A Masterclass with a Master… George Morris

GroupStory by Chris Hector and photos by Roz Neave

The final sessions of George Morris’ Australian clinics were conducted in the wonderful grassed paddocks at Wayne and Vicki Roycroft’s Mt White property and George was in his element with space and natural obstacles to play with. We were all comfortably seated and Mr Singleton’s travelling aviary were still chattering away cheerfully in the trees, as the next lot of horses and riders appear…

The eventers were well represented in this group with Craig Barrett on the stallion, Staccato (the stallion was also represented at the clinic by his daughter, Panamera ridden by Stuart Tinney).

Craig and Staccato show some shoulder-in

Emma Armstrong and Voortrekker, and making the long trip from Queensland, Kevin McNab and Gameplay, along with the showjumpers: Greer Butcher riding TP Gifted (out of an imported Voltaire mare), Chris Chugg and the imported mare, Colthaga, Shannon O’Meara and Sweet Revenge, and rising showjumping star, Jamie Winning riding her young mare, Vangelo Mystique.

Once again, we start with the most basic of the basics: Walk / Trot / Walk: “Quick transitions, that’ what keeps the horses thinking in front of the leg.”

And Chris Chugg is sent off to lead the group in a serpentine of four loops, in light seat (‘just touch the saddle’) and making sure he doesn’t bend the horse in the neck (‘bend the horse in the mid-section, not at the wither’) in contact (‘perfectly steady contact, don’t jiggle the bit’). When track went downhill, the riders were to post the trot back uphill, in two point:

“Stand in the stirrups, your back hollows slightly and is slightly out of the saddle. It is important that you are well forward with a short rein. That’s two point or as the French say ‘in suspension’. It’s a very good balancing exercise, especially uphill. Now back to slow sitting trot and a little shoulder in.”

Vicki does a gear adjustment, everything has to be correct at a George Morris Clinic

It was time for George to have a ride, and this time it was Kevin’s Gameplay. Once again, the master was bothered about the tack: “I don’t like ring bits, the horse is reluctant to go to the bit, and his back is hollow, the croup is up, the back low, and the hind out behind.”

GameplayCavalettiGeorgeGameplayHalfPass“I start with the back of the horse. Is the horse tracking straight? Is the horse walking forward? Is my seat connected to the horse’s back? This horse has had very good work in the half pass. See that I keep my elbows close to my hips and my hands in front of me, not dropping on the shoulder. Watch how the contact is getting better as I work with my legs…”

next counter canter

Now George was riding counter canter to flying change to counter canter: “this is a very good exercise for eventers. If a horse doesn’t maintain his canter rhythm without leg, then he’s not in front of the leg. This horse has got to be lighter to the rider’s legs.”

Craig Barrett demonstrates counter canter

All the while George was keeping his seat light: “You don’t have to be butt grabbing, obsessed with heavy sitting, you have to substitute seat riding with leg riding. Close the hip angle and get your body forward. It’s like riding with hands too low, it’s a virus that emerged somewhere from the bowels of Europe.”GeorgeGameplay

After I get off Kevin’s horse, it has to feel better…or worse. It’s like marriage, for better, for worse, mainly worse I guess.”

“Precision, repeat something over and over again, that’s how you get the precision habit. Some people think it’s boring. I don’t. Reputation if properly executed is what teaches the horse.”

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As usual, Chris Chugg is quietly experimenting with something fancy in a corner hopefully out of George’s eye. Fat chance! “Wait Chuggie, you get in front of me. I’m supposed to do the thinking.”

It’s time to start work on George’s line of fences, starting with a little figure of eight to get the horses jumping: “Once you see the distance, don’t attack the distance, don’t over-rider, just soften and go with the horse.”

And Kevin has to pay strict attention to his outside rein in the flying changes: “You have to keep the horse on the outside rein for the flying changes.”

