I’ve been teaching extensively the past three months, it seems more than ever, and there are some points I’ve noticed that need clarification. Unless teachers review the classics of riding and jumping literature on a regular basis they will become stale and fall prey to fashions and fads. For me the great supplement to knowledge is reading books.
Stirrup Position: Not only for aesthetics but also for ankle flexibility and in order to better keep the heels down, the stirrup iron belongs on the ball of the foot, the stirrup diagonally on the foot (outside branch leading) and the little toe touching the outside branch. It’s preferable to have a heavy duty iron (no hinged stirrups) with stirrup pads that grip.
Stirrup Length: The better the rider the more range he must have in length of stirrup according to what he is doing. Elementary riders should stick to an all-purpose length of iron, suitable for riding and jumping. Intermediate riders should have a slight differentiation, say a hole longer for flat work than for jumping. Advanced riders could have a spread of from two to four holes, depending on the height of the fences they’re jumping. Most people are lazy about this and as a consequence, develop a “chair” seat.
Heels Down: To keep one’s heels down is of the utmost importance in riding and jumping. It provides us not only with all-important security in the saddle but with an independent and, if need be, a strong leg grip. Slack calf muscles are useless on a horse. In order to learn to keep the heels down, it’s good for every rider to spend some of the time in suspension or standing in the stirrups (two-point contact). It’s simply the correct distribution of weight. If people ride too long in their irons and never get out of the saddle they will never get their heels down.
Base Of Support: The crotch and seat bones belong near the front of the saddle for slow work with longer stirrups. Not only is the horse’s back stronger than his loins, but this enables the rider to follow the horse’s movement through the seat and lower back. Of course for fast work with shorter stirrups, the buttocks shift more toward the back of the saddle.
Upper Body: The upper body at the standstill and for backing is imperceptibly in front of the vertical, ready to be with the horse when he moves off. At the sitting trot and the canter only about 5 degrees in front of the vertical, for posting the trot, galloping, and jumping about 30 degrees in front of the vertical. That is our basic, median position at the different gaits. Of course, for special needs we can shift to the front, but moreover to the rear (behind the motion).
Hands: Most of the time we should ride with a straight line elbow to the horse’s mouth. That is to say with a “star-gazer” (high headed horse) we ride with higher hands. In showing off a hunter we ride with a broken line below the mouth (low hands) in order to hide the hands. It’s best to ride a “stopper” with a broken line above the mouth so he can’t drop his head.
Today many people mistakenly ride with too low a hand and “sawing” hands vainly trying to lower a horse’s head the wrong and painful way. In order to lower a horse’s head it’s best to raise the hands, close the hands and wait for the horse. Easier said than done.
Aids: The horse must move forward from both legs of the rider. However, the inside leg is dominant, stronger. The horse must come back from both hands, the outside one being dominant or stronger. If practiced in this way, it affects the whole horse better, quicker, stronger.
Corners: Start with the outside rein, which should open to the outside maintaining the track at the speed. The inside rein (indirect rein in front of the withers) displaces the horse’s weight from the inside to outside shoulder and also bends neck of the horse. Do not overbend the neck of horse to the inside. The inside leg not only maintains the impulse but also bends the horse while the outside leg goes back about a hand to guard the hindquarters.
It’s also good to practice corners and turns using the opening, bearing and pulling reins. Teach horses and riders to turn using a variety of rein and leg combinations.
Rhythm: Rhythm always must have regularity first. Then it must be coupled with the right amount of impulsion. Extension and speed do not necessarily mean that a horse has sufficient impulsion. In fact, when teaching the “lesson of the leg” through the whip or the spurs, hold the horse back (half-halt). Impulsion is the horse thinking forward with more animation and higher, more active hind legs.
Tracking: One must know where a horse’s feet are. First, his shoulders and his hindquarters. Through his influences the rider first must be able to make the horse “track straight,” left hind, left front, right hind, right front. Then he can understand shoulder-in, haunches-in and half-pass. People are usually so fixated on the head and neck that they forget the whole horse.
With The Motion: It’s best for any and every rider to master posting and jumping “with the motion” before attempting the much more complete “behind the motion.” “Ahead of the motion,” of course, is never right, but one doesn’t often see that anymore. The advantage of course with riding “with the motion” is the smoothness and ease of both horse and rider. One is with the horse before he posts; one is with the jump before the jumps. To differentiate the rider closes his hip angle, inclines to the front about 30 degrees, and is thrown forward and upward (with the motion).
Riding “behind the motion” the rider goes upward and forward catching up with his horse. His hip angle is open and his upper body is on the vertical. Personally I like riding and teaching both methods to more advanced riders.
Two-Point Versus Three-Point Contact: For galloping on straight lines or gradual turns two-point contact is used (both legs on the horse). For sharper turns and the approach to a jump three-point contact is used (both legs and the seat). For galloping and jumping, both positions should be practiced. Riders sit down in the saddle too much today, which is not only bad for their riding but bad for their horse. Good trainers teach the horse self-balance or self-carriage. Teach the horse to go with less—less hand, less leg, less seat.
Eyes: We all look down too much. Check yourself next time you ride. I know I look down too much. A good exercise is to look at focal points when you ride. The instructor makes an ideal focal point. It`s like driving a car. Keep your eyes on the road.
Equilibrium: (Balance) I’m doing a lot of grid work again. No-stride in-and-outs with no stirrups, no reins, no sticks, no spurs. The fences are very low (about 2’6″) and the riders quickly develop security, balance, coordination and confidence. We used to do a lot of this work and then forgot it.
Jumping Out Of Hand: If you do a lot of grid work, jumping out of hand (automatic release) for the more advanced riders will be within reach, although it does take practice. This release gives the rider total control. It’s a dying art because we are all lazy and depend on the neck of the horse too much for support.
As I’ve said, these are just some of the points and techniques that I’ve observed, both here and in other countries, which need to be worked on in order to better our riding, teaching and training. We all tend to drift into gimmicks, fashions and fads. Our job is to try to maintain a classic line no matter what horses we ride and train and no matter whom we teach. Fashions come and go. Style never changes.