Kathy Kusner: Footage of 3 Olympic Games
This historic footage shows American Olympic rider, Kathy Kusner, in action during three Olympic Games. She was a beautiful girl, with a rail thin body, dark short hair, and a winning smile. I first saw her on the Florida Circuit in the late 1960s. I heard at the time that she and the other American team members were trying to adapt to the faster paces required in European competitions. Americans tended to ride horses in a more collected manner in the jumper classes, and this style would cause time faults when more pace was demanded overseas. I admired her classic style of riding, which is evident in the stability of her legs in these short clips. She later became the first licensed female jockey in the United States. Her story is a “rag to riches” one, which should be an inspiration to many riders. There’s a great interview with her at the following website: http://www.makers.com/kathy-kusner
Great Rider Build and Horse Turnout
There are many good things I’d like to mention about this horse and rider combination. First, the rider is beautifully proportioned, with long legs that fit the shape of the horse’s sides. This means that the rider’s knees are located just above the widest part of the horse’s barrel, so that the lower legs can drop naturally against the horse’s sides. Also, notice how the rider’s heels are located just at the bottom of the horse’s barrel, so that the rider has the most length of contact possible, without having legs so long that her feet show underneath the bottom of the barrel. The rider is slim, yet strong, and she has a great sense of rhythm, riding forward to find distances in this trappy course, rather than holding for deeper spots. The horse is beautifully turned out, with a flat, shiny coat and a great braiding job. It enters the ring with impulsion and roundness and has a spring in its step that really gives this combination a sense of “presence.” The only thing that could be improved upon is the steadiness of the rider’s lower leg over fences. In more than one instance, the lower leg moves back on takeoff and forward on landing, rather than staying steady throughout the jumping effort.
WIHS Equitation Championship
This video starts with a view of the city of Washington, just outside of the competition arena. You can see horses entering down an arena ramp for the day of competition in the 2010 Washington International Horse Show Equitation Championship. (In some of the more prestigious shows in the country, which take place inside of big cities that have limited boarding space inside their arenas, some horses must be boarded in temporary stalls on the streets near the arena. Others, who have only qualified for an equitation championship, but not the hunter classes, sometimes must be shipped into the city very early in the morning before competitition, where they are unloaded and tacked on the street, then walked into the warm-up area, where the riders are mounted.) This video also gives a glimpse of the busy warm-up in the arena, where only two simple fences are provided during the practice time, which is normally very early, prior to sunrise. We can also see riders and their coaches walking the course before competition. There is not much time allotted for walking the course, so everyone must be alert in order to develop a good plan for negotiating the fences. First, we see the hunter phase, with the course set as a typical hunter course that requires flowing strides. There are 10 fences in this hunter course, including an in-an-out. Next is the jumper phase, with 15 fences set in a more twisting course that includes a three-fence combination. There is a “time allowed” in the jumper phase, based on 360 yards per minute, and riders are penalized one point for each second over the time allowed. In the year-end championship class, there is also a third phase, which involves the top ten riders–that is, those deemed to be the top ten when their hunter and jumper scores were added together. The top ten switch horses and compete over the jumper course again to determine the final placings. Only a three-minute warm-up on the flat is allowed on the new horse. This class presents interesting tests of the rider’s ability because all horses seem to be more of a “hunter type” or “jumper type,” which means that the rider must compensate for whichever is their mount’s weaker performance area.
Understanding Limb Flexion Tests
In this video, Dr. Mike Pownall of McKee-Pownall Equine Services demonstrates flexion tests. The tests are used to establish exactly where a horse is hurting when it has gone lame. The animal’s legs are held as demonstrated, then the horse is immediately jogged to see if it moves off lame. The viewpoint in this video is good for the flexion demonstration, but not for the jog. In order to see if the horse is travelling lame, you would need to be standing parallel to the side of the animal and back far enough that you could watch the legs move for the entire length of the jog. Usually, when judging horses for soundness during the jog in competition, the judge stands halfway down the long side of the arena and at least 30 feet away from the horses as they pass, so that the judge can have a side view of each horse for several steps.
