The summer camp started on Tuesday 24th September where Eric Smiley FBHS was going to be doing gridwork sessions focusing on mental gymnastics. There was a line set up in the indoor arena, but Eric promptly changed the lay out.

I was in the first group of the afternoon and you could tell straight away Eric wasn’t going to accept any “waffle”. We had to give him clear and precise answers and we were questioned a lot to really clarify our understanding and to make sure what we say can be understood by the clients we teach.

We started working on a 20m circle with poles at each four points and we had to focus on riding forwards, straight and regular. Eric wouldn’t use rhythm as it is a different thing to regular (if there’s a three-time beat with a moment of suspension then there’s rhythm but we then need to make sure the canter is regular). We also had to keep out of the saddle and in a light seat. It was discussed that all the top riders keep a light seat, in particular we discussed Andrew Nicholson’s position.

These poles were then raised to jumps and again we had to keep the canter regular. The exercise then progressed to riding a figure of eight with a bounce, all the while making sure we kept riding forwards, straight and regular but not riding any corners! The theme continued through all three grid sessions.

After the grid sessions, we were very fortunate to observe a study being conducted by The Animal Health Trust on the use of Water Treadmills. They are conducting this study as currently water treadmill use isn’t regulated and there isn’t evidence to show its effects. They put GPS sensors on the horse and filmed the horse walking up in hand on the hard prior to going onto the treadmill. Once complete the horse went onto the treadmill and the water levels were increased throughout the session and at every increment the horse was filmed for 20 seconds. The water went to knee/hock height at the end. After 15 minutes on the treadmill the water was drained, the horse was stationary and had measurements of its back taken and recorded. After this, the horse was then walked in hand whilst being filmed. This is done every time to measure and analyse any changes in the horse’s muscles and movement. After we were also lucky to have a debate with Rachael Corry the Equine Bowen Therapist & Director of Wellingtons therapy centre.

Wednesday morning, Eric started with two flatwork lessons where the theme from Tuesday continued – riding the horses forward, straight and regular. Eric wanted the riders to control the balance and get the horse to sit and wait whilst keeping the hind leg active and under and not to let it drop out.

This continued into the SJ lessons where we also focussed on the riding the line and pace. We still weren’t allowed to ride corners as corners change the canter whereas riding a curve doesn’t. We still had to be clear and precise and not give any waffle. Throughout all lessons, Eric got us to look at the horse’s eyes and ears as they will lock and hone in on where they’re going. It is our job to consistently ride the canter forwards, straight and regular and it was the horse’s job to do the jump and if it didn’t, we were to change nothing – the horse must want to do it. If they knocked a pole, we were to growl at them to give them a conscience and make them allergic to paint!

After the SJ lessons, there was a Pony Club demonstration where Eric taught two plucky PC girls.  One called “Aoife, Caoimhe, Maeve Murphy” who had her D+ badge and Ann who didn’t have any PC badges. These riders are also known as Jillie Rogers BHSI and Ann Bostock BHSI! Now, Eric took his life into his own hands and made them jump the jumps as a pair as he stood between them to keep them straight! It was all good fun and light entertainment.

We stopped for a yummy lunch put on by the Café at Wellington before going XC, which if I do say so myself, was FANTASTIC! The emphasis was still on riding clear and precise and forwards, straight and balanced. In the warmup, we had to jump to the line. Eric put two bits of bark on a log and we had to ride between them straight and on angles. We discussed and put to practice riding away from fences as well as riding on curves to shorten the course which will help to make the optimum time. He got us jumping lines that really got us thinking.

After XC we watched and discussed two young horses being ridden by David and Mandy. During this time, it was very much a discussion on how Eric produces his youngsters, and the confirmation and going of the two horses in front of us. He wanted the horses to be relaxed and forwards, not us putting them into an outline. He said he would much prefer to have a contact, not an outline as that can come later.  He wanted the horse’s poll up and out to prevent the nose going on its chest.

Next up for this full-on day was loose jumping two young horses. One owned by Cheryl (for a week) and the other was David’s. We discussed how loose jumping can be done badly and how we must avoid this. We would see how the horses went as to what we would do with the jumps next – guide rail, shortening the distance, putting a block in etc.

