An afternoon with Bill Levett and Verdo Horse Bedding – Includes 10 minutes with Bill
Well what an afternoon!. The sun was shining as I pulled into the long sweeping driveway and up to the yard gate. I parked up and went to find Angela from Verdo Horse Bedding and Bill. The yard was beautifully located with some stunning views and appeared peaceful and calm which is ideal for training horses. The grooms and staff we met were all so friendly and helpful and the facilities are incredible, this just gave a lovely atmosphere around the yard.
This is far from what Bill had when he came over to the Uk from Australia when he was 32. Bill’s real interest in eventing started when he watched the L.A olympics with Andrew Hoy running round the cross country. Two years later Bill got the opportunity to start eventing and was successful early on in his career, he puts this down to good horsemanship skills and from riding out in the bush. One thing he stated is that he was absolutely terrified at his first three day event in Australia and yet despite this he finished 3rd!.
In 1988 Bill won a Range Rover Scholarship to go to Gatcombe Park and train with Mark Phillips this was Bill’s first look at the UK circuit. Upon Returning to Australia it was several years before he was back in the UK, selected with Mirabooka NJ for The Hague WEG squad. However when he came over he brought nothing but one horse and based on a dressage yard, he didn’t even have transport to get to his events! There was no other career plan for Bill nor a back up plan he came thinking he would give it ten years and then review it. A variety of equine jobs led Bill to Gloucestershire and he knew that he was ‘home’. He met his wife Jenny in 2001 during the foot and mouth outbreak when eventing was on hold they had been ‘set up’ by a mutual friend; within a year they were married and in 2005 Joshua and Ursula were born in fairly dramatic style.
To say that Bill has worked hard to achieve what he has to day would be an under-statement but all I can say is that it gives those out there eventing at the lower levels with little to no money some hope and inspiration. If you believe you can achieve but do not under-estimate how hard you have to work.
A Lesson with Bill:
Bill Gave two riders Lydia Marie Burrows with her horse Sam and Louisa Woodhouse riding Sid her own homebred horse. Sam an piebald Irish Sporthorse is only 4yo and Sid is a 10yo sports horse.
Bill started off by assessing both riders, Louisa is Lydias instructor and currently competes Sid at Be100’s , Lydia competes Sam at Arena Eventing and Show jumping
Both warm up horses on the flat, Sid is very forward going and was working in a good outline, however the canter was far too forward and becoming on the forehand.
Sam is forward going but resisting relaxing his jaw and neck to soften into an outline
Bill worked with Lydia and Sam to get him to listen and soften, as soon as Lydia asks him to soften he resists and sticks his head in the air and sideways to avoid the contact. Bill immediately tells Lydia to circle Sam in walk on 10 meter circles and to change the direction to put him off guard working on the bending and softening to her inside leg contact and keeping his mind occupied. It takes a while for Sam to finally give in but he gives with his head and neck. This is an exercise that Lydia needs to continue at home to slow Sam’s pace down, get him to bend and soften to Lydias leg aid for the bend and also to soften and lower his head and neck for the rein aids.
Sid is very forward going and has lovely expressive paces, he gets good marks until the canter work where he becomes too rushed and starts falling on his forehand. Bill suggests riding Sid on a 20 meter circle cantering shoulder in, to naturally slow Sid in the pace but to also encourage him to bring his hind legs underneath him to encourage him to get off the forehand and the end result is a lovely uphill canter. The walk and trot work is very established so this exercise will become very useful for Louisa at home schooling.
Bill then moved on to some showjumping, a cross pole was put up so Bill could assess both riders, both Sam and Sid are very keen jumpers and the pace quickens and the riders are very balanced and stay with there horses when they are take off on long strides. For Bill this makes it easier as the exercises for both horses and riders is to focus on tempo and speed of the canter approach and to maintain concentration and get the horses to listen to them on the approach to either maintain the canter or have the ability to get them to listen to come back to them to avoid taking off on the long strides.
The cross pole turned into a straight bar, again both horses are keen as mustard and both Sid and Sam quicken the pace on approach and pull into the fences, often taking off on a long stride. Both riders have to repeat the fence to obtain a steady canter approach and both horses are giving these fences a lot of clearance. It is very apparent that both horses love their jumping. Lydia’s Sam occasionally chips in a half stride now to avoid a long approach and Bill encourages Lydia to allow him to continue ‘chipping’ in as Sam is thinking for himself and adjusting his approach to clear the fences.
Bill then introduces a secondary fence to include a filler, Sam stops at the fence on the first attempt however Louisa rides him very positively and he leaps this from stand still, Sam is still keen and have a little look but fly’s the filler with some extra room! Both riders continue to jump this straight bar with the filler until they have stopped ‘baulking’ at the filler and stopped rushing
Bill introduced an Spread, there is now a course of three fences, both horses now jump this element with no problems at all!
Bill then asked the riders to combine all three fences maintaining the tempo, not allowing the horses to rush to the fences to avoid long strides the first element is the spread located at ‘A’ cantering around F,B, C H around the arena to the Filler located ‘E’ then keeping the canter around past the spread at A past F over the straight bar located on the diagonal coming off the arena in between F and B
Lydia initially forgets the sequence of fences which causes some jovial giggles from Bill, Louisa and Verdo rep Angela however eventually Sam and Lydia jump a perfect round! Louisa rides Sid around the course and apart from a couple of keen moments Sid and Louisa ride the course hoof perfect.