Nona Garson’s Gymnastic System
International jumper rider, Nona Garson, does a good job of explaining and demonstrating a gymnastic exercise. One thing to note is that the horse is not always consistent about crossing the first pole. Starting eight seconds into the video (:08), watch as the horse hops over the first pole, rather than properly crossing it at the trot. Compare this to the approach starting at twenty-nine seconds into the video (:29). This time the horse trots over the first pole, which is correct. Just as you must place your horse to a take-off spot when galloping to a fence, you should place your horse’s feet correctly on the approach to ground poles. The horse should remain in a steady rhythm and swing its legs forward over the poles, with the hooves falling exactly in the middle ground between the poles. The measurements given for the exercise in this video are 9 feet between the ground pole and crossrail, 18 feet between the crossrail and vertical fence, and 21 feet between the vertical and oxer. For a big-strided horse, this would work; but as a general rule, if you are jumping a series of one-strides between the obstacles, only add 1 foot for each successive obstacle. If that were applied to the gymnastic shown in this video, the measurements would be 9 feet, 18 feet, and 19 feet. The purpose of the gymnastic is to encourage the horse to rock back on its hocks and give a solid upward thrust, so if the measurements are overly long, the horse will tend to be too flat over the fences. As for the “low-ramped oxer” that was mentioned, that means that the front rail of the oxer is slightly lower (generally 3 to 6 inches lower) than the back rail. When both the front and back rail are even, it is called a “square oxer.” (To see Nona Garson turning in a spectacular round at Devon on the jumper, “Rhythmical,” go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQXgr6x5Bw8&feature=related)
Greg Best on “Gem Twist” in Stockholm, 1990
This is a video of “Gem Twist,” one of America’s most famous jumpers, ridden by Greg Best at the World Equestrian Games in Stockholm in 1990. It is an outstanding example of classical form of both horse and rider over a course of very large fences. Greg Best’s accomplishments include:
1984 – Won the North American Young Rider Championships
1985 – USET Talent Derby
1986 – USET Foundation Lionel Guerrand-Hermès Memorial Award
1987 – American Grand Prix Association Champion, Grand Prix of Florida, Grand Prix of Tampa
1987 – Team silver Pan American Games
1988 – Individual and team silver for show jumping in Seoul Summer Olympic Games
1990 – Final four in the World Equestrian Games
2001/2002 season – winner FEI World Cup Jumping – Pacific League – New Zealand
After moving to New Zealand, Greg coached the country’s show jumpers in the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens. He now conducts coaching clinics in the United States and New Zealand. His champion horses also include Santos and Entrepreneur.
The Five Factors of Jumping
George Morris, generally acknowledged as the finest teacher of hunter seat riding in the world, states that the five factors of jumping are pace, line, distance, balance, and impulsion. You can see in the slow-motion example that the horse is approaching the oxer with enough pace (speed) and impulsion (thrust); it is well-balanced, not leaning on its forehand each stride; and it is directed by the rider onto a straight line on the approach to the fence. The rider finds a slightly deep distance to the oxer, however, as indicated by the horse moving off to the left (from our perspective) on the final stride. Horses sometimes shuffle to the left or right just before jumping in order to accommodate for an overly-deep spot—i.e., they actually make a little more space before the fence by taking a crooked path, rather than by shortening the stride and exerting more thrust from the hocks to accommodate the deep spot. Notice how the distance to the next fence—the vertical—is spot on. The horse comfortably leaves the ground about six feet away from the center of the oxer and lands six feet away from the center. The animal is trying on the approach to the vertical to change its bend from being bent to the left to being bent to the right, probably because it is shying away slightly from whomever is shooting this video. The rider does a very good job of keeping the horse balanced and attentive enough for take-off, so that the distraction of the camera doesn’t result in an error at the fence.
