Madden’s Gymnastics Anchor Horsemastership Training Series

Jan 19, 2021 - 7:58 AM

This year’s revamped U.S. Equestrian Federation Horsemastership Training Series hosted a set of 12 up-and-coming show jumpers who are on track to someday be top professionals. That focus permeated the three days of riding sessions (flat with Anne Kursinski, gymnastics with Beezie Madden, and a course critique with McLain Ward), in addition to the back-at-the-barn learning opportunities with Colleen Reed.

The goal of the clinic wasn’t just to improve that particular rider on that horse that day, but to give the riders tools for managing all different types of mounts, as well as other aspects of their professional lives: what to keep in their show bags, how to manage the people who help get them to the rings, how to modify their warm-up strategies for different horses.

Madden’s gymnastics exercises on Day 2 were designed to improve the skills the riders would need the following day over a 1.30-meter course ridden before Ward.

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Beezie Madden demonstrated the exercises that the clinic participants would perform later in the day. KTB Creative Group Photos

“Basically what you need to ride a course is to be able to control your horse’s stride on a straight line, and also be able to control your horse on a bend and have the line that you want,” said Madden during the demo portion of her gymnastics session, where she rode through series of gymnastics exercises that the clinic participants would tackle later in the day.

“Our goal is to set you up for success tomorrow,” Madden said.

The riders selected to take part in the clinic were chosen on the basis of their results in U.S. Jumping Pathway Programs, along with six wild card spots. The riders included: Gracie Allen,
Ellie Ferrigno, Dominic Gibbs, Mimi Gochman, Maggie Kehring, Caelinn Leahy, Violet Lindemann Barnett, Rachel Long, Alex Pielet, Madison Rauschenbach, Emma Reichow and Skylar Wireman.

Start Small

The most basic of Madden’s gymnastic exercises were incorporated into the warm-up on the flat—a series of three cavaletti. She had riders change gaits frequently—trot in over the first two, walk out; canter the first, walk the second, canter the third; trot the first, walk the second, trot the third and then shoulder-in after the last cavaletti. 

At the canter, riders were asked to adjust their striding to push their horses forward and then bring them back, getting their mounts listening and improving their adjustability. Riders would do a forward three strides between the first two cavaletti and then compress for four strides between the second and third.

Don’t Abandon The Outside Rein

Madden’s second exercise was a series of four small verticals, set at alternating angles along a straight line. If riders took a straight approach to the line, each vertical was jumped at an angle with four strides in between. But the exercise was primarily intended to be ridden as a serpentine, with a head-on approach to each vertical and six strides on a bending line between each fence.

To introduce the exercise, Madden had the riders jump each vertical and then circle before approaching the next: approach the first vertical on the left lead, land and circle left to the second vertical, land and circle right, and so on. As riders approached each vertical, they began thinking about putting the horse on what would be the new outside rein. “Don’t worry about the leads,” Madden said. “You guys get so hung up on that! I want to see the horse nice, round. When you open up that inside shoulder [by putting the horse on the outside rein],  they’ll naturally land the lead.”

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The 12 riders who participated in the clinic were selected on the basis of their results at U.S. Jumping Pathway Programs, along with six wild card spots.

Keeping the horse on the outside rein would also keep it out on a nice full, round circle, rather than falling in, while the riders were looking to the inside to make their turns. “I like this circling because it makes it simple and makes the horse get supple on the bending lines,” Madden said.

After each pair jumped the line with a circle between each fence, they turned around and came back through the line as a serpentine (without circling) with six strides in between, and later with slightly less bending five-stride lines.

Incorporating A Liverpool And Water

To school the water, Madden incorporated it into a short course that also included a liverpool, ensuring that the riders had a good jump over the latter before attempting the former.

“I want to do enough to open him up to the water so it’s fair to him; I don’t want to just attack the water,” she said. “I like when you’re introducing the water to put it in with a pattern, because if I just all of a sudden pick up the canter and attack the water, it’s going to surprise him more.”

A water jump should be schooled sparingly, she added. “You want them to stay a little impressed, if you can, at the water without being scared.”

The water jump started off small, barely wider than the liverpool, and was the first element of a line, a short seven strides to a very short four-stride vertical-to-vertical combination—an added challenge to shorten the stride after asking the horses to open up over the water. 

The first time through the exercise, Madden had riders pull their horses up before the final element. When they approached the second time, the horses were primed to think a little backward and were more adjustable to the final fence.

Wide Oxers On A Short Distance

To counterbalance stretching the horses out over the water, a different exercise incorporated oxers on short distances. 

After jumping the liverpool, riders had five strides to a oxer, and a short two strides to a vertical. Madden noted that it was mostly up to the horse to handle on their own, since there’s not much a rider can do in two strides. “You can help them, but they have to figure it out a little on their own,” Madden said.

Another oxer-to-oxer short five-stride combination was made even more challenging after the horses had jumped it once, by increasing the height of the oxers and shortening the striding even more. The idea was to get the horses jumping rounder, Madden said. 

“It helps give the horses shape and jumping well,” she said. “Practicing a short distance to a wide jump is always a good thing, because it’s probably one of the most difficult things you can have on a course.”

You can watch all of the Horsemastership Training Series sessions on the USEF Network.

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