Topping is a 13 year old chestnut gelding who has been ridden by super young talent Oliver Townend for the last 2 and a half seasons. He’s had a number of riders throughout his career and though he came to Oliver from Polly Williamson extremely well schooled, he had the serious hindrance that is head shaking.
The first signs of head shaking were shown by Topping when he was about 6 or 7 and they have stayed with him ever since. As an event horse, Topping obviously needs to remain calm, relaxed and obedient throughout a dressage test. On the British eventing circuit, he is allowed to wear a Net Relief Muzzle Net, as it is permitted under British Eventing rules and this has helped him to win many major classes. According to Oliver, ‘the net acts as Topping’s comfort blanket’ and helps him to remain much more relaxed, supple and to perform to the best of his ability. However, as the Muzzle Net is not yet permitted under FEI rules, he is unable to wear it at major international events, such as Badminton and the difference in his performance is notable.
One of the most frustrating things about head shaking is that no two horses are exactly the same, and this can definitely be said of Topping. ‘He is actually worst during the rain, as his nose seems particularly sensitive then. However, at the other end of the weather scale, hot days are really bad too!’ said Oliver.
However, Topping’s head shaking has not prevented him from becoming one of the top event horses in Britain and representing Britain at the 2005 European Championships at Blenheim, earning Oliver his well deserved British flag. He has completed Badminton successfully on several occasions and has an obvious talent that the selectors could not ignore.
Oliver has found Topping to be a ‘challenge’, but worth all the time and effort that it has taken to produce him. When asked what advice he would give other people with horses that suffer from head shaking, Oliver says ‘the most important thing to remember is that the horse can’t help it. It’s easy to get frustrated and annoyed, but that will only make things worse. The horse is experiencing discomfort and the rider must be understanding, tolerant and find a way to minimise the discomfort that works for their horse. For Topping, the Muzzle Net is definitely the most effective product we have found to date’.