Nayel Nassar and longtime mount Lordan are like an old married couple. Since 2011, the pair have circumnavigated the world together — and have picked up a few major wins along the way.
Now eight years into their veteran partnership, Nayel and the 15-year-old Hanoverian have their show preparations down to a science. “Honestly, the more I do this, the more I realize there’s no secret,” Nayel says. “I just try to focus on the things that I can control.”
Since they’ve had plenty of time to get acquainted with how the other operates, Nayel and Lordan take a pretty low-key approach to getting show ring ready. Of course, nerves still get to Nayel — he is only 28, after all — but he preps Lordan the same no matter the venue, the stakes, or the prize money on the line.
Walk the Walk
“I always walk twice — three times if it’s a really big class,” Nayel says. “If there’s a line I’m not sure about, I’ll walk it a good three, four times, especially with Lordan. His stride is a little funny, so measurements really make a big difference for me.”
When walking the course, Nayel takes time to notice the small details. “It’s just trying to get a good feel of what’s out there, trying to figure out where the tough parts are, and not to take the easy parts for granted,” he shares. “That’s something that’s really easy to do, and at that level, there’s really never an easy jump.”
Photo by Anasofia Vazquez.
Though he used to walk the entire course to create a vivid map in his head, Nayel knows Lordan well enough now to make the course walk less extensive. “If there’s a really tight turn out of the corner, I’ll go stand in the corner and see what it looks like, but I don’t necessarily walk the exact track I’m planning to ride.”
When the pair is preparing to compete, Nayel takes his time in the schooling ring to prepare and warm up. “I like to give him enough time to flat, especially [because he’s an] older horse,” Nayel says. “I feel like it takes [older horses] a little longer to get in gear.”
After lots of walking and at least 10 minutes of flat work, the pair start to warm up over fences, beginning with a handful of verticals and working up to oxers. “I tend to jump smaller out in the warm-up ring than what I’m going to see on course,” Nayel says. “I just don’t like to get him over sharp; he’s already a winner in the warm-up ring. When I build too big, I feel like I make him try a bit too hard, and it takes a bit out of him.”
Photo by Sportfot.
Nayel and Lordan rarely try to prove anything in the schooling ring. “Especially at this level, I’ve noticed a lot of riders seem to view the warmup as a place to tune up their horses and get them sharper,” he says. “For me, it’s really about literally warming them up. The main thing for me is just to make sure they’re feeling really confident going into the ring, that their bodies are warm, and that they’ve at least stretched themselves enough to not strain themselves when they have to stretch [on course].”
Talk the Talk
Once the pair jumps their final vertical in the warm-up ring, Nayel uses his remaining time to review the course and prepare for the questions the track will ask. “It’s really just the walk up to the gate that’s the time for me to just mentally dial myself in and go over my plan one more time in my head,” he says.
At this point, the nerves can start to creep in, but Nayel’s experience and mental strength keeps those nerves at bay to stay focused. “It’s really just the three minutes between my last jump in the warm-up ring and my first jump on course that I feel it the most,” he says. “Usually by the time I’m heading to jump one, I’m pretty dialed in.”
Photo by Sportfot.
No matter the outcome of the round, Nayel has learned to put things behind him — and quickly. “Just because the result is bad doesn’t mean that the round itself was bad, and vice versa. You have to find that mental space where you can clear out past experiences, focusing on the present moment, and being able to think clearly enough to give yourself a good shot the next time out.”
Feature photo by Anasofia Vazquez.
Written by Kate Kosnoff
Kate Kosnoff is an equestrian journalist, blogger and photographer. When she isn’t working, Kate can usually be found sipping green tea, scrolling through Twitter, or petting her horses—sometimes a combination of the three. She is based in Indiana and can often be spotted in jumper rings across the Midwest and Florida aboard her strawberry roan, Waffle.