Report on the Equestrian Coaching in the 21st Century CPD Seminar

Sam York FBHS and the Equine team at Nottingham Trent University presented the inaugural ‘Equestrian Coaching in the 21st Century’ CPD seminar for industry professionals. The day aimed to bridge the gap between research and front-line practitioners, providing a multi-directional seminar that encouraged debate about the uses of current technology, relevant to equestrian sports coaching.

A selection of talented students rode whilst presenters from Nottingham Trent University and the industry demonstrated novel concepts, uses for technology, and current research that has direct application to the industry. The public conference attracted a good deal of interest from around the country, and as a result, there are plans to deliver the seminar at various venues around the UK and Ireland. The day revolved around thought-provoking discussions based on improving coaching technique, including integrating methods used in other sports, cutting edge research and considering how we can use a variety of novel methods for equestrian athletes at all levels.

Delegates recognised the complexities of new technology, and the fear of it being unreliable, unavailable and expensive, as well as too difficult to use. There was agreement that these types of workshops allowed coaches to consider and share new techniques, and as a result, they would become more comfortable trialling novel methods. Additionally, understanding young people’s use of technology can help to increase young rider engagement and allow coaches to work with them in a preferred and effective way.

One topic for this first event was assessing rider gaze behaviour using an eye-tracking device.  Presented by Dr Carol Hall, This device indicates exactly where the rider is looking by placing a circle of focus onto a screen showing the rider’s field of view.  This was demonstrated live on the large screen in the Mary King Arena at NTU’s Brackenhurst campus.  Final year BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science student Lizzie Baugh, who has also just been selected for Team GB at the Young Rider European Championships in Eventing, was put through her paces by Nick Turner FBHS.  Whilst she jumped a selection of fences the audience could see exactly where she was looking on the large screen. This sparked a great discussion on where the rider was looking and should look, as well as suggestions for future research to investigate the effects of where the rider looks on the horse’s way of going.  This could feed into coach education as to where riders should be encouraged to look and the possibility of that being different for the different disciplines. https://youtu.be/jXgVVIBd0lc

 Other technologies, such as computer modelling of falls, safety implications of posture, presented by Lauren Birkbeck (MRes), investigating saddle design and stirrup length and their subtle implications, also generated great debate.  This again was one of the great benefits of the day, where academic researchers and front line coaches could talk openly and share their own expertise, assisting both parties with a view to improving equitation and sport horse training across the board.

Further technologies and discussion on the day consisted of benefits and considerations of immediate visual feedback, video analysis and appropriate apps that were easy to use for coach and rider, as well as an insight to the current research and benefits of these and other techniques being used in a variety of sporting environments.

Rein tension technology was also demonstrated at length and this really did bring some lively debate, mainly on the amount of tension / weight that should be in the riders hand. This was a great demonstration of where technology could quantify what the naked eye cannot. This section also highlighted that the technology alone is never enough; just because a gadget can tell us a number we could aim for, whole picture must be addressed.  The rein tension may be “optimal”, but if the horse’s overall way of going is not desirable, then we as coaches have to step in and adjust. This was very well highlighted by one of our guest delegates Carole Broad FBHS, and perfectly illustrated the need and want for greater collaboration between researchers and practitioners. This event will be running at further venues across the UK and Ireland and it will be one that you will not want to miss.

It’s very important that we really embrace a quick moving sports science industry that we keep up with other professional sports and ensure we are the leaders in equestrian sports around the world.

This does not take anything away from the great traditional coaching; depth of experience and tried and tested techniques will never be replaced, it simply enhances what great coaches are able to do.  These practices will be backed up with the reassurance that the ‘what and why’ of modern coaching techniques are proven with researched evidence.  To conclude, this seminar was always intended to be a two-way conversation; to showcase technologies and research, to encourage discussion and debate, and to learn from each other; this is the real value of days such as this.

