Despite progress made during each session, several horses (and riders) continued to struggle with consistent connections. "He looks like a camel!" scolded Kursinski. "Leg to hand! When I just rode, not one time did you see me pulling his head around. Run interference when he wants to come above the bit. Resist with your arms, squeeze with your legs, and push with your seat. And as soon as he wants to stretch his head down and out and use his back, give, because that's also how we want him to jump."
Kursinski viewed each rider's correct use of his or her hands as critical to success. "Work your hands as a pair, and keep your hands no further apart than your thumbs are long—about the width of the horse's mouth," she said. "Never see-saw your hands to get the horse to give. Keep your hands low and firm, not busy. As he gives, I give. When he resists my hand and come above the bit, the correction (and his punishment) is my leg, not my hand. My hands are the last thing I go to.
"It's not just doing the work, it's the quality of the work," she continued. "You're the trainer when you're up there, so you're responsible for how he's working. How the horse goes tells me a lot about the rider."
A Test Of Patience
With the challenging atmosphere, naughtiness was prevalent in several of the mounts. Kursinski utilized the opportunity to teach the riders how to most effectively handle challenging situations. "Is the disobedience a training or physical issue? Very often it's to test or intimidate the rider, but I cannot be afraid or get excited and beat him up. Be demanding in a patient way and always be instantly ready to give and reward. You can't be critical all the time," she explained. "Say to your horse, 'I have all day, and you're going to give to this.’ As Jimmy Williams used to say, 'like a dripping faucet on a rock.’ Just keep asking the question. You don't have to win, just work together."
Kursinski acknowledged that she is firm yet fair in everything she asks of her mounts. "I ask for a lot. I push horses like I push my students, but there's always very much of a reward," she said. "I ask myself all the time, 'How do I get the most out of my horse? How can I be a better partner for my horse?' This encompasses all aspects of horsemanship, not just show ring riding."
The Basics With Beezie
Training session attendees enjoyed an afternoon demonstration by the renowned Beezie Madden, Olympic gold medalist and a perennial force in the show jumping world. Madden reinforced key points in Kursinski's morning sessions about the importance of flatwork as well as correct riding form.
Madden explained an exercise she uses comprised of bridging the reins to help curb much-maligned busy hands. "It can be a habit you don't even realize you do," Madden said. "Bridging the reins helps keep your hands where they belong and also helps if a rider tends to overbend their horse on the inside rein."
Demonstrating a variety of dressage exercises combined with cavaletti to encourage rideability in her mount, Madden continued to stress the importance of taking the time for proper schooling. "Making the transition from hunter or equitation into jumpers starts on the flat," Madden explained. "In your flatwork, strive for power, contact and balance so that you always feel that you could jump a big fence from it, whether galloping or collected."
At the end of the day, the announcement came that Morris wouldn't be feeling well enough to attend Wednesday's session, so Pan American Games gold medalists Kent Farrington and Christine McCrea would be the clinicians for the mounted sessions.
Watch the training sessions live on the USEF Network.