Do you ever stare in awe at the sleek shiny horses, the glistening brass, perfect braids, and dazzling white marks at a CCI trot up? Do you ever wonder how they get that way? (LOTS of hard work is the correct answer!) Each Sunday morning we will bring you a little insider info on how the big-time grooms manage an upper level event horse. Feel free to email or comment with specific grooming questions if you have a topic in mind!
Previous entries: Bridle Wise
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Weapons of War
My trainer often recited an old Jack LeGoff mantra: “Never go to war without your weapons.” In other words, always be prepared with your whip and spurs. “But my horse NEVER stops/runs out at corners/avoids skinnies/quits at ditches!” some students would say. And then the horse would promptly perform the “never” disobedience, and the unarmed rider would sheepishly accepted a whip from another student.
What can we learn from this? ALWAYS BE PREPARED, have your whip and spurs with you. I don’t often school with a dressage whip, but if I know a horse might be lazy I will carry one. I pretty much always ride in spurs…actually I live in them, never take them off (Shhh, don’t tell Pony Club). It is far better to have your “weapons” and not need them, than need it and not have it.
But, having the proper tools is important. Lesson #1 was bring your whip; lesson #2 was bring a GOOD whip! No wimpy whips allowed! Crops less than 20″ are basically useless, as are those thin-as-a-pencil whippy-whips. I prefer a stout whip, long enough that the horse can see it easily when I’m insisting YES, YOU MUST JUMP THE CORNER!
I prefer a whip around 24″, but the rules (EV 114.3) state that any jumping whip must not exceed 30″ in length or be weighted at the end. Jockey whips can be customized in length, stiffness, and color, so they are a great resource. I do NOT like hand loops, as it can be difficult to switch your whip from hand to hand (and, as PC says, you could get caught up in it). Instead, pop a rubber martingale stop over the butt-end of the whip, and it will be much less likely to slip from your hand.
Choose a whip that is comfortable to you– a grip that is thin enough to hold with the reins, yet wide enough not to slip through your fingers. Flexibility is a matter of personal taste, as is balance between the flapper end and the grip end. Whatever whip you choose, practice using it with either hand (sit on a barrel or log if you can’t find a suitably naughty pony that needs a good beating).
Left: wimpy whip. Too short!!
Middle: Golf-grip bat with martingale stopper. Stiff, but effective. 25″
Right: Tapered-grip jockey whip. 25″
Dressage whips are also a personal preference. The rules state that the whip must not exceed 47.2″ including lash. Also, know that you may not carry a whip in the ring for championship or FEI divisions.
Whips are generally used to reinforce FORWARD! Most of the time, use the whip behind the saddle to send the horse forward and punish a disobedience. Hitting the horse on the shoulder (NEVER in front of it, unless you want to get disqualified) can sometimes help cure a runout or drift, but you must be sure “forward” is fixed first.
Spurs are generally a more refined aid– not so much to encourage FORWARD as “move more.” Move more sideways, move more up, move more out. The horse should already be in front of your leg; spurs just amplify the response. An instructor once demonstrated it for us in Pony Club: walk up behind a friend, and poke her sharply in the ribs on each side. Does the friend jump forward? No, she jumps upwards out of her chair. Poking the horse with spurs should not inspire a “running” forward response, but rather a jumping up or sideways movement. Spurs help back up your leg during lateral work, or bending. That said, when I’m jumping and I need MORE NOW, a quick squeeze of the spur will usually get you across a distance when you need it.
Spurs come in many varieties; just remember they must not exceed 1-3/8″, must be smooth metal, and not capable of wounding a horse. The shank must point downwards; rowels, if used in dressage, must be smooth and free-rotating. Swan-neck spurs, and shank-less spurs are allowed, as are roller-ball spurs (plastic or mretal). Spurs are mandatory at the Intermediate and Advanced levels.
A good all-purpose spur is about 3/4″ in length, with a blunt end (usually Prince of Wales style). You and your horse will determine whether you need more or less, depending on how reactive he is to the aid. When fitting a spur, be sure the shank is parallel to the ground; move it up or down on the strap to keep it level. Moving a spur higher on the boot increases its effect; keeping it low on the heel makes it harder to use (good for sensitive horses, less accidental bumping).
“Hammerhead” spur, level with ground with rubber straps
Spur straps may be leather (hard to keep clean, will rot), nylon (will fray, but infinitely adjustable), or rubber (will rot eventually). I LOVE rubber spur straps– I can leave them on my boots, and they will stretch a little bit to let me take the boot on and off. After a few years of abuse, the holes may crack…but they are cheap and very useful for everyday riding. It is traditional for the spur buckle to be centered, or slightly outside-of-center on the boot. Excess strap should tuck neatly into keepers; cut off any flapping ends. The spur itself should be fitted with the longer branch on the outside of the foot, shorter branch on the inside.
While pretty much anyone can use a whip, a good rider must “earn” her spurs. Riders should have a quiet, steady lower leg before wearing spurs. It’s painful to watch a horse accidentally bump-bump-bumped every stride as a rider jabs her horse in the ribs from lack of coordination and balance. The horse will either become dull to the aid, or overreact. Neither is desirable!