In the evening, we again had a super dinner thanks to the café before an exclusive evening talk and book launch with Eric which was very interesting and we could buy a signed copy of the book “Two Brains, One Aim”

Thursday morning Eric continued with SJ lessons and Nereide Goodman, List 1 Dressage judge come in to judge a test we had chosen and then work through it with us. The tests ranged from Novice to CCI 2 & 3* and Inter 1. It was so useful to hear the comments and marks in our ear whilst doing the test and working through certain movements afterwards was invaluable. I also found Nereide very much coached in a similar style to Eric, we had to keep it regular and to control the shoulders and keep the hind leg active and engaged as that’s where its won or lost.

The whole camp was superb, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank David and the team at Wellington Riding along with Eric and Nereide for superb lessons. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels enthused, refreshed and motivated for coaching clients and riding. 

Report written by Charlotte Tarrant BHSI

“Galloping the Green Strip” Report from Burghley Course Walk with Eric Smiley

As one approached the second fence on the Burghley 2019 course, the meeting point for the F and I course walk, it was hard to control the excitement at spotting “the flower bed” which was more like a raised bed for a giant.  It is only human nature to design courses which you would like to ride yourself and when walking the course you “must think of the psychology of the designer”, in this case Captain Mark Phillips.  Eric emphasised Mark always rode forward and boldly to a fence and the result was his courses asked the same from riders.  The first three fences left us all in no doubt of that, with the second and third asking the horse to get up in the air over a large box and then open out over a large table, sadly not stopping to drink any of the sponsors champagne at this point…

Eric reminded us further round the walk of the three buckets which can easily be emptied whilst riding the course and we should seek to keep them as full as we can at all times:

  • Confidence
  • Energy
  • Time

These buckets are related because as we identify one starting to empty it has a negative effect on the next in line.  If the horse starts to question what he is doing then we result in loss of Confidence, this in turn results in requiring more Energy from horse to keep in between the flags, thus resulting in Time being wasted setting the horse up for each fence and ultimately we run out of time.  As one rides the course it is important to assess how full these buckets are, for example when a horse has an awkward jump/experience through a combination then the rider should assess if the Confidence has been reduced and may choose to take an alternative which refills the bucket. 

Time can be easily lost in many areas of the course because of the proximity of the crowds (around the main arena) or trees (Winners Avenue).  The whole course was neatly roped off and narrow in many places which can gives the impression of travelling at a greater speed than you are actually moving.  It is very important to have clear in your mind that you should be “galloping the green strip” not just out for a canter.

Anyone who watch the 2018 Tryon WEG cross country would have seen the issues caused by a simple step, changed only by having water cascading from the step.  Fence 4 gave the first real question where the middle element of the combination on a curved line had a waterfall and this falling water can be difficult for a horse to read.  One can see many of the top riders starting to build extravagant aquatic water features at home as these becomes a popular feature on courses.

At fences 5, 6, 7 and 8 questions started to be asked of the horse and rider combinations where they were challenged to find the correct line and speed.  I was reminded in hindsight having travelled from Edinburgh that jumping is like going on a flight.  We, as the pilot, are responsible for finding the runway and setting the speed, but our horse, the plane, is responsible for the flying.  Thus, we are not dominating the horse to do as we will but instead giving him responsibility to take an active part in his role.  This applies across all the disciplines that we are in charge of the “line and the speed” whether we are approaching the corner of a dressage arena, triple bar to planks or the Leaf Pit at Burghley.   Eric emphasised the importance that we facilitate our horse’s learning, where we give him options and he should always seek to choose the correct one i.e. going through the flags with a pole on the ground for a young horse, which leads him on to jumping a skinny brush as seen on both fences 6 and 7. 

On leaving the Land Rover Valley for the second time fence 8, riders were then into the main course where questions kept coming thick and fast with little time to have a rest.  At most fences there were questions where striding could be discussed till Burghley 2020 and never an answer be found because of the variables:

  • How did my horse take off?
  • How did he land?
  • What did he see mid-air?

