Notes from Hartpury International Eventing Forum
Introduction by Jean Mitchell (Eventing Ireland), Organiser of the Forum, and Giuseppe della Chiesa, the new Chairman of the FEI Eventing Committee and the FEI Eventing Risk Management Advisor.
ERIC SMILEY: CREATING JUMP OWNERSHIP
The riders: Sara Squires, Eric Winter and Catharine Raybold, all on young horses.
Eric stressed the need to spend plenty of time at the early stages instilling specific skills. Some horses pick certain ones up very fast, others take longer. These skills and instinctive reactions must be there, ready to be used instantly in a moment of crisis.
Once warmed up, he had his riders do a large walk circle, incorporating a pole on the ground, and even this simple exercise showed the very different thought processes of the three horses ? whether they hesitated, lowered the head and really looked, marched confidently, stepped carefully, blundered blithely over, etc. If the horse kicks the pole, he said to give the horse a kick. Pick an exact point on the pole to walk over, and allow no deviation. Then Eric moved the riders to six trot poles with a 4? distance between them ? short distances to teach the horse to shorten the stride and be gymnastic, explaining that the rider?s balance is crucial ? ideally not interfering at all with the horse?s balance.
He asked Sara to adopt the forward seat (two point seat) at halt, to show us exactly what he wanted. The heel should be 1? ? 2? lower than ball of foot, not 3? lower. Eric worked all the riders in the forward seat, first at halt to perfect it, then at walk, trot and canter. Then, keeping the canter the same, they rode to a pole on the ground.
Ask the question; ?Is this canter good enough?? ?Good enough for what?? ?Good enough for a pole on the ground?? Then, play over a 1?6? upright, again concentrating on getting the canter right and keeping it the same all the way to the fence. Taking ownership of the canter is not the same as grabbing the reins and controlling the speed.
Horses are not natural gallopers, they are natural sprinters. We have to teach them how to gallop in self-carriage, in balance, on a line, and stay rideable. If the horse accelerates to the fence, the rider ends up in a ?holding position?, not using the legs. Eric believes that over-bitting is a big problem, because the horse will not be going in balance if he is pulling against the hand.
There are five phases of the jump, and ownership/responsibility passes backwards and forwards:
Approach (rider?s responsibility)
Take-off (horse?s responsibility)
Mid-air (horse?s responsibility)
Landing (horse?s responsibility)
Get away (rider?s responsibility) – this is the rider?s responsibility because the horse does not know where he is supposed to go next.
Eric said, ?Very few people can ?see where they are?, (i.e. see a stride), so if you can?t, then concentrate on getting everything else right, and don?t look for a stride. Do the things you can do: balance, engage, keep straight and leave the rest to the horse.? Out of a good canter, all three take-off options (off, fine, deep) are OK. The horse thinks ?I?m okay, I have time, I can do this from here?. If the horse is jumping from his own volition, he has his heart and soul in the jump, he owns the fence.
With a four year old real baby horse, the rider should think: ?my job is to support the horse?s efforts, NOT to tell the horse to jump.? There is more room for mistakes if the rider tells the horse to jump.
The rider passes the responsibility, the horse says ?Gotcha, I can do this, I can go from here?, and the horse is thinking. You have started the thought process of what the horse has to do with his feet. It should look easy ? if it doesn?t, then something between rider and horse isn?t working. Teach the skills of mental agility as well as physical. The horse must be able to make mistakes and learn from them.
On the four year old, to two fences in a line: ?leave her alone,? was the command. By this Eric meant: don?t abandon her, but let her learn. Be supportive of what she is doing, ie corrections of line with legs, positive consistent rein aid and leg aid, be encouraging: ?I?m not telling you where to take off? when you get there, you make a decision.?
You need to have a Start Point. You can always return to the canter, the line ? those things that the rider is responsible for. This way, the horse learns what is comfortable, what feels good, and will then do that again. Horses learn by repetition ? therefore, they can learn bad things just as well as they can learn good things.
Bounce of small uprights, then five strides to another bounce of small uprights. (1?6?). No groundlines (other than for the four year old) because the fences are very small, and Eric wants to encourage the horse to think, to make an assessment, to look at the top pole… he thinks fences often have too much filling in.
