It was great to have Jennie Loriston-Clarke back again this year to help and inspire riders and spectators! How many others have her depth and breadth of experience, and such understanding of horses and riders and their training, and her generosity to share this with others and pass the knowledge on!
She teaches with great insight, and quick identification of riders and horses abilities and problems, finding exercises and corrections appropriate to them, given with great energy and enthusiasm, forthrightness, clarity and simplicity, humour and encouragement and praise for improvement.
Jennie always started by finding out what the riders wanted to work on, and there were frequent discussions about what was happening, questions about what the rider was feeling and understanding, and during the work making corrections and adjustments in such a positive and clear way, that riders all made significant progress and were swept along by her energy and enthusiasm – often to achieve more by doing less, but doing it better, feeling more, tuning into the horse better, and always trying to be clear, asking for what was appropriate, and being fair to the horse. Every horse and rider showed real improvement, especially with the continuity and development of the work on the 2nd day.
The emphasis throughout the work was on ensuring the horse was reactive to the aids, which was dependant on riders sitting in a supple and balanced way – giving clear aids, and instantly rewarding with a quiet leg and a forward thinking hand, encouraging the horse to work actively forwards, willingly, and in self carriage. The rider should not be over-working with the aiding, nagging with the legs, over-supporting with the hands, with them doing more and more and the horse less and less! You allow the horse to make a mistake, then correct it, be a bit dramatic if need be, and keep the horse guessing what is coming next, so he is attentive, listening and waiting for you!
Much emphasis was placed on the transitions between and within the paces, where Jennie was looking for the balance in horse and rider, fluency, steadiness in the contact and quick but smooth reactions. In the trot, walk, trot transitions she encouraged riders when training to walk for enough time to get the rhythm and tempo really established. She was concerned that in novice tests where that transition was asked for over 2 or 3 strides, that it was often done too hastily and the walk and transitions suffered accordingly.
There was some discussion about leg-yielding, which Jenny did not particularly like as a movement. She preferred to start with shoulder-fore and shoulder-in, building gradually to travers and half-pass. With a 4 year old she would start with shoulder-fore in walk, then jog a shoulder-in, then step sideways a bit without a bend. She felt that with leg-yielding riders get muddled and ride it so badly, and that the elementary test where they ride a half 10 metre circle into leg-yield is confusing and not performed well. When leg-yielding was being used, she encouraged the riders often to keep the neck straight, with little or no bend away from the movement, and not to let the horse fall out through the shoulders.
Travers was used quite frequently, often with the comment that there needed to be more suppleness, and more bending through the body, while the horse looked straight down the line. In work in halfpass, keeping the rider’s weight into the direction of travel was emphasised, preparing with weight in the inside stirrup around the corner, usually starting in shoulder-fore, making sure the shoulders were leading, and being prepared to make adjustments, either steadying up the shoulders, or bringing the quarters more, feeling for the balance and rhythm, and riding the horse forward and sideways with energy and fluency, sometimes with medium trot, taking care not to block it with an overstrong inside rein. If there was any head tilting, ‘soften the hands and shake him off the rein.’
In all cases riders were encouraged to develop their own balance and core strength, so that they could sit upright and ride the horse forward with their seat, neither getting left behind the movement,nor being pulled forwards and tipped off their seat.
With some horses working on the canter zigzag and flying change work, she encouraged the rider when training, to ride the halfpass, get straight for several strides, and ride the flying change straight, and with one horse, for example, after left halfpass, to ride a little shoulder-in left before the change. Much depended on the horses balance and whether it was falling in or out with the shoulders when making the change and moving onto the new half pass.
In the work on flying changes, with a horse who got very tense and tight, the rider was encouraged to to ride him more forwards, and with another horse who got faster and faster through the tempi changes, to do one or two changes then halt, and possibly reinback, or ride a walk pirouette, then canter on, or ride a canter pirouette at the the end of a line of tempi changes to help set him back – ‘make him not sure what you are going to do and learn to wait for you!’ Riders were encouraged to sit quietly, staying on their seat in the changes, using small but clear aids, given in time -(this was often commented on -‘you were too late with your aid!’) to help the horse’s balance, straightness, forwardness and fluency. Improving the quality and balance of the canter was fundamental to getting good changes, and Jenny did much work using a variety of exercises tohelp a horse who was late behind in the changes. These did not produce the desired effect on the day, but the canter improved and gave the rider some good ideas to work on at home.