USEF Finals Flat Phase 2008
I found this video interesting because it shows the flat phase of the 2008 USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals requiring several movements that are not listed in the normal specifications for the USEF Talent Search Class. These include a shoulder in, shoulder out, haunches in, haunches out, and the half-pass at the canter with a flying change of lead onto the counter canter. Note that in the “shoulder in and shoulder out” exercise at one minute thirty-nine seconds (1:39), the horse is correctly bent to the inside on the shoulder in, but is not bent properly on the shoulder out, so that it becomes a leg-yield instead, with the feet crossing each other. On the “haunches in and haunches out” at seven minutes and fifty-five seconds (7:55), the animal is bent the wrong direction in both the haunches in and haunches out. To see how the horse’s body should be positioned for these movements, go to the sample chapter of my book at http://annamullin.com/lateral-exercises-at-the-walk-and-trot and scroll down to “Choosing Lateral Exercises.” These birds-eye drawings should be helpful.
This video shows a well-trained horse performing the half-halt. Notice the lightness of the horse’s front end and the soft feel the rider has on the reins at the beginning, as opposed to the way the horse drops off the bit and seems lost when the rider demonstrates common errors during the half-halt.
Maria Schaub Riding in the 2007 Maclay Finals
Maria Schaub, now a young professional rider, was one of the most stylistically-correct equitation competitors in the country. Through years of hard work as a junior, coached by legendary trainer, Frank Madden, she established a secure leg, wonderful sense of balance, and subtlety of aids that produced smooth and accurate performances on the many horses she showed throughout the country. You can see how everything comes together for a smooth ride in the 2007 Maclay Finals, even though there are a tremendous number of fences packed into the arena, often approached from tight turns. Few riders make it look as easy as Maria Schaub.
Cooling Out a Horse in Winter
This short video shows a rider in winter walking her horse on a long rein to cool it down, dismounting and running up her stirrups, then putting a cooler on the horse to keep it from getting chilled. You want to walk the horse long enough after work that it stops blowing—that is, breathing hard through its nostrils. If you were showing and had to leave the horse tacked up, you’d do what this rider did—dismount, run up your stirrups, and put a cooler on the horse. In addition, you’d loosen the girth a few notches before you put the cooler on. The girth should be loose enough that it’s not tight around the horse, but snug enough that the saddle won’t turn to one side or slide way back when the horse walks. Also, when you put on a cooler, tie the fabric ties at the chest so that it won’t slip back. If it’s really cold, pull the cooler up and slip the brow band of the cooler over the horse’s ears. There is a tail strap, too, that will keep the cooler from sliding to one side or the other. If you’re not going to be standing around ringside, but are going to put the horse in a stall, you usually to back to the barn, take off the saddle, put on the cooler, take off the bridle and put on a halter and lead rope, then walk the horse until its body temperature has cooled down and its hair is no longer sweaty. At this point, you can brush away any sweat marks in the horse’s hair. If your horse has gotten very hot during work and you have a wash stall with warm water available, you can give the horse a full bath, then immediately cover it with the cooler. It is helpful if you have a heat source, too, in the wash stall. There are lamps that only heat the horse’s body, while the air stays cool, and these are popular among many professional horsemen.
A Smart Girl Correcting a Bucking Horse
Intelligence is apparent in everything this girl does to deal with a rambunctious horse. The animal is trying to buck, move sideways, switch leads, and kick out, but the rider is persistent in making the horse go forward. Of particular interest are her “quiet hands”—she sticks to her plan, but makes things better instead of worse by keeping her hands minimally active. Her legs are dominant, driving the horse forward, while her hands make small corrections, rather than jerking on the horse’s mouth. The mindset of the rider is particularly important in situations where the horse is misbehaving. The rider must have a cool head and not react with anger or fear, but with persistence. To do this, one’s position must be very stable—which this rider’s is—so that there is little chance of being unseated. That security depends upon many hours of practice to develop a sound leg position and center of balance on a horse. In the end, the animal is moving forward obediently at the canter and quietly pulls up to a walk. Bravo, Melissa!
