International Eventing Forum 2017: The Next Generation

Sophie Hulme, an eventer from California who has dual U.S. and British citizenship and is currently studying Equine Science at Hartbury College in Gloucestershire, England. Hartbury was the site of the International Eventing Forum 2017, and Sophie kindly sent us some notes from the day!

We also wish to thank Ellie Kelly for the great videos — you can visit Ellie’s website here. And be sure to follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram!

The Hartpury Arena was buzzing yesterday as we hosted the 2017 International Eventing Forum. This year’s theme was “The Next Generation”, with a focus on training techniques for the horses and riders of the future. Visitors and students were treated to some fantastic demos from top riders, such as Burghley winner Christopher Burton, an insight into statistics from @equiratings and much more!  These are just a few of our favourite visitor photos – via @horsehour @mylesrichards52 @sharpeventing @squashedrobot @tarajefferies   #hartpury #hartpurycollege #hartpuryequine #eventing #twohearts #ief17 #internationaleventingforum #britisheventing #equestrian #dressage #showjumping  #crosscountry #horsesofinstagram

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The International Eventing Forum 2017, held on Monday at Hartpury College, provided a valuable learning opportunity for the hundreds of eventing enthusiasts in attendance. 

The theme for this year was “The Next Generation,” and it was truly intriguing to watch and listen to so many great minds in our sport. Highlights from the day:

Tracie Robinson

Tracie Robinson, the eventing performance dressage coach for Team GB, started it all off.

Her demo riders for the morning were Tom McEwen and Izzy Taylor, with Tom riding Toledo de Kerser and Izzy riding KBIS Starburst. Both horses strutted their stuff and were very well behaved, an accomplishment particularly in light of Izzy’s horse’s history of getting a bit nervous in big environments.

Hartpury Arena is a lot of atmosphere, and if horses are nervous about lots of people and noise then it is quite an educational environment to put them in. Students come in and out of lectures on the far side of the arena, and a lot of the time the doors creak or slam. It was very nice to see how genuinely happy Izzy and Tracie were with how “Rich” handled the situation. He was a true gentlemen throughout the demo and got pats and praise for being such.

In keeping with the Next Generation theme, Tracie talked about how every horse is different. Horses are just like people each is an individual and all are built differently. She commented on how every horse’s conformation should be taken into account when creating a training program, as certain exercises and movements will be harder than others for them depending on how they are built.

Tracie’s other go-to point was on rider position. Tracie talked about how vital a rider’s position is, and while looking to train the next generation that should be at the forefront. If you train for the correct position from the start then the muscle memory of the rider will be correct. Instead of constantly forming bad habits and trying to correct them, the rider can form good habits and have a solid foundation.

Tracie general comment on hands is that “they are horrible,” and her mentality is that the hands and arms should always be soft with the horse. Hands are not meant to me used all the time and hold the horse up; they are meant to be used when needed and act as a guiding tool.

Lastly, Tracie also commented a lot about rider mentality and being positive. Throughout the demo Tracie was nothing but bubbly and encouraging, and it was lovely to see; she made you get just as excited as the rider about that beautiful clean flying change. That genuine joy was contagious, and she explained how in our sport there are so many times where it doesn’t go to plan, so when it goes right, be excited and reward yourself and the horse because if you are not having a good time then what’s the point?

Horses respond to tone and enthusiasm, so make sure they know when they have done something right so they strive for that again. Tracie said in dressage tests even if it doesn’t go to plan smile and say “fabulous” no matter what happens; it is all in the attitude and if the judge sees you smiling and enjoying, they will look upon you better than if you leave angry and with a cross face.

Caroline Moore

The second demo was coached by Caroline Moore, who focused on training future young riders. She has ridden and produced horses up to the four-star level and is a UKCC Level 3 Coach. Richard Cooney, Heidi Coy and Isabel White were the demo riders, and they all have participated on the under-18 list for England.

Caroline focused on rider position and balance throughout the demo. She had all three of the riders work over cavaletti, bounces and poles while they warmed up. She emphasized how adjustability and balance in the warmup is key so that the riders can transfer it to when they go to course work. Once the riders started to do some course work, she talked about setting up the shoulders and horse’s balance in turns for fences, which helps ensure that the rider gives the horse the best chance to see the fence and jump it well.

Young riders have so many things to remember as they are developing their position and feel, and Caroline explained a good trick for reminding them what to work on while riding. She puts one plait in the horse’s mane, and while the rider is riding and jumping, that plait is there to remind them what to work on and prioritize during the ride.

The demo was very interesting to watch and see how each of the young riders individually handled the course and how they went about it. Caroline was very insistent on making sure the foundation of riders is maintained and taught properly so that as they learn and move up the levels they do so safely but also improve quickly.

