The demonstration was entitled ‘Forward to the Past’ and it was Lucinda Green along with two demo riders: her daughter Lissa Green riding a 12yo Swedish bred horse who was called a ‘work in progress’, the horse is learning a new balance to sit on his hocks and has a tarnished record they are hoping to change, and Tim Rogers who had borrowed a horse who had been competing at 1* but who he had ridden a bit in the past.
‘It has been a very long time since I was risked at something like this. While I had the same feeling before my Badmintons and it’s that feeling of intense excitement and intense terror and it doesn’t change with the older you get and I suppose that is what motivates you to do the job as well as possible.
I remember seeing Jimmy Wofford at Badminton and that moment of going round the outside of the arena is nerve wracking, if not more and when Jimmy came out he said ‘ what did the monkey say when the train ran over his tail? It won’t be long now.’ and off he rode round having done his test and left me giggling and this was the best thing that could have happened to me as a relaxer. What has come through from the old days that is of use to us now?
If I tell you that I started three day eventing just after Phase E went which was the 2 mile canter/cool down, I did get the era where we washed down with hot water and on the way to Atlanta in 1996 we learnt that we needed to wash down with cold water. It sort of reminds me that you shouldn’t eat butter or red wine but if you have both you stay alive for longer. There is a lot of that in horses.
I am here today to just give you an insight into what I feel has come through and what I have learnt. The thing about the horse world is it involves a person who does not talk. Sometimes it’s backed up by science and sometimes science is not the be all and end all. We are all guessing. If you get onto a theory which works and that is sometimes when we get over-passionate. It might be one of the reasons why it’s very hard to develop a 2/3* cross country programme. People have got that far and don’t want to be knocked off that line yet a lot have got there without understanding the art of cross country. It is something that we have to push. The lower levels love their cross country training. At 2/3* it’s very hard to get them to train the cross country.
There is managing to do it, and doing it.
One of the things that has come through from yesteryear is horsemanship. Horsemanship and feeling what a horse is thinking and not trying to turn him into a 4yo genius, and giving them time to be a horse and not an automaton. Giving them time to grow and develop slowly. Rider’s balance has come through particularly. What I call the ‘ready for anything’ position. Ready for anything as you go over a fence and land. One of the exponents of that balance was Yogi Breisner and he stood out a mile in our day as one of the people, Ian Stark was another. Ginny Elliott had to learn it and learnt it to great effect and won everything.
The things which have come through which are not so good, and I have to be careful as I am standing on one, is all weather surfaces. We had arenas but we did not spend as long in them as we do now and we did not use the all weather gallops. Interestingly as you know the Germans who win quite a bit these days have told me that they don’t work on all weather gallops, they work on grass. They reckon they keep sounder horses than us. It’s interesting what has endured and what has not, one of the things that I feel that has developed to the detriment is the contact, which is such a boring word, but in the old days we did not know much about working on the flat and we tried to be good. Nowadays its all about good dressage and the thing I find that fingers are clenched round the reins and this is not great for a horse because sometimes he takes his head and neck through 180 degrees in order to really study or focus on a fence in the last couple of strides. If a rider is rooted by the contact he gets taken out of position by his horse and they are not ready for the next fence.
I think that may have come from dressage where you might move the reins but you don’t slip them and on cross country you need to be able to slip the reins. That was a very natural reaction for the oldies but now I think its a little more difficult.
The whole sport has taken this extremely new road and I find myself thinking: make sure your horse can see the fence. In the old days it was whether the horse was bold enough to take you. Now you have a whole new area of fascination with focus and this is something we are going to work on and put under the title of three Fs. There is a real feeling that the horse must be happy, so my three Fs are:
These three things I feel very strongly that I want to train for. I want my horse to look at the fence and take me and to be clever at the fence. I am not fussed if he is right, I am not fussed if he is wrong, as long as he gets us to the other side.
Lucinda at this point introduces her demo riders to the audience.
‘Dick Stillwell a great trainer once said to me, ‘Lucinda, make friends on the way up because you don’t have any time on the way down.’ and he was so right and it was the best thing he could have said to remind me that it was going to be one hell of a roller-coaster. It’s a mirror of life and it’s an incredible experience, it has tremendous ups and tremendous downs. Nana Dalton on her Facebook page has written the most amazing eulogy to eventing and I keep this on file to read. It just reminds me why we do it.
