Laura Tomlinson: Make it easy for the horse to obey *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    With less than six weeks until my third baby is due, I am on the yard every day watching Lara Butler and Sarah Rogers ride my horses. It should be frustrating, but it’s actually really interesting for me. I know my horses well and know exactly how I want them to go, but I have to work them through someone else.

    This is challenging for me and for Lara and Sarah, yet it gives them the opportunity to learn to feel what I feel when I ride. I cannot just jump on and correct or show them. I have to find ways to explain things so they understand; the best moment is when they feel it for themselves and it clicks.

    I have become very aware of the language I use. For example, what do I actually mean when I say collect or balance? Are they the same thing? No. Sometimes I want collection, but the horse is still not balanced and, other times, I want balance, but I don’t want the horse to be shortened or more collected.

    For example, my big chestnut, Fallatjin, needs to do his changes in what feels like quite a forward canter, so he jumps truly through from behind. But if he’s not kept in balance, he gets on his forehand or just speeds up. He must be kept in balance without overcollecting the canter.

    I remember watching Isabell Werth ride in my first few seasons of grand prix. I was fascinated by how she would ride her horses long and low over the back and yet also be in total collection. The horse would be in an open, stretchy outline, yet not on the forehand. She could do this because the horse was in total balance and on her seat aids. There was no pulling back with her hands to collect. Like this, she could really “gymnasticise” the horse in difficult movements, but in a relaxed, playful way.

    It’s important to remind ourselves what collection is, how we can achieve it in balance with the horse and how to maintain his balance without overcollecting and inhibiting the hindleg.

    How to half-pass

    Teaching has made me realise that half-passes are often ridden poorly. Even at grand prix level, how many combinations do we see ride awesome half-passes with good crossing, the right amount of angle, bend and flexion?

    To ride a good half-pass, you must come out of the corner with flexion in the horse’s neck, bend in the body and the quarters at the right angle — not leading, not trailing.

    Many riders overbend their horse and wonder why he can’t cross enough. Most then put their outside leg further back to try to coax the horse over, but the outside leg is actually less effective further back. The rider ends up sitting against the movement, with weight shifting to the outside, instead of pushing down in the direction the horse is meant to be going.

    If we make it easier for the horse to do what we want than not to, they usually do it. Therefore, the inside leg  should be strong at the girth, the outside leg only a fraction back, thus bending the horse around the inside leg.

    The inside hand asks for a little flexion, but the outside rein is more dominant, so the horse crosses over rather than drifting or blocking himself.

    No pressure for those riding at Olympia, but the winter armchair critic will be watching you.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 13 December 2018