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Introduction: Eric Smiley FBHS.
“I chose the title for today (What’s The Limit) because I thought it was an interesting area to explore as our sport increases in its intensity year on year.
It’s one of those things that we are always conscious of, things change, things evolve, and we are looking to see whether there is a limit to any of the aspects of the sport that we do. So there will be a theme through the day. Each presenter will go through certain areas that they choose, but that is the central theme.”
[First up was Sandy Phillips. She gave two lessons to top riders on Advanced horses, perhaps more to the riders and less to the audience than is the standard IEF speaker’s way, but it was very educational… very easy to see the clarity of her aims, her attention to detail, her patience and calm gentle persistence, and how and why her system works. Hopefully that will come through in this typed up version of the full audio recording. The bold type is my emphasis.]
Eric: “Sandy Phillips has represented America at two World Games in Dressage, she’s represented Great Britain in Dressage, she’s judged at Olympic Games, she’s been placed 2nd at Badminton, so she really has an enormous all round understanding of our sport.”
Demo Rider – Tom McEwen on new Advanced ride, “Fig” (because he can’t pronounce the rest!)
Sandy Phillips:
“Thank you very much. Welcome everyone, nice to see you all here. I’m going to try and show you some of the ways of what we are looking for in my role as a judge now, and as a trainer and as a rider, how we can develop our horses to make better performances. So I am going to involve you all at this minute, and ask you all to say, if you had to pick one word to describe dressage, what would that be? Maybe you can all answer together, maybe you’ll think of the same word…” From the audience… lots of mumbling, a few comments, one of which she heard: “Forward.”
“Forward, yes that’s part of it, but basically what dressage is, is Balance. It is the degree that the rider is able to show you the balance he can show with his partner the horse in the test, that gives you the marks that you receive for the movements. Because if I have a young horse that maybe isn’t able to hold such good balance, then I can’t put enough energy and impulsion in to get the high marks. So it is in the top level, and whatever level your horses are, you have to be able to assess how we can improve their balance.
So, how do you improve their balance? There’s two ways. You can either do it from the front end, with your hand, which won’t get you very far, or you do it from the back end, to improve the engagement, which will then put the horse off the forehand and will allow the horse to progress up the levels.
So to be able to do that, we all need to be really aware as riders, this is only possible if you have a strong core. And it’s really important that all the work that we do with our horses, and you have the vet, and the blacksmith, and you have the physio, and I think that we as riders need to really take control of our own fitness, so that we can honestly ride our horses properly because we’re in balance ourself, and we don’t need our hands to keep us in balance ourselves.
So that’s my premise. If my core is weak, I am going to have to help my horse more than I should with my hands, and that will directly relate, if I am using my hands more than I am allowing the energy to come through, I actually keep the horse’s hindleg from stepping through underneath enough, to show an uphill tendency which is a prerequisite of an 8 score. If you want 8s and above, you must be able to engage your horse from the back to the front, and in doing that it has to be strong core.
So on that basis, if you think of the top riders, go back home and look at some videos, what can they do that is better than some of the others? They are able to actually control the size of the step of their horse’s hindleg, so that whatever movement I need to do, I can ride in a forward way, a 1” step, a 5” step, a 12” step, 2 feet, I can go up and down, forward and back, thinking forward and managing the size of the step I make.
So I come to a corner, how do I set myself up for a shoulder-in? I have to come forward in smaller steps, so the horse steps himself in balance, and then I can put the energy and the impulsion in, because he will be uphill and then he will show the suppleness, the cadence, elasticity, everything we are looking for, for the higher marks.
So it’s the rider’s ability to be able to control in their seat and hip, the size of the step the horse takes.”
She asks about the horse Tom McEwen is on, she’s never seen it before.
Tom: “Good morning. We all call him Fig because I can’t pronounce his whole name. I haven’t had him long, I’ve been riding him for about 6 weeks now, so I’m still getting to know him, he’s a lovely horse. Like Sandy was saying, I need to learn to ride a little bit more from behind and less in front, so he’ll learn that with me.”
Sandy: “Okay, why don’t you just start rising trot as you warm up and I’ll have a little look…
So, if you were all watching this horse trot now, and you were looking at the mechanics of this trot, when he started out the point of his hock, it’s pushing out a little bit behind him, and as long as the hock is pushing out behind him, it will be difficult for this horse to really show an uphill balance. And while he’s pushing his hock out, it would be more difficult for him to show the cadence and the swing that we want for the top marks. It’s a regular trot, it’s a clear trot, so we can say it’s a fairly good trot, but to go to the 8s, 9s and possibly 10s, we have to teach this horse to place his hock more forward and under his body, so that as a result the forehand will lift. So, this is just the warm up trot, when you are ready Tom just let him have a canter both ways.
So if you watch that transition, he struck off from his front legs, rather than stepping from behind. The canter is obviously a three beat phase, and as a rider we need to learn to ride forward and up on the 1, so every time you say 1 2 3, 1 2 3, you want to see on the 1 the front end of the horse coming up. And if you think about that as a rider, it makes you take the back end forward into the engagement, so now Tom can ride him forward on the 1. So he’s in a different phase than when he started, then he was going backwards on the 1.
So he has to learn to sit still in the seat, not drive the horse on, if I drive the horse on I make it flat. I want to sit still, there you go, and let the haunches have time to take the weight, so that the back end can lift the front.
Just come on a circle here, and make a transition to trot. Just stop your hip, and bring the haunches forward.
Okay, and in this trot now, think about rising in a bigger slower rise, so you emphasise the step, so he really starts to listen to you from behind, and pick up his hind feet, and step them forward.
Teach him to push into the trot rather than just be flat. So here we have some little balance issues, just go to walk a minute, another big problem I see with training all around is that we teach our horses that we put our legs on and want the horse to go.
Yes, that’s true, you want them to go, but they need to learn to accept our legs, and they need to learn to bend from our legs. That’s how you get the suppleness. So here when I ask Tom to make more emphasis, the horse is a little bit confused because when Tom uses his legs, he goes forward, but he doesn’t make himself supple from Tom’s leg.
So just come here… it’s something that for me all horses need to learn, that when Tom puts his leg on, he can take his inside hindleg and he can do this and by doing this he takes the weight and pushes himself off the forehand. So when the rider learns that timing, he can make the horse learn to take the weight on the inside hind and by doing that it automatically lifts the shoulder, and the horse is understanding the different meaning of you putting your leg on.
So I would like Tom to just do that for a minute, and the key is that you cannot pull the front back, you need to keep the front where it is so the horse can move forward.”
[Sandy has the horse doing very small circles around her as she holds the inside rein and encourages him to wait in front and step across behind. Smaller circle with front legs than with hind legs.]
“Go one step and stop, now just be soft, just be soft, go on, so you can see, stop, that the horse is a bit stuck here. And this is where he needs to learn to lift in his normal work, so he can go from a 7 to an 8.
So I just teach him, I let him think forward here, yes, okay, soften now, so I want this shoulder … I want the back end to push the front.
And the other thing is thinking about your contact, my horse has to work to the bit, if I make him come back from the bit I give him a 5th leg to lean on. A bit softer here, yeah…
So when I come with this aid I let him feel he can move. Come on, good boy…
So this is the suppleness you can see that this horse needs to learn, to be able… there you go, that’s better, good, let the shoulders move forward, yes, yes, and so with my contact I am going to be saying ‘come here’, I am moving him from my leg, so I can push the shoulders forward.
So this is the suppleness I need if I am going to do shoulder in, half pass. There you go, step by step. Ask him with your leg, one step. This is again the seat control, I follow for one step then I sit still.
There… there… there… there. And Tom has to learn to be able to control that, sit still and step, sit still and step, just stepping ahead of the movement, ahead release, ahead release, not any faster, give him time to lift his shoulder.
Okay… and the other thing, if you watch your friends and you can go and watch videos again (of top riders), is look at the body language of the rider. I need to always show a positive body language, so even when something is difficult, I need to look like I am trying to do it. If I ask my horse something and I tense away from it, I am giving a negative message to my horse. So here when Tom does his steps, try it again, leave the front alone, so he’s walking along now, walk on, walk on, go on, swing your hips more, ride the walk, walk on, so he’s walking and he’s following the walk of his horse. Now without doing anything different with his hands, he’s going to stop, stop moving. Stop moving, now move. Walk on. Stop moving, now move. Come on, walk on, more energy in your Walk On. Now for one step sit still. Walk on, and sit still. And walk on… so you can see how the horse starts to listen to his seat and react behind the saddle. And it’s this suppleness in the back that we need to improve, and you can see that it’s now starting to show more engagement behind, but if Tom does as he did there and is a bit negative back, it brings the horse right back on the shoulder. So, walk on, and put him to the contact so it’s not a loose rein, just walk him to the contact, the same.
Left, right, left, right, yeah, good, keep everything the same, just stop your hip. Yes, and move it, and stop it… stop it… stop it, keep him walking, there you go. So here I can say to him now, Ride, think of each step, let him forward, don’t take him back, come forward, come forward, there you go, now you can see the horse engaging more, lifting his shoulder, and Tom is in control of this horse on his seat.
Now we want to make step by step a little bigger stride, don’t drive him on, you step him, there you go, and you can see the horse pushes through into the outline and stays to the bit himself without Tom having to pull his head in. Now he’s a little long behind so you sit still, push him shorter, keep him walking, keep him active. A small step is not an inactive step, it’s an active step, and I’m placing his feet forward up under me. So now you’re going to do a little leg yield off your left leg, the same way, not taking back, move his shoulders forward and up, yes, good, and keep control of the size of the step. Make a step that the horse can push himself into balance. And let him come uphill. A little smaller step and push him uphill. Let him go forward in the small step, more active and forward. There you go. Go on, active, more active, that’s right, and now a transition to trot, in the same balance, in the same way.
I don’t want a push trot step that’s flat and away, I want him to spring off the ground, so I have to use my hip in a quick quick trot rhythm, and teach my horse to trot like that. Go on, sitting trot… and we’re going to play with the same thing in the trot, so just stay on this circle keeping the outside rein, find where you sit in the saddle, just ignore it, so he’s a little bit out behind Tom at the moment, so I want you to walk, stop your hip, *accompanying clicking sounds to encourage horse forwards* move your hip, stop your hip, move your hip, don’t pull your hands back just stop your hip, move your hip. So his back end starts to push forward. Let him yield off your inside leg, and then that will let him lift your seat out, there you go, there you go, that’s right, a little leg yield from the inside leg, and feel the size of the step you’re making. Move it up. Move it up, move it up, so that’s gone really flat there, doesn’t matter, activate him when you stop your hip, make him go quicker behind… that’s right, and if you feel him running so that you want to take him back with your hand, that’s when you have to stop your hip and move your hip, so you make his back work. There you go, there you, and there you can see that the horse starts to push rounder, and Tom is influencing him from behind.
So, go rising now, and when you rise, the hocks are now behind you. So when you rise, pick up his hind leg, and ride it forward and under you. That’s right, bring the right hindleg more forward. Touch with the whip, and now rise, for a slightly bigger step. Bring his bum forward. Bigger, bigger, bigger… keep his shoulders in front of you, go on, be brave. Go on, bigger, yes, and you have to rise bigger, take longer in the air, yes, that’s it. So we’re always moving the hindlegs toward the front.
And change direction. That’s much better. Keep the hocks coming forward and under you. Take care in the corner, now ride forward and make a shorter step. Active and shorter, that’s right, go on, and come on the circle again. Give him a touch with the whip, touch him with the whip to make his haunches step forward. Now. Now. Now. Be soft in your left hand. Yeah, that’s right, so this has a lot more energy here, and he needs to learn to keep pushing his shoulders ahead of him. Go to sitting trot again, and ride, keep the active step. Now ride a smaller step, more active. More forward. Go forward in the small step. There you. Go really forward. Soften the outside rein, keep him in the right rein.
Okay, down the long side here do some shoulder in, now he’s come on your hand, so you need to bring him a small step forward, put him back in balance, more in balance, smaller step, more forward, that’s right, make a transition to walk, still in shoulder in, make it shoulder fore. Walk on walk on walk on, there you go. There you go. That’s it, now a transition to trot. Change your hips, trot, good, shoulder in. All the time thinking of making the horse come active and shorter from behind, pushing uphill. And make a real difference, you need a reaction. That’s it, that’s it.
Let’s go to canter now. Thinking up on the 1, forward and up on the 1. A little shorter right rein, so you can see at the moment he’s a little high behind and down in the shoulder, so, without taking it back I have to learn to ride a little quicker tempo in his hind legs, make a little quicker tempo, Tom, go on, quicker, quicker, quicker, *clicking noises* shorten your right rein. So, make a circle in medium canter, and I want to see a big difference. Go on, go on, go on, go on, Yes.
And your transitions, you’re going to sit still, close your inside leg, and activate him uphill. A little too much pressure Tom, less pressure on his mouth, there you go, and come on to a 10 metre circle, keep the activity, you need much more activity, less pressure on the mouth, that’s right, think of the 1, going up on the 1, ride him up on the 1, there, yes, this, up on the 1, good, good.
Come out of the circle and we’re going to go Medium again, keep him up on the 1, and make a big difference. Go on, come on you’re an event rider, Go! Go, make something happen, yes, and then he starts to come through. Good, very good, now keep this energy, and ride a smaller step forward, don’t take him back, don’t take him back, yeah, there you go, yes. Well done, shorten your reins, be soft in his mouth, go on, now he’s out behind you again so ride him forward and put his bum under you. Go on, come on, go on, yeah, there, and then he starts to come through, good.
So when you come to a small circle I have to keep riding forward like this but I ride a smaller step, so I have to use my hips differently, I’m not going to drive him away, I’m going to let him jump off the ground. Ride the jump, shorten your reins, small circle, small circle, ride the jump, jump, jump, and let him come forward and think canter on the spot, the smaller the circle the more the collection, the more you have to let the horse jump.
Shorten your reins, go on, I want a small circle and I want you to let him come forwards on the spot, so you have to ride him really forward and teach him to jump, that’s it, that’s it, and now he starts to be able to do some uphill steps, he’s not going to keep it all the time, soft in your hand, soft in your left hand, that’s right, and now push him forward and canter on the spot again, ride the jump, let him think forward. Good, and your transition to collection is really forward, ride forward and try and canter on the spot, go on, try and canter on the spot, go on, try it, don’t take it back, let him go forward, use your left rein, use your right rein, let him go forward, push him. Soften one hand, give it, give it, and push. Yeah, he has to feel like he can go. Well done. And let him walk. Super, that’s much better there. So there the horse started to feel when he tightened there that he could come forward with a small step and keep that jump.
So, for me this horse has huge power which you can all see and he needs to learn to be comfortable going forward and back, and Tom has to be… yeah, brave, and when you say go forward, really go. Cos when you went there, see how he came through. It was much better, and there you don’t need your reins, to make him collect, you need to let that energy come forward and then he really collected a lot better.
So here again in the walk, how do I make this a better walk, I have to walk with energy. Not speed, energy. One two three four, and I feel his haunches move out to the front, and the walk goes all the way through his body, that’s it, *clicking noises* so he’s ready when I want to trot, I just have to sit still, push my hip in the trot rhythm, and he trots.
