Kelly Prather on Truly Wiley, riding forward over the first fence to establish the jumping canter rhythm for show jumping. - photo by Holly

Kelly Prather on Truly Wiley, riding forward over the first fence to establish the jumping canter rhythm for show jumping. – photo by Holly

What if I told you that I’ve got a formula where you could stretch your recognized horse trials or event entry fee to cover at least two private lessons and a clinic? And it takes nothing more than time management on your part. Would you be game to give it a try?

I discovered this scheme a while ago while volunteering. You watch horses jump, you watch riders jump. You find, over time, certain riders DO certain things, and then you check the results at home on the computer and you find that those riders have been successful.

Sometimes you get very lucky, and a few of these riders have multiple horses, and you get to watch how they change their tactics with each horse, how different horses go for them, and what works.

Recognized events are expensive, and it takes money to play at that level. Why not give yourself the maximum stretch of that big entry fee, and make sure that you take the time to educate yourself at the same time? For instance, on Sunday while volunteering at Fair Hill International August event, the novice horse trial divisions were taking place after the preliminary divisions started off the day. Why not walk your cross-country course and then quickly take a look while the Preliminary was doing stadium jumping, and watch a few go? While the course was not exactly the same, (obviously Novice would have been set a bit smaller) the jumps were about in the same spot, and the turns and corners were the same track; so let’s take 10 minutes and watch three Olympic-level or four-star event riders take a few of their preliminary horses around the track and learn.

Michael Pollard - straight through the center of the fence, in balance, looking to the next jump.

Michael Pollard – straight through the center of the fence, in balance, looking to the next jump.

Jennie Brannigan, Michael Pollard, Emily Beshear, Boyd Martin, Ryan Wood and several other top riders had horses in the division. First of all, the riders paid a lot of attention to two really important things: the canter rhythm and being straight in the middle to every fence.

The next common thing I saw was they got the lead early: most of the time on the first stride after landing with the preliminary horses, and with the novice horses, as soon as the horse was balanced. If not, they got the change. If they did not get the change, they trotted, kept the forward movement, then asked for the other lead and did all that early enough so they could be organized for the next fence. And straight to middle of every jump. Did I say that already?

Ok, what else did I see? I saw corners being ridden generously and they all used their eyes to track around, looking for the next fence. Where they all perfect? No. Of course not.  But their habits of keeping their horses straight, in a rhythm, balancing as soon as possible after a jump, and riding through corners were all very evident, and those are all habits the REST of us can also practice! Good things to watch and carry over to your round later on in the day.

While I wasn’t able to see much of cross-country, I am sure the same sort of observations could be seen out there. The way the very best riders ride is very easy to understand if you take the time to just watch.

Volunteer and you'll get to see a lot of great horses and riders and can compare rides.

Volunteer and you’ll get to see a lot of great horses and riders and can compare rides.

It’s like a private lesson; pick a horse that a pro is riding that looks like your horse — hot, quick; or perhaps slow, a bit downhill; or slow and needs pushing or perhaps a horse with a smaller stride that needs to be galloped but not flattened out.

Watch what they do and how they do it. Does the rider have a light, loopy rein contact on that big gallopy green horse?  Perhaps he’s a bit touchy in the mouth and doesn’t like someone grabbing him when he lands over a jump, and see how Jennie Brannigan holds her position and stays out of his mouth. (Sigh!) Yes, of course they make it look easy, but you can try! And the best part of trying is you will learn if your horse gets better with that kind of a ride, and if so, you know you have to keep practicing until you can ride like Jennie and all the rest.

So there’s my formula — watch, observe, educate yourself, take the time to analyze what others do and try to ride like the best. It can only help you and your horse to a better, more effective way to ride and compete, and if your horse could talk, they’d say, “DO IT!”

Holly
Read all my blog posts here

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