Think of these as Training Games. Not very big, not very challenging. These are the foundations, lay them right and the horse learns and then knows what to do. The rider passes ownership/ responsibility to the horse and then takes it back. If you do the foundations right, then you pick up the canter, come round the corner, the horse sees the fence and thinks ?YEP, my job.? If the rider feels a balance and recognises the quality of the canter then ?seeing a stride? is not a problem.
YOGI BREISNER: RACING ? A BALANCED APPROACH
Riders: Polly Gundry and Chris King
When Yogi was in the Army, they all had to strip and reassemble their weapons repeatedly? as in, approximately six times a day, every day, for six weeks. He complained to his superior officer that it was getting boring, and was told that it was essential that it become totally automatic, so that if he were ever in a battle situation with his friends getting shot all around him, and his weapon jammed, he?d be able to strip, unjam and reassemble it, without conscious thought, as he wouldn?t be thinking rationally in that kind of situation. It is exactly the same situation with a tired horse ? it needs to be a trained instinct, so that the horse does it right, finds a 5th leg, no matter what.
The horse has 3 instincts when it comes to fences:
Avoiding (= not hitting fence.)
The jockey is responsible for balance, pace (speed and rhythm) and straightness. The jockey is also responsible for making it as easy as possible for the horse, for being a Good Passenger. Ideal ? a slightly loose rein, so it is as if the horse is loose jumping, but keeping the balance.
Exercise: a small fence, 3 strides to another small fence.
About 7-8 strides away, rider goes forward, then horse draws forward to the fence. About 3 strides away they realise what distance they?ll reach the fence on, and the rider realises that they need to either encourage forward to the ?off? spot, or bring shoulders back and up if they?re going to be in a bit ?tight? (close) to encourage horse to back off. Normal take-off distance (for racehorses) ? approx 6? ish from fence. A healthy racing spot is 8?-10? from the fence.
Rider?s position ? sole of boot parallel to the ground, rider?s back parallel to the horse?s back and the ground, loose-ish knees so that they can act as shock absorbers. This is what he calls the Martini glass position (rider?s back is top of glass, thigh is side of glass, lower leg is stem of glass.) About 3 strides from fence, close the angles, bring shoulders lower, sit closer to the saddle. Racehorses are jumped every single day if he has them in for training, sometimes more frequently.
A lot of what he said is totally applicable to good cross-country riding. The emphasis was on the rider staying in balance, helping not hindering the horse, and letting the horse go positively forward to the fence and make a good job of it. The rider?s position and, if necessary, subtle input a few strides out, help the horse.
GIUSEPPE DELLA CHIESA and JONATHAN CLISSOLD: Q & A SESSION
FEI Message ? Safety is not someone else?s responsibility. The sport has risk – riders need to train to minimise that risk.
Jonathan Clissold talked about the XC Research fence which was used at many events in 2008 and 2009. The data has all been analysed, and we now know the forces a horse exerts on a fence when it hits it, and we can see what level causes a fall. We want a fence to fail when a horse gets into a nasty situation. If anyone has any ideas to put forward to B.E., please do so. Giuseppe della Chiesa talked about the judicious reintroduction of upright fences at all levels to improve riding.
I asked when the clear Guidelines as to what riders can expect to find on XC courses at all levels, promised last July in BE?s 16-point Safety Manifesto, would be published on the BE website. Julian Clissold said that it is not finished yet. I asked whether it would be available before the start of the season and he said it hopefully should be.
Francis Whittington (Chairman of the Event Riders Association) asked a question regarding the rule on Dangerous Riding. He has been contacted by riders wanting precise guidelines on what exactly this means, especially as they would have no Right of Appeal if they were stopped on these grounds. He asked what exactly constitutes dangerous riding, who is making the decisions, how are they trained, and why is there no right to appeal. Also, where are the guidelines written down, and can we the riders see them? The answer that came back from Giuseppe della Chiesa confirmed that there were no guidelines as yet, and there is no specific training provided to the people that make the decision. He did say: ?There are some principles in the FEI Rules. No abuse of the horse is one. Here is a clear example ? if there is no connection between what the rider and the horse are doing, for instance if the rider pulls and the horse speeds up, or the rider kicks and nothing happens, THAT is dangerous riding.?
