26 November 2015

A day in the workshop with champion jockey Hugh Bowman

A day in the workshop with champion jockey Hugh Bowman



Gear to him is personal. He takes time to make sure he has the best in quality and technology.

"All my feel to the horse is through my hands and my feet. So I like my boots really snug and I get them made in England," Bowman said.

"To me it is so important to have them really good and then the saddle, it has to sit really nice on the horse, so I can balance right. [The saddle] has to be like a comfy chair, it has to fit right to the horse and if it is comfortable then it helps you."

It led Bowman to Peter Horobin Saddlery in Mornington in the build-up to the Melbourne Cup, where he rides Preferment on Tuesday. The stride-free saddle is a change Bowman feels gives him an edge.

The horseman and saddler worked at the craft of making a saddle for a couple of hours. How it sits and what they want it to achieve. A good saddle doesn't make a horse go faster but it doesn't restrict it.

Horobin has studied what the saddle does, and how it can affect a horse.

"I started getting saddles from all over the world and ripping them apart to understand the trees in them. I redesigned the whole tree itself and we notice the horse was more comfortable and moving better," Horobin said.

"Imagine if a horse losing five mils with every stride over two miles. It makes a difference. Every little bit counts at the winning post."

When Horobin talks of trees, it not of the leaves and roots variety. It is the framework of the saddle that hasn't changed for hundreds of years until his new design.

"Trees have sharp points and can stick into the horse. We want to take that away," Horobin said. "The saddle sits high on the back and the points when a jockey puts his weight forward can dig into the trapezius muscle, which is the shoulder muscle where the power comes from.

"The tree is the main part, it is the framework of the saddle. From there we build on it like a chassis of a race car. If the chassis handles the track well in a racecar the car performs better and it is the same thing with the saddle and the horse.

"If there are excessive pressure points it can restrict the muscle movement of the horse and its ability to perform its best."

The jockey and saddler grab different saddles and place them on a mould of a horse's back. They discuss how the saddle is attached to the horse and where it is attached.

Bowman is particular. He has sourced his own crocodile skin for his new set of saddles. It has come from a farm, Hermes uses for its handbags.

Why? "It looks good," Bowman said after discussing how the saddle performs. In a world where a couple of ticks on the scale can prove crucial, Horobin points out the skin is heavy.

"You know it is heavier but it looks good and feels great," Horobin said with the skin in his hands.

He knows his horseman, he knows what works and his stride-free saddle is changing the world. It has become the most popular saddle in France and around Europe

One time Horobin was explaining how his saddles work to someone in Europe, who just got up and walked away. In minutes he was back with a group of his saddles and dumped them in the bin.

It makes sense to horsemen. It makes sense to anyone.

"You need to be comfortable on the horse. And certainly where the saddle sits and how it moulds to the horse is very important," Bowman said.

"Next time you get in the car put the seat right forward or right back and drive, if it is not comfortable you will change it. You want to be comfortable. It is even more important on the horse."

Also important in racing is winning and Bowman got his first stride-free saddle a couple of months ago and the results were immediate.

"The first four rides in the saddle I won," Bowman said. "I don't read into those things but you certainly don't want to get new gear and have no luck at all for a while.

"They are still taking time to break in [these saddles] but they feel really good on a horse. I have no doubt there is something in what Peter says and talking with him you understand it more."

Bowman will grab his stride-free saddle on Tuesday when Preferment attempts to give him a Melbourne Cup to go with the Cox Plate from Winx last week.

There is a confidence from Bowman about Preferment, which he won the Hill Stakes and Turnbull Stakes on before it finished down the track in the Cox Plate.

"I was on him a long way out but I wasn't really secured until after he won the Turnbull Stakes," Bowman said. "It is not something that happens that often. When I rode him at Randwick [in his Hill Stakes win] I knew I wanted to be on him. I knew he was my Cup horse.

"He is the right type of horse for the race. He has got the right weight, the right pedigree. The stable is in form and the horse looks amazing."