Laura Tomlinson: ‘Instinct isn’t always right’ *H&H VIP*

  • I have to start by congratulating Gareth Hughes on his fantastic win in Compiègne (report, 23 May), along with his British team- mates who flew the flag and won the Nations Cup.

    I also have to congratulate Lara Butler, my stable-mate, on the birth of her lovely little boy, Jack. I know that she is currently exhausted and wondering how she will ever find enough time to really focus on her horses in the same way again. In truth, it will never be the same again, but the challenge is finding new ways to have the best of both worlds.

    ‘Always an inspiration’

    I don’t get much time to read up about what is going on in the dressage world, but I did catch an article about Isabel Werth’s clinic in Florida earlier this year. Isabel has always been an inspiration to me because she’s a true sportswoman.

    She’s incredibly dedicated and vastly experienced having been through highs, lows and more highs — and all with so many different horses. She therefore has a depth of knowledge that is hard to rival.

    I think her success is largely due to her incredibly cool mindset under any type of pressure, but to get to the point of being that good in the ring, she has to be doing a lot right in training.

    I think one of her biggest attributes as a rider is that she embodies the scales of training and can find any horse’s natural rhythm, improve its flexibility and, usually, get the horse to want to perform with her.

    Of course, part of the skill is choosing the right partner who suits her way of riding, but from what I have read, her clinic focused on the basics: rhythm, relaxation and the diagonal aids — inside leg to outside rein.

    It is so common as riders to follow our initial instinct — so if the horse is pulling on the left rein we pull back and bend him that way. Really, the right thing to do is often against what our instinct tells us. For example, we all know that when a horse is taking off, the more we pull the more they run.

    It is the same principle if a horse is strong on the left — focus on getting the contact on the right rather than just playing tug of war on the left. In order to get right contact, we need those diagonal aids — inside leg into outside hand on the left rein will help create that right contact. As the horse bends round the inside leg, lightness will start to be achieved in that left hand.

    ‘Make it count’

    A great example of genuine throughness was shown by Carl Hester in Compiègne, particularly in his canter zig-zag, which he shared a video of on Instagram. Hawtins Delicato was totally even both ways and waited for the changeover each time, showing the correct amount of bend and flexion each way. It was a great demonstration of one of the hardest and most telling grand prix movements, which any dressage enthusiast would have appreciated.

    Every day that I train with my horses I think to myself as
    I warm up, “Make it count.”

    I want to achieve progress in all the basics that will help me execute each movement with a balance of flair and correctness, ready to face top level competition and, of course, the “Insta-critics”!

    Ref: Horse & Hound magazine; 30 May 2019

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