When working up to canter pirouettes, Jennie quite often used canter in quarters in on a small circle – the size varied according to the stage of training. With one horse who was just starting this and lacking confidence and then tending to lean on the bit and stopping itself, the emphasis was on using very little hand, very gently turning with the legs, seat and the lightest rein aid, ‘relax and turn your body’, ‘bring your inside shoulder and elbow back to bend her’, ‘just guide the horse round with more outside leg’. She was asked to come in and do a few steps then ride out, sometimes in medium canter, then come back again and gradually build up the work, being quick with the leg and ‘not so much poking the ribs with the spur’. With more experienced horses working on canter pirouettes, time was spent getting the horses canter really reactive forward and back, finding the right balance, engagement, and self-carriage in a ‘pirouette canter’. Some preparatory work was done in quarters in on a circle, taking care not to get too much neck bend, which could then block the inside hind leg. Sometimes they moved from quarters in to shoulder-in on the circle. When riding half canter pirouettes, as in PSG, riders had to make sure they were on the right line between K and X, and approach in a slight shoulder-fore position, not quarters-in, and not spend too long ‘preparing’ the canter, but be able to do so over 2 or 3 strides, half halt, keep the outside rein and turn. ‘The pirouette should be easy!!’ When riding out after the pirouette the rider should really keep the energy, straightness and line inthe counter canter as well as in the change at C.
Most horses worked individually, but there was a pair of very contrasting horses and riders that were very interesting to watch. One horse was ‘hot’, and inclined to get too short and deep in front, and tight in the steps, and the rider rather too ‘electric’, whilst the other horse had bigger but slower movement and needed to offer more effort and energy, and work more consistently in the contact, and the rider needed to ask for more. With the hot horse the request was frequently to ‘let the neck out more’, ‘relax, sit more quietly and softly’, and in the changes ‘do less with the legs – they come too far back, then that tips you off your seat and the horse starts swinging’. In some of the tempi changes ‘he’s doing the rumba! LOOK UP and ride forward more and stay up in front – horse and rider must focus upwards and forwards!’ In the one time changes, the rider needed to balance the horse more between each change as he gets faster and faster. Throughout the horse needed to relax more to enable him to work with bigger steps.
Some work was done on going from large walk pirouettes directly into a canter pirouette, and when approaching on a straight line to think shoulder fore. This rider was encouraged to work in walk – do shoulder-in, halfpass to the centre line, straighten, then a half walk pirouette – keeping the work relaxed but very precise, rider and horse correctly positioned and fluent. Jennie said she would not do this work with the other horse who needed to be kept more active and forward.
With the other horse, when warming up she was told not to worry if he did’nt want to stretch at the start, especially when they are fresh, but to keep the contact, and feel how much better the working trot was on the second day, and he was working well through his back. ‘You have to be able to ride into the connection for them to have something to stretch out to’. ‘Take care not to let the quarters swing outwards on turns and circles’. ‘Don’t waggle with your legs – the horse must canter FOR you, not BECAUSE of you!’ Much work was done on transitions within the paces, getting more energy, and when collecting the rider needs to find and keep the same rhythm with shorter, higher steps, and then he must GO, being instant in his reaction, not taking 3 strides over it. In the halfpass work the horse needed to move over more – if need be turn it into a leg yield, and be more incisive. In half passes take care not to be too strong with the inside rein and be stopping and blocking him. If he is tilting his head, soften your hands, shake him off your hands. ‘Bend your elbows, don’t have stiff arms’. When riding the SI and ride straight between the changes – sit stiller – don’t twist and throw your body about – be in time with your aids
When riding the tempi changes – SIT STRAIGHT and ride straight between the changes – sit stiller – don’t twist and throw your body about – be in time with the aids! Much improvement was shown with both horses, especially on the second day.
One rider was encouraged to relax more throughout, the other to be more demanding, and not be happy because he offered something nice and then stop, but keep going, get him fitter and work him harder!
There were also some excellent group discussions with Jenny Ward, Tim Downes and Carol Bennitt, which all enjoyed and gave people a chance to ask questions and talk at more length about what was happening, and various ways of dealing with problems that occur in training.
It was a superb two days, and this report only begins to touch on the depth and detail in Jennie’s teaching. I know everyone would want to say a huge THANK YOU to Jennie for all her help, and sharing her knowledge so generously with all of us!
Report by Cherry Elvin