Emma Armstrong and Voortreker see a distance 

Once again the group is to face the impulsion test of the ditch with trees behind it: “This is a very good group, but I would still anticipate the worst. Expect a stop. I would be very ready to go to the stick. That’s the ultimate riding aid, the whip, the spur is often softer than the whip, the cluck softer than the spur, the legs softer than the cluck. Make that stroke behind the saddle a habit, the horse hesitates and it is automatic. Watch Ian Millar, he is an artist with the whip, you don’t even see it.”ChuggWhip1ChuggWhip2

The riders are doing the line, a skinny, circle to the trip bar, five strides to the planks, and seven to the ditch:

“Don’t circle, cold turkey to the ditch in a defensive position.”

No problem over the ditch for eventers Kevin and Gameplay

And we are getting some classy stops – Chugg on his grey mare, Jamie on her mare. Next time Chugg is ready, touches the grey and gets the ditch – “that’s good, don’t loiter there. This is simple, this track, don’t complicate the seven, take your fence and get up there and wait. See Kevin made it so simple, because he is thinking. Get there and wait and the horse can back up.”JamieWinning

There’s another way of doing it: “That is how not to do it – you take, take, then gun at the last minute, that’s grabbing. The adjustment happens on the landing, not on the next fence. Keep it smooth, not stop/start, stop/start. Watch each other – this is not ROCKET SCIENCE. You don’t have to invent the space shuttle, keep it simple, get on the distance early and your horse can set himself up and jump. Once you go 100% to the fence, as Paul Schockemöhle says, you can let him jump backward. If you start legging them to the fence, they get quick and flat and hit jumps. With the speeds you have to travel over modern tracks, you can’t afford to stop and start.”

Breeding jumpers? How about Light My Fire? Just one of the stallions available from International Horse Breeders:  www.ihb.com.au


This article first appeared in the November 2009 issue of THM.

Morris, George H


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Conquistador has it all – contact Helen Chugg at Diamond B  – 0438 274 170 or helenchugg@gmail.com


Learning from a World Champion – Vaughn Jefferis

Story – Chris Hector Photos – Roz Neave

Vaughn Jefferis was an integral part of the Kiwi Dream Team that dominated international eventing for a decade, and was always regarded as one of the most stylish jumping jockeys of his era. Which was not surprising, since Vaughn, like the rest of the fab four: Blyth Tait, Mark Todd, Andrew Nicholson, had jumped his share of top class showjumping tracks on his way to eventing glory. And Vaughn had always been quick to pay tribute to the influence of the most stylish of the Kiwi showjumping riders, John Cottle, in his equestrian development.

And did he have amazing new and startling things to tell the riders? Of course not…

“It’s just the basics isn’t it? And getting the basics right and teaching the horse to go in a classical way.”


The first session I sat in on, was Vaughn working with the organizer of the clinic, Ebony Tucker, riding a very nice type of chestnut Thoroughbred. And Vaughn was happy with the progress:

“I worked with Ebony at Equitana, and I’ve seen a huge improvement in the horse. It was quite a green horse at that stage, and it has come along quite nicely. He was very un-established in his paces then, and now, you can see he still has a way to go but there is some cadence and rhythm and balance – which it didn’t have before. Ebony is a nice kid to teach because she tries pretty hard.”

Which is more or less what the trainer expects – max concentration and max effort. The warm up is the sort of warm up that you see in good training yards the world over, no matter what the discipline. Stretching, shortening, bending, lengthening, round the inside leg, onto the outside rein:

“Don’t get stuck, now forward, now back, open up and let him stretch, ride forward, and close him up. Get a nice forward swinging.”

And even in the flat work, Vaughn was onto one of the pre-occupations that will flow through the session – eyes.

“In the counter canter, keep your eyes forward, show him the way…”

After the obligatory poles to little crosses, Vaughn is working on getting a shorter more powerful jump, asking Ebony to take the double as a steady five stride distance rather than a forward four:

“There are three choices on a related fence. Once you’ve jumped the first you’ve got to decide whether you stay on that stride, lengthen or shorten. Keep looking at the fence when you land, that way you get the feeling of how that fence is riding. Make it a waiting ride, arms elastic, stay back with the shoulders, make the horse wait. In related lines you don’t want to come to the last stride still adjusting. Do the work earlier. You came in a little indecisive that time – you’ve got to get the canter earlier.”


