Fred Scala is a renowned Event Rider and is currently shortlisted to represent Team Ireland in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics whilst training towards the European Championships, World Championships and future Olympics. He has chosen the gym and spa facilities at Una St Ives to help prepare his body and mind for this epic undertaking so we sat him down and threw a few questions his way to shed a little light on what makes him tick and what it takes to be an Olympic hopeful.
Hi Fred! Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for us, we appreciate how precious your time must be at the moment. On that note, what does a typical day look for Fred Scala at the moment?
Hi, thank you for inviting me to share this time with you. My day normally kicks off at about 5.30/6.00 with a cup of coffee and an hour or so of work on my laptop. People might not realise this but in order to be a successful event rider, you must also run a successful business. There is very little funding available for equestrian athletes so in order to pay for the sport I love, I must keep the money coming in. To do this I produce and sell top quality horses that are owned by myself and Investors alike. There are very good returns to be made and a lot of fun to be had in the process, especially if these horses turn out to be good enough to reach top level.
Once some of the office work is done, I head across the road to UNA where I either hit the gym or the pool for a morning workout. I’m easy to spot in the gym, I’m the one that is still wearing a sweat shirt or hoodie despite the heat! The method behind the madness is that I am trying to get my core body temperature up to acclimatise myself to the extreme heat and humidity expected in Tokyo. It’s uncomfortable and doesn’t get any easier, but the idea is to become ‘comfortable with the uncomfortable’ to help me maximise my ability to perform under stressful circumstances.
By 9:30 am I’m usually on my way to my stable yard in St.Erth, where the real work begins. Every day I have between 10 and 12 horses to care for and exercise. I will usually ride between 7 and 10 horses every day; each horse will have an individual training programme depending on its age and level of competition. Each horse is trained for between 30 minutes and an hour each day, as well as getting time out in the field to relax. My small team of staff work tirelessly to cater for each horse, down to the very last detail, to ensure my horses are as happy and as comfortable as they can be.
Once my riding is done, I will start teaching. I work with riders on their own horses who travel to my stable once a week. I really enjoy coaching, it gives me huge satisfaction to see my clients improve and achieve their own personal dreams and goals.
I try to get home for about 6.30/7pm to help my wife put our baby boy to bed. Bed time stories are the cherry on top of a good day!
You are currently based just down the road from Una St Ives but you were raised in rural Ireland. You started your riding career early, but can you remember at what age you were when you first realised the magical connection that you had with horses?
That’s a great question. I think my career evolved quite organically. Growing up in rural Ireland, horses are everywhere and very much a part of Country Life. I started riding in the local riding school the same as most kids. I always liked a challenge and would take great pride in riding the more difficult ponies in riding school. One day when I was about 8 there was a knock on the door, it was one of our neighbours who had a pony for their daughter. They explained the pony had been quite naughty and kept bucking their daughter off. They asked me would I mind riding the pony for them to see if I could get it to behave. Of course, I accepted the challenge and a short time later the pony was trotting happily around the field after failing to dislodge a very determined young me. I remember getting a 20 pound note for my troubles. At 8 years old this was a small fortune! I think that’s my earliest memory of turning my hobby and passion into an income and things grew from there. I began buying and selling ponies of my own until, aged 16, I left school and moved to the UK to work in professional yards and by 20 years old I was running my own stables. I found out a couple of months ago that the neighbour’s pony that I helped them with, now 30 years old, is still going strong!
Are you a beach person? Living in St Erth by some of Europe’s most beautiful coastline it would be hard not to love it. Is the beach somewhere that you use for training as well?
The beach is one of my most valuable training aids! I use the beach and the ocean in so many ways and I would be lost without it. For the horses, I do all my fitness work down at Porthkidney. I gallop on the shoreline at low tide and I also walk them through the water to build up their core strength with resistance training. It’s also great to cool their legs and aids recovery after heavy competitions.
For me it’s my happy place, it’s my form of meditation! I love the water and enjoy surfing and being in the ocean helps me clear my mind and gives me time to myself when I need it. We are blessed to have some of the most beautiful coastline in the world on our doorstep and I sometimes have to pinch myself while I walk though turquoise water aboard one of my incredible horses.
Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Tokyo Olympics, an amazing achievement in itself. What event(s) might you be competing in and how does your gym training specifically help prepare you for this?
I compete in Three Day Eventing, which is like triathlon on horseback. All three phases are done on one horse.
First, we do a Dressage test. If you’ve not seen dressage before, it’s basically like training your horse to do ballet. It needs to look as effortless and as graceful as possible, but in truth it requires huge amount of effort and training for both horse and rider, and it takes extreme core strength to master. It might look like we’re just sitting there while the horse does the work, but we are trying to sit still while moving a 600kg animal with small movements of our hands, seat, legs and weight.
The next day we ride the Cross-Country phase. This is the scary one! Travelling at top speed for up to 12 minutes around a track of huge solid fences, it’s big, technical and ruthless. Reaching speeds of up to 45km/h, this is a test of speed, bravery and endurance. If I make a mistake both myself and my horse can get seriously injured, so making sure I am fit and strong enough to make good decisions late in the course when I’m tired is imperative.
For the duration of this competition my heart rate will be upwards of 190 BPM, that’s the equivalent output to an Olympic 2000m rower. Heavy stuff!
I use the bike, rowing machine and cross trainer at UNA to ensure good across the board strength and fitness.
On the third and final day of competition all the horses are checked by a vet to make sure they are fit and ready to proceed to the Show Jumping phase. After galloping so fast the day before the horses now have to collect themselves and jump a track of 15 fences, 1.30m high that can fall down if you touch one. Medals are won and lost in this phase as every fence down is 4 penalties against you. As a rider I must keep a cool head under pressure and help my horse. Once again, this takes huge core strength and balance (you can see why I need all the fitness training now)!
An important question, with your strict training schedule, are you allowed to sneak in the odd Cornish pasty or cream tea? How does your diet differ when training compared to time between event preparation?
I’m lucky in this respect, because of my daily output of calories I can eat what I like! Obviously, a balanced diet helps my productivity and boosts performance. Before a big comp I load up on carbs for quick release energy in competitions. After big training sessions or competitions, I load up on proteins to aid my recovery. Luckily UNA kitchen has first class menus with both these options!
For the uninitiated, what things should we, as spectators, be looking out for in one of your events? What are the most difficult manoeuvres to pull off?
If you’re new to the sport of eventing, I really recommend going to watch one of the 5* events held in the UK each year. Book tickets for cross country day and take a picnic! The riders and horses might make it look easy but once the competition is over head out onto the track and walk up to some of the jumps! You will see why I have so much respect for my equine teammates. It’s an action-packed day out and you will definitely enjoy it. You never know, you might even want to become involved and become an owner of my next Olympic horse (Paris is only 3 years away…)!
Your horses are clearly magnificent creatures with real personalities. Besides event training, how much looking after do these beautiful beasts require to keep them in such incredible condition?
With horses there is no such thing as bank holidays or days off… They need the same care 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. It’s a huge team effort to make this happen but we spend all day, every day with our horses. The morning yard work starts at 8.30am and finishes at 5.30pm, 7 days a week. All the horses get regular physio, dentist, vet and farrier visits. They are athletes too and are treated as such.
Finally, you have a fantastic little boy who probably (has more energy to expend than your wonderful horses!). Has he shown any affinity with equestrian life yet, do you think it’s in the DNA?
It brings me huge joy to say he does. At just a year old he absolutely loves spending time with the horses. We are on the hunt for his first pony, preferably one that resembles a walking doormat that can double up as a lawn mower!
Thank you for taking time to answer our questions Fred, and thanks for choosing the facilities at Una St Ives to get yourself ready for this amazing opportunity. We all wish you the best of luck in your adventures, hopefully we’ll see you on a podium soon!
If you are inspired by Fred’s words and are involved in the sport of eventing & would like to become more involved, either by becoming a member of Team Scala or owning one of these magnificent horses yourself, be sure to contact Fred Scala Equestrian to find out more email: [email protected] and follow his journey on: @FredScala .