Reproduced with kind thanks to

Demo rider: Jonty Evans and The People’s Horse “Art”, Cooley Rorke’s Drift.

As with her session with Tom McEwen, I thought that Sandy very much gave Jonty the sort of lesson that she would have done had there been no audience there. She concentrated 100% on the horse and rider in front of her and did her absolute best to help Jonty to improve Art’s way of going to enable them to earn the highest marks from the judges. I hope you can imagine what was going on as she was instructing! The directions she gave were all about exact timing, the rider using the body and not the hands to balance the horse, and how to influence the horse from the back end to the front. An inspirational session.

Sandy Phillips: “We’re very lucky that he could come today. I don’t know the horse very well, I’ve seen him once before, but maybe Jonty wants to say what he has been working on with him. The premise of this whole day is ‘how can we get a 30 in the dressage?’

So, as you have seen with Tom, dressage is not about sitting there and doing nothing, dressage is about making it look like you are doing nothing, but actually you are doing a whole lot right. And to be really black or white about what you do, so that your horse is clear. Because if I don’t make enough emphasis, and I am grey, then the horse keeps running on and doesn’t react exactly how I imagined. So for me that’s a very important thing as a rider. As a judge it is very apparent, you can watch a rider and you can tell exactly how much they are getting done. This rider mark, and the correct use of the aids and the reaction to the aids, is what produces your test, so it is very apparent, if you are observant with the rider’s interaction with the horse.

Jonty… are you doing Badminton this year?”

Jonty Evans: “Yes.”

“Okay, we’ll look at some of the movements, he said he’s warmed up, so we’re just trying to develop the same ideas as the first horse. Okay, so just let him have a trot round… Okay, so here we have a regular trot, in a fairly good outline, but if I want to develop this trot, I need to develop the cadence, the suppleness and the swing. This horse really can support himself, take the weight behind so that he can lift his shoulders and have a bit more expression. So, Jonty is going to think of keeping his weight…

it’s very important that as a rider that you play around with where you sit in the saddle, because there is a spot in the saddle that puts your horse in balance, and you can be out of it by a fraction… and there is a spot where if he rises up and down, there is a spot that literally every time you stand up, you can take the back end to the front. And you have control so that the horse is trotting, I am not following my horse’s trot, my horse is trotting to the trot I have in my head.

That’s better. So, whether it’s walk, trot, canter, flying change, whatever, I don’t want to be the passenger on top of my horse, I want to have the horse be my partner like in a dance, but I am the leader of the dance and I have to say ‘Come on, we are going to do this.’

So I tell him how to canter, I tell him how to trot, and I tell him where to put his feet so that I can show all the size of the steps, in extended trot, shoulder in, a half pass, or flying change, I have to be able to affect putting those feet into balance, so I can get the maximum energy, because it’s the energy and uphill impulsion that give you the high marks.
So, let him have a little canter. So, again, this is a very correct canter, a nice outline, but I would like to see, I would like to try to develop what I have been talking about, a little more energy, and jump to the canter, and have Jonty think about letting the horse jump forward on the 1. So it’s 1, 1, 1, 1, you find your seat in the saddle, your spot in the saddle where you can just take the back end and jump it up to the front.
It’s not anything to do with speed, it’s a reaction and how you use your hip, find that spot in the saddle, sit up, look at the front end of your horse and ride his ears up. Sit up, sit up, and move your hip, stop your hip, move your hip, stop your hip, move your hip, now do shoulder in and keep doing that, keep talking to him with your seat. Stop your hip, move your hip, yes, that’s right, that’s right, circle away, as you turn, stop your hip, as you change how he takes the step. Ride a smaller step forward. That’s it, that’s right, put the spring into the step. A little shoulder in, and then let’s try a half pass.

If you pull the inside rein, you will not get a good shoulder in. Soften your inside rein, put your left hand forward, sit up, there, yes, that’s right, move his shoulders ahead, that’s right. Well done. Well done. Good. So, soften your right hand, go on, use your right leg, you’ve got to be brave, sit in the saddle, there. Yes, can you see, as soon as he sits, he gets control of the horse from the back end.

Let’s do some shoulder in this way. Soften your hand so you can get him in the corner, soften your hand, circle around again, you’re not sitting in that corner.”

[Jonty: “he’s scared of the cameraman.”]

“Soften, stop your hip. Get control. Stop your hip, yes, there, yes, stop your hip. You have to tell him how to trot. You tell him, go in the corner, sit, stop your hip, and tell him how to trot. Yes, and now half pass. That’s right. You keep the shoulders moving ahead of you. Outside rein, sit up, stop your hip, catch his feet up, there you go, and ride the spring. Okay, good, let him walk a minute. Transition to walk, stop your hip. Let him relax, good. Good.

Make a left turn across at X, pick up canter. Take your time, ride the walk step you need. Okay, let’s do that once again, that was an obedient strike off but his shoulders didn’t move up. So, take the front of the horse forward with you, in the strike off, so he sits down behind, and moves the front ahead. Yes. Okay, once again. Once again. That’s fine. Keep the front coming forward, make the size of step you need, that’s a bit big, come forward in a smaller step. That’s right, smaller, yes, go on, and be definite. Okay, and now in this canter I want you to sit every other stride, so you give him time to jump. Sit now, jump. Sit now, jump. There you go, there you go, move the movement through his body, that’s right, very good, let’s try some lengthened strides the same way.

