There is no doubt in my mind that this visit was the best day’s training any F&I member could possibly have done – or anyone who is passionate about training riders and horses. Because that was what was on offer : passion about training, open discussions, detailed questioning on strategy and tactics from a dozen slightly differing points of view, revealing fascinating answers…
There were interesting horses to ride and assess, and for several the chance to sit on superb schoolmasters and top competition horses, plus clear and to-the-point feedback from one of the UK’s top coaches. And you didn’t even have to ride if you didn’t want to or weren’ t fit – just watch and discuss and take it all in. What more could one want?
The only problem was the torrential weather, which made several attendees late as roads were closed around Cirencester – but all recovered their poise and we just carried on – which is of course also what Talland does par excellence!
The format was tweaked this year to incorporate both riding and assessing, AND a glimpse into the training methods of Talland on horses ranging from youngsters to potential Young Rider and Grand Prix prospects. Somehow it all fitted into four hours, and I think proved to be the perfect mix.
Pammy started off (while the late-comers were arriving) still on her horse so she demonstrated for us the self-discipline she applies to herself every single day she rides. She talked us through her checklist : seat – leg – seat – upper body – head – elbows – hands – seat again. Before our eyes the already good became better and better. She requested coaching from her son Charlie who was also still schooling, and he thoughtfully assessed her seat and offered a few well-chosen words – and it became better still. And this became the theme of the day – the effectiveness of the seat, and the endless and passionate pursuit of perfection in training horses and riders.
Then we moved onto a checklist for assessing horses – type, temperament, movement – what does it know, what to do to improve it, job in life and price. The watchers were then treated to the background information on what was in the arena!
Whilst watching the F&I riders not (it has to be said) looking quite like Pammy or Charlie(!) but nevertheless doing a great job settling in and working their allocated horses, discussions ranged over equine disorders (stringhalt, shivering), management of horses keeping close to nature, and the nature of the scales of training as a circular rather than a pyramid structure – “a bit more of this and a bit less of that, and circle back again to a bit more of the other”… and what makes a Gold Medallist (amongst other things, the ability to produce the goods at the right moment down that centre line).
And then Pammy’s phone goes off – the nervously-anticipated call came through from Anne Dunham in Hong Kong – she’d got her Individual Gold. Well, I’ve never seen so many stalwart Fellows and Instructors of the British Horse Society reaching for their hankies.
As they say, you had to be there…. And we hadn’t even got to the first assessment of horses!
Well, we got the assessing done and swapped mounts, whilst the gallery watched the riders settling in better on their second horses and improving the work further with Pammy’s guidance.
Discussion moved on to conformation of the neck and shoulder as a determinant of whether a particular horse should work deeper and down, deeper and out, or not deep at all, in order to have it working “through” its body to the contact… family differences of opinion on the matter were discussed and evaluated, and different outlines experimented with in front of us to watch the results. There was a certain amount of nervous speculation as to whether Mrs Sivewright would come and join us from the other end of the school, and what would ensue!
The second group of horses came in and riders were matched sensitively, and again we watched top coaching in action. Fitness levels in our riders began to tell, but all were inspired and helped by the horses and by Pammy’s watchful eye.
Then began the bonus session – the typical rich Talland assortment of (in this case) impending Blenheim competitors, F&I members’ horses, and the Talland team riders (primarily Laura and Charlie) on a variety of talented horses. Discussion moved on to training flying changes – simple changes, the small circle and change out, the counter canter and change in, use of half passes – and then Pammy taught us all a fun exercise to teach the green or uncoordinated horse to change (at all) behind. We watched this from first principles in walk to the final result (in only his second lesson) in the event horse who – hey presto – now changed true! [For the record, go from a left corner onto the short diagonal and straight into right halfpass in order to teach the horse to put its weight onto the new hindleg and bring it forward into the new bend…]
Ooh, lots of discussion, we were having fun.
Then we moved swiftly on to the requirements now internationally for a really impressive trot – up, swinging and expressive right through the body – and how to ride “collection” to achieve these bigger trots. We had Charlie demonstrating his new-found German training for us – yep, there they were, huge expressive trots being developed before our eyes, through some inspiring riding and half-halts from his seat which were out of a different stratosphere to what we all normally manage… this young man’s going to give Carl Hester a run for his money some time soon!
The importance of really taking care over warm-ups and cooldowns was stressed – Charlie having come back from Germany convinced of 25 minute warm-ups before doing any hock-engaging work such as piaffe so as not to bring on suspensory problems. (Then there were the deals to be done over cooling off the horses for him…)
And the requirement always to have a “learning” attitude and be prepared to take on new ideas and coaching throughout one’s life…
Finally we talked about the requirements for becoming a Fellow of the BHS – we had three terrific ones in front of us. And, in the course of discussions, Pammy mentioned one of my heroes, Barbara Slane Fleming. I recalled what an eye-opener into the world of riding and creating a dressage horse Barbara was for me, and how, if it wasn’t for Barbara, I wouldn’t have been sitting in Pammy’s gallery having such a brilliant and inspiring morning…
Which I guess is why we all do it. Thank you Barbara. And thank you Pammy. Thank you Fs&Is.
Tuesday 9th September 2008
(from Alison Craig)