I had the pleasure of riding in a clinic with EC Hunter/Equitation Judge, Rider, and Coach Dee Salter-Walker of Forest Hill Training Centre.
The grey mare and I had a wonderfully educational clinic with Dee Walker last weekend. We received much praise and many tips from the clinician, and overall the weekend was just the inspiration we needed to kick start our winter training.
Things to take from this clinic:
- 2-point exercises are just as important as no-stirrup work
- the “pause” technique between fences on course
- the “blink” and “look down” tricks for the long approach
- balancing yourself over jumps, and “going with the horse”
- the pulley-rein
- one-handed warm ups
- don’t “walk” the first jumps
The one thing that Walker especially wanted me to take from her clinic was how important the 2-point position was for my green hunters. Broken down, the 2-point position refers to the two points of contact of my body to the saddle, those being each of my legs. The rider’s body weight should be evenly balanced into both heels, and your hip angle open so that the upper body can securely balance itself without your seat making contact with the saddle. She suggested I live in 2-point for the next little while and learn how to ride, move up, and wait using my core, but do it all without the help of my seat.
The “Pause” Technique:
One thing that could determine the winner between two very similar courses is the round that “finishes” the course and shows off their horse the best; be that an opening and closing circle, going into your corners, or executing a smooth rollback track that was the best option for your horse. Overall, the course should have flow and appear effortless. The less you appear to be doing up there the better. Walker had us take note of when our horses were on a soft, relaxed canter, and pointed out how often that happened on our closing circle when we thought we were done. From that realization, she had us try her “Pause” technique. This technique was simple: pretend that you’re done, relax and let go of the tension to let the canter get long and low, then quietly bring them back before the next jump. The results were wonderful, and they put Gracie and I on a whole new learning curve.
The Long Approach:
That first single on the quarter line, or the long run to the single diagonal oxer are the nemesis of many amateur riders. Walker’s tips for the long runs are to NOT look for the distance as you come around the corner. She says you should first get straight to the jump out of the corner and either try blinking or looking down for a moment on your approach. Looking for a distance too soon and changing your mind twenty times is what messes with your eye to these jumps. This is something everyone should try.
Balancing over the Jump:
Walker talked a lot about the automatic release, and letting your hunter jump to the best of their abilities. Hanging onto their mouth, jumping ahead, being left behind and leaning to one side can all produce negative effects on your horse’s jump. Some things she had us do were going into 2-point position through grids and trotting in to jumps in 2-point with take-off and landing poles. She talked about the straight line from your elbow to the horse’s mouth for the automatic release, and how lots of 2-point work on the flat will help me balance over the jumps better. She pointed out equitation flaws of jumping ahead of your horse and “folding in half” over the jumps, but addressed that our main issue was falling back slightly in the air.
Having done a clinic with Walker before on a chunky chestnut who was heavy on his front end, I was already familiar with her pulley-rein technique. This was only touched on briefly in my clinic group this time, but was brought up in more detail in the group before mine. This other group had one rider in particular who was getting upset with her confused, greener mare, and the rider was continuously sea-sawing on her horse’s mouth thinking this would get the horse to stop dragging her. Walker did not like this one bit, and before she lost her patience with this rider she tried introducing the pulley-rein to help the rider gain some control without going around hauling on her horse’s mouth. The Pulley Rein goes as follows: you slide your inside hand up your rein to get rid of the slack and also put that hand on your horse’s mane. At the same time with your outside hand you are going to leave the slack in this rein and pull this hand straight up to your outside shoulder. The point of doing this is to gain control from a bolting or dragging horse and make an emergency stop. Your horse should stop straight and parallel to the wall, and as soon as you have gained control it is supposed to be over, and you relax your body and hands. Unfortunately this girl did not do with this what Walker had hoped, and her next comment to the girl was “you can’t ride angry”.. and that statement is most right.
Another useful exercise Walker got us to try was riding one handed. For this we gathered up our reins tightly and even on both sides, crossed the inside rein over the outside rein, and held the reins in our outside hand, closed palm facing the ground. We walk, trot and cantered, did circles, serpentines, and small figure eights in this exercise. When doing the figure eights at the walk and trot we got the horse to engage the hind end and take take slow but powerful steps as we did a roll back and guided them back to the wall with one hand and our legs. When we took both reins back afterwards our horses felt more relaxed and moved off our legs well. Riding with the reins in one hand eliminated our ability to pull or hang on their mouths, and therefor got us to truly get them engaged and ready to work.
Don’t Walk the Jumps:
A major fault Walker sees in Hunter courses are the horses not getting on the forward 12-foot canter right from the start that will also get them down the lines later in the course. Don’t “walk” the first jump in your course she said, get on the canter. She often sees horses behind the rider’s leg, or too slow to the first single jumps, and thus the horse is not jumping to the best of their abilities or are missing the distance. This is why she says an opening canter circle is a good idea presentation wise, and for use in getting your horse on to that same forward canter right off the bat and through the entire course.