“Keep it smooth and elastic with your arms – when he tries to grab, you just stay calm and elastic, look at the fence, feel the distance. For him to show some shape, you’ve got to allow him, elastic arms or he will jump like a banana. If you get your arms too stiff and grabby, he just runs away. Get more leg around the horse and less hand, relax your hand and soften your arm. Close your legs, soften your hands and the horse will just pop up underneath you.”

Later Vaughn talked about the strategies Ebony had to use to eliminate that last-couple-of-strides rush to the fence:

“I think that often it is due to the rider, the rider often hasn’t found the distance – so then the rider panics, and if the horse is hot, they have a tendency to want to run forward, and with that ride, they make the horse even quicker in the last stride. The hardest thing is to get the rider to wait for the distance, and to trust that.”

“The rider doesn’t have the confidence in their own eye to sit still and wait for that last stride. That’s just mileage. If I was going to train that rider more, then I would have exercises like two poles, out of a turn, and make her canter the pole, on a related line on a curve in four strides, and I would probably do that 500,000 times til she could just sit still, come to the pole, jump it out of that rhythm, sit still, come to the pole, jump it out of that rhythm, sit still – then eventually her eye would become so good that she would be able to trust herself and that would take away the issue of the horse getting strong in the last couple of strides to the fence – because with those exercises she would be able to find that distance out of that balance, and it would just become second nature for her.”

You were saying that she should be more decisive further from the fence?

“She has to decide what she wants – the two mistakes she made, she was coming through the turn, then on the last three strides she broke that rhythm up and she made the mistakes because she didn’t quite trust herself with what she had seen. Then on the last ride, she kept that short canter coming – she kept it, she kept it, she kept it, so she could just wait for the ride that time, and that’s why it worked.”

Is this how you train your cross country horses – showjump rails in an arena?

“A lot of the time I do. If your eye is developed, then the confidence gets better and better, because they are not having to worry about getting to the jump – all they have to do is worry about getting over the jump. With Ebony, I thought it was a confidence thing. She wasn’t trusting herself, so she couldn’t be decisive in what she wanted. When we talked about that on the last ride, I helped her from the corner – before I had just left her to come and find the jumps by herself. Then on the last ride I worked with her, through the turn, and she’d seen it, and she was way more confident in the decision she made. To me, that is why it worked.”

“That’s what I do with kids a lot, just work with poles to get their eye. Once your eye is good, then you don’t have all that other insecurity that goes with the jumps. Insecurity or confidence – it’s one or the other.”


“The other thing I try to emphasize when I teach is that you can just canter and jump out of a rhythm. Rhythm is the first thing I try to teach because rhythm gives you balance, and then as your rhythm becomes more established and your balance gets better, then your eye also improves – they go hand in hand with each other. The better the rhythm the better the balance, the better your eye becomes. They are the three keys to jumping for me.”

That and rider position:

“I teach kids on the lunge a lot, I teach them without their reins and stirrups so they have to develop their leg, canter the rhythm, canter the rhythm, jump the jump all the time. The better the rhythm, the better the distance most times, unless they are completely useless, and you don’t get too many riders like that… luckily!”

Later in the afternoon the day finished with a lovely group of three riders, Hayley Smith and her nine year old Thoroughbred, Mighty Impetuous, Robyn Vowles and her homebred chestnut mare, Ellesmere Cailin (by Woodmount Carrick) and Amelia Grevis James, on the sweetest 12 year old bay Thoroughbred, Summer Fox.