So we are going to take these two through some exercises that I believe are fun. Life is so serious these days and that isn’t saying you have not got the biggest responsibility because there is so much money involved. It must be fun as there are too many heartaches. The horses must have fun.
My feeling is that they need a framework of discipline and around that they become the artists that they want to be. They jump how they want to jump and go how they want to go. I am going to make sure that they don’t run out, that they don’t stop and they keep the quality of the pace that I want because I have walked the course and they have not.
We are going to concentrate on the uprights. All we are doing is trotting. We are making sure the horses see the fence as early as possible and take you to it only in trot. I don’t care what you look like or how many fences fall down, I just want to see you focus that horse on the fence.
I just want these horses to see what they have to do, land and come back to trot so they learn right from the beginning to listen on landing, because the landing is the take off for the next fence.
Just let them pick their way.
Watch the horses’ eyes, look for when they have got the fence.
Lissa’s horse is a bit of a problem from my point of view because he carries his head very behind the vertical. I don’t know if he is a product of draw reins because when you hack him he is a lovely ride. You try and get him connected up and say there is a fence and he says ‘where?’ He going to be an interesting one because cross country he has been very natural and very good but showjumping is a disaster. He needs to get his chin up and look.
There is a very interesting thing about a horse’s vision: a horse sees a fence coming up to him from the bottom half of his eye and when they hear something they put their head up to look. The top half of his eye is his close vision. A horse may very well come into a fence looking with his distance vision and then at the last second he might see the ditch and the head comes down so he can inspect it with the top half of his eye. As a rider you have to sit through all that and never become unplugged and keep the connection in your hand. You have to be there for your horse.
I got onto this because I was trying to ride a very ordinary horse which I was trying to ride in a double bridle in the showjumping, and he was a long horse so I thought I needed to get him together, and I took him to Lars Sederholm who took one look and said get off. Took me into his sitting room and made me watch Conrad Homfeld on Abdullah – he comes to every fence with a long neck, lands canters away. Lars said horses must be able to use their necks to see.
You might have to slip the reins before you get to the fence so your horse can see.
Have you ever heard the theory – don’t let him look at the ditch, keep his head up? I hear it a lot in America and all I say is that if you lie to your best friend, will they carry on being your best friend? You have to let your horse see what he is jumping. It’s your job to have the right canter and allow the horse to see it but the horse has to work it out.
Lucinda built up the exercises and was insistent that at the end of every exercise that they did a straight line halt.
Always finish with a straight line halt. This is my box of discipline. I want to develop a paradox in my horse in that on one hand he should listen to me and on the other hand he should think for himself and if you can bring those two requirements levelly up through his education it is my understanding that you will have a very safe horse.
Lissa is currently trying a new bit everyday to find something suitable for her horse. Her horse is not taking her. What have you done? Loosened the curb chain?
Tim and Lissa give me some bits of your body that most influence your horses focus? – eyes, legs and hands create the triangle of focus.
Just go and get the feeling of fastening your legs to their eyeballs by an invisible wire and feel that contact in trot over the skinnies. Don’t let them run out, once your horse learns there is an open door you are in trouble. Never let him understand that there is an open door. I call it keeping the horse in a tube of your leg, connecting the legs to your horse’s eyeballs so it’s a continuous effect.
Be careful Tim about walking and then trotting the last few strides, because you are effectively teaching him to rush. You would be better off to trot then walk the last few strides so he learns to look. If you walk and then trot, they are creature of association and will associate it with going faster into a fence. One or the other is best.
Remember the corner is the winner or loser of your jump. I was watching someone with William Fox Pitt who came round the corner and did a very positive flying change and then promptly fell off in the water. All William said was “his mind was on the flying change not on the jump”. That’s where you mind must be but your subconscious is making sure that corner is really good because when a horse comes round the corner with his legs intact on a good turn he will be ready to jump the jump.
I want the horse to take you, land, balance and take you. They must take you and have desire and desire equals engine. It does not need to be fast, just have desire.
Tim jumped a bounce and had the fence down. ‘Tim, you had that fence down, you sat beautifully at the oxer and out of the bounce you said let’s go, remember keep those shoulders up, the moment you collapse your shoulders onto his front end he cannot lift up so much. I go into a bounce and think he might not go and I am going to try and not let him stop.’
Lucinda asked Tim and Lissa to ride forwards at the oxer to upright and then bounce.
‘In my books you learn by not doing it perfectly, you feel it going wrong and think what should I have done to make it better and learn.’
You did not do enough to break the rhythm when you landed. You are doing so much when you are cross country. When you landed over the oxer, you should have half halted immediately. Course designers are clever and test you now. A big open fence and then an awkward ABC combination. I rarely do an exercise twice. I might do a similar exercise but I rarely do the same one twice because the horse knows what is coming.
Doing it correctly
Tim, when you are jumping a corner, just imagine it is a skinny. I ride skinnies much better, I don’t ride so well to corners.
I know a lot of people who say that if you train a horse properly you don’t need a strong bit but in my experience of teaching there are an awful lot of horses who are not trained properly and are 12 years old and you have to find a way to help them. If they are comfy in their mouth and being respectful in their mouth then you have half a chance so I am very flexible about what I use.
Lucinda then moved onto another exercise with the riders.
A couple of weeks after winning Badminton with Be Fair, I was sent to Hans Winkler to improve my showjumping which was ghastly. After about 5 minutes of riding one of Hans’ warmblood horses he brought me in and said ‘ what is this horse called that you won Badminton on?’ I said Be Fair and he said ‘he must be some horse.’
These days you have to jump corners at every conceivable angle. I was at a French course and came up to a Pierre Michelet corner and said you cannot get over this corner and get to the skinny. You would be chewed up by Lady Hugh Russell who taught me to have our line and hold it by dissecting the corner. Pierre told me that I had to be able to jump corners and skinnies from all different angles.
Lady Hugh Russell would have bailer twine on every fence where you had to jump. You learnt the hard way by falling and getting back on which nobody is allowed to do now.
I was told by Sheila Wilcox who watched me make a mistake and fall, that I won Badminton too early. It’s things like that you need to happen to you. Now every course I go to has rolltops and soft profiles. How are you ever going to learn to ride?
Strezgom in Poland has a wide range of courses and Michael Jung wanted to buy some fences. He said he wanted that old one over there and they were all bolt upright because they make you ride properly and teach the horse. He does not want to ride over a roll top and we need to think about that. We are getting people going up the grades who do not know how to balance a horse because rolltops and brush fences are letting them get away with it. You can get away with skating along the top.
The course designer’s job is a very difficult one. A course designer cannot just soften a fence because a ‘name’ has spouted off about it.
Sometimes cross country does not go how you plan it. There might be a dog, a fence judge’s car or something might happen which is out of your control and your reaction must be carry on. It should not be that I am going to complain about it to the organiser. If a dog turns up when I am working in the field, too bad I must get on with it.
Horses are incredible animals and I remember writing 20 years ago, when are we going to ask too much? Bit by bit we keep asking more and so far it has been alright and they keep coming up with the answers. My greatest longing is that people should have the feeling of riding a cross country in true trust and unison. For me there is nothing better.
For Lucinda the greatest fear is that the cross country phase becomes diminished into something like arena eventing. Where the true art of cross country is lost.
‘What got me so far were horses who were not outstandingly good, but they were true partners. Sometimes it took a long time to get that trust.’
Lucinda competing at Montreal Olympics in 1976 on her favourite horse Be Fair.
Lucinda then told some stories about her time eventing George and trusting the horse to get on with the job and this was followed by questions.
Lucinda does not start horses off jumping over showjumps and instead starts them over logs as more fun and then comes back to showjumps.
‘The Germans practice cross country a lot and we see the results. We seem scared once we get to 2/3* level to practice cross country enough on these horses.’
‘A horse needs to be able to take the contact down and even on technical courses, the horse still must be able to take the neck longer even round all these skinnies and technical courses when you might need more contact.’
With this the demo ended.
Report with thanks to www.e-venting.co.uk