Tag Archives: Good Riding Principles

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!

The Question of Weight

The question of a rider’s weight is a tricky minefield. I am the last person to ask about weight as I am currently struggling with post injury weight gain, but I do have both knowledge and opinions. Providing you have the right horse and are in good physical health, there is no reason why anyone can’t ride.

I remember a article I came across a few years back asking who was actually healthier: an 8 stone (112lb) model or a 14 stone (196 lbs) rugby player. Both were women. After a series of tests it was decided that the rugby player was more fit because she was actively involved in sport, but they were both healthy — albeit the model was on the lower edge of what was good for her. The rugby player was full of muscle and had a good BMI, heart rate, and cholesterol. The model had virtually no fat, exceedingly low BMI, good heart rate & cholesterol, but she did smoke. So why was the model preferred over the rugby player? Aesthetics. Fashion. Culture.

Currently the fashion is at many colleges to not allow anyone over 12 stone (168 lbs) to ride. They say the horses can’t take it. It is not healthy for the horses. It is bad for their backs. This is where common sense and emotions clash. Even in my most fit and healthy days as a competitive adult I would have struggled to meet the 12 stone guideline. My body isn’t made that way.  My doctor has said I need to be 13 stone (miles from my current 15). But what is important is not just the rider’s weight, but an accurate measurement of what a horse can easily carry.

I had a long talk with my Vet, Laura, about this very conversation as we now have a new, fine boned pony. I thought she was a touch underweight but Laura is convinced that Rosie is just great as she is. So we talked riders and weights. Now in Rosie’s case the rider’s weight isn’t going to be an issue as she will only carry small children. But what about Magic? Or Dora? Or Henry? What should they carry?

I have seen women (yes women and never a man!) ride a small to small-ish pony —  Callie & Pasha types– and they are clearly too big for their mount. They are 13 stone and not a very trim ones at that. It is obvious to all the spectators that the horse is struggling and possibly in pain. Yet these women are allowed to complete and even win their class. Yes the horse doesn’t run out on them or buck or spin, and I suspect it is because they simply physically can’t do it with that weight on them. What makes me furious is that the Stewards allow them to continue. I only know of 1 case where a Steward stepped in and stopped the ride. The stink from it was amazing and filled many Comments sections. I thought we equestrians were in it for being with the horse and not just being in it for ourselves.

There is real damage an overweight for the horse rider can do. The pressure on the back and spine can cause permanent disfigurement and/or something called Kissing Spine, where the vertebrae touch. It can cause psychological issues or trauma. The time needed to “fix” this is long and arduous. In cases of Kissing Spine there is no come back and the horse must be retired from riding to be a companion.  They will live the rest of their life on pain killers. All because someone really didn’t think before they rode.

So how do we make a reasonable decision regarding the weight of the rider versus the comfortable weight a horse can carry?  I looked up guidelines of various national and international organisations to find this answer.  Not that I am 100% perfect on this, but here is the formula I came up with:

= [(xkg x 0.2) x 2.2] ÷ 14

The total weight to be carried (∑) is equal to the weight of the horse in kilograms (xkg) times 20%. This will give you a Kilo weight guideline. If you need the guideline is pounds, then multiply that answer by 2.2.  If, like me, you need it in Stones, then divide the pounds answer by 14.

For my horses over 20, I use this formula

= {[(xkg x 0.2) x 2.2] –1xYR}÷ 14

The total weight to be carried (∑) is equal to the weight of the horse in kilograms (xkg) times 20%. This will give you a Kilo weight guideline. If you need the guideline is pounds, then multiply that answer by 2.2 (So far it’s not changed).  Now you subtract 1 pound for every year (xYR) over the age of twenty. If you need it in Stones, now divide by 14.

Yes, it’s a bit complicated but if you put it in a spreadsheet like Open Office Calc or Excel, you only have to do it once as they will do the hard part for you! Don’t forget to save.

So I weigh my horses every month and with these formulas I can protect them from overweight riders and adjust their feeds as necessary.  As a horse owner, it is vital that we keep on top of our horse’s health.  Maths is not my favourite thing to do, but then again, neither is paying Vet Bills for injuries I could have avoided by being sensible.

Riding is great exercise for the rider and will give them both an emotional exhilaration and a physical challenge. Competition is a great way to see how you are progressing and how good your training is. Your horse should love to show off how beautiful they are and it should be a positive experience for everyone — horse, rider & spectator.  As a rider, it is your responsibility to make sure you are not injuring your friend by being just that bit too big for them. If you are too big, then maybe you should add a New Friend to your stables that is right for you.

Remember, it’s not about us. It’s all about The Horse.

Keep Riding!

Kimberly