Kirsty Davis made the point that some lower-level riders might need this pointing out, they might not realise that what they are doing isn?t right. If they are managing a fast clear, then even if they are somewhat out of control they think it?s fine, because it is not until the fences get bigger that they will get caught out.
PAMMY HUTTON : DRESSAGE ? THE RELATIONSHIP WITH JUMPING
Riders: Chris King, Nick Gauntlett, Daisy Dick and Charlie Hutton
Pammy said she thought a better title for her section would have been: ?Does the wrong sort of dressage, bad dressage, have anything to do with more falls XC?? She said that her mother, the legendary Molly Sievewright, hates the phrase “pure dressage” as it should all be “pure” as in correct, even if it is only at Novice level. We need to leave the horse?s and rider?s instinct intact through the work we do on the flat. It should be a Partnership, not a Dictatorship.
Hunting is ideal, to teach the horse to have a fifth leg. All the stuff we used to be able to do, such as jumping without stirrups, riding bareback, learning to fall off, are not allowed any more, unfortunately.
No violent aids.
Horse must learn to wait, and to let you in.
With horses that spook it is very useful to slow down to half-steps to let them look. A horse like Spring Along ? they have never tried to dominate him, it would have blown his brain. They have to ?chat him up? instead.
If horse is the sort that gets very wound up about flying changes, say, stop a few strides after doing one, and give the horse a polo, chill out, make a mobile phone call? anything to defuse the situation. Sometimes it is a good idea to stop the moment the horse has learnt something – for instance Pammy knows someone who would work a horse for only 10 minutes, but perhaps do this four times a day.
She had the riders working on jumping a fence, sometimes doing one or two flying changes after they had ridden away from the fence, then coming back to do a half-pirouette in canter, and coming back to the fence. All credit to the riders, they weren?t allowed to change saddles and were jumping some fairly decent fences in their dressage saddles ? she did allow them to shorten their stirrups a little though.
They also worked on ?bumping? the quarters across with an aid and whip-flick if the horse is in the habit of changing late behind. The idea was to ?bump? the quarters to get the change behind, then turn horse towards new hind leading leg to get the change in front to get back to united canter, as teaching such a horse to change early behind will counter its natural tendency to do them late.
The emphasis was on how to sort out problems to help the horse?s balance, the control, and reactivity ? all of which will help with show jumping and cross country.
DI LAMPARD & SHANE BREEN: WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE SHOW JUMPERS?
Riders: Georgie Spence, Kitty Boggis and Laura Collett
It is very useful to have a Coach on the ground ? to help keep an eye on the impulsion, the quality of the canter, the rhythm, which leads the rider to a good feel and to correct timing when jumping.
The distances were kept open to begin with, so that the horses could come down and take ownership of the fence. You don?t want to be making your ground up in the last few strides, as the jump will be flat.Just take a deep breath on landing, this brings your upper body up, and keeps you soft. All your body language should be done in a light way.
Di pointed out one horse?s hollowing to a slightly closed hand on take-off. But, if you relax a bit too much, the horse goes too forward, onto its shoulder. If you soften too much with the hand, you drop the horse. If you collapse too much because you have no core strength, the horse collapses on the forehand. So, it is very important to stay disciplined. The rider?s position really affects the horse?s balance. The last few strides can be a little open, this allows the horse to take the initiative slightly.
Shane Breen: when you land over a fence, take a deep breath, compose yourself.
Di Lampard : You need to be the pilot, not a passenger ? you have to help the horse.
Related distance changed to one more stride than before – do the adjustment between the fences, don?t risk having the first fence by stopping the horse up too much. Adjustability and reactivity, particularly between fences, are key. When the horse kept a supple body between fences, there was a better jump over the second part, because he didn?t get ?stopped up?. Light seat, moving horse forward, then sit up, polishing the saddle, gathering the horse with legs and a light seat, balancing and engaging.
The Overall Message:
Every one of the trainers individually emphasised the importance of the rider?s position (especially the core strength and stability), that small changes in the rider?s balance affect the horse?s way of going, and that the responsiveness and adjustability of the horse is crucial (as this will lead to a better canter, better approaches, and therefore better jumping efforts).
The rider?s responsibility is to train the horse correctly. If the horse is taught to find and maintain its own balance, and to be responsible for the fences, then this in itself will greatly minimise the risks.
Words + photos Kerry Weisselberg