How to get a strong horse engaged and listening to the rider

  • Building up on her core strength by working without stirrups has helped 15-year-old Chelsie Horne to win her first ever affiliated novice class

    For a 15-year-old who is dreaming of an equestrian career as a professional rider, 2013 has been a good year for Chelsie Horne. At the end of August, she and her horse Pur Sang (Penny) won their first ever affiliated novice at Widmer Farm, Bucks (report in H&H, 3 October), were reserve junior prelim champions in the Trailblazers Championships and won the prelim championship at Milton Keynes Equestrian Centre in March.

    But it’s not all been plain sailing for Chelsie, as 16-year-old Penny, while a confidence-giver and sweet natured, is a big mare.

    “She can be quite strong, but my trainer has helped me persevere and has given me pointers to get her engaged and listening,” Chelsie told H&H.

    We asked Chesie’s trainer, Tiggi Bentley, what they have been working on and a bit more about herself and her philosophy.

    “She’s a big mare for Chelsie to ride so we have had to focus on Chelsie’s core strength, doing lots of riding without stirrups. Penny can be a bit stiff in the hindleg and can lack engagement, but when Chelsie rides her without stirrups she can really feel when Penny’s working behind, straight and on the contact.”

    So how does this work in the arena?

    “We begin with stirrups, working long and low to encourage Penny to stretch forward and relax through her frame. Once we’ve picked her up, we remove the stirrups and do lots of transitions — canter to trot to canter to maintain the softness through her back. If we do trot to walk to trot this makes her tighter and stronger — she’s been a really interesting mare to work with.

    And does Tiggi think Chelsie can achieve her dream of becoming a professional rider?

    “I work as a trainer for the Pony Club, which is where I met Chelsie. I can see the potential in her and I want her do well — I’d like to see her on the Pony Club team. She’s a brilliant girl to teach. She really works hard and has a great attitude. She also has a lovely seat, never loses her temper and works through problems with you in a really intelligent way, thinking things through.”

    What’s your USP?

    Probably the fact that I have trained all my own horses from scratch and have ridden lots of different and interesting types of horse. I’ve never had horses produced for me and had a lot of competition experience on different types that allows me empathy with different horses and riders. I try to make dressage understandable, lighthearted and motivating because I teach a lot of children. Dressage can be intimidating and difficult for young people.

    What’s your pet hate?

    Riders who are rough with their horses. In dressage there are quite a lot of issues with horse welfare. I think more needs to be done in warm-ups.

    Share with us your signature exercise

    I like exercises that are transferable from novice to advanced so I guess it would be leg yielding across the diagonal. You can play with the tempos and angles in trot and canter and add flying changes at the end. So it suits all levels, horses and riders. I was trained by Carl Hester so I do lots of transitions in, out and within the pace, when the rider is ready for it.

    What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given?

    That would be from Henke Van Bergen (Dutch dressage trainer): “When you come out to train the horse it is 75% the horse — listen to and feel what he is telling you and train accordingly”. I spend the first 10min feeling and listening to what the horse is telling me.

    If we were to ask your pupils, what would be the one thing they all say you continually shout?

    Keep your hands still! I have a thing about people sawing at their horse’s mouth

    For more about Tiggi Bentley, contact www.tiggibentley.com

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