This summer, after the fairytale crowdsourcing campaign that rocked the equestrian community around the globe, Irish rider Jonty Evans was finally able to secure the future of his beloved 2016 Olympic partner, Cooley Rorkes Drift. Keeping the horse that he’d produced up the ranks to a 9th-place individual finish at Rio is just the first part of the Jonty and “Art” story, however. Ensuring that the 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse stays sound and happy for years to come is, like most top riders, Evans’ top priority—and where the real challenge lies.

Fortunately, Jonty earned his stripes on this topic while training with one of the best in the business.

“I worked for Andrew Nicholson [NZL] for four years and I learned a lot about the way he produces his horses,” Evans says, adding that Nicholson’s win at the 2017 Badminton CCI4* with the 17-year-old Nereo is a testament to his program. “I think that as the horses get older [the management changes],” he notes.

Here, Evans shares five ways he has learned to think about longterm management from Nicholson and his own experience, and how he’s using that knowledge to look ahead toward the World Equestrian Games [WEG] in 2018 and the Tokyo Olympics with Art in 2020.

1. Young horses need regular breaks in their training schedules. 

My five- and six-year-old horses compete until the end of the autumn and then they’ll get their shoes taken off and they’ll get chucked out in the field for two months and have complete downtime….The younger horses, I think they actually mature during that time.

2. Older horses need breaks too—but in moderation. 

The older horses [like Art] have a break, but their breaks get staggered and they will maybe keep hacking a couple of days a week or something like that. So much effort has gone into producing a horse to age 10 or 11, why do you let all of that disappear by just chucking it into the field for two months?

3. Think about veterinary medicine as a “complete package”.

There’s definitely been advancements in veterinary medicine [in recent decades], so we’re better equipped to look after the horses. Not just to try to mend them after they have an injury, but I know we, and I’m sure other people, try to look at it very holistically. We’re looking at the horse’s feet, legs, joints, back, everything. We look at the horse as a whole and assess where it’s strong and where it’s weak.

4. Select your competition venues with care. 

I think surfaces and training methods and where we compete [our horses are improving]. We compete them at better and better and continually improving locations. Probably, in years gone by, that’s not always been the case. [Art’s] main goals next year will be Badminton, and then to hopefully come to the WEG at Tryon. Then, the following year [is a] European Championship, so we’ll take a view on a.) where that is and b.) where we’re at with the aim being definitely Tokyo the year after.

5. Don’t underestimate good weight management. 

Art would have a tendency to get a little bit tubby. So we just try to make sure we don’t let him go further than [a point when it’s] comfortable and easy to get him back in shape. It’s little things like that which lead us to having the horses competing for longer.

Read our full story about Jonty & Art, “The People’s Horse,” on page 18 of the Fall 2017 issue of NOELLE FLOYD/Style magazine, here. 

-Photography by Ben Clark.