Rider profile: Liam Stevens

Liam Stevens riding Nissan Wanda. Photography by Jacqueline S Woods

Will you be competing in the main Derby 2018? What horse/s will you be competing on?

Yes I’m hoping to have two horses for this year’s Derby. Nissan Wanda who has been placed twice in previous years and Linda Ellerine’s Back on Track Quintino 4. It will be his first time around. Those are the only two horses that I will have at the 2018 SA Derby.

Will you dress up in line with the theme “Spring in the Hamptons”?

Definitely, I think it’s a great theme. We should all buy into it.

Tell us about your top horse – what makes her tick?

Nissan Wanda, a 15yr old Dutch mare, is a hot and feisty mare who loves her job. She loves the Bob Charter and the Derby obstacles. I wont do too much Derby training with her – I will make sure she is very fit and trust in her to know her job once we get there.

Back on Tracks Quintino 4 is a new ride for me. He’s a 16yr old Hanoverian gelding, is very forward going and immensely scopey.

Explain their 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?

They go on the walker every day. Wanda does hill work once a week, with a jump or two depending on shows, then a lunge and the rest on the flat. I try and mix things up for her so that she stays interested in her work. Quintino benefits from a lot of suppling and relaxation work. He loves the track and enjoys his grid-work.

What has always been 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?

The biggest challenge is staying focused during such a long course and on such a big day. I find ways to relax myself before the class and go through the game plan quietly with myself.

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

Nerves, I think it’s easy to psych yourself out of the class before the first qualifier!

For those training for the Derby, what should they focus on most (eg fitness; certain exercises; Derby-type fences etc)

You need to be fit, mentally and physically. The horses do need to be familiar with the Derby things, but how much you do is totally horse dependent. You may need to do more with a certain horse etc. I try and get mine really breathing fit, so lots of canter work.

What’s the best Derby round you’ve ever witnessed?

I loved watching Graeme Winns round on his horse Obi Wan Kenobi two years ago. It was their first Derby and it was a beautiful round (I think he was clear). He went in fairly early on and I think that there’s always that tension around the ground for that first Derby clear. I was standing at the warm-up arena watching Jeanne Engela warm up and heard that Graeme was in – I knew it was both his and his horses’ first time in. I remember the crowd getting louder and louder with every jump that he cleared. He is a great rider to watch as he rides with so much feeling. I was really so excited for him – it most certainly sticks out in my memory.

Who are your favourites for this year’s Derby?

I think there are some really strong combinations around. Tara Louw and Foreigner should have a good round. Nicola Sime-Riley, Nicole Horwood and Team Nissan captain Barry Taylor are always ones to watch.

How does the crowd impact the riding in the area? Did you ever hear the crowd when you rode?

I love it. I do hear them and I think everyone will be affected in different ways. If you’re clear up to the last double it gets loud and exciting!

Explain your best ever Derby round to us – when, on whom, why was it the best?

On Nissan Wanda, in 2015 I think – it was both mine and Wanda’s second Derby. We were double clear and placed third. I’ll never forget it! As I can recall, we were having a very good season to date: I hadn’t trained the Derby stuff too much in order to keep her fresh and keen for all the funnies that the show presents. I remember turning into the last double thinking ‘I can’t believe it, I’ve seen a great distance to this last double and can now go on an easy 8 strides to the last oxer’ – I remember being so relieved! And then in terms of the jump-off, there were 4 clears going through: Nicola Sime-Riley on El Paso, Nicole Horwood on Mark White Nissan Capital Don Cumarco and Shaun Neill on Clyde Z. We all went double clear and I ended third.

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