Practice Makes Perfect at USEF Eventing 18 Training Sessions

USEF Emerging Athlete Coach Leslie Law speaks to the riders at the USEF Eventing 18 training sessions at Horsepower Equestrian in Ocala, Florida. Photo by Jenni Autry.

Hello from Ocala, Florida! The riders named to the USEF Emerging Athletes Eventing 25 program participated in training sessions with Emerging Athlete Coach Leslie Law last week at Liz Halliday-Sharp’s stunning facility Horsepower Equestrian, and this week the Eventing 18 riders are taking their turn.

Each day the riders begin with a meeting at Caroline Martin’s farm next door, then hack over to Horsepower Equestrian to start a full day of lessons with Leslie. Monday was a dressage day, with a lunch lecture from horse care expert Max Corcoran. On Tuesday the riders started the day with a lecture on show jumping course design from top designer Chris Barnard, followed by setting the course for a full day of jumping lessons.

Jacob Fletcher, Amanda Beale Clement and Alex Baugh rode in the first group of jumping lessons yesterday. Jacob and Amanda are on the Eventing 25 list but were unable to attend last week’s training sessions, so they are riding with the Eventing 18 group this week.

Jacob rode his three-star partner Atlantic Domino, a 13-year-old Irish Sport Horse (Dunlough Striker X Atlantic Amanda, by Glidawn Diamond) owned by Frank Fletcher and Fletcher Farms. Amanda rode her mom Susie’s one-star mount Canny Calypso, an 8-year-old Westphalian (Captain Fire X Playgirl, by Playmate xx) owned by Canny Calypso LLC. Alex rode her new partner Mr. Candyman, an 11-year-old Holsteiner (Canto X Montara, by Corofino I) owned by Altorac Farm, who won the Jersey Fresh CCI3* last year with Phillip Dutton.

Eventing 18 rider Alex Baugh and Mr. Candyman. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The theme of progression jumped out consistently throughout the lesson. In their warm-up, Leslie had the riders practice bringing their horses more forward in the canter and then back to ensure the horses were adjustable and on the aids before jumping. He also emphasized establishing a correct contact and connection for jumping, with the horse’s nose slightly in front of the vertical and in a clear shape.

We find so often in riding that the exercises that look the most simple often expose the flaws in our position and technique, and that’s why cavaletti exercises are so valuable. Leslie spaced three cavaletti in a line down the center of the arena. He first had the riders canter over a single cavaletti in a figure eight pattern, changing the lead over the cavaletti. Leslie emphasized that the riders should let the horse lift them out of the saddle over the cavaletti, rather than standing in the stirrups. The riders then serpentined through the cavaletti.

Throughout the warm-up exercises over the cavaletti, Leslie emphasized the importance of suppling the horse in preparation for jumping — “This is all about suppling and getting them as soft and supple as possible.” If a horse came above the bit and braced in the frame during the exercise, Leslie would have the riders soften the horse to re-establish a more supple shape in the contact.

When the riders moved on to jumping fences at height, the warm-up paid off. All three riders had horses that were soft and on the aids, and correction came more easily if they needed to move up to closer a longer distance or hold to a tighter distance. That’s where practicing going forward and back in the canter at home pays off on course at a competition.

Eventing 25 rider Jacob Fletcher and Atlantic Domino wait their turn to jump. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The riders first jumped a line of a vertical to an oxer set on 88 feet in seven strides in both directions, then jumped the line in both directions on eight strides. Again, the theme of adjustability and shortening and lengthening the canter stride came into play. “If you start out so you can go forward and lengthen in your warm-up, it makes a huge difference when you add fences,” Leslie said. “It’s all about practice.”

Throughout the jumping exercises, Leslie reminded the riders to keep the connection with the horse and soften them if their heads started to come up too high, which we saw when Leslie had the riders do the same line in six strides.

Next the riders moved on to a different line of a triple bar to a vertical, set at five strides but about 18 inches long. With the line set on a longer five strides, riders had to lengthen the stride to close the distance. Leslie emphasized that when you are moving up to a jump and need to lengthen the stride, you don’t need to physically lean back in the saddle, but your body should “stay off the jump” as you close your leg to lengthen the stride.

For the grand finale exercise to practice the concept of lengthening the stride, Leslie had the riders jump a liverpool vertical set at a 90-degree angle to another vertical. He first had them jump the line in six strides, then seven strides. Riders had to angle the approach over the liverpool to find a tighter, more direct line to get the six strides, then a straighter line over the liverpool for the seven strides.

Eventing 25 rider Amanda Beale Clement and Canny Calypso. Photo by Jenni Autry.

The Eventing 18 training sessions continue today with another dressage day, as well as a lunch lecture from U.S. team sports therapist Jo-Ann Wilson. Dr. Lisa Casinella of Peak Performance Equine Services delivered the Tuesday lecture on veterinary care. The training sessions will conclude tomorrow with cross country lessons.

It takes a village to coordinate these USEF Emerging Athlete training sessions, and EN has to send a massive shout out to the families and support teams of the Eventing 25 and 18 riders. A swarm of supportive parents are camped out ringside all day for these lessons. Many of the riders are also staying in Ocala through the weekend to compete in the inaugural USEA recognized horse trials at Grand Oaks in Wiersdale, Florida.

The USEF Emerging Athlete program seeks to develop talent and produce riders that will one day represent the U.S. at the international level. The USEF Emerging Athletes Working Group is currently evaluating this program and plans to roll out changes to the structure in 2019.

Stay tuned to EN for all the latest news on USEF High Performance across all three tiers of the program: Elite High Performance, Development and Emerging Athletes. Go Eventing.