As the lucky winner of the auditing passes to the Mary King clinic, I bundled up this past Thursday and Friday and headed over to Morven Park in Leesburg, Va. I was eager to learn from one of my eventing idols.
Day one, Mary had riders work on the flat and over poles. She started all the groups the same way: by focusing on rider position as the horses were allowed to warm up in a long and low outline.
As the horses were picked up, riders were asked to perform transitions between and within gaits to test the rider’s effectiveness and the horse’s responsiveness. She had riders work over single poles and then four poles on a circle.
She wanted the riders to maintain a quality canter, develop their eye, and show their horse’s ability to adjust the canter stride. When some pairs struggled with the exercise, Mary was quick to offer corrections and encouragement.
Day 1: Flatwork and pole work
- At the start of every ride, work to improve yourself and your position.
- Emulate good riders: for example, Mary likes to picture Carl Hester for her flatwork as he gives her the image of being still, balanced and effective.
- Make the front of your body longer in order to obtain a more effective back and seat.
- Relaxed/supple elbows will create more independent hands that don’t move up and down as you post.
- Lower leg should be still yet effective with feet parallel to the horse. Keep weight in heel consistently in order to prevent wobbly feet that nag with every stride or a heel that comes up against the horse’s side with your post.
- Keep the back of your bottom in the saddle, tuck your tail under you so there is no air between your bottom and the saddle.
- If your horse is fresh, let them enjoy themselves a little as long as they aren’t trying to buck you off.
- Start off down and round to get them moving over their backs and also to help them relax.
- Once you pick them up/put them in an outline, it’s time to work.
- Should be prompt and responsive to a small amount of leg pressure and the outline should be maintained through the transition.
- Teach your horse what is right/wrong clearly. Let them know what is not acceptable — i.e. when head pops up in transition, come back down to walk and ask again.
- Be definite, not wishy-washy.
- Be calm yet strict-only allow correct transitions.
- Be strict with yourself and your horse will learn quickly.
- Set yourself little challenge, i.e. walk four strides then trot four, to ensure that you are being effective and your horse is responsive.
- Go forward into the downward transition. You want to keep the hind leg active so the horse doesn’t pull/lean on the rein into the downward transition.
- Ride the shoulder around the corner like a train on a track. Don’t use too much inside rein/bend.
- To keep the hind leg active in the canter, practice lots of transitions within the canter. Also, spiral in from 20m circle to 10m circle and back out.
- Your horse isn’t a bicycle: you shouldn’t have to keep pedaling in order to keep going. He or she should stay in the gait without you nagging.
- You are the horse’s physiotherapist-get their bodies as supple and strong as possible by pushing for more expressiveness. Stretch their boundaries.
- You want an energetic canter. It should be like bouncing a rubber ball-stronger, not faster or slower.
- If the horse is strong/forward, you can’t always be pulling back. It makes them feel restricted and want to fight. You want a steady, forward, smooth canter.
- Keep shoulders back, don’t fold forward over the jumps. You never know when your horse might stumble on landing and you are inhibiting your horse’s jump.
- You as the rider should always be striving to improve how your horse uses its body.
- In more technical combinations, you don’t want to go slower. Instead, you want to condense the stride while keeping the energy coming forward.
- ALWAYS carry a whip! You never know when you might need it.