Every day, horses are beaten by their apparent inferiors because of one bad jump, be it at the first, the last or the open ditch in the country. Backers lose fortunes, owners despair, but trainers and jockeys just shrug their shoulders and say, 'ah well, he always tends to miss one out'.
In recent months, however, several leading trainers have adopted a different approach. Kim Bailey, Oliver Sherwood and Charlie Brooks are among the handlers whose accident- prone animals have benefited from a refresher course with Yogi Breisner of the Waterstock House Equestrian Training centre near Oxford. Breisner has been credited with helping San Lorenzo, Large Action and most recently Black Humour at Windsor last Saturday, to sharpen their technique and win valuable prizes.
Like all good teachers, Breisner radiates patience and enthusiasm in equal measure. A Swedish expatriate, he had been schooling showjumpers and eventers for almost 20 years while following racing as a hobby, but started adding racehorses to his roll only recently.
The lessons, though, are the same. 'I was brought up with cross-country riding and learned how a horse has to adapt its technique to various types of fences and learn how to cope,' he said last week. 'Although cross-country riding at Badminton or Burleigh is totally different to racing, some of those aspects are useful when it comes to racing as well.'
His first client was Biloxi Blues. Kim Bailey wanted to run his talented but erratic chaser in the Belgian Grand National, a contest that owes more to cross-country than conventional racing, and reasoned that Breisner's experience might prove useful. 'If you'd asked any jockey whether he'd get round they'd all have said no,' Bailey said, 'but Yogi taught him to go round event courses and the horse finished fourth after jumping impeccably all the way round. He was a different horse as a result of him.'
Bailey describes Breisner as 'an incredibly talented person. He seems to be able more than anyone to get inside the mind of a horse and see how they work'. Breisner laughs with embarrassment at the description. 'It's teamwork, that's very important to emphasise,' he said. 'I learn a tremendous amount from the trainers and jockeys. It's a combined effort, one trains the horse and the rider.'
Nor does he claim to enjoy a 100 per cent success-rate. 'There is no magic cure, if there was I could retire in the sun,' Breisner said. 'It is an ongoing process. If you think of a golfer who has had problems with his swing, he might go to a trainer who redesigns the swing a bit and gets it perfect. But he hasn't cured it, as that person will still have to work on his swing, probably for the rest of his life.
''Through practice you will hopefully get the horse to jump better, but it's not a matter of them suddenly not falling in any races. Even the most natural horses are going to make mistakes from time to time.'
The essence of Breisner's approach is to remove any fear of jumping that a horse may have developed, and then, through practice, convince it that there was nothing to be scared of in the first place. 'The good thing about showjumping fences is that they fall down if a horse makes a mistake, they won't hurt him,' he said.
'You have to work on their technique, the physical side, but you also have the mental side, which is often the most difficult. We often get a horse to jump well in his slower paces, but the stress of a race makes them forget. But in the end, if they get enough practice at home and then at the end of a race they're tired and they meet a fence wrong, that extra practice will help them to cope.
'For an average jumper, we hope that the work will make them better, and there is always a certain amount of improvement. But some horses are just bad jumpers and if it's in their genes I can't change what the good Father gave them.'
In other words, the punters' bad dream can never be exorcised. But one man at least is trying to keep the nightmares to a minimum.
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