Lesley Stevenson of MyVirtualEventingCoach.com has a few interesting observations on what makes Australian/New Zealand eventers different from us in the United States. A combination of culture and upbringing can shape a rider’s development in one way or another. Many thanks to Lesley for sharing, and thank you for reading.
It’s no secret that the riders from Australia and New Zealand regularly beat the Americans in the sport of Eventing. And since I recently had the wonderful opportunity of teaching lots of riders “down under”, I have been thinking about some of the things that I noticed that could account for their extreme success. First of all, take a guess at how old the young Australian rider in the above picture is…
She is 8. And yes, I know that there are some 8 year old kids in the US that ride really well, and jump decent size fences… but it is more of the norm there. They grow up riding, and riding cross country at that! Whereas in the US, the average kid learning to ride is doing the “short stirrup” hunter division at age 8 – and jumping cross rails. They are being taught how to remain posed in a particular position, and to do a crest release over the fences… rather than being taught how to find their balance.
Now the Aussie and NZ riders may not be actually being taught how to find their balance… but they tend to naturally figure it out a lot more quickly when learning to ride at speed to jumps over uneven terrain! Generally being able to ride freely outside of the ring, vs being coddled and overly protected, and riding only in perfectly manicured arenas, builds tough, solid, and confident riders with a more highly developed sense of balance.
Want to see this amazing young Aussie rider in action? Here you go:
The riders who begin learning to ride in Australia and New Zealand, as well as many other countries historically successful at riding, such as Great Britian, Germany, and France, tend to get right in to the Olympic sports of Dressage, Eventing, or Show Jumping. Rather than being distracted with Show Hunters, Western, or Saddle Seat riding, as they may be in the US. I personally feel that this gives them a big advantage, as they can start off with the same foundation that they will use for the rest of their riding career… vs having to un-do and re-learn things with the change in disciplines.
In my 6 weeks of teaching in Australia and New Zealand, I never once came across a rider who was preoccupied with finding a “takeoff spot” at the jumps. And boy was that a refreshing change! They all seemed to know, regardless of their level, that if they focused on maintaining the balance and rhythm of the canter, the jump would be good. Whereas in the US, so many trainers preach that jumping is all about placing the horse’s feet at the perfect takeoff spot. With the emphasis on finding that perfect “spot”, the rhythm and stride length of the canter are more likely to be changing right in front of the jump. And that always means a balance change – usually not for the better.
Not only does encouraging a rider to focus on the quality of the canter and maintaining a consistent rhythm (instead of looking for a takeoff spot) usually make for a better quality of canter, and therefore jump – but it also nurtures the horse’s initiative and ability to think for himself when it comes to what he does with his own feet at the take off of a jump. And this makes for a safe horse who can and will get himself out of trouble when necessary.
Riders that learn to ride “by the seat of their pants” often naturally develop a more defensive position over jumps. I found it interesting that when I posted this picture of a rider from my clinic in New Zealand on Facebook:
That so many US riders commented that this rider was too far behind the motion, too close to the saddle, and not releasing the horse’s mouth sufficiently. While I feel that this rider’s position, while maybe a bit more defensive than necessary for a stadium jump on flat ground, is pretty close to the ideal position for an Eventer to be in the habit of being in. I found that interesting because it seems that many US riders have the idea that a more huntery position, with a much more forward body and an exaggerated release, is more correct over fences. This points out a problem in this country in my eyes.
I also noticed an increased sense of toughness and determination in many of the down under riders – at all ages. For example, my first clinic in Australia was in the pouring rain… a monsoon actually:
And not a single rider scratched or complained about the weather. Even the horses seemed tougher somehow, as they didn’t seem to mind the rain! Note that the horse in the picture is standing happily with its ears up, and not putting its head down and trying to turn its hind end into the rain. I thought that was really quite remarkable!
Overall, I suspect that there might be some genetics involved, with the down under riders being sort of “bred” for the sport… with athleticism on a horse just coming more naturally to them. But I do think that some of the factors that I mentioned here contribute to the US having less success in Eventing compared to the Australian and New Zealand riders. And it is never too late to fix that.