There’s no better place to spend a beautiful 80-degree day in February then at Fernanda Kellogg’s lovely Fox Frolic Farm in Aiken, South Carolina, while watching Bobby Costello teach quality horses and riders. Bobby’s credentials are impressive, from representing the U.S. team, to becoming the highest level ICP instructor, to serving on the boards of several major equestrian organizations. The wealth of knowledge he brings to the table is unparalleled.
I believe Bobby is a trainer of trainers as he is so wonderful teaching riders to make minor corrections and also giving them tools they’ll apply into their program no matter the horse they are on or rider they are teaching.
This particular lesson had Alex Conrad aboard a talented Dutch Warmblood mare, Evelyn, owned by Kelly Morgan, who has a background in show jumping, fox hunting and now eventing. Booli Selmayr was aboard Kildare’s MHS Tampa, an athletic Irish Sport Horse mare (Quintendor—Lady Ligustra).
The Warm-Up: Establishing Adjustability
The jump warm-up consisted of a cavaletti line in five working canter strides, and a four-stride bending line to a vertical that could be ridden in both directions. In true eventer fashion Bobby stated, “This is not just to try to hunter around forever, but we do need that softness.”
Once that was established the exercise became one of adjustability. They rode the five-stride line to the bending line in four strides, then rolled back in a collected canter and added a stride. Afterwards, they turned left to a cavaletti set three working canter steps to an oxer. This straightforward, but not easily executed, exercise gave both riders plenty to think about and work on.
Bobby focused on straightness, and when he noticed riders drifting to give themselves more space instead of adjusting or if the horse was rushing he told them to “stretch up and temporarily take the energy into a smaller space.” This was such a great visual and made such a huge difference, especially on “Tampa,” who was ready to rock and roll.
When the riders over-corrected or held too much down the line he would remind them “not to overthink this, we’re only changing by 10 percent.”
The riders had a go at it from both directions, and you could see the horses’ bodies became accordions. After a few goes, both ended up going through the warm-up exercise looking like it was an equitation round.
Getting Technical In Course Work
I love when your warm-up builds into what comes next. This course was a sure setup for Pine Top (Georgia), where we can always count on Chris Barnard to design a technical, but educational, course. Bobby accomplished this with his course as well. There were plenty of singles, related distances and spots where you had to be ready to make decisions and commit to your canter, and at every point Bobby expected riders to bring the same mentality as in the warm-up.
Alex’s first go around the course (well, maybe the second after going off course, to which Bobby remarked, “For a smart person you sure make a lot of detours,” which gave us all a laugh). Once on the right course, Bobby noted that Alex was holding Evelyn off the fences and encouraged him not to help his horse out so much. Instead he wanted Alex to use his upper body to smooth things out.
Bobby made a good point when Alex completed his course. You should finish with a solid transition back to a canter you would jump another jump from, don’t just jump the final fence and become a blob, but “finish with a purpose.”
Booli and Tampa ate up the course, jumping in good form and making decisions that were best for their canter. Bobby noted he loved all her decisions except for when she changed her pace just to try to get “the number.” As he sent her through again, Bobby reminded her not the feel pressure to get the exact number but rather that “maintaining the canter is a perfectly good option.”
Both riders left happy, feeling like they’ve got that other 10 percent to add to their rides, and ready for Bobby’s next stop here—which I hope to actually be able to ride in!