Cross Country Training with Australian CCI**** rider Bill Levett

Report by organiser Harriet Turton Aug 2015

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I organise several clinics with Australian event rider Bill Levett throughout the year. Based in Cambridgeshire, I currently have two horses evening; The Last Pilgrim who has competed at intermediate but he is a nappy little rat bag at times and Billy Bug, a 5 year old gelding who is currently at BE90. I usually have one or two horses to produce and sell as well. My aim this year was to put more time and effort into my training rather than competing just for the sake of it and with  the help of Bill and a couple of other trainers I have managed to do it.

We have been lucky enough to use some super venues such as Ely Event Centre at Little Downham, Lynheam Heath, Swalcliffe, Aston Le Walls, Herringswell near Newmarket and this time Keysoe in Bedfordshire. Each venue has offered some interesting and varied XC training fences as well as good going and are all of a BE standard even if they don’t host events.

I get a lot out of training with Bill. His methods are clear and the most outstanding parts of all the training sessions is his consistency and clarity; a prefect recipe for good training for horse and rider. I always come away feeling as though I have improved and I have a clear set of guidelines for my training at home and competitions.

Bill is part of the Australian eventing squad. He has been based in the UK since 1994 and has been placed in the top ten at Badminton, Burghley, Lumhulen and Rolex Kentucky and is currently ranked in the FEI top 20 worldwide.

This time we are at Keysoe, they host two BE competitions a year ranging from BE80 to Intermediate. I have a soft spot for Keysoe as it is one of my most local venues and it was the place where I contested my first ever BE event! The huge indoor and two outdoor arenas as well as the café and lovely staff certainly add to its charm.

Bill begins by finding out a bit about each rider and horse combination then by explaining about safe cross country riding and emphasises how important it is to get your eyes on your fence as early as possible and for as long as possible. He then sends the riders off to jump a single warm up fence adding corrections to each combination as necessary, he usually does this over 2-3 fences before moving on to a combination.

The first combination was a ditch to a pagoda with a jump in it. Bill explained that whilst this wasn’t a particularly technical or large fence (for some of the horses) it was a good obedience test and something a bit different so a great opportunity. Some horses found it easier than others. The horses that were more experienced jumped straight through with no problem (it was still a good thing for them to jump). Some of the younger horses jumped each element individually and had a look at the pagoda first. Everyone came away having jumped both elements well.

Next up was a step, looping back around to a small ditch then over an owl hole style fence. Again it was a good obedience test and keeping the horses moving through the turn was key, especially the inexperienced horses who backed themselves off the ditch and step.

Another combination that was covered was a large drop to a ramp to a roll top. It was important to get the horses to have a positive jump in, then to recover a good canter to approach the roll top. Bill said it is often useful to slip your reins slightly when about to jump off a step so you can sit back and give your hands forward without them being snatched out of your hands completely and ending up right on the buckle (although at times this is impossible to prevent!).

Bill also covered a house ditch house complex, once again a good canter and focus on the fence was key to getting a good shot over the first fence. It was interesting to see how different horses coped with this test with extremes of horses stopping at the first house or ditch to those that were a bit too bold! For those that were keen a steady but active pace was required, for those that were less than keen, a good defensive position from the rider along with a lot of leg was needed – I personally find pony club kicking the hardest thing to do so I must practice this and as one of the ladies said – it doesn’t have to be pretty to be effective!!

Each group was then given a round up with Bill for thing for them to focus on in the future and what they had worked on today.

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Learnings: Here are a couple of things I took away from today’s session…

Balance, balance and more balance: Jumping fences fast is one of the last skill sets you pick up as a rider – only ever ride as fast as you are able to come back from. This will also determine when you balance before a fence. You need a good canter/gallop before you balance, this will give your horse the best opportunity to read the question and do a good job:

Correct pace + balance = safe/happy jump 

You can only learn when to balance when you are looking at your fence! Keep your eye on it and don’t take it off!

Choose your test: Just because your horse is jumping big fences, it doesn’t mean that has to be the test every time. Perhaps a combination or an angle or jumping a fence with a ‘roof’ can be the test. Be careful not to add too many test at the time.

Choose when you push your horse: A clinic like this is a good opportunity to push horse or rider out of their comfort zone. That doesn’t mean you need to do that every time you ride or XC school, go back to basics and keep the horses confidence high

Learn when to put the pressure on: when a horse is disobedient when they back up but pressure on. When they move forwards quickly release the pressure. If the horse is in-between (standing) increase the pressure until you think they are thinking about the question, give them an opportunity to think and go forwards by sitting quiet before putting the pressure back on if necessary. Don’t forget to praise when they do what you want.

Slip your reins slightly before a big drop: This should help prevent the reins being snatched out of your hands completely and ending up on the buckle

Here are some testimonials from the clinic…

Rosie with Lily (currently competing at BE100)…

This was my 3rd clinic with Bill Levett and it was probably my favourite. I’ve continually found his approach to teaching really effective and I always come away feeling confident. Bill ensures riders think about how they approach different fences and combinations whilst maintaining pace between fences. I have found that my cross country rounds have become much smoother. Bill is not just another ‘big name’ rider, he has a real eye for teaching and provides some really invaluable advice.

Becky with Corey…

I had a fantastic lesson with Bill, he was very nice and explains things in a really clear way and gives you loads of ways to improve. He doesn’t push you to do anything you are not comfortable with but gives you confidence to push yourself. I would definitely recommend a lesson with him to anyone.

Michele with 8 year old Rocco, (currently competing locally at 95 cm)…

Thoroughly enjoyed the clinic and came away with a big smile, sound advice and a bucket full of confidence which is just what we wanted.  Will certainly try to trust Rocco more and take what I have learnt forward to my next competition.

For more information on Bill take a look at his website: www.billlevett.com

For more information on Harriet & for future clinic dates see her Website: www.hteventing.com

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