me first in Lumuhlen and I stayed in that role I liked setting off as one of the first cross-country, with no preconceived ideas of how the course was riding.
KAN – are there any events that stand out for you?
JB – I think the Olympics are the pinnacle – to ride for your team and country. I didn’t have a horse for London 2012, so was just a bit jealous having to be on the sidelines!
KAN – How do you prepare for competitions?
JB – I’ve been training with John Bowen for nearly 20 years. He’s now even more involved as an owner. My main aim is to keep horses safe and sound for the big events. It is pointless galloping round if the ground is hard. On saying that, there is no excuse for bad ground at events in England as there are aerators and so on to keep the ground right.
With the young horses, I might run them for three weekends in a row to get them started. For the more experienced horses, I pick the three-day to aim for and work back from that, choosing appropriate events to get a run out.
KAN – do you have a fitness programme you follow?
JB – I like to hack out, trotting up the hills. I go to the gallops once a week, which are about 1.5 hours away. I do plenty of hill work to get the horses fit. Jumping wise, I do gridwork and travel to Somerford Park for cross-country schooling.
I think hacking is important. It encourages the horses to look forward and assess things. It gets boring in a school. I also use a horsewalker to warm the horses up – that saves time.
KAN – What sort of basic training do you do with the horses?
JB – The scales of training are the building blocks, and need to be done in order. If the basics are right – rhythm, suppleness, contact, then the rest will come. I work the horses over their back into a contact, ensuring they are working forward.
KAN – What does Team Brakewell consist of at the moment?
JB – There are about 19 horses in, plus, of course, Over To You. I have three young horses for schooling and the rest are competing. I have a great head lad in Daniel Alderson – he’s my second pair of eyes.
I also have fantastic owners. Eventing is nowhere near as commercial as show jumping, and eventing owners, in particular, do it for the love of the sport. You can’t be in it for the money.
Sponsors are very important and I’m very loyal to mine. I will only support a product that will do a job and bring benefit to my horses or me. Sponsors currently include KAN body protectors, Amerigo saddles, Spillers horse feeds.
KAN – Is there a secret to your success?
JB – hard work is key!
KAN – have you considered a life after horses?
JB – I plan to ride as long as I am able and compete at the top level as long as I have the horses to do so. I have a super mare called Let’s Dance and hope that she would be a contender for the GP team for Rio 2016.
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