William Fox-Pitt isn’t someone that comes to mind when I think ‘slow’. The man is whip smart and, just over a week ago at Pau, he rode three horses around one of the toughest cross-country courses in the world without a single time penalty.
That being said, he consistently emphasized the importance of slow when speaking to the riders and auditors at the clinic he taught in King City, Ontario last Sunday, presented by Stringer Equestrian and Albion Saddlemakers. During the morning flat sessions, William repeated the phrase ‘slow, low, go’ on a number of occasions as horses got tense or were feeling a little ‘up’. He stressed that we must ensure that our horses are using themselves properly and not rush to push them into more advanced work until they are consistent.
He also encouraged riders to spend more time working on the quality of their horse’s walk; so many points are thrown away by riders who can’t produce a quality walk in the ring.
William took a similar approach with his jumping exercises. He pointed out that just because a horse jumps through a particular question at speed, does not necessarily mean that the horse has truly understood the concepts. Essentially, slowing down will often reveal ‘holes’ in a horse’s education. As anyone involved with horses knows, holes pretty much always catch you out eventually, so it’s better to address the issue!
He had the riders walk their horses into small fences, and it was interesting to watch the horses process the fences at this slower speed. At least one experienced event horse stopped at the knee-high fence, and many others either hesitated or over-jumped the tiny fence.
Video – William Fox-Pitt Clinic Prelim 1
Ultimately, of course, William had the riders jump larger fences with much more complicated lines at a canter. It would be interesting to speak with the riders who participated, but I think slowing things down at the outset of the session helped the riders tackle the tricky bending lines. I suspect that many of their horses were more aware of their feet and gave more ‘thought’ to the exercise.
Video – William Fox-Pitt Clinic Prelim 2
On a final note, William also reminded us all that horses are fundamentally creatures of habit. It’s something that we all ‘know’, but I think it often gets lost in the shuffle. This doesn’t mean that you should be schooling the same exercises every ride, but rather that you should develop a ‘framework’ for your rides. If you establish a regular warm-up routine, you are less likely to deal with an unruly horse in warm-up away from home as he will recognize and settle into the familiar pattern.
Video – William Fox-Pitt Clinic Prelim 3
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