Showjumper Chris Chugg talks to Candida Baker about the serious side of building a horse business.
If I’ve heard one constant refrain over the years from my vet and my chiropractor it’s been about the dangers of over-lunging, and yet for many trainers and riders it’s still normally a go-to method of training.
Not Chris Chugg, though, whose ability to raise and train top show jumpers is legendary. He’s as clear as day on the topic of circles.
“The fact is that horses aren’t built to go in circles,” he says bluntly. “Everything about their bodies, including all their joints, are designed to go in a straight line. If you ask a horse to do circle work before it’s mature enough, strong enough and supple enough to do it, you’re just asking for problems.”
These days, Chris says, particularly in Europe, people are now paying attention to the surfaces, and the size of arenas their horses are being worked on.
“We use a lot of different training surfaces and different areas,” he says. “We swim our horses, we use a treadmill, we work them on a very large arena.”
The ‘we’ that he’s referring to of course, is his partner in life and in jumping, the incredibly talented show jumper Gabi Kuna, also Chris’s fiancée. Together the couple are a formidable force in the show jumping world, and at the moment all their efforts are going into the team they’ll take up to the Aquis Champions Tour at the Elysian Fields near Canungra, Queensland, which runs between April 26 – May 5.
“Aquis is a great event,” says Chris. “It’s equivalent to a 5* show in Europe. The prize money may not be as high as Europe, but the footing, the jumps, the great stables – the manicured grounds all create a fantastic environment for a good event. Gabi and I will be taking eight horses, including Cassiago and Flare. It comes straight after Sydney Royal so it’s a busy time for us.”
Talking of how he and Gabi work their horses, he says that they’re lucky they both admire each other’s riding. “We train each other,” he says, “and we ride each other’s horses. Gabi has a great eye for a horse, and we both enjoy bringing on young horses.”
But although Chris may not be a fan of circle work too young, the final goal of having a horse work ‘round’, is the same he says, he just likes to find the way each horse likes to engage with what they’re doing. “There’s a lot of pressure for horses to look like everybody else’s horses; even for riders to look like other riders,” he says. “But they don’t all work the same. It’s vital for all horses to have self-carriage, to be able to balance themselves up, to work round – but often you’ll need to chop and change how you work a horse, because every horse is a little different.”