Emil Spadone Shows Different Types of Fences with Width
Hunter/jumper trainer, Emil Spadone, provides a very clear explanation of the different types of fences with width. It’s important to know that the peak of a horse’s arc is at a different place according to the shape of the fence. The peak occurs directly above a vertical fence; the peak is approximately two-thirds the distance from the front rail to the back rail of an ascending oxer in which the front rail is either 3 or 6 inches lower than the back rail (referred to as a “ramp oxer” in this video); the peak is halfway between the two top poles on a square oxer (in which the front and back rail are even) or on a Swedish oxer (in which the center of the X formed by the front and back rails are at the same height); and the peak is above the last rail in a triple bar (which is composed of three rails that are set incrementally from lowest to highest). The commentator mentions that the rider should press the horse to the base of a triple bar, which makes sense when you consider that the peak of the horse’s arc will be over the third rail. As a rider, you want to avoid long take-off spots to a fence with width.
A Weak Leg and Base of Support
This video shows a rider lacking an effective leg position (from the knee down) and secure base of support (the thigh and seat). Notice the position of the rider’s lower leg. Instead of there being a vertical line from her knee to the toe of her boot, her lower leg has slipped forward, well ahead of the vertical. Her body weight is in her toe, rather than her heel, and her foot is “home” in the stirrup, which means that the stirrup is not properly on the ball of her foot, but rather under the arch. Too much foot in the stirrup is very dangerous, for the rider could be dragged if she fell off. Also notice how the forward lower leg causes a great deal of the rider’s upper-body weight to be cast on the horse’s back each time she sits. The rider’s lower leg should serve the same purpose as that of a snow skier–to keep the athlete’s upper body balanced over the legs. If you are snow skiing and don’t maintain your balance over your legs, then you’ll fall down. In riding, if you don’t maintain your balance over your legs, you’re likely to fall off, especially when you try to ride over fences. You can also see that since the rider’s leg is forward and her upper body is back, “behind the motion” of the horse, she has overly long reins in order to avoid hitting the horse’s mouth as she posts. Once her leg position is corrected, she will find it much easier to stay “with the motion” of the horse at the trot and maintain a shorter rein length that will help her steer more efficiently. For exercises that strengthen the leg position and base of support, see http://annamullin.com/strengthening-the-riders-position. (Note: In the video, there is mention of impending knee surgery, which accounts for the title, “Trotting in a lot of pain.”)
Tactfully Correcting a Misbehaving Horse on Course
In this video, Zazou Hoffman is competing on “Clocktower Optimist” in rounds one and two of a USHJA Hunter Derby class, held at night. I’m interested in the part of the video starting at fifty-seven seconds (:57) and ending at one-minute-and-thirteen-seconds (1:13). Notice how the horse is fresh, reacting by bucking and playing between the fences. (It may having been drifting toward the in-gate, too.) Instead of kicking or jerking the animal, as many riders would do in the same situation, the rider calmly persists in asking the horse to go forward. She keeps the upcoming fence in her line of sight, rather than being distracted by the shenanigans of her horse. Although the take-off spot to the upcoming fence turns out to be a little deep, that’s a small error compared to what could have happened if she hadn’t maintained a sense of calmness and been determined to ride her horse forward. The same type of misbehavior often leads to a rider being thrown or so distracted by the horse that the rider’s eyes look down at the animal or the ground (looking for a soft spot to land!) and the rider misses the upcoming fence entirely. Sometimes the bucking is so pronounced that the animal loses all pace, and the scene looks more like a rodeo than a hunter class. One thing that kept the situation from going awry was Zazou’s steady leg position. Her heels remained down the entire time, making it difficult for the horse to launch her. Hats off to Zazou!
