From The Magazine: Break Down Your Courses With Archie Cox

May 22, 2020 - 2:16 PM

This time of year would normally be the height of the competition season, but with horse shows on hiatus due to the novel coronavirus, it’s a good opportunity to review your homework. We asked four trainers for some of their favorite things to focus on during downtime. Here are Archie Cox’s tips. 

Improve Your Seat

You can get a better seat with no stirrups, hill work or changing the length of your stirrups. Those are all things that are so good to do and so often missed with the show schedule or just becoming complacent and content in riding. As riders, we can always be striving to do better. Often riding alone produces bad habits, and now is a super opportunity to check in with those. 

Challenge yourself to keep your eyes up and be looking ahead 20 to 30 feet all the time, and you realize how much better your eye level can be or how different. Gravity pulls your eyes down. There’s a great whole world to look at when you’re riding, and if you look up, the horses look up more.

Learn (And Maintain) Different Canters Over Cavaletti

The cavaletti doesn’t have to be raised; it could be a pole on the ground, but practice going over the cavaletti at different speeds, slowing down to the cavaletti with a deeper seat or in your two-point galloping, and practice how far away you can recognize the distance.

You want to maintain the speed and begin to work out of your comfort zone. Make the uncomfortable seem OK. The rider and the horse both learn to travel at different speeds and slightly above pace and below pace, and the rider recognizes what is the correct pace. In the show ring you go at many different speeds; a seemingly perfect round has many different lengths of stride within that round.

Vary Your Track

Practice tighter turns and longer approaches to a small fence, staying in the saddle with a deep seat for a short turn or out of the saddle in a gallop [on a longer approach], and this will help improve the horse and the rider’s reaction time before the fence and after the fence. Off of a gallop the horse may be coming more forward, and the rider needs to slow the horse down a little bit faster and get comfortable and confident using their aids.

These are things that happen in the show ring—the horse and rider end up leaving longer out of a line; the horse lands and wants to play, so you practice that at home because you want it to work in reality.

Reality is you leave short, you leave long, and having practiced what might happen in the show arena you have confidence to leave a little long, land, use your voice, and have the horse smoothly slow back down. 

Tune Your Horse To Your Voice

That can win or lose a class: a little cluck at a long jump or a little voice when you’re going down the last line. [It’s important] you have those tools available. The voice is so important, and a byproduct is the rider is more present and staying more relaxed. Practicing it is so important and so helpful.


Archie Cox operates Brookway Stables in Lake View Terrace, California. His students and horses have won more than 40 U.S. Equestrian Federation National Horse Of The Year titles and have won championships on both coasts, at all of the major indoors and Devon (Pennsylvania). Cox holds a USEF R judge’s card for both hunter and equitation and is a C1 steward.


This is part of a longer article that ran in the May 4 & 11, 2020,  issue of The Chronicle of the Horse in our Innovations Issue. To see the full article of exercises with Kristin Bachman, Heather Mason and Val Renihan, please subscribe.

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