Both Sid and Sam are very keen jumpers and certainly give there fences clearance. Lydia has entered an arena cross country competition and will implement everything she has learnt for schooling at home and the events and Louisa has planned to enter Sid in a ODE
After the lesson Bill demonstrated some work he does with his horses :
The first horse Bill rode was Piltown Colours aka Tonto, a beautiful 7yo skewbald gelding who Bill bought as a 5yo on behalf of the owners. Bill believes this horse is a potential 3* horse. Tonto was quite a spooky horse at first but is starting to become more settled with life as an eventer!. Bill demonstrated some exercises that he likes to do on all his horses. He then brought out Athleet an 11yo 2* horse which he then demonstrated working him through a grid (which you can see in the video). It was great watching Bill work his horses and getting the chance to ask him questions about eventing, training and the horses.
Bill did make me laugh when he told me that he once had a lurcher chase him round the 3* at Chatsworth. He stated he was on fast horse and that it took the mare 5 fences to realise that the dog was chasing her, the dog banked the tables and corners etc as it jumped the fences with Bill and his horse. He stated he was going as fast as he could to try and keep the dog behind him but this lurcher seemed to have multiple gears!. A t the end of the course the stewards were obviously apologetic yet they had tried to rugby tackle the dog to no avail. It turned out that Bill was by far the fasted horse of the day and he even ended up winning that event!
10 Minutes With Bill Levett
If you have a rare ‘horsey-free’ day how would you spend it? :
Before Ursula and Josh were born I would have been off to play golf; but now it is an opportunity to have quality family time and to catch up with DIY and household jobs.
What is your guilty pleasure? :
Watching TV once the kids have gone to bed and relaxing with Jenny.
Tell us is there anything you have to sacrifice to ensure you are at the top of the game? :
Leading up to and throughout the whole eventing season I try to minimise alcohol consumption not only does this help loose some of the winter pounds but it keeps me focused and on the ball.
What do you miss the most living in the UK since you moved here from Australia? :
My family, including nieces and nephews; it is very hard being so far apart just keeping up to date with the changes and how everyone is.
What couldn’t you live without? :
A good team and owners, my wife Jenny, my farrier, vet, physio, trainers (Gareth Hughes and Ros Morgan) my head girl Emily and home team, Lou our bookkeeper, nutritionist, sponsors (I’ve used the same products for many years and really believe in them) and everyone else involved in the Levett team.
Do you have any pre-event rituals? :
Just before a big event I like to retreat to the lorry for peace and quiet, occasionally I might have a sleep but I don’t like to have too many people around me. I like to gather and focus my thoughts and energy, I will chat with Jenny about my plans and options as she knows me so well including my strengths and weaknesses .
How many times do you walk a cross country course? :
Three, first walk is a quick brief look and walk around. The second is more in depth I take my time and really analysis the course and then the 3rd time is super early before anyone else is up and awake; I like to walk the course on my own on the last walk.
What advice would you give to aspiring eventers? :
Firstly make sure you have correct training and as much of it as you can possibly afford!
Invest as much as you can in horsepower, not gadgets or lorries it is what you have in the truck that matters
Do not under estimate the amount of time and effort it takes to become a professional eventer.
Do not sacrifice the correct basics of cross country in pursuit of a prize! Take your time to patiently bring on young horses to get the basics right and not over face them
Favourite film :
Johnny Cash- Walk The Line
Favourite Music ? :
Country – whilst travelling to events you will find me listening to The Dixie Chicks or Johnny Cash
Favourite Horse? :
Gosh that is difficult, there has been so many! Possibly my most memorable horse was Muddy Chuddy, sadly his career was ended very suddenly when he dislocated his stifle and pulled all the ligaments off the bone in a freak accident on the cross country phase at Badminton Horse Trials two fences from home while cruising inside the time, – he would have gone very far!
Most embarrassing moment? :
My first ever one day event at pony club! I had rehearsed and put so much practice into my dressage test. When I got to the end of the test I halted and saluted, but my salute mirrored one more commonly practised by the armed forces. The judge didn’t award any marks due to ‘non salute!’
Either that or embarrassingly missed an easy loop out on the cross country phase at Gatcombe while very well placed in the Open Championships; I wasn’t the only one – but as a result let’s say this is why I always walk the course on my own now and not with a group of friends chatting!
Bill is most certainly a family man and he has a lovely way with his team and staff. I spoke to a few of members of staff who all stated that they loved working for him and that he was great to work for. I was touched when one member told me what Bill did on the days of Big events such as the recent Eventing Olympics in Rio:
We started the yard at 4.30am to finish at 2pm as Bill arranged for us all to sit down and watch the olympics with drinks and food. He did this on every day of the eventing.
To me this is what the eventing life is all about and after hearing that I can see why Bill has such lovely staff and how he has a good reputation to work for. Bill stated how important his team are to him as without them this life could simply not happen and in return he tries to give them the chance to move forward in their training, whether it be that moving up a level in eventing or perhaps an official equine qualification.
This was a very memorable experience and one I will treasure. We will be bringing you part 2 at Burghley Horse Trials when we follow Bill round on his course walk so stay posted!!!!!.
Don’t forget you can watch Bill at The Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials 1st-4th September
To find out more about Bill check out his website by clicking here
I would like to say that if these competitions come up from companies such as Verdo then get entering them you will be surprised how much you can learn from watching these top riders train horses and teach!!
We would like to wish Bill the best of luck at Burghley 2016 !!Follow us Share this