Warming Up for an Under Saddle Class
In this video, trainer Emily Smith talks about how to warm up a horse for an under-saddle class. This is a lovely rider and horse combination that would really catch my eye in the show ring. The first thing a rider needs to do when warming up is to get the horse moving forward freely, using its haunches well, which is exactly what this rider is doing. Her legs are quite active, which is fine for the warm-up; but the driving influence of the legs should be more subtle in the show ring—that is, the horse should look as though it is flowing forward freely, rather than being driven. I love the frame that the horse is in at both the trot and canter. The horse is in a relaxed medium-to-long frame, so that there is some curve to the top of the neck, but the neck is not held high on the shoulder. This is a perfect frame for an under-saddle class. It is obvious that the horse is “well broke” because the rider is able to sit comfortably at the canter. A horse should demonstrate acceptance of the leg, seat, and hands, which this horse does. The transition from the trot to the canter showed some raising of the horse’s head. I would have preferred to see a steadier head position through that transition, but this is a minor fault in the context of the horse’s lovely way of going. The only other thing I would add is that I would not practice a flying change before an under-saddle class because it is never called for in this type of class. I think the warm-up should always be geared toward the upcoming class. The last thing a rider would want is an unintended change of lead in an under-saddle class, which sometimes occurs when a horse becomes keen, so I think it’s best not to get the horse thinking about a flying change just before it competes. This having been said, the rider and horse are both excellent, the trainer does a very good job of commentating, and the video provides wonderful insight into good preparation before an under-saddle class.
Beginning at 2 minutes and 33 seconds (2:33) and continuing until 2 minutes forty seconds (2:40) into this video clip, a horse performs the half-pass (also called the two-track). The rider’s aids are a left indirect rein, left leg in at-the-girth position, and right leg in behind-the-girth position. The horse’s right foreleg crosses in front of its left foreleg, and its right hind leg crosses in front of it left hind leg. The horse travels on a diagonal line that is at a 45-degree angle from the long side of the arena. This test can be asked for in NCAA competitions. The video clip features horses from Iron Spring Farm (http://www.ironspringfarm.com/)
Within the first eighteen seconds (:18) of this video is a slow motion section showing the jumping effort of a horse over a large oxer. It enables you to see how the horse uses the weight of its head and neck to counterbalance the rest of its body in order to keep its balance and safely clear the obstacle. The horse is “overjumping” the fence quite a bit–i.e., jumping much higher than it needs to–but this is helpful for our purposes because it emphasizes how important the “bascule,” or convex curve of the horse’s topline, is to the horse’s balance in the air. The head and neck weigh much less than the remaining parts of the horse, so the horse must stretch its head and neck down very low at the peak of the jumping effort in order to keep its balance. By the way, I didn’t name the video “Crazy Horse Jumping.” It’s just listed that way on YouTube, so it also appears on my site.
In this clip from http://myhorse.tv/, which is an online video horse magazine, you can clearly see the separate tracks on which the hooves should fall during the shoulder in. There must be three separate tracks formed by 1) the outside hind leg, 2) the inside hind leg following directly in the path of the outside foreleg, and 3) the inside foreleg. The difficulty of the movement is keeping an even, flowing rhythm while the inside hind leg consistently falls in the path of the outside foreleg. The shoulder-in is my favorite suppling exercise because it breaks up resistance in the horse’s inside hind leg, softening the horse’s body throughout and resulting in a better frame. The rider’s aids for a left shoulder-in (as shown) are: left indirect rein, left leg in at-the-girth position, and right leg in behind-the-girth position. This exercise can be asked for in NCAA competitions.
John French and “Rumba” Winning the 2009 Hunter Derby Finals
“Rumba,” ridden by John French, displays all the qualities of a top-notch hunter in the Handy Round of the Hunter Derby Finals in 2009. The horse shows fluid extension of its limbs, giving it a lilting movement as it travels around the course. The frame of the animal remains round throughout, both on the flat and over the fences. Notice the well-tucked front legs over the fence, and the complete sense of relaxation of the horse as the rider places it well to each jump. The horse is uniformly bent from head to tail on the turns and straight throughout its body on the straightaways, making it perfectly balanced. Especially impressive is the constant rhythm throughout the course. The horse neither rushes, nor loses its forward momentum, but rather maintains a steady rhythm throughout. This was a beautifully ridden course that resulted in victory for “Rumba” and John French at this prestigious event.