“Three nice girls, I liked teaching them. They all went very differently, but they all achieved quite a lot in that time. I think they had a good understanding of what I was trying to teach them and they had quite nice basics. The thing about most people is that you’ve got to work it through with them mentally. You could see with Robyn, she is very happy if the distance is a very quiet waiting distance because then she is in her comfort zone, but when she has to open the stride and move to the jump, that mentally is quite difficult for her. That takes quite a ride. So if I can help them mentally prepare, it helps them ride that not-so-comfortable distance more comfortably. And they end up with a feeling of satisfaction.”


You were talking a lot about the importance of eyes?

“Keeping your eyes focussed forward, so you keep finding the distance. Half the problem with riders is that they don’t prepare enough for the fence. They come round the corner and they are not really focussed on the fence. They should start looking for the distance fifteen to twenty strides away. You keep looking at the jumps, you keep finding some kind of a ride.”

Hands again?

“Hands again. It can be an issue. What happens with riders is that when they don’t see a distance, their first reaction is to grab. It’s all very well to grab the reins if you are doing something positive like closing the stride up. If you’ve seen the distance and you need to close it, I’m happy for them to take hold of the reins, but when they grab seeing nothing, then they pull themselves into a problem. I’d much rather if they didn’t see a distance, just to keep a feel of the reins, with their leg on, and hopefully the horse has at least got the chance to jump out of a situation that potentially isn’t good.”

With a very green combination, it is always a problem, with not so experienced rider / green horse, to get the hand balance right – we saw that earlier in the day with a very inexperienced pair?

“It’s a hard thing to teach but I think if you can explain it clearly, and they understand why they need to do it, and you put it across in the right way, then it helps – as you could see with the girl you are talking about. Her problem is that the horse is green but strong, and she was grabbing it and that was making it worse.”

“It’s like helping someone driving a car on a gravel road and it gets into a slide – you’re initial reaction is to slam on the brakes and all that is going to do is pile yourself up in a crash. But if you put your foot down, then hopefully you can ride out of it, it’s the same with the horse, you’ve got to let go and go with it. While it feels a bit scarey at the start, if you are consistent with it, the horse learns to defuse that tension and it stops running against you because you don’t give it something to fight against. Then eventually the horse will start to relax, and it gets the idea – if we let go, it will let go and the whole thing just starts to soften from there. But it is a slow process.”

Like any real education, it is a slow process, building each block, putting into place the basics. Thank you Vaughn for reminding us of a few of the most important lessons – hopefully, when you next come to Australia, there will be more ears in the gallery to hear the message.



Sam Griffiths : Training not Testing on Cross Country


Story by Susan Mackenzie &  Photos by Roz Neave

Sam worked with his pupils using showjumps and the showjumping arena on the first day of his clinic in Australia, getting them ready for the fun bit – Cross Country! We pick up the story with the riders out on the course at Fairhurst…

They start on the four crossed logs that is popular with every instructor who uses at this property for warming up.

“When I’m warming up to do cross country I do a little jump like this, but I also make sure my brakes and accelerator are working, not just cruise around then start cross country and go one, two, oops we’re out of control.”

Sam’s message is universal for the riders, irrespective of the level they’re riding at:


“When I take a horse out on cross country I ask myself, ‘what am I doing?’ Well I’m training my horses, I’m not testing them. The test of my training is at a competition.”

“I like to train very slowly so they know what they need to do and understand your leg. Once they understand, then you add back in speed.”

“We want to teach horses to learn to look after themselves, because you’d be amazed by how horses can get themselves out of trouble.”

“When training I just introduce fences at walk, get them confident and then at canter.”

This is the focus for the lesson.


They start with a bank, which has options for every level. One rider comments, “I hate banks, I know that they’re conceptually fine, but…” Sam is unmoved; he isn’t about to cruise around solid showjumps, he wants to work on the jumps that make cross country different – banks and ditches and hills and water.

“With the bank we allow them to put their heads down, they can pop off like they’re an old man, what we do as a rider is stay in balance like we did in the arena with our legs, so keep a long rein and pop off, if you have a short rein they will jump out.”

There are some young horses that aren’t too thrilled by the bank and Sam is quick to say, “when these young horses do it really make a fuss of them.”

Having let the horses see exactