Report from 2012 -Chris Bartle

On Monday February 6th, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 International Eventing Forum at Hartpury College (UK), where the theme was “Focus on Success”. We were given a warm welcome by Eric Smiley, who introduced the first Trainer, and the Dressage section of the Forum. Here are my notes for the part of the forum  featuring Chris Bartle:

Chris Bartle – “It’s Fundamentally Easy.”

First “Guinea-Pig Rider”: Atsushi Negishi on Pretty Darling.

Chris Bartle works with Atsushi Negishi on Pretty Darling

Have the same basic plan always (Warm Up phase, Test Riding Phase, Stretching Down phase, with walk/stretching phases between at times), but always taking the horse’s temperament into account. How long the horse needs depends on temperament, physical attributes, how stiff it is and so on.

Different phases of a training session:

First phase: Loosening phase. Strongly forward, relaxing. Stretching forward to a contact. Forwardness, connection, relaxation. The basics of this work are the key to the result we get when we work them next in the Test Riding phase of the work. This part essentially stays the same whatever level of horse you are riding.

Then: Walk phase, relaxing, but still positively forward. Allow to relax, rider to stay relaxed in hip, have an influence through the seat to encourage horse to walk forward, longer in the frame, to the contact, positively forward.

Then: Dressage Test Position phase of work. (keeping the forwardness is essential, don’t just shorten the neck and the stride.) This is what the Germans call the “Arbeitsphase” = work phase. Clear emphasis on the poll being the highest point, nose forward, hindleg engaged.

Last, the stretching phase. Let neck out, forward in trot. “Come through to walk.”

If tight and tense, spend more time in the loosening phase, or even do it twice in a competition environment.

NEVER work the horse half way between one phase and the other.

Routine – horses get a degree of trust and relaxation because you are keeping to their routine in the work.

One of his mantras: Leg is for energy, the seat governs the length of stride.

“I like to see the rider staying relaxed in the hip, moving with the horse, not getting too tight in thigh contact with saddle, allowing the horse to breathe. Everything in the canter should be done in a breathing rhythm, pushing every second stride.”

“Allow the neck longer – a little softer in the arm allows the horse to relax and take the contact.”

“Very often in this situation riders can try too hard, my job as trainer is to get the rider to relax, as well as in due course to get the horse to relax. So, reminding the rider to relax the hip, relax the arm, allow the elbow to be a bit softer, riding positively forwards.”

“The rise phase of the trot is the motivating phase.”

“Ride the trot a little more forward, allow horse forward a bit more in the nose, then she can swing more through the back. Stronger, bigger trot, more forward, in the rhythm always.”

Looking for transitions trot -> canter -> trot, always to be done in a very forward way.

“Always try to keep the horses in line and on line, connection from head to tail.”

“To straighten in principle, always take stronger contact on weaker side, and vice-versa.”

“For xc you want the horse two-thirds in front of you. Ditto for dressage, you want that feeling.”

Trot -> walk -> trot transitions – emphasis on “positively forward.”

The quality of the connection over the back, the quality of transitions from trot to walk to trot again, are real indicators of whether the horse is through.

“In transitions – make sure you give the hindleg something to do.”

“Where you sometimes have abrupt transitions, where the horse is stopped instead of a smooth transition, have horse in shoulder-in position or a little bit leg yielding, to have more influence on inside hindleg.”

The two main considerations were:

“Nose forward, poll highest point, that’s what I like to see.” and “Always positively forwards.” (in rhythm and balance)

“If it is a nervous, tense horse, it is always better to take the flexion slightly to the outside, wait for the acceptance of the outside rein and then let the neck straighter again. If the horse holds its breath, rider should relax arm and hip, breathing rhythm in communication with horse.”


“The rider always needs to stay relaxed in the HIP and elbow, to encourage horse to swing. The seat completes the following of the canter. Relax thigh and hip, to allow the horse to complete the canter stride. The shoulder can be blocked if the rider tightens the hip or elbow.”

“Communication should be there all the time, that gives the timing for the aids, for everything. The first priority is the preparation of the position.”

“If the horse is short in the neck – keep your elbows in front of you, keep more horse in front of you.”

“Relax the arm without throwing the contact away.”

“Use the short side of the arena to give the judge the impression of self-carriage.”

“We must have a clear preparation of our seat before starting a movement.”

“Train the horses from the start – diagonal means GO.”

“Walk – show relaxation without laziness. When riding it, it always feels slower than you think, so there is a tendency to push.”

“We mustn’t confuse collection with shortening the canter. Collection is through relaxation not through tightness.”

In counter canter:

“Sit (weight) to outside of saddle. Be very clear with the position, allow swing of back and allow the foreleg to take its full stride. If the rider is tight in the arms, this can block the foreleg of the horse, which in turn blocks the hindleg.”

“Counter canter should look the same as true canter, not stilted. The canter should remain big and round, still on the hindleg. Keep the rhythm, relaxation and straightness, allow nose forward a bit.”

“Collected canter – go into a lighter contact, to be sure the horse is sitting on the hindleg and not leaning. Stronger contact in medium and extended canter.”

“Horse must come back onto hindleg without shortening in the neck.”

“Be very clear with your body language, by sitting stiller you in effect have an effect on the length of the stride, the horse comes back on the hindlegs.”

1/2 pass – is a FORWARDS sideways movement, emphasis on forwards.

Always finish the corner, before starting the shoulder-in.

Relax the horse’s neck.

Then, stretching down phase at end of session, always, the same for any level of horse.

Second guinea-pig rider: Laura Collett on Rayef, who showed very high-quality work.

Laura Collett

“In training we use the 1/2 pass as a tool for collecting the canter and as a tool for teaching the flying change in the early stages, but in the 4* test the 1/2 pass is used to show that we have control over the straightness, and to show the acceptance of the aids as we go from 1/2 pass to straightness up the centre line.”

Extended canter back to collected canter, first priority is that the horse comes through the corner straight, and that when we collect at the end the horse is also straight. It’s about preparation and position, and that we have stronger contact in extended, softer contact in collection.

Flying Changes: Horse MUST be straight before, it. Keep the canter positive, develop the impulsion in the canter before the change, within that every second stride rhythm.

“There have been discussions about whether to introduce flying changes at the 4* tests, every 4 strides for example, serious changes.I think as a training tool it’s very good, because it emphasises the rhythm and the straightness, but whether it’s appropriate for dressage tests in a competition situation for eventing I have my doubts, because you have to explain to the general public what is the relevance between serious changes and cross-country riding.”

Small circle to collect, working towards an 8m circle in the canter, “a little exercise where we can increase the demands in the canter work, towards more collection, but at the same time making sure that we still have the connection from the hindleg to the front end, we don’t just shorten the neck.”

Medium canter, not pulling on the inside rein, keeping the straightness.

At end of Test Riding Phase, come back to trot, allow horse to stretch forward, don’t let the horse drop behind the bit in the stretching phase. Don’t let the engine switch off, the horse should still be correct in the work and through the contact in the stretching phase.

Make sure you still keep the horse working forward when switching from 1 type of work to the next.

It’s good to do a stretching phase in the middle of the Test Riding Phase and then pick up again and ride some Test Movements again, the same as when we’re in the gym and do some workouts and then a stretching session – it’s a form of interval training.

Re: Round and soft

The important things are relaxation, connection over the back.  Optically the horse is dropping neck and dropping poll, but there can be a lack of connection over the back – horses mustn’t be too short, or disconnected.

From a test point of view, it’s all the more important because we are riding horses that are going to be jumping xc, that we have proper self carriage. The horse’s head will hang vertical if he’s relaxed in the poll. If he’s in front of the vertical there is often tension in the muscles at the top of the neck, but on the other hand if he drops behind the vertical that can be because he’s come short in the neck, he’s not really over the back, or the rider’s pressure is too great and is holding the horse.

I hope that some of these quotes will convey Chris’ central message – he was totally consistent in what he looked for and expected of the horses in each phase, irrespective of the level of the horse.

The main mantras were FORWARD in relaxation, straightness, that he wants to see the poll at the highest point in the Test Riding phase, that “I prefer to see the nose a fraction in front of the vertical rather than behind”, preparation, and that riders should stay relaxed in the arms and the hips in particular.

Many thanks to Kerry Weisselberg and  for such a great report