France’s Pénélope Leprevost is not from an equestrian family, but upon turning 18, she chose horses over architecture school and never looked back. At the tender age of 20, she turned professional. Since then she’s consistently represented her home country in Nations Cups, Championship events, and two Olympic Games, winning team gold at Rio in 2016.
Pénélope showcases exceptionally natural talent and an extremely accurate eye. Additionally, she has developed an excellent technique for handling hot headed horses. Her cool, calm, and collected temperament transfers into her horses and tempers their feistiness.
Pénélope only searches for harmony and complicity between her and her horses which in turn motivates her ride to fight and not work against her in the ring.
Before she sought the assistance of trainers Katie and Henri Prudent, Pénélope worked closely with horse trainer extraordinaire, Michel Robert. Together they would focus on the physical preparation of both horse and rider, preparing to jump by working on the flat: having the horse on the bit then in a straight horse; a horse that bends, has flying changes, and reins back.
Take, Flora de Mariposa, for example. Flora is a Belgian chestnut mare and one of Pénélope’s top mounts that she rode at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Daughter of For Pleasure, Flora inherited his style of jumping, with a high head, a sensitive attitude, and at times, a difficult temperament.
Pénélope controls her fiery persona with a somewhat simple mind frame. She strongly believes if you reward or congratulate the horse, it will try to find new opportunities for getting pleasure out of what it does by remaining attentive and doing its best. Therefore, the horse becomes calmer.
The horse that is only punished for the mistakes it makes will become reluctant and in turn, even more upset. So the top French rider focuses on being attentive and aware while always controlling her reactions. By not acting in anger, she doesn’t interrupt communication with her horse.
Read on to learn more of Pénélope’s methods for working with hot horses:
NoelleFloyd.com: Pénélope, you do very well with small-framed, hot horses. Why is that?
Pénélope Leprevost: I think I’m a good listener to uncommon horses. I would say that in my career it’s true that I’ve had been trusted with good horses with “psychological” issues. And it’s by being close to them that I’ve managed to stand out when I was younger and to a certain level.
Flora and Ratina are two very special mares. I’m well served ! They are special because they are both fantastic and so complicated in their way of functioning at the same time. It’s difficult to manage them daily but I succeed by doing a lot of flat work at home and by listening to them closely.
NF: What are tips can you give to riders who are intimidated by horses with lots of blood?
PL: Generally, these horses are impressive, but they are not usually the toughest to ride. For an amateur rider, it’s sometimes easier to have a certain distance with hot horses that have a tendency to [compress the stride] compared to one who has bigger, regular strides. It can be comforting in some cases.
But each horse has his own identity. For example, Flora and Ratina are horses with blood but they have nothing in common. Flora doesn’t like to be touched compared to other horses who love human contact. You have to listen to your horse to determine what he wants, either on foot or when riding.
NF: What are your favorite exercises at home with horses with a lot of blood?
PL: For all difficult horses, either on foot or when riding, I think that an ethological halter is a good way to communicate with them. During lunge work, my mares are often calmer; they like this training without the bit in their mouths. All exercises with a direct connection to the rider is important.
Some horses like to be stopped, other prefers to march with their reins tight, while others like [their reins] long. I believe that there is no universal rule. You must learn to know your horse and what makes him feel good.
NF: What are common misconceptions of hot horses in horse sport?
PL: When they have their head out of the box and they lay their ears, do not enter the box! (Laughs) I challenge anybody to enter Flora’s! Obviously they impress at the first sight, and people avoid being too close.
NF: What are your tips to keeping hotter horses relaxed at home?
PL: I like to train them to stop. In competition, it’s really important to have them relaxed in the warm-up arena. I personally can focus on my rounds, or watch the other riders on TV, without being troubled by someone who will run into me, which will scare them. Both mares find a real comfort in that, too. I try to get them accustomed and we are all relaxed.
Feature photo by Erin Gilmore.