Rachel Wilks: Event Rider Bill Levett Comes to Northern Virginia

Photo by Jess Howard Photo by Jess Howard

From Rachel:

On a chilly November weekend, Australian Event rider Bill Levett spent two days with me and nearly a dozen other riders from the northern Virginia area. Originally from Australia, Bill has been based in the UK for the last fifteen plus years and regularly gives clinics in the UK and now, concurrently in the US with his intense competition schedule.  Bill has been eventing for more than twenty-five years and is testament to the longevity one can have in the sport.  This season he achieved his best year ever at the young age of 50 with top 10 rankings on the British Circuit and FEI World rankings.

The main theme of the two day clinic was to improve the rider’s ability to determine the appropriate speed and power needed for a range of different types of jumping questions – be they show jumps or cross country obstacles.

I had a great time at the clinic – I wasn’t sure how the two day format would work, but I loved it!  Day one was a great way for Bill to get to know the horses and us as riders before tackling the cross country on day two. There were many takeaways from the show jump session that I could immediately apply on the cross country course the next day.

The focus of the show jumping portion of the clinic was to use your eye to assess distance, then, try to find the right rhythm of stride for the combination of fences in front of you.  Bill stressed the importance of moving through your turns and then putting the horse back on its hocks to balance before a fence.  He focused on helping us achieve the correct feel with our horses to ensure we reached the fences with enough power.

Setting the horse back on its hocks on the approach allowed for more options at the fence if the perfect stride wasn’t there.  If you have a big open stride and your horse is not on its hocks or with enough gas in the tank, you may not have the options you would otherwise.  This was a concept we were able to take forward to the next day on cross country – the ability to assess the right balance and power in our approach to each fence.

Photo by Jess Howard

Photo by Jess Howard

On day two, the cross country phase was held at Jan Byyny’s Surefire Farm in Purcellville, VA.  We had the benefit of adding to lessons learned from the previous day.  Bill urged us to think about our positions on the cross country and, more importantly, the speed we would need on the approach to the different types of fences.  Collectively, we identified the fences that required more of an open stride and also the fences that demanded a horse rock back on the approach.

The obstacles identified, requiring this open stride, were the ascending tables and brush jumps.  Bill explained that we must take time out for single fences with square profiles and little ground lines as those are less forgiving when approached unprepared, leading to a horse catching a knee or something just as hazardous.

Once again, Bill stressed with complexes including jumps into water, coffins and banks, riders must have their horses set back on their hocks.  My horse River King happened to have the biggest stride in our group.  He was very genuine and brave at the water, so we were able to work on getting him to gallop to, then, set back about four strides out.  Bill encouraged me to move up to the base of the water jump so once we landed we would have a good jump out.

The other the horses in my group were happy to pat the ground in front of each fence.  Their riders were told to gallop, sit up four strides out, and wait for the fence to come to them.  The horses really responded well.  This technique on the riders’ part gave the horses confidence to jump from the base as their riders would be behind them giving them the energy to be able to pat the ground in front of the fence.

Overall, the clinic offered a number of ideas about how we should be thinking about our show jump and cross country riding. I felt that Bill kept things simple for all of us and gave clear pointers to keep in my mind as we continue with our training.

For those who might be interested in riding with Bill, on Monday, January 20, 2014, he will return to the area offering a one-day clinic in the indoor arena at Sharon White’s Last Frontier Farm.  For more information email Bill at [email protected].

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