Hunters and Hunter Seat Equitation
This video provides a glimpse of several hunter and hunter seat equitation rounds. Ten seconds into the video (:10), is a still photo of a rider jumping a black horse. The rider exhibits an excellent position in the air—straight line from the point of her knee to the toe of her boot; a good “crest release” in which she is pressing her hands on the crest of the horse’s neck, but following enough with her hand to allow the horse’s neck to fully extend; inclining her upper body forward in perfect balance with the horse, i.e., not being behind the motion, nor “lying on the horse’s neck;” and, finally, looking forward through the ears of the horse. The horse’s front legs could be folded a little tighter at the fetlock, but the knees are held high, with the forearm of the horse being positioned correctly, which is at least as high as a line parallel to the ground. Compare these aspects of the photo to the other still photos in the first 28 seconds of the video. As for the horses shown in motion on course, two things were interesting to me. First, starting at 1:11 in the video, the gray horse is very good with its knees—i.e., knees held high and even over each fence—and the animal takes a straight approach to and departure from the fences, rather than wavering from side to side. Also of interest to me was that starting at 2:13, the rider on the chestnut horse showed great commitment when she found a long distance to the fence four strides away. You can see how sure she is of her decision, and she emboldens her horse with this sense of conviction. On a long approach to a single fence, a rider with a good eye will often latch on to a take-off spot very early, tending to find the bold spot. This often leads to the rider running the horse to the fence, or becoming indecisive at the last moment and grabbing the horse in the mouth, causing it to chip in at the base of the fence. This rider, however, incrementally built the impulsion and length of stride, so that she she appeared confident and decisive, rather than frantic in her execution.
Brianne Goutal Winning the WIHS Equitation Finals
(Note: This video could not be embedded, so read the information below first, then click on the YouTube link above to be taken to the site.) Brianne Goutal has the distinction of being the first rider to win all four major equitation finals: the 2004 USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East, the 2004 Washington International Equitation Classic Finals (shown in this video clip), the 2005 USEF/Pessoa Hunter Seat Medal Finals, and the 2005 ASPCA Maclay National Championships. Coached by Frank and Stacia Madden of Beacon Hill Farm, she was featured on Animal Planet’s “Horse Power–Road to Maclay.” I remember when the riders were introduced on the show, and I got a brief glimpse of each of them riding across the screen. Noticing Brianne’s very secure leg and ability to create a flowing rhythm on her horse, I said to my husband, “That’s the one to beat. She has a very secure leg and a great sense of pace.” This video really brings those observations to light. Notice Brianne’s stable leg position and the horse’s relaxed, but flowing rhythm throughout the course. The ring is loaded with fences, and many riders would make the numerous turns and stride adjustments look abrupt and jerky, but Brianne’s ride is very smooth, making it all look so easy!
George Morris on a “Hot” Horse
You can see in this video the gift that George Morris has for getting along with a horse. By maintaining contact on a slightly shortened rein and not lowering his hands, he makes it uncomfortable for the horse to continue to carry its head too high. Once the horse begins to lower and steady its head in a more natural position, George’s hands release some of the pressure as a reward. He also supports this “hot” (i.e., overly sensitive and nervous) horse with his legs, but doesn’t drive the horse forward in a way that makes it anxious or causes it to feel trapped between the legs and hands, as so many riders do. The change in the horse during this 2 minute and 32 second video is absolutely remarkable. It goes from taking quick, short, nervous steps and bobbing its head up and down at the walk and trot to being relaxed enough to perform the difficult “counter canter” well. George’s physical instructions to the horse (his “aids”) are always clear; but it is his compassion–his empathetic focus on understanding how the horse thinks and feels and his sense of fairness to the animal–that makes him so remarkable. This is why he is famous for getting along with horses of different temperaments and levels of ability.
Jessica Springsteen Winning the Maclay Finals
Jessica Springsteen won the 2008 Maclay Finals at the Syracuse Sporthorse Invitational Tournament by outsmarting the competition. When asked to jump fence one, then counter canter fence two, the three riders before her jumped fence one, did a downward transition, then picked up the counter canter to fence two. Jessie, however, was last of the four to go, and used this to her advantage by landing on the counter canter after fence one, then holding the counter lead all the way to fence two, which is more difficult than the downward transitions the others had chosen. She sealed her victory with this decision.