                                         

F and I Study Day with Judy Harvey

On Monday 8th May, 11 members of the F and I association and friends spent a very fruitful day with Judy Harvey. The morning session was filled with an eclectic mix of five horses, working at different levels, ranging from retired racehorses to a very game grey cob. These were followed by 3 superstar horses ridden by Judy’s working pupils and a client.

Judy’s insightful observations and suggestions were ‘to the point’ and resulted in improvements with all the horse/rider combinations. The common thread was the need to ‘wait with energy’ in the paces and movements and allow the horse time to find its balance. Much emphasis was placed on working on the problems that arose, quietly and with empathy, through understanding the strengths and weakness of the horse.

It was a pleasure to see all the horses quietly grow and improve, even if they had to work through ‘difficult’ patches. This was achieved by very astute and clear direction from Judy and sympathetic riding by all the riders.

There was also much input and banter from the ringside gallery. The ‘Gold Star’ was awarded to Sally the grey cob and ridden by Ann Bostock for the best flying changes of the day.

A big thank you to Judy for welcoming us to her yard for the day and filling the day with knowledge and understanding. And a big thank you to Ann for organising the day.

Report by Richard Evans

Report of F&I Badminton Course Walk 2017 with Eric Smiley FBHS

This year at Badminton the BHS Fellows and Instructors Association were treated to a course walk with Eric Smiley FBHS. Born and raised in Ireland, Eric spent 10 years in the cavalry Regiment then decided to pursue a Professional career with horses. Having trained at Talland to gain his BHSI he then returned to Ireland. He gained his Fellowship in 1995 and now lives in Dorset with his wife Sue.

Eric gained his first team selection in 1985 for the European Championships at Burghley. Since then, he has represented Ireland at two European Championships, three World Equestrian Games and been on four Olympic Teams competing at Barcelona and Atlanta as well as a regular competitor at Badminton and Burghley.

To begin the walk Eric asked everyone to imagine which horse they had brought with them to ride around Badminton – to think of its strengths and weaknesses and to keep those in mind when approaching each fence. He stressed that the rider’s main responsibilities would be pace and line throughout.

Eric thinks that there are three types of rider who arrive at Badminton, those who are just happy to be there, those who are determined to get round clear and those who are there to win! He explained that each of these groups would have a different plan of attack for cross country day.

As the walk progressed it was clear that Eric Smiley was determined to make this a learning experience for all, asking questions and getting observers to analyse each fence for their particular horse.

The first fence the group looked at was fence three, the Keepers Question, a large table with a gaping hole underneath. We were asked to imagine the fence with a solid front. He advised that the dimensions were perfectly acceptable at this level and the hole was just there to let the riders know that the designer Eric Winter meant business!

As we approached fence four, Mike Weavers Haywain, Eric drew attention to the undulating ground which would help the horse to balance itself before the fence, also the steep rise and the ledge would help the horse to come to a good take off spot. He discussed making the time at 4* level and at this fence the rider should not be needing to balance the horse a long way before the fence, thus losing valuable seconds.

Fence five, Savills staircase was the first combination – the old Beaufort Staircase. There was a choice of a left or right hand rail in, steps down to a skinny angled brush. Eric emphasised the importance of not allowing a horse to deviate from a line and asked us to imagine how we would apply that to our horse. He stressed the importance of not panicking at the A element of combinations because a line would open up in front of the rider and to concentrate on jumping in over the A element well.

Fence six was a new fence, the Countryside birch, with a clever design. Essentially an enormous table made more difficult because of clever course stringing and its position in relation to a large tree on the landing side. At this stage the riders different approaches to the course will become apparent, are they there to get round or to win?

Eric talked about Eric Winter’s subtle use of line throughout the course which will force the rider to think about their options very carefully every step of the way and that this would make this a mentally taxing course for the rider.

