Showjumper Paul Gaff talks tactics for healthy horses

Showjumper Paul Gaff talks tactics for healthy horses

With horses ranging from young, inexperienced 5year olds to Grand Prix Show Jumpers filling Haygain Ambassador Paul Gaff’s Buckinghamshire yard, it isn’t surprising that his focus is on the health and performance of his string.

“My personal goal for this Spring is to compete in my first International Show Jumping show in Holland in just a couple of weeks time, where I’ll be jumping in classes ranging from young horse to Grand Prix 2*. I’d also love to qualify a couple of the horses for the Foxhunter at HOYS.

I’m very lucky that every one of my horses excites me but our resident Stallion, Jonagold is quite simply the best horse I have ever sat on. He is by Cidane and out of a Burggraaf mare and with his phenomenal talent and very trainable brain, I think he is going to be hard to beat this year.”

One thing that Paul insists on for all of his horses is that they have regular short breaks - one week a month for each horse is spent out in the field. Throughout the Winter the main focus is on cementing the basics ready for them to come out and perform their best at the start of the outdoor season.

“I hack the horses regularly and put a lot of time and effort into training them. We do lots of dressage at home” (Paul learned from the best at Talland Equestrian Centre where he was the resident event rider and under the watchful eyes of International Dressage riders and coaches, Pammy and Charlie Hutton). 

“I use pole exercises to work on the general education, suppleness and rideability of the horses and it’s paid off this year as they’ve come out jumping really well. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of developing and cementing the basics at home. Raised trot poles and canter poles are invaluable and the horses will get worked over them every day in their schooling sessions, it helps them to think about the placement of their feet and at the same time about where they’re going. Using the poles means I can work on the traditional scales of training while still keeping it fresh and fun for the horses. Balance, rhythm and control are all promoted and the skills they require in the ring are honed without putting too much pressure on their joints or brains.”

In relation to the nutritional needs of performance horses, it goes without saying that feeding clean forage gives them all an edge.

“I’m quite old fashioned when it comes to the care and feeding regimes of the horses of the yard and one thing I am adamant about is that horses should be treated like horses - they need to go outside to switch off, stretch and graze.

All of mine are on ad-lib steamed hay - I haven’t fed any haylage at all since I started to use the Haygain steamer. Stamina as well as muscular and aerobic fitness are the most important elements to focus on when preparing horses for competition and the Haygain system allows me to do just that. Haygain steamed hay supports cleaner airways which helps with their breathing and in turn with their stamina, meaning that my horses all have the tools to do their jobs without the worry of them tiring or struggling during their work.

I fully believe that there are too many preventable cases of horses with gastric ulcers because they haven’t been fed correctly. By providing unnatural methods of feeding and living, humans are very much contributing to the rising numbers of digestive issues that horses are facing.

A constant supply of clean forage is much more palatable than dusty hay and it has proven very good for fussy eaters as my fussy ones gobble Haygain steamed hay straight down the minute we put it in their stables! A good, solid feeding regime gives you every advantage there is health-wise.”

As for his own fitness and performance, Paul cycles regularly and makes sure, as well as his horses, he also has a solid nutritional regime. He is a strong advocate of meal prepping healthy, balanced, home-cooked meals high in protein and fibre, especially when he knows he is teaching and riding all day.

“Very often I start seriously early in the day so I can get everything done which doesn’t leave much time to prepare food.” Paul also never misses his 50 sit ups and 3 minute plank every morning.

Whichever one of his horses Paul is on and whichever discipline he is competing in, Paul considers Haygain steamed hay as an invaluable part of his performance feeding program.


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