Mentor, Ohio—Nov. 10
“Seamless” is the word Peter Wylde threw into the cold Ohio air on the first day of the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program at Lake Erie College. None of riders were faultless on their first day of the national training session, but they worked through on-the-spot problem solving to get to know their new equine partners better in preparation for Sunday’s Nations Cup final competition.
Wylde began by emphasizing the importance of the warm-up. Participants walked for a minimum of 10 minutes, then picked up the trot with a light contact to let the horses get ready to work. Wylde reminded riders that horses are athletes as much as humans are, so they need a gradual introduction to work the same way their riders do. Wylde also used the warm-up to correct rider position.
“The most ineffective place for your hands is low and close to the pommel,” he said. “Your hands should be in front of you and your elbow should be slightly in front of your hip. This is the ideal position for a horse to drop onto the contact.”
In an echo of last year’s first-day lesson, Wylde encouraged riders to think like chiropractors and use bending exercises to loosen their horses’ bodies. He also advised them to keep their own hands soft enough to allow for constant, effective communication with the horse’s mouth.
“This is a lesson where I want you to think of yourselves as trainers,” Wylde said as the warm-up concluded and the teams set out on their first real test. “I want you to think like this is your horse, you’re training it, and I’m just here to help.”
Wylde started with an exercise on the flat, asking riders to collect their canter down the short side of the arena and extend down the long side.
“The most important thing for smooth jumping rounds is to be able to have your horse go forward, but come back as soon as you ask,” he said. “The ability to do that seamlessly is what makes winning rounds.”
Each group started jumping over a single fence set on a bending line. Then Wylde added in a bounce and a second jump at the end of the line. Riders were initially challenged to get six strides in and out of the bounce. Some horses were eager to rush at the bounce or toward the last jump. Cicely Hayes, 17, struggled to keep Lake Erie College’s horse, Ocean View, on a quiet six strides.
“When a horse is constantly rushing it’s easy to want to hold them in a vice grip,” Wylde said. “But you have to make sure to release when they relax, and be especially careful that you don’t hold them over jumps because catching them in the mouth will only make them rush harder.”
Hayes also took advantage of the corners, using the extra space to give “View” a minute to regroup before facing another obstacle and by the end of the session their control had improved.
Owen McWilliams, 15, aboard Lolita, also struggled when they tried to ride the same track as previous teams. Lolita has a shorter stride than the other horses and couldn’t find the correct distance until Wylde encouraged McWilliams to think critically about his track.
“It’s about subtlety,” he said. “Subtlety is what makes Beezie Madden ride like Beezie Madden. This horse has a shorter stride, so I can’t go into this exercise thinking I can take the same track as the person before me. I have to think, maybe I stay out and take a little wider approach so she has enough space to get in on a good stride, or maybe I really push her out, but I have to do something different.”
Analytical riding also came into play with Cece Manze, 20, on the University of Findlay’s MTM Waffle. After the gymnastic exercise Wylde sent riders through a longer course that allowed them to get a feel for their horse’s normal stride. “Waffle” was strong through the lines and after the third time he rushed through, Wylde said Manze needed to do more.
“Figure out what you have to do too make it work,” he said. “You can’t focus on the fact that he’s running; you have to say, ‘What do I have to do to get it done?’ ”
Wylde elaborated on the importance of thinking, analyzing, and reacting quickly through a ride. It’s not enough to set your horse toward a jump, hope for the best, and then freeze when things go awry. A good rider is constantly assessing the horse, constantly communicating with their mount through their hands, seat, and legs, and when a good rider reacts to a problem they do so immediately and tactfully. They use all the tools at their disposal.
Wylde recalled McWilliams’ ride and reminded riders that just changing the horse’s track slightly can have a huge influence on their stride and that anxious horses must be given moments of reward whenever they are soft.
“It’s a sophisticated thing, especially on new horses, but you’ll get there,” Wylde encouraged.
Riders left the lesson with a reminder that critical thinking wasn’t just a tool to use between jumps.
“You have to feel good about what you’re doing in your program as a whole,” Wylde said. “Everyone does things a little differently, so be an individual. Use your own knowledge and your own experience to advise your decisions.”
Meet the rest of the EAP national training session riders:
- Nicole Beales, 15, Okland, Calif.
- Kelsey Campbell, 17, Great Falls, Va.
- Bella Canzano, 20, Grosse Pointe, Mich.
- Maura Cherny, 18, Cazenovia, N.Y.
- Kit Cunningham, 17, Thermal, Calif.
- Gage Curry, 16, Star, Idaho
- Kendra Duggleby, 17, Cleveland, N.Y.
- Cecily Hayes, 16, Brentwood, Calif.
- Isabelle Heckler, 18, Colts Neck, N.J.
- Kelby Kane, 16, Lexington, Ky.
- Cece Manze, 19, Sherman Oaks, Calif.
- Owen McWilliams, 14, Austin, Texas
- Caroline Molther, 19, Parker, Colo.
- Ada Rohan, 16, Montpelier, Vt.
- Sydney Shelby, 14, Santa Cruz, Calif.
- Sydnie Young , 14, Loomis, Calif.