Lack of Pace Causes Deep Spots
This performance is typical of ones often seen at lower-level horse shows, where the performances are not as polished. The main problem this rider is having is the lack of pace, which allows the horse to wander from side-to-side between fences, break gait, add strides, and take off much too close to the obstacles. The importance of the proper pace and straightness on the approach to the fences cannot be stressed enough. (Notice instances of cross-cantering caused by lack of straightness, which makes the horse off balance and results in the animal cantering partly on one lead and partly on the other.) The horse appears to be “green” (inexperienced), showing many of the signs of young horses just starting to jump; but a world of problems can be solved by establishing a good pace and sticking to it throughout the course. Notice how being under pace allows the horse to find very deep spots to the fences. The take-off spot is greatly affected by pace, with a bold pace usually resulting in bold take-off spots and a dull pace resulting in short take-off spots.
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.
Flying Changes and Cross Cantering
This is a very nice horse and rider combination shown in several video clips back-to-back. I’d like to concentrate on the first segment and call your attention to the beautiful roundness of this horse’s frame. Notice how the horse remains in this frame as it effortlessly performs flying changes at :38 seconds and 1:15 seconds. Although the sequence of the horse’s footfalls at the canter are actually the outside hind leg, then the inside hind leg and outside foreleg striking together, and finally the inside foreleg, when one is watching a horse from the ground, it should look as though the inside foreleg and inside hind leg are moving forward together. Start at 1:23 and watch the horse going around the corner on the approach to the next fence. You’ll see how the inside foreleg and inside hind leg appear to be moving forward together as the horse travels on the inside (right) lead. Now watch carefully between 1:35 and 1:40 to see how a cross-canter has a different sequence of footfalls. At 1:36, the horse changes leads in front, but the hind legs stay in the sequence of the former lead, so that instead of the left fore and left hind appearing to move forward together, the left fore moves forward while the left hind is back. This is a cross-canter, for it is a cross between one lead and another, rather than a complete change from one lead to the other. The horse finally switches entirely to the new lead one stride before take-off to the upcoming fence.
A Few Common Errors Over Fences
This rider appears to be preparing for a stadium jumping competition. Notice at the beginning of the tape that her hands are too wide and low. An overly wide hand allows the horse to wander from side to side, and low hands put pressure on the bars of the horse’s mouth, rather than the corners. Lingering pressure on the bars is uncomfortable and causes the horse to evade the bit either by raising its head or overflexing, rather than keeping a steady pressure on the bit. The hands should be about 3-4 inches apart, and there should be a direct line from the rider’s elbow to the horse’s mouth. The “broken line” between the rider’s elbow and horse’s mouth is evident from :21 seconds to :25 seconds in this segment. From :25 to :28 seconds, you can see how wide the hands are also held at the canter. If a horse wanders from side to side down a line of fences rather than taking the straightest path, it will travel more footage than necessary, often leading to an extra stride being added at the base of the fence. At 1:59 in the tape, notice how long the reins have become after the trot fence. Lessening pressure on the reins should be accomplished by moving the arms forward while keeping the initial length of rein, rather than by letting the reins slip out of the hands. Pause this segment at 3:16 and notice that the take-off spot is too close—only about three feet from the fence. The standard take-off is 6 feet from the base of the fence for an obstacle 3’6″ or higher; for an obstacle lower than this, the take-off could be 5′ from the base, but remember that a shorter take-off and landing distance means that the horse has to cover more ground between the fences. If you pause the tape at 3:45, there’s a great example of “dropping back” in the air, when the rider’s seat hits the saddle before the horse lands. Usually this is accompanied by the leg slipping forward, as in this case. From 3:48 to 3:55, notice the loose lower leg and the rider’s toe moving in and out. At 4:09, the rider is “left,” which is a more severe form of dropping back. You can see her lose her balance on landing because she is so far behind the motion of the horse. At 4:39, she drops back again. The main problems here are: the leg is unsteady, so it can’t support the upper body; the reins are too long, which also contributes to the rider being behind the motion and the hands being held too low to subtly control the horse; and the rider doesn’t have enough forward inclination in the upper body, so she is always a little behind the motion on course, both on the flat and over fences. Having said all of this, it is not a bad horse and rider combination. The girl has a good sense of rhythm, great accuracy in the flying changes, and nice approaches to the fences. If she were tighter, with the motion of the horse, and had a soft, but steady feel on a shorter rein, I believe things would go very well for her.
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.
Lame in Left Front Leg
This horse is very lame in its left front leg at the walk. Notice how it raises its head and neck every time the foot of the sore leg touches the ground. This bobbing doesn’t tell you what is causing the soreness—that is, whether it’s a problem with the foot, or one further up the leg—but it does let you know which leg is hurting when the horse becomes unsound. The raising of the head and neck is the horse’s attempt to apply as little pressure for as short amount of time as possible on the painful leg.
Lame Behind While Travelling Counterclockwise
The horse appears very lame in its left hind leg at the trot, especially in the segment starting at :24 seconds and ending around :55 seconds. Notice how the horse hardly stretches its left hind leg forward as it trots. The posterior (rear) phase of the step is alright, but the anterior (front) phase is very short. This is a sign of lameness.
Lame Behind While Travelling Clockwise
The horse appears lame in its left hind leg at the trot in the first seconds of this video (:01 to :05 secs.). Notice that the lameness is not nearly as apparent at the walk (:06 to :19 secs.) or canter (:22 to :35 sec.), which is why horses are always asked to trot during a test of soundness at a veterinary clinic or in the show ring. Also, veterinarians usually ask that the horse be jogged on a hard surface, such as an asphalt road, so that any lameness will be more pronounced for diagnostic purposes. Unsoundness in the hind end is usually marked by shortening of the step on the affected side. The shortening is very pronounced when the horse resumes the trot (:42 to :58 secs.).
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.
Jessica Springsteen Winning the 2009 Medal Finals
The final ride-off for the Medal Finals (which establishes the National Horsemanship Champion each year) includes many elements that test a rider’s skill. In the 2009 test, the rider is asked to hand-gallop to a fence (fence #4 from the original course) from a long approach. This can make a rider’s eye longer—that is, encourage the rider to see an overly long take-off spot—so the competitors had to be careful to increase pace without finding a take-off spot so long that it would make the horse dive over the fence. The next part of the course involved smoothly maintaining a curve to the right over a single obstacle, taking four strides to a one-stride in-and-out, and taking five strides to another single obstacle. Jessica makes it look so smooth, but the truth is that those fences really come up fast when you’re riding them in succession! The trickiest part of the test comes next, when the rider is asked to approach the upcoming obstacle from a counter lead. Jessica accomplishes a flying lead change at the end of the ring, just behind the fence that has brick pillars topped by yellow flowers. Making this lead change on the end of an oval arena is quite a feat, for a horse will want to stay on the inside lead to keep its balance on the curve. This is a test of the horse’s obedience and rider’s ability to get and keep the counter lead all the way to the fence. The switch is accomplished quite cleanly, with the counter canter securely maintained to an excellent take-off spot. Immediately following is a tight turn to a vertical fence, a quick halt, then only a three-stride approach to the final fence. The halt is slightly jeopardized by the horse wanting to back up, but the rider is tactfully persistent in making the animal go forward to the final fence. This was a very difficult test, ridden with brains and athleticism. Jessica is a hard worker who rides many horses each day, and this is evident in her level of fitness and skill.
