Rider profile: Ronnie Lawrence

Interview with Caroline Malan

You’re currently ranked number 3 in SA in 2018. Tell us about your year to date and why it’s all gone so well?

I moved to Natal two years ago and this year I’ve felt much more at home and I’ve started to go to more shows than normal. Gillian Van Orshof has also had more time now to get used to the climate and the different courses and arenas in South Africa.

Who would you like to thank for all your success thus far?

Definitely my team. My clients and grooms. As well as Andre my partner – without him, his guidance and belief in me (as well as the horse power I am sitting on) none of this would be possible.

Tell us about Gillian Van Orshof – what makes him tick? His dislikes?

Gillian Van Orshof was a very tricky horse. When I bought him as a 4 year old I went through a year of many difficulties. I tried to sell him overseas and swap him but nobody wanted him. I, therefore, decided to persevere and see what we could do. He is a very good horse, yet sensitive and needs to be ridden with a lot of feel. I never carry a stick on him. I am very cautious with his workload. I am the only person who has jumped him since I have owned him. This way he trusts me and that is what makes him what he is today.

How do you prepare him for Derby (eg: in the 3 weeks leading up to Derby)?

He has now jumped the Derby twice and was second last year. He is very brave. So what I do with him pre-Derby is up his fitness and change what I jump him over to similar fences to those he will be jumping in the Derby. I go up to Jo’burg a week before Derby and practice in a Derby arena, just to remind him about the bank, table and ditches. I also make sure to keep him sound and focus on the jumps I need to work on a bit more than the others in the course.

Explain his work routine to us eg walker, flatwork, track, outrides, jumping etc – how often do you do each one per week and why does that work for the horse?

All my horses are in a program that I try and stick to all the time. I like them to hack out as much as possible. Where we are we have got lovely hills to trot them up. They usually jump about twice a week whether it’s a gymnastic or course. It’s not the size of the jump so much as it is just jumping because jumping fitness is very different to flatwork fitness. They work on the flat about four days a week and I am very strict about this. Before a big show I start to jump a bit bigger and I make sure I know who is building at the show and I start to build the lines and distances and try to anticipate the feel of the course builder.

What is the biggest challenge for you personally in Derby – ie what do you have to work on the most before the show as well as on show day?

Well by the time I do get to the Derby with all going well, my homework, which is done throughout the year, has been done. Keeping the horses fit as well as myself and not suddenly changing the routine is key. The fitness work however will be increased with a lot more canter work. Also with Derby it is important to start the first class confident. I try and not be the top qualifier, having been there a few times: it’s too much pressure. So I aim to be consistent and well placed to qualify comfortably.

How do you ‘get into the zone’ before the big class?

On the morning of the Derby I spend time alone. I check the day before what I need to do with Gillian Van Orshof to see if he’s a bit fresh or so. I like to watch the course being built because every year it’s the same course however they can place the jumps slightly differently and play with distances. I focus very much on the Derby that day and I don’t talk to anyone so that I can get my mind ready for the Derby itself.

In your opinion, what are the biggest errors made by riders jumping the Derby course?

Preparation … some horse and riders aren’t ready for the Derby yet. In saying that the crowd does like to see a few errors here and there so that when a clear round does happen they go absolutely wild. I also see horses and riders that aren’t fit enough and are there too soon.

What other horses will you be riding throughout the five day Derby show?

Optimus, my 8 year old Stallion who will be jumping the mini derby. And Callaho Contano, my 6 year old who will be jumping the 1.2m classes. I will also be bringing up many pupils and clients.

Rider profile: Ronnie Lawrence

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