Burghley Horse Trials Day 2

Day 2 at Burghley Horse Trials was as lovely as Day 1. The sun shone brightly and the air was warm. There was clearly far more people at the event today as the stands by the 4th Session were standing room only. The riding continued to impress with Mark Todd and Oliver Townend holding most of the top spots. It was interesting to watch obviously frisky horses being made to behave and do as they are told. There was clearly Dressage By Negotiation today.

Because I don’t feel I know it all, we were able to purchase small ear radios which broadcast expert commentary. It did my heart good to note that my observations from yesterday were spot on, not to mention the moment one of the commentators actually said, “Corners are your friends” when discussing appropriate distances in the test. I didn’t stand up a shout Buh-yah! but I did feel like it.

Back to what I saw…. Some things we need to be working on and I will be pushing us toward is a greater use of the back end of the horse. The horse must move from back to front and not the other way around. The back end must provide the impulsion while the front end provides the direction. I know I have said this before, but again, I feel I have more veracity now. This back impulsion is so clearly evident in the Extended Trot where the horses seem to float over the grass rather that stomp through it. The deep step with the upward thrust to make the stride provides the lifting power this movement requires. I see lots of trotting poles in our future…….

Continuing with the use of the flank, the commentators gave a lovely talk about the stretching of the horse from the flank to the bit in the walk. Again, the power of the Extended Walk comes from the inside(!) hind leg which drives the outside shoulder and should make the horse want to step through the bit. I am suspecting this is more than Magic’s “throw my head down and evade the bit”. In the midst of all this, the horse’s head must be free to move in a natural manner. There is a real art to getting just the right amount of touch on the reins to allow all of this. We have lots to work on!

The last thing I’d like to discuss is the Halt and Rein Back. This seemed to be a bit of bugbear for many of the competitors. The previous move was a Collected Trot coming from M. The key was to stop square without going through walk. Once the horse stops, he must be both relaxed, aware and prepared. He can not switch off, start swinging his head or chew his bit. In a few cases, please don’t drool either. Once the horse has stood square, then there is the balanced walk back of 5 steps. It is vital that this be done in diagonal pairs with deliberate steps. The horse must not display any tension or resistance to the move or the aids. Uh…yeah. Did I mention it also has to be straight with no swinging of the quarters? Now I know this can be mastered by (many) hours of practice and is a good thing for the horse to know in case it gets itself caught in a tight space, but it is tricky. What I noted was that many competitors rushed the Halt to Rein Back. The horse was not actually square and settled before making the backward movement and this resulted in a myriad of small errors which seriously affected the marks. Also, because the back steps were not positive, many actually dragging a foot, the next move of striding off into a Medium Walk looked more Riding School Pedantic than World Class Equestrian – and the marks made that point.

Today was great and, yes, the missing circle which has become known as #MarkToddMoment, did appear. Apparently under FEI rules for Eventing, the repeat and correction of a missed move is allowed in Dressage because these are not specifically dressage trained horses. As these horses are All-Arounders, some grace must be given. I am glad that there is some recognition of this, but I do have to say that I am incredibly impressed by the level of training and presentation these horses have. There are several that I am convinced could compete in pure Dressage and place in the very top. I am looking forward to tomorrow as Burghley as had a bit of a facelift this year. The course walk should be fascinating and the competition amazing!