I need you to be able to ride your corners better. The back end, the back end, the back end, go on, come on, come on… okay, so there, you can see from the corners… just circle, he lost the back end, that’s why I said I wanted a better corner here, come in your corner, soften the inside hand and kick, wait, wait, make him jump, jump, jump, wait, wait, wait, wait, yes, yes, come on, bring his haunches, yes, much better, soften the hand, sit and wait, wait, wait, wait, that’s right, there he had much more control, yeah, good. Sit still, sit still, think canter on the spot, go on, let him jump. That’s right. Let’s try some counter canter.

There because he gets the balance better he’s able to put the energy into the lengthening that you can give a higher mark to, so it has to be the same here when it comes to flying changes, the rider has to be able to sit and wait and ride the jump ahead.

Okay, so here we have counter canter and he’s losing the balance a bit, he’s coming on the mouth, so Jonty has to do the same [as before], pretend you’re cantering left, ride a smaller step ahead, let him jump forward. Everything has to be forward.

And the body language of the rider has to look like they want to come with the horse. Think of the snaffle [rein]. Yep, keep your hand soft.

Wait, wait, wait. Not coming backwards, nothing to do with backward, control the size of the step. That’s right, that’s right, when he wants to run off, sit and make him wait, yes, sit and change. Very good. Very good, so there the change is straight, it had some expression… would you please ride your corners better? You need to ride straight in and out.
Yes, and wait. There’s no rush. Wait, wait, wait, thank you, wait. Don’t take him back, let him canter, he has to listen to your seat, you tell him how to take the step. Yes, here you go, here you go, very good. He’s cantering, yes, when he runs off you soften your hand and you wait. There. Yes. Super.

Very good, So let’s try another counter canter this way. Wait. You can’t take him back, you can’t do it. You have to sit and make him wait and take the smaller jump. Very good, that was much better. Same thing here, keep control of the hind feet. Yes, yes, well done.

Now you’ve lost it, he’s on the forehand, wait… wait… wait… yes, here, yes, and ride that step ahead. Yes, and you don’t let him fall on your left leg here, that’s right, that’s right, much better. And when he wants to run off there you sit and you push him to wait, you don’t take it back, you push him to wait, there you go, and now you can change.
Okay, very good, but when you finish, sit and wait. The back corner. Wait. That’s right, that’s right. Very good, let him come on a circle here and go to trot, and the transition is again from behind to the front, so he can lift his forehand, good, good, you tell him how to trot, don’t chase him, wait and let him spring.

Ride the engagement, so you push the engagement, don’t take him back, that’s right, go on, come on, move his shoulders forward, let him move his forehand, yes, yes, and now play a bit, stop your hip, move your hip. Stop your hip, move your hip. He doesn’t come backward when you stop your hip, he goes forward. There you go, there you go, so he starts to put a little cadence into his step. That’s right.
So do some rising, and think about every time you stand up, his back end swings with you. Don’t push him onto his shoulder, his back end swings, like a little trampoline every time you stand up. Tell him how to trot, and give him time to take the bigger step. Come on, back end, back end, yes, good. Good. Good. Good. Don’t ask any more, just ask him to keep that, from behind, yes, yes, good, well done, circle here, rising, no faster, keep it big, a little touch of the whip, there you go, the whip will teach him to push, it will give him that swing, okay.

Very well done, let him stretch in the same balance. Keep control, uh uh. No, he’s not allowed to run down on his head, no, you have to control the back end, push a smaller step if he’s running, push a smaller step, yeah, get his hind end. That’s right. Always make the size of step that can put him in balance. That’s right, that’s right. And let him walk. Long rein. Thank you very much.

I think there you could see when he started, he had very correct paces but there wasn’t a lot of expression, and with the work he did there, and with the control he got with his seat from behind, and when he rode his corners well, the control he had to ride the movements out of it, he had some really lovely work, those lengthened strides in canter and the transition after, the flying changes, when you get the timing of riding forward and up on the 1, then the changes can have expression, and as judges we love it because then we can give really good marks and that makes it nice for everyone.

So, thank you very much Jonty. You were good, much better.”

Jonty: “Just from my point of view. We did a session the other day, and I’ve gone home with a completely different mindset about it. And I found today better again. I don’t think I’ve thought before that I need to think about much in the dressage.” [much laughter from the audience.]
“But, umm, the sort of speed of thought was what was catching me out. You know, I feel that he’s there, I can catch up with him.”

Sandy Phillips: “Yeah, but it was a big difference for me when you started to use your corners, because you could really have him on your seat when you want to start the movement. Then your two lengthened strides in the canter were super. You can get really good marks for that, because everything comes from behind, he’s in an uphill frame, he’s lengthened his outline, he’s not going faster with a short tight neck, the canter was going through his body, and you can make the transition.

And your changes, when you kept the counter canter up on the 1, they’re dead straight, they’re jumping off the ground, and that’s what we’re looking for as judges, because we want to give the good marks, but you have to give us a reason to give the good marks. And, I think you’ve got an exciting Spring ahead of you. So good luck and thank you very much for coming.”

Jonty Evans: “Thank you.”


“Is the statement of not locking from the rein, does that mean that it should always come from the seat to the rein?”

Sandy Phillips: “Yes, your aids should always come from the back to the front, and you saw at the end there when I had him soften his inside hand, once the horse comes through, then you have a normal contact. But as an exercise for me the rider, when I feel my horse block or pull in or get tense, in other words back up behind me, if I get tense as well, this is the negative body language I am talking about, and it’s not going to get better. So I have to say here, by doing this, I bring the horse to my seat and in front of me.”

This was another excellent session, again all about the rider concentrating on their body control and doing everything from behind, not using the reins to try to slow or balance the horse. The improvement, in a pair already capable of very high marks at the highest level, was very clear.