Fence seven and eight the L200s and The Lake are early in the course this year. Eric explained that the complex scene which opens up in front of the fence can be distracting for the horse, taking its focus away from the obstacle in front of it. It was important to find a good purposeful take off spot for the pickups. The log into the water he thought should not cause problems, riders should keep the horse’s focus up on the log and not down through the gap. How the rider chose to ride the exit would depend on the horse they are riding, the narrow brushes are angled left or right, and the decision would depend on the horse’s strengths, the right hand brush is slightly faster.

Eric explained that the offset oxer at fence nine is clever use of an optical illusion. The narrower from side to side that a wide fence is, the higher and more daunting it appears.

At the Shogun Hollow fence ten, the route chosen would depend on whether your horse jumps right or left hand corners better. Clever use of fence dressing makes the approach to the second corner on the fast route challenging; the trick here would be not to disturb the horse’s rhythm going through the hollow.

At KBIS eleven and twelve, the first crossing of the vicarage ditch, Eric again emphasised the importance of line and suggested that riders who had had problems at ten may choose to jump the clever separately numbered alternative.

There are two options at the Outlander bank 13ab. Selection of route would depend on your horses stride length and way of going. The approach canter needs to be punchy and uphill. The shorter distance on the right hand route would suit a more compact horse and has a more forgiving landing. The left hand route would suit a longer striding horse and would see the horse landing further down the bank.

The Trakehner at 14 should not cause trouble at this level and was a great photo opportunity!

The Hildon Water Pond at 15abc is clever use of terrain and line and comes in the middle of the most difficult section of the course from fence 8 – 20. At this point we may see horses start to lose confidence and riders adjust their plan accordingly and start to take alternative routes.

Fence 16 is described as a let-up fence, but Eric stressed the importance of remaining focused throughout the course.

Fence 17 the Mirage Pond. Eric took the group to the exit side of the pond and again explained the importance of not panicking when the line to the B element of a combination is not visible, in this case it was a ‘simple’ brush off a curving line.

Fence 18 was a large oxer followed by the PHEV corral at 19ab. This fence was a new concept and interesting use of fence dressing to create a seemingly impossible line to the B element. Eric discussed the use of fence dressing as a distraction among a mass of rails and the challenge which the rider has to keep the horse focussed at this stage of the course.

Fence 20 the Event mobility Dining Table is straightforward but followed by 21 which is a treble of maximum dimensions. An accuracy question at this stage of the course should not be underestimated. The distances are forward thinking and would require good attacking cross country riding.

Fence 22 was a bull finch out of the far end of the Lake, not commonly seen these days. As a result of rider complaints, the brush had been thinned before the start of the competition. Despite it being unfamiliar Eric hoped that it would not cause many problems.

Fence 23abc Huntsmans Close had been softened this year and involved a related distance of log piles. Whilst walking the course with riders Eric had stressed the importance of not being distracted by the position of the trees on take-off and landing but to focus instead on riding a curving line between the fences. By doing this the line would open up in front of the rider!

At 24 the World Horse Welfare Gates, Eric again stressed positive riding of a curving line rather than sharp corners, so as not to break the horse’s rhythm thereby leading to an unfortunate mishap.

There only remained the Quarry at 25 which involved more undulations and angles and a double of very large box hedges at 27 and 28. At this stage Eric stressed that they would need accurate riding as the horses would have weary legs and mistakes come all too easily.

Eric concluded that you could see the influence of Eric Winter’s Showjumping background on his first Badminton Course. Eric Smiley did not think that this was a ‘normal’ Eric Winter course like Blenheim and that he had truly stepped up to the mark as a designer. Eric thought that a horse and rider combination would grow in stature if they successfully completed this track and he hoped that it would produce the kind of jumping that Eric Winter was looking for!

All that was left was to thank Ann Bostock for organising, although she had to be elsewhere on the day and to thank Eric Smiley for his generous time.

Report by Sally Poppe BHSI

F and I training day at Talland

It was a fun and informative day run by the legendary Pammy Hutton. Held at the impressive Talland school of Equitation.