The Trout Hatchery, Fence 10, was a prime example as the horse could hang in the air as a result of sighting the water on take-off.  This could lead to many landings, short or long, but the rider should be focussed not on the striding but on riding the horse to the spread in the water at which point it is then the horse’s job to get in the air.  This said the rider must be an active participant ensuring the horse arrives in an acceptable speed and on the correct line.  “Any horse at this level should be able to jump 1.20m out of a few strides of trot” and for those of us who watched the cross country on Saturday, Eric couldn’t have been more correct as we saw many stumbles up the step and the resulting jump over the style being skilfully popped out of trot.

As we travelled on round the course Eric explained the use of safety features which are always of importance because this should be our first priority.  At fences 16, gates, and 22, slate mine, it was very obvious the new design in fence building where the ground line is enhanced with box shaped additions to the front of the fence (see picture).  It has been realised that the addition of these boxes in this case flowers or stones enhance the horse’s ability to judge the take off point.  This aspect of design is very noticeable once pointed out but appears to be only part of the fence presentation.  When asked Eric said it is perhaps worth us exploring the use of plastic blocks or flowers in the arena at home when training with horses who have difficulty finding the groundline at a fence.

Having reached the end of the course a huge thank you was given to Eric for his insight on the course and sharing of his thoughts on riding the fences.  Whilst fielding questions at the end of our course walk Eric put is money where his mouth was and bet on there being 6 riders inside the time.  Fortunately for him only one hand was shaken, or we could have all been a 50p richer by Saturday afternoon.

Report by Richard Johnston-Smith

Report from Hickstead – July 27th 2019

Ladies Day at Hickstead dawned bright and clear – and it didn’t actually rain!  I look forward every year to a day at the Royal International Horse show, watching Show Jumping from the BHS box overlooking the main arena, and meeting up with friends.

It has now become an annual event for the Campbells, Anne and I.  We arrived just after 10am, and parked close to the trade stand area just over five minutes’ stroll from the box.

From the BHS Alex Copeland welcomed us and hosted the day with Michele Carmen.  Coffee was provided on tap with plenty of refills and a splendid buffet lunch with wine and scrummy desserts.  Lunch was consumed with chit-chat and catch-up.  After lunch we had the opportunity to walk the 1.5m course for the Queen Elizabeth II Cup.

The thing that takes the breath away is the size of the fences. Distances, both related and combinations, were standard.  However jumping a large spread fence at 1.40+ to a fairly short double of uprights, on a dog-leg, on eight strides, was quite a challenge.  Some did eight, some did seven, and one did six!   As one would expect the standard was high in everything seen – Show Jumping, Showing, Driving. The BHS Box offers one of the best views of the arena, you can see most of the arena and what you cannot see directly is on two large screens.

The trade stands were right outside and busy and offered an excellent range of horse gear covering a wide price range. There was also International Dressage just a stroll away.

The weather was kind, the food was excellent, the location at the side of the main arena was second to none and Jillie was her usual buoyant cheery self with Fab Fran taking photos. It was a privilege to be there, and slightly sad there were not more of us. Just over twenty! The price is superb for what we get, and the venue is outstanding – and we must fill the box next year.

I am looking forward to next year, come and join us for a great Saturday.

Julian Campbell July 2019

Report from the North West Training day with Andrew Bennie FBHS

Myerscough International Arena, 20th June 2019

The topic of the day was ‘Suppleness and Straightness within the Jump Arena’. We were all looking forward to Andrews’s wealth of knowledge and experience, plus the opportunity to catch up with friends and fellow peers.

The morning started with a couple of hours of flatwork, Andrew worked with horses of various levels, and throughout, the theme was ensuring the rider maintained their own balance and posture, therefore enabling the horse to balance and cover the ground in a correct rhythm and tempo. Riders were encouraged to improve the suppleness of the horses by being clearer when performing lateral movements, ensuring the horse was correct and soft around the inside leg, lighter in the shoulder and showing greater self-carriage. A perfect chance to brush up on correct positioning, and get test ready. Some very helpful pointers, greatly received, to get the extra mark in our next test!

The rest of the day consisted of jump sessions, Andrew started each session working horses over a grid, assessing the horses confidence and ability. The 4 year olds had chance to play with some poles first, giving them time to think and work out what was required, then progressed to the grid in a sensible manner. Each group went from the grid, then linked two related distances around the arena, so to encourage forward thinking and fluency.

