“The mother of learning is repetition. With ALL horses – the aim of everything we do is rideability.” - Yogi Breisner
The demo spanned four (very cold!!) hours, covering flatwork, showjumping and simulated cross country using corners, skinnies and tricky lines. I couldn’t share everything but here are a few key take-home tips and items of interest.
LEARNING: The evening kicked off with some flatwork, beautifully demonstrated by Jasmine Abraham and Alicia Hawker. It was fascinating to watch two horses of similar competitive levels – completely chalk and cheese in their build and way of going – working on the flat and seeing their strengths and weaknesses. Jasmine’s horse was more compact in her frame and looked more expressive and extravagant with her paces, but was very spooky and tense which showed in her work where her neck was up and back. Alicia’s Torres was much more relaxed and consequently his was much more fluent and regular, a lovely picture to watch on the whole. His extensions were less marked and more workmanlike than Jasmine’s horse Tilli, who gave the real wow factor when she naturally extended - but the flip side was that they were vulnerable, less controlled and sometimes broke which as Yogi said would be very expensive in a test. Both impressive in different ways.
LEARNING: “The half-halt is like the gap between words when we’re talking; if we keep talking continuously it’s hard to understand, but the gap helps to make each word clearer. There are sentences, paragraphs and chapters – all like different degrees of half-halts. The purpose is to re-balance and create a moment of pause. You don’t see it performed, but you should be able to see the effect of it. It creates a pause in the stride & improves the quality of the pace afterwards.”
EXERCISE: “Take this exercise – we will divide the long side into three sections, and then I want these riders to extend, collect, and extend in trot – a little bit like turning up the volume.”
TIP: “A little tip is to breathe out when you collect. If you do this when you’re sitting on your chair you can feel how it affects your body and you sink down.”
EXERCISE: “Now what I want to see here is a little shoulder in on the circle to engage the hind end. This is a good exercise so you can see the legs cross over and stop from falling out through the shoulder.”
Video: Pumbaa Goess-Saurau riding Out Of Touch Down, as featured on her Facebook page Pumbaa Eventing.
In the showjumping phase, Jo Rimmer brought in a lovely big grey ex-hunter turned eventer, while Pumbaa Goess-Saurau brought her two-star Advanced hopeful called Out of Touch Down (Sooty) – a rangy type who opened up and covered the ground very easily. Again it was interesting to see the same exercise on two very different horses.
EXERCISE: Yogi had them working on a couple of basic exercises to test adjustability and control, adding and taking out strides through related distances and on the flat. He asked them to go down the long side in a ‘normal’ canter for their horse, counting the strides. Then repeated, shortening and lengthening according to how many strides they were told to go travel down the long side in. Adjustability and control was a key focus.
TIP: “Who here learnt to ride being told about keeping a penny against the saddle with your knee? And if we do this, what shape does this make our legs? A ‘V’ shape. Generally if there is a horse who is a V shape the RSPCA have something to say about it! I don’t many horses that shape. Instead, I say keep open in the knee and if your two comes out a little too, it’s not a problem. That should better suit the shape of the horse rather than gripping with the knee.”
Alicia, Jo, and Jasmine came back in with different horses for the xc phase, joined by Victoria Leabeater.
LEARNING: Talking of the demands of XC, Yogi said; “Here you need total control over speed, direction & canter stride so you can lengthen & shorten when you need to. It’s important that horse & riders are used to undulations & can canter downhill.
“You need to be able to go quickly up & down the gears so you can choose the right gear for the fence in front of you. Eye to foot coordination is needed for the horse, so they can communicate what they need to do with their feet.”
EXERCISE: He had them just riding through some simple trot poles, and then some bounces, with the horses demonstrating the eye to foot coordination well as they proved clever and nimble.
TIP: “After a fence, it’s important that you always go straight, and then make your turn. To make your turn, first support with your outside leg, and then make your turn. This will help to make sure he turns with his whole body, rather than just in his neck and coming out through the shoulder. He will also learn that when you support with the outside, you turn the other way.”
EXERCISE: Yogi tested their ability to go straight and then turn by having them jump a fence, before shouting left, right or straight according to which fence he wanted them to jump next on a related distance. This was a brilliant exercise as it really made them sit up and be neutral ready for any eventuality.
Video: Alicia Hawker riding Charles RR, as featured on her facebook page Alicia Hawker Eventing.
TIP: “After and over the fence, always keep the leg forward. As soon as it comes back the upper body goes forward. Bounce fences are great for teaching the horse to snap up in front and to be clever with their legs, but it also makes us work on our balance.”
LEARNING: “The type of approach you need is also similar to a tricky fence on the xc course such as coffins etc – so you’re looking for a short, bouncy stride.”
EXERCISE: Yogi had some sloping blocks pushed together to create a skinny solid fence, with guide rails both sides to begin with. Gradually as they were comfortable jumping, he took away the guide rails making it more of a question which inevitably resulted in some issues. For all the horses he had them coming in from a few strides away, jumping and stopping immediately after fence. Then a turn and jump back the other, again using repetition to reinforce the learning.
“When you’re training, it’s important to have a balance of tricky turns and questions, and also basic fences so you don't fry the brain.”
EXERCISE: He finished by asking them to come down the centre line to a simple ascending oxer, just keeping them straight and aiming for the horses to prick up their ears and willingly take them to the fence without interference from the rider. This was harder for the riders to leave the horses alone in front and just let them travel.
“Don’t be afraid if it goes wrong; sometimes it has to go wrong so you can practice how to put it right – you can’t do that in a competition. Step outside your comfort zone in training.” - Yogi Breisner