John Cottle // Creating that special bond

John Cottle // Creating that special bond

What’s the secret to creating that special bond between you and your horse? We asked Olympian John Cottle to give us a little insight into how best to make that happen and to tell us about some of his favourite horses…

John should know how to create the perfect partnership – he’s had a run of incredible horses, but particularly a trio of greys in Watch Me, Super Moth and Telegraph.

“It is very hard to pick a favourite as they were all different, however the common denominator was that I felt a chemistry with each of them when I tried them,” he said.

Thoroughbred Watch Me had raced as Tiny Naude and had a tendency to bolt with jockeys on the track. “We renamed him but he remained known as Tiny at home,” says John. “He was very brave, fast against the clock and careful, and I trained him to compete in a very soft rubber bit.” John had him at the same time as Super Moth and says he often nominated the wrong horse in World Cup classes.

Super Moth was originally called Tigger and had been doing dressage with his previous owner. She unfortunately became ill and had a rider jump him in a novice class at Dannevirke Show where John bought him.

“He was a small horse with a huge heart and a huge stride. He was by Distlefink and very buzzy, so had to be worked in a lot before classes to get him to relax over his back. I think he was a crowd favourite because of his size and consistency.”

He was a star in the ring and once won 10 Grand Prix classes in a row. “I think only a breathing allergy condition later in his career stopped him going to the Sydney Olympics.”

Telegraph was a bit like a boomerang. He was bred by John, sold as a two-year-old and then came ‘home’ later when jumping Grand Prix. “I was told he was quirky with people,” remembers John. “He did not jump the way I wanted and he could not land on his right lead over a fence, however , I felt a real chemistry with him and we formed a strong bond.”

After months of re-training and no clear jumping rounds, John finally got through and they went on to win 13 out of 15 Grand Prix starts in one season.

We bring John back to the big question – who is his favourite? “Of the three greys I think Super Moth was my favourite, however I have had a number of other top horses who weren’t grey including Rifleman, Red Coat, Monopoly and Arturo . . . to name just a few.”

So while we are no closer to finding out the ultimate of his horses, he is happy to share a lifetime of knowledge. While John is no longer competing, he does plenty of coaching, which includes helping students buy that perfect horse. “If I go to buy a horse for myself or for a student, apart from looking for talent, temperament and suitability, I put most emphasis on the chemistry between horse and rider.”
He knows what he is looking for. John Cottle’s long and very distinguished career includes  being the trainer and producer of six Olympic horses, ridden for New Zealand at two Olympic Games and three World Cup finals, won six New Zealand Horse of the Year crowns, is a nine-time New Zealand World Cup Series winner, 13 times New Zealand’s Grand prix Rider of the year, and twice New Zealand Showjumping Personality of the Year.

John has bred many a top international horse including Monopoly who was ranked in the world’s top 20 and inducted into the Canadian Hall of Fame.

He has coached winning teams from New Zealand and Japan and individuals from all over the world.  He has been a New Zealand showjumping selector for young rider and juniors, coached the gold medal-winning New Zealand young rider team at the Sydney Youth Olympic Festival and to bronze at the World Student Games in Aachen. He’s been chef d’equipe for both senior and young rider teams and is a former performance director and mentor for New Zealand Jumping Talent ID Squads.

“I have always had a strong will to win and was fortunate to grow up on a farm riding a pony bareback and having a very horsey father,” says John. By his own admission he has had “fabulous” coaches and mentors, including dressage master Colonel Peter Doornbos which established a lifelong style of riding and training flat work for his jumpers. When he headed to the UK with three Grand Prix jumpers, he happened to live near his idol – Olympic bronze medallist Peter Robeson. “I was able to train with him and copy him.” During his career he has always put a great emphasis on coaching and attending clinics and is well versed from all sides – as a rider, trainer and organiser of clinics, including bringing George Morris to New Zealand.

John’s top tips –

  • Ride horses you are excited to get up in the morning and look forward to riding.
  • You are the alpha, the horse must respect you on the ground as well as when you ride them.
  • Make coaching a priority, be consistent with your training and appreciate any progress no matter how small.
  • Practice the hard things, not just the things you do well.
  • Teach your horses good basic flatwork and self-carriage, so 95% of riders can ride your horses not just 5%.