Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Rider's Wednesday -- In Search of Self-Carriage

On Monday, I had the great pleasure of conducting an interview with top hunter judge Geoff Teall, in which he discussed his "Top 10 Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring." (Actually, he threw in a Bonus Tip -- offering additional insight into the view from the Judge's Box.)

His suggestions were excellent. It was good to be able to look at a class from the judge's, rather than the competitor's, point of view. Of course, to anyone who knows anything about showing hunters, some of his tips ("perfect your position," and "ride a reponsive horse," for instance) come as no surprise. However, rather than just state what he wants to see when judging a class, he also provided concrete, actionable, doable approaches for mastering each tip at home.

"Top 10 Tips for Winning in the Hunter Ring" will soon be available as a free download that's part of an online promotion for Geoff's book. But so much of what he said was succinct, worthwhile, and insightful, I couldn't resist a featuring a short "sneak peek" on one of his Tips here.

Case in point: Tip #8: Ride a Horse With Good Carriage.

I realize that this sounds like a given. (Don't we all want to ride a horse with self-carriage -- a capable mover who is well-balanced and fluid?) But I've seen far too many horses in the ring that look like they're going to pitch forward on their faces, or run through their chests. In fact, when sorting through images of competing hunter / jumpers for Dr. Warson's book, it was quite obvious that many, if not most, of them, were incapable of carrying themselves correctly. Evidently, the judges have seen too many of these horses, too.

Geoff spent some time defining what he meant by "good carriage." (In involves, in part, a horse that does not rely on the rider to hold him in, or hold him up. It is evidenced in a horse that stretches his head and neck forward and moves forward freely. It occurs in a horse that is supple, fluid, and forward.)

He then had the good grace to offer some tips for helping your horse develop it.

One of his suggestions had to do with flat-work -- and with working a sort of modified flat-work into your regular schooling. One key to developing your horse's self-carriage is transitions.

Transitions up (walk - trot - hand gallop).

Transitions down (canter - trot - stop - back).

Transitions all over the place (canter - stop - back - trot).

Mix things up, he advises. Get the horse thinking and responding.

Though he had several great suggestions for practicing and perfecting each tip, one of my favorite things about Geoff is his philosophy of "Less is More."

"If you're riding, and your horse starts doing something you like," he says, "it's time to stop and do something else."

In other words, don't drill and drill and drill on a concept. When the horse gets it, exhibit some self-carriage (or self-control) on your part, and move on.