Much was discussed about the technique and suppleness of each horses jump, and how the grid could be altered to assist with the training and development of the individual horses. Wide parallel’s/ double of cross poles as a spread/ V poles and straightening poles were all used throughout the day. Andrew explained he wanted to encourage the horse to think more, and during the day, referred to the horse’s confidence or lack of security and how as riders/ trainers we can offer so much support to the horses, by our feel, giving the horse time and again… encouraging the horse to think and assess what is required.

During the jump sessions, discussions and feedback from each rider was encouraged, riders were engaged and very keen to improve the feelings they were experiencing. At one point in the day, even though much was discussed about stride patterns and what the horse was comfortable with, Andrew still encouraged ‘Riding with your Instinct!’ as ‘sometimes you have to just go with what you feel’

Andrew was clear, calm and explained everything in an easy manner, he promoted the harmony within the horses and riders and everybody took much from the day, and thoroughly enjoyed the sessions.

The only complaint of the day was ‘Please turn the Air Conditioning on! This must be the warmest indoor arena I’ve been in!! I can assure you its lovely in winter!

From all that attended, Thank you Andrew for a fantastic day!

Report by Kirsten Owen BHSI

Report from the F&I Irish Day

How lucky were we to wake up to a glorious sunny morning in Co Kildare, for our Irish F and I day.

On arrival to Jessica Harringtons yard at 10 o’clock , we found that we had only missed one lot as they do not start till 8 as many of the staff have yards of their own. Our first vision was the infamous Sizing John, Gold Cup winner in 2017. Sizing John was just on road work due to being in rehab after an injury, which included trotting for up to 4 miles every day. Jessica and her daughters,

Emma and Kate are firm believers that roadwork is an important part of strengthening the horses after an injury.

We then watched over 25 two year olds trotting in a sand arena with their work riders, made up of some permanent staff and others freelance, which was fairly exciting!

Jessica watched them on each rein in trot,  before giving individual instructions to each rider for that day. We then walked to one of the gallops to watch them work in pairs or individually, and we were impressed at the speed that even the two year olds travel.

She has around 140 horses with capacity for 170, both jump and flat and they are in every corner of the farm. This included some areas offering 24 hour turnout, for horses with respiratory or stress issues.  The colts are all stabled in a new block with plenty of fresh air and a new type of lights called equi-lume, which keep them calmer and more relaxed as they cannot be turned out.

Interestingly, all the horses are only fed with locally grown hay which gets tested for aspergillus, ( a fungus which grows in damp conditions)  they have four feeds a day, which includes racehorse cubes, mix and fibre based nuts, which are fed last to keep food in their gut for longer.

They are weighed every Monday morning and all horses are tested for viruses before setting foot in the yard. The manure is taken away by local farmers for bedding for their cows, and rain water is collected and used to wash off the horses.. There are three horse walkers and an indoor school which has new perspex doors to make it lighter and so you can see in without disturbing the horses.

Each rider has their own saddle to use on their allotted rides for the day, with a towel under a padded numnah for ease of washing and hygiene . Jessica keeps the same combination of horse and rider together as much as possible. 

It was an extremely friendly, efficient, family run yard with a relaxed atmosphere which showed in the horses demeanour, we all loved our morning, what a treat!!!!

In the afternoon we  ‘raced’  to the Irish National Stud to have a very informative tour from David.  We saw how their stallions had huge paddocks each in which they were turned out in every day,  the mares and foals looked very relaxed in their fields and the retired legends , Rite of Passage, Beef or Salmon, Hardy Eustace, Kicking King and the amazing Hurricane Fly are apparently the main attraction.

There are seven stallions standing there, with fees ranging from €1000 to €120,000, they naturally cover at least 100 mares each, and some of them then fly to Australia for the season.

Interestingly, Colonel William Hall Walker , who founded the stud in 1900 was influenced by Astrology which determined which foals he kept and trained. 

He also installed a Japanese garden of Eternity, and the now Irish government owned stud continues to progress and develop and we look forward to viewing the new interactive museum which opens in 2020.

Many thanks to Faith Ponsonby for organising a great F and I day and we are already looking forward to next years trip!!!

Report by Annette Christey