Pammy started the day on her own young horse. She explained that she would like to get us all to encourage young horses to do more lateral work. In particular, to encourage shoulder in and half pass training early on, to gain greater control in difficult situations when the young horses are nervous or overwhelmed. 

Throughout the day we were lucky to have a super selection of both riding school horses (most of which had competed to a high level) and riders that brought their own horses to the training day. They were all very interesting to watch as they all had super personalities and some were easier to get a tune out of than others. However, all the riders finished with a smile on their faces and seemed to have gained a greater insight into their strengths and weaknesses once they had ridden. 

The day finished with Pammy riding the lovely Magnum. She explained the rider position checklist she goes through every time she rides. She does lots of work without stirrups to improve her depth of seat and would encourage us all to do the same on a regular basis. She worked on Magnum’s balance and outline, asking him to be a lot more up and out. She talked about the importance of rhythm and how in test riding you can gain so many marks by just riding the movements in a rhythm.

In this last session, it was super to see how Pammy and her daughter Pippa work together as a team to get the best out of one another’s riding. Pippa took no prisoners when correcting Pammy’s mistakes in the canter pirouettes but was quick to praise when things got better. Little corrections pointed out by Pippa in the contact in both the trot and canter work led to better balance and rhythm. Pammy took the instruction with grace and a smile on her face. 

One of the greatest things about these training days is that you realise everyone is nervous about making mistakes or looking inadequate or foolish. Pammy told us all to be more confident and to try to put your best foot forward, but above all to work hard to try to get better every day. The great thing about Pammy is although she is thought of as tough and a bit ‘shouty’ it’s all done from the heart! She genuinely wants you to get better and loves the horses she works with. She’s been there and done it and has so many stories and experiences to share. 

It was lovely to catch up with old friends and make a few new ones. I would like to thank Jeremy Michaels and Jude Mathews for arranging the day and Pammy Hutton for her time and expertise. Also, I would like to note that the office and helpers at Talland were great too!

Report by Sarah Stewart BHSI

Training Day with Nick Turner FBHS

F & I North West Region Training day at Myerscough College, 28th March 2017.

As an F & I member based in Lancashire, and the Stable Yard Manager at Myerscough College, I was delighted to be able to provide the facilities for the North West Region, spring training day.

The day started with a couple of hours of flatwork sessions, then the majority of the day focussed on jumping. However, throughout the day there was a common theme, ‘Less is more’.

Nick was excellent at reminding us all about strong, simple, basics of good riding. He was consistent during the day ensuring we didn’t make things too complicated for the horse or ‘Their shutters will come down and start to say no’ – the horse will struggle to understand what is required.

He highlighted that good preparation was key to success, whether that was riding lateral movements, transitions, or the approach to a fence, being clear not to ‘harass’ the horse. Doing less, was allowing the horse time to digest the information given from the rider, which resulted in a more fluent, clear and calm way of going.

During the jump sessions, there was a variety of obstacles placed well in the arena, to ensure we rode positively and reacted quickly. Nick wanted us to let the horse see its own stride to the fence, ‘just ride forward and straight, allowing the horse to make a decision’. Always reminding us to ‘breathe, relax and keep our body up – not back’. Thus allowing the rider to use their body more effectively, and aid the natural ability of the horse.

I even managed to enjoy a spot of jumping with my reins in one hand – yes this was intentional! It was an extremely effective method to stop the rider, (me on this occasion) interfering with the horse’s rhythm and stride into the fence, trying to place the horse where I thought it needed to be. A fabulous exercise to stop bad habits that we acquire. While maintaining balance, fluency and a forward canter. I am happy to report I wasn’t the only rider to be asked to do this!

Thank you Nick Turner, for your enthusiasm, inspiration and clear sound training advice. Ensuring harmony and understanding between horse and rider.

And thank you Sue Ricketts for organising the day for the North West Region. We are looking forward to the next one!

Report by Kirsten Owen BHSI