I’ve grown up watching and admiring Mary with her trademark smile and have been privileged to watch her compete a number of times, so I jumped at the chance to catch some of her pearls of wisdom.
For those who couldn’t be there, I've written up a few highlights and tips from the evening, along with some short video clips.
After a warm up they ran through some transitions. Emily and Drago demonstrated well, but on occasions where the horse came against the hand Emily was quick to correct and ask for the transition again.
“If you can perform good, smooth round transitions you’re half way to a good test. The key is to be consistent and disciplined; if one minute you let them do a poor transition and the next time you tell them off for it they’ll be very confused. Particularly with young horses you need to keep everything very black and white. ” Mary King
They also ran through some leg yields, half pass, shoulder-in, travers and medium and extended trot.
The pole work section featured Mary riding Intermediate seven year old Kings Choice (Lottie) and Emily riding another of her new horses, the very smart Aussie import 10 year old Loxley (Fozzle) who has been competing at two star.
They set out poles on a circle at roughly 3,6,9 and 12 of a clock face. They schooled over one to start with before incorporating the others. The key was establishing and maintaining rhythm, and aiming for the centre of the poles. They counted strides between poles to keep it consistent.
“I often use poles placed round the school to change canter lead, particularly on a figure of eight.” Mary King
“It’s really important that your horse is adjustable, and can shorten and lengthen between fences when you ask them to.” Mary King
To start with, rather than riding down through the whole grid, they picked one fence and jumped across it at an angle - as demonstrated here by Mary and Lottie.
“Jumping at the angle like this is a really good exercise to prepare them for the challenge of cross country, even my five year olds will start doing some of this. Where you carry the whip is really important just to help close the door in case they would think about ducking out, so I always make sure my whip is in the hand on the open side where they would be most likely to run out. Even at the Olympics in London I changed the whip over about five times round the course.
“If they do run out, give them a sharp smack on the shoulder they have run out through, and pull them up don’t let them carry on. Tell them no, that was wrong and it wasn’t acceptable, but keep calm and bring them round again. It needs to be very clear for them when no that’s not acceptable, and yes that’s lovely.” Mary King
She described keeping a straight line from head through shoulders, hips, knees and ankles, and keeping weight down through your heel, and advised that keeping your lower leg slightly ahead of you help to ensure stability both approaching and landing from a fence - perfectly demonstrated to the left by Mary herself at Badminton in 2011, heading for home with Imperial Cavalier.