This is too far behind you Tom, that’s right, that’s right, now sit… yes, there we got a much better transition, okay, but if he’s leaning on his mouth here, his hocks are out behind, so we have to fix it. You have to ride and spring his hocks forward and under you, go on, try a bit harder, and make him spring. And try that in canter, soften your hand and push, yes, so he has nothing to lean on, keep him uphill, there you go, ride his shoulders and his head and neck forward and up. That’s it. So he learns to carry himself better. Now go to sitting trot and do some shoulder in like that. Think of the energy in the hindleg. Soften one hand so it makes you use your seat, and activate it. Small circle. So we need more engagement in this trot. Stay on the small circle, think about what you did in the canter, this is a bit flat, so you need to come really forward and make a smaller step. There you go, yes. The horse is much more together from behind, come on, that’s right, continue the shoulder in like that, and do the same thing.
Active, really active, and move the whole of the front end up in front of you, and make the size of the step you need to be able to keep that balance. Okay that’s much better. Now in the next corner really shorten the steps, really push the smaller step, a little shorter rein, come on, go on, really push the shorter step, yes, and now shoulder in. Good, good, shoulder in, and keep him coming forward, that’s much better.
Super, well done, circle away, rising, go on, rising, and now keep him in this rein and let’s try some Medium trot steps, come on the circle, shorten your reins… no he doesn’t get to push out and go on, no, make him stay up under you, push him up under you, activate him up under you. That’s right, that’s right, and now you ride a bigger step. Help him a little bit to engage and come forward, that’s it… okay, you don’t want to go faster you want to go bigger, so I have to rise the same way, and if I take him back he can’t do it, I have to give to step him up.
There, yes, teach him to push himself uphill. Much better, good. Now go really forward and make a small step. Go forward, go forward go forward, I want a small step. Think trotting on the spot. Just like the canter, soften your hand, soften your hand, and push him in a smaller step. Smaller, smaller, good boy, go on, there you go, yes. And he starts to learn that the hand is not going to block what he’s doing.
Do it again, small step, soften your hand, soften your hand, and push, yes, that’s right, push him uphill. That’s right, well done, well done, and so keep this balance and let the horse start to stretch in the same balance… good… and keep his hocks coming up under you, push them under, and let him stretch. Give one hand and then the other. No, he doesn’t get to go behind the leg, push him up under you and let him stretch in front of you, so he’s not down on your hand, touch him with the whip, touch him with the whip… okay, this is good, change direction, keep thinking all the time as the rider on top, how is his hindleg working. Are the hocks pushing forward and under me or are they going out behind me?
Good, and now come forward like this and shorten the step. So really go with him, make your body language… no don’t take him back, push him up in front of you, there you go, that’s right. That’s right. Then increase the size of the step by a couple of inches. That’s it. Let him stretch, put his hocks more under, good. Okay, let him walk. And when you walk, walk on. Come on, walk on, soften your hand, let the horse relax his back, not any faster, one two three four but purposefully, yep, go on, go on, ride the rhythm, use his haunches and move the front end forward. Go on, come on, make his haunches work, that’s right, keep him in front of you.
So for me there Tom did a really good job, he really changed the balance of this horse to what it could do today, but you can see there’s huge possibilities there if he will think about being really black and white about when he wants to go forward and when he wants to… I shouldn’t really say ‘come back’… shorten the steps forward. Because when he doesn’t give the horse a fifth leg on its mouth it learned there that it could come forward and make a smaller step.
So all of that, you saw that the picture at times he was able to show this uphill frame, and the better he gets at that, he was able to show us in the last shoulder in more suppleness and engagement, the uphill forward tendency, and as the horse gets stronger and more used to that, then Tom will be able to put more impulsion in, and that is what gives the higher marks, the 8s and 9s.
Okay, thank you.”
Tom: “Thank you very much.”
In Part 1b of Sandy Phillips’ session, she trained Jonty Evans with Cooley Rourkes Drift (aka Art, The People’s Horse). That will be up next!