This week, on Monday, I endured my first 4 hour riding demonstration from a well known member of the equine industry.
There are pros and cons to these things, I have discovered.
Pros: as predicted, one learns a lot, chuckles a bit, and enjoys some fan girling at the member of the industry that is dishing out all their knowledge, a good chunk of time to watch someone else riding.
Cons: you get so cold that your body starts to shut off crucial areas of your body – like your fingers get stuck around the pen you’re beavering away trying to be studious taking notes with, your toes disappear, your nose is redder than rudolphs and you end up dreaming about the warmth of your car. But, the car doesn’t warm you up properly till you’re about 4 minutes away from your destination, having endured a 2 hour drive at -2.5 degrees.
Horses, don’t bother.
The demonstration was called ‘A Masterclass on Cross Country Training, with Christopher Bartle’.
As the title says it was about Cross Country but with it being a winter night and for practical reasons, it was inside in and indoor arena. For those that are not aware, these are not heated indoor arenas.
There were two sections of the night, we had a slightly lower standard in the first ‘lesson’ and a higher – 4* eventing winners/placings – in the second group.
Chris donated his great extensive knowledge on different areas of riding, different styles and generally shocked everyone listening with how simple it is when you get to the core of the idea. The learning curve was vast, and the knowledge that I now hold is worth the £20 a ticket; I do not want to bore you or make you jealous… so I have written 4 bites of good stuff that I took away from the evening. Enjoy.
- Less is more.
Christopher likes to riders riding in as little ‘kit’ as possible – this way they can actually feel the horse and its movements. He also likes the horse to have the softest bit available in.
Horses can feel flies on their back or the side of their neck, yet we believe that they need a good pony club kick on a regular basis to keep them moving. Could it not be said that this is in fact a habit that the horse is lacking impulsion or there is a habit of the horse not getting the release of the pressure once doing what is required.
Dressage at competition level requires people to ride their horses’s solely in a snaffle bridle (the softest bit available) and if not there is a penalty. This shows that the horse can be ridden with the lightest seat and is in tune with the rider rather than the bit between its mouth or the whip on the horse’s side.
This leads me onto my next point:
2. Lateral work counts in all disciplines
Lateral work (flat work) gets the horse to listen to you, what you’re wanting to do and where you’re wanting to go more. There should be a partnership between the horse and rider and it should be a division of 40% horse and 60% rider (this switches around when the horse is jumping). This partnership should be ‘controlled’, a term I would like to use very loosely here, by first the rider’s seat, then legs, then voice and finally hands. The hands should solely be a means of the keeping the horse on the straight and narrow and correct rather than the sole control.
An interesting test I have discovered is that if you put all of your weight, for example in your left stirrup, the horse moves to the left, and same if you shift to the right thus demonstrating the simple steps cause the greatest change. The more that the horse has become out of practice and fine tuning in the lateral work, the harder it is for the horse to get back into the habit or work of it, but it is possible.
Thunder, my horse, has been a hunter most of its life – and since I’ve had him and struggles with the idea of doing any lateral work at all – it is harder work in general for the horse. But with the right perseverance and steady working away, there is potential for him to turn out to be quite a nice horse in the arena. It’s going to take a lot of patience from both of us – sadly there are no hedges in an arena.
3. The neck is the horse’s anchor.
You might have seen, when people are jumping, they tend to throw their hands forward and lean on the horse’s neck. Another possibly method for jumping is to hold onto the horse right up to the jump and then hold the rider’s hands at the base of the neck without letting anything out of the horse.
This only stunts the horse’s ability to stretch over a jump. If you watch a horse jumping on slow mo, you will see that the horse bunches up and then pushes himself forwards and outwards on his hind legs, with his neck being the most outstretched bit at the end and then landing – with the head stretched out. This is because the horse’s neck is it’s anchor and its point of good balance.
The method of throwing the reins at the horse’s head and leaning on the neck is closer to the horse’s needs, but once you’re leaning on the neck you’re preventing the horse from being able to do what he needs, move where he needs to go and to be flexible in the neck.
The rider’s hands, as Christopher kept pushing, should be at the bottom of the horse’s neck, at the withers with the fingers around the reins but not gripping the reins. This allows the horse to take as much as it needs whilst jumping but also of the rider to be able to collect after the jump and head to the next jump.
Including in this method is looking towards the next jump whilst jumping – again thinking about the seat being the main effort of direction and this enabling the horse to know where to go to next post jump – but that’s a different lesson!
The thing that comforted me the most was that the same lessons were being taught to both standards, regardless of their experience, knowledge and horse ability.
It was simple, and it was not a complicatedly worded evening. I understood everything that Chris said, and I wanted to absorb it all.
He had a system and he had a method of getting you over the jump and it is what is above. Know your horse, let your horse be the sensitive horse that it should be and let it jump as it should. End of.
A horse knows its job, let it do it.
It is humbling to know that even at the top level, it is a simple situation, it is all about understanding what is going on and taking time to make a partnership.
For a girl that is very quickly understanding that she knows nothing of horses or riding, that is excellent news and extremely exciting. The dream of being a riding instructor isn’t as far away as I had previously thought!
Overall, my experience of Chris Bartle, his knowledge of horses and the demo was excellent and very humbling.
I have finally got my toes back, I say this whilst wearing over 4 layers as its still not over 4 degrees outside.
I look forward to the next instalment of demos lessons, annoyingly I have discovered that I like learning, a lot.