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/)
In this video, the horse performs a right leg yield, then changes direction and performs a left leg yield. The rider’s aids for a right leg yield are: right indirect rein, right leg in behind-the-girth position, and left leg in at-the-girth position. The horse follows on a track at a 45-degree angle from the long side of the arena and remains straight in its body during this movement, except for a slight bend at the poll away from the direction of travel. The horse maintains a two-beat sequence of the feet, with the left foreleg and right hind striking together, followed by the right foreleg and left hind. The fact that the horse is bent away from the direction of travel makes this a basic exercise, while exercises that require the horse to move toward the direction it is bent are more advanced. When the horse begins the left leg yield, the rider’s aids are: left indirect rein, left leg in behind-the-girth position, and right leg in at-the-girth position. Notice that the horse is a little stiff for the first half of the right leg yield, as indicated by the crossing of the legs not being as pronounced as it is through the rest of the movement. In contrast, the left leg yield is supple from beginning to end. Although this video shows a dressage rider performing the leg yield, this is a test that can be asked of NCAA riders. I think this video is a very good example of the leg yield, with the rider demonstrating a great sense of tact and rhythm. The overall impression is one of lightness, balance, and a willing submission of the horse.
Refusals at a Fence
I’m going to use the first fifty seconds (:50) of this video to discuss refusals at fences. Starting at eleven seconds (:11) notice how the horse starts off by trotting a small initial circle. The purpose of the circle is to get the horse on a twelve-foot stride so that its steps will perfectly match the twelve-foot strides used as the national standard of measurement in a typical hunter coarse. So, the rider should have made a much bigger circle–about half the size of the arena–and used it to get the horse up to flowing, twelve-foot stride. The horse was not asked to canter until the final approach to the fence, so it had very little momentum, which makes it much easier for the horse to stop. When the animal did refuse and spun around to run the other way, the rider didn’t do anything to punish the horse and make it clear that refusing was not acceptable. The horse spun to the left, so the rider should have pulled the horse back to the right, made it face the fence it had refused, and punished it on its left side by tapping it with a riding crop, just behind the rider’s leg. On the second approach, the rider should have taken more room on the approach to the fence, so that the momentum of the horse’s gallop would make it more difficult for the animal to stop. Knowing that the horse didn’t want to jump the fence, the rider should have kept the upper body back more–i.e., a little behind the motion of the horse–and used the leg (and seat, too, if necessary) to drive the horse forward. On the second refusal, the horse spun left, but instead of correcting it by turning it to the right, the rider simply kept turning the horse left. Simple things such as having enough pace on the approach, staying behind the motion of the horse when it begins to stop, having a crop in your hand to punish the animal when necessary, and correcting the horse by turning it the way it doesn’t want to go are all very important.
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 imbedded, 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!
Turn on the Haunches
The “turn on the haunches from the walk” is Test 18 in the USEF Rule Book’s “Tests 1-19.” The movement is performed by a dressage rider in this video, but should be performed the same by a hunter-seat rider in an equitation class. To match the commentary below, start this video clip at one minute and forty-three seconds (1:43) and watch as the horse performs a turn on the haunches to the right (clockwise), then a turn on the haunches to the left (counterclockwise), and finally a turn on the haunches to the right again. The rider’s aids for a turn on the haunches in a clockwise direction are: right indirect rein, right leg in at-the-girth position, and left leg in behind-the-girth position. For a turn on the haunches moving counterclockwise, the aids are: left indirect rein, left leg in at-the-girth position, and right leg in behind-the-girth position. Notice how the horse’s forehand correctly moves in a steady cadence around the inside hind leg, with the outside foreleg crossing over the inside foreleg as the horse remains properly bent toward the direction of travel throughout the turn. The second turn on the haunches (the one moving counterclockwise) is the best of the three because the horse’s pivotal hind foot (in this case the left hind) is better about stepping in place throughout the turn, so that the right hind foot steps around the pivotal left hind. Common errors in this test are the horse having erratic rhythm throughout the turn, not freely crossing the front feet, dragging the hind feet around the turn rather than stepping through the turn, or changing the bend in the body rather than remaining bent toward the inside of the turn.
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.