International Grooms

The fourth demo was really a talk and consisted of international grooms and what they do.

The three grooms that sat and talked about their experiences were Alex Van Tuyll, an international freelance groom who worked for William Fox-Pitt for a decade; Imo Mercer, who is Sam Griffiths head girl; and Zanie King, who is Laura Collett’s head girl.

The grooms talked about how the job involves early starts and late finishes, as well as how much hard work it takes. But they also talked about how they know the horses and the joy it is for them to see them do well when they do. They are just as invested as the rider.

It was fun to hear and listen about the experiences they have had, and we all know this sport couldn’t happen without the grooms!

EquiRatings

After the fourth demo everyone broke for lunch for an hour, and we then came back to a fifth demo which was also really a talk done by Diarmuid Byrne of EquiRatings. This was a really interesting and different topic to hear about. We all know about EquiRatings and how they come up with some incredible statistics to share about the eventing world. Diarmuid talked about eventing and that the next four years is going to show a lot of changes and growth in the sport.

He mentioned that it is key to still keep widening the audience for eventing and make it more accessible as well as give context so that the layman can understand and join the crazy world that is eventing. He mentioned an easy way to describe eventing that doesn’t confuse anyone is “the lowest score wins,” and he is bang on. By talking about our sport this way it helps explain to the layman what it is all about.

He also brought up the topic of safety and horse falls. As we all know the last two years have been a bit of a shock for eventing and he proposed ways to look at the sport to help make it safer. First of all he made the point of saying no one person is responsible for this. Everyone needs to help improve the sport and encourage it to adapt and grow. There is always going to be risk in eventing and that is the way of the sport but what we can do as a sport is try and reduce the risk as much as possible.

Diarmuid posited that a lot of horse falls happen because people are qualified for the level but not necessarily OK to go that level. They did a trial in Ireland in 2016 where they monitored riders and their competition results. Riders who had stops or faults at a certain level were not recommended to try and move up, so if they wanted to go two-star instead they would go one-star. It only affected 1.5% of the sport and as a result of that test horse falls in Ireland fell by 66% at the two-star level. That in itself shows you that measures can be made to help make this sport safer and reduce the risk.

As a sport on the whole we want to prevent as many horse falls as possible and Diarmuid explained that EquiRatings is in the process of designing a system to help riders look at their competition results and help guide them as to how to improve while staying safe.

It was a fascinating talk to listen to and one that I very much enjoyed — I will definitely be keeping my eye on EquiRatings and their work. They are already working with numerous federations to further our sport and at the same time make it safer.

Chris Burton and Eric Winter

Last but not least Christopher Burton and Eric Winter finished the day with demos of simulated cross country riding and course design.

Christopher Burton needs little introduction: He has won numerous international three-day events, including Adelaide and Burghley, as well as finishing 5th at the Olympics and helping Australia to a team bronze medal.

Eric Winter is the new course designer for Badminton and designs all over England and Western Europe. Having been over here a year now, I have had the opportunity to compete across a few of his courses, and he builds strong but fair tests. You have to be confident and forward, and as long as you do that it rewards your riding.

Chris and Eric were a hoot together and there was loads of good banter and commentating. Chris first rode a lovely 7-year-old stallion, demonstrating exercises to use to train younger horses so that they can be confident and self sufficient. Both Eric and Chris emphasized that when we are training for the Next Generation we should be keeping in mind that these horses are going to have to think for themselves as they go up through the levels.

With the stallion they focused on straightness and him thinking for himself. They made an exercise of angled verticals and focused on him holding his line. It was great to see as by his third time through he went straight through — no questions asked. Chris and Eric were thrilled and mentioned that as they get more mature and further along you can start to ask harder questions.

Chris halfway through swapped to an 8-year-old mare who was a bit more experienced. They made a couple of harder lines with a corner and set of oxers, but Eric put small trees in strategic spots so it made Chris and the mare hold the line and jump on an angle.

It was very fun to watch, but at the end of the day it was also the same concept: staying straight and holding the line. It was amazing to watch an Olympic medalist and the fastest cross country rider in the world ride through tough lines and combinations.

Eric then went on to talk about course design after Chris was done riding. He explained that when he is designing for a two-star he will look at three-star tracks and what they are asking and go from there in terms of what he puts on the course. It gets tricky when designing four-star courses as that is the pinnacle of eventing, and then the designer needs to look at what type of questions they want to ask.

Eric emphasized that eventing is about the relationship between horse and rider, and they should think as one and make a super brain together. At the end of the day is what our sport is about and how the Next Generation will thrive.

Christopher Burton making it look easy. Lovely and relaxed, beautiful to watch #IEF17 #HorseHour

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That concludes the amazing day that was the International Eventing Forum 2017 #IEF17.

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