Review: The Jumping Game

20th May 2024
The Jumping Game: How National Hunt Trainers Work and What Makes Them Tick

As the woman who trained the great Best Mate to win three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups, no one could be better qualified than Henrietta Knight to discover what makes today’s top jumps trainers succeed.

From eccentric, outspoken Yorkshireman Mick Easterby, to elegant, aristocratic Venetia Williams, from Irish wizard Willie Mullins, to perfectionist champion trainer Paul Nicholls and young pretender Dan Skelton, here is a dazzling cast of extraordinary characters, all with their quirks and foibles, but with one single-minded ambition – finding first-class horses and training them to win big races.

Henrietta shares their dramatic journeys, methods and secrets of working in a tough, competitive industry. For the trainers, every win reignites the thrill of the sport and a craving for success that never dies. Their stories are fascinating, each one illustrated with unique photographs from private albums.

I’ve always been interested in horse racing, so when I came across this book in the publisher’s catalogue, I was intrigued, especially since I know next to nothing about anything else than flat racing. I hoped for some insights, biographies and delightful anecdotes of trainers and their horses. Unfortunately, that’s not what I got.

This book was incredibly boring because it was overly repetitive. I don’t need to read about the advantages and disadvantages of turning out horses regularly, swimming pools, horse walkers, track surfaces, and good ventilation a gazillion times. That was incredibly frustrating.

The chapters lacked structure. It would’ve been nice to have some kind of order, like sections on the people, the farm, the training methods, anecdotes and horses, and accomplishments (not necessarily in this order). Literally anything that made the chapters and the trainers more comparable so one could go back and forth to check how methods differ.

I often felt the people disappeared behind their stables and training methods while I wanted to get to know more about them and their personalities and, like the title says, what makes them tick. And then what are the trainers without their horses? Well, they are almost completely missing except for a handful of honourable mentions that mostly focus on their achievements and not on what made them special or how they were trained. All in all, it was a really dry read and could’ve used more anecdotes to spice things up.

Also, the author is quite judgemental, which I’m used to when it comes to horses since everyone has an opinion and that opinion is the only valid one. However, that shouldn’t have a place in a book such as this as long as the animals’ wellbeing isn’t called into question by these methods. Like, I get you prefer loose schooling the horses to jump. You mentioned that about every opportunity you had. And what does it matter to you if someone uses a fancy horse spa? Does it help them win races? Who knows, but it’s not like it hurts the horses in any way.

Bibliographic Information
2019 by Head of Zeus
Paperback, 366 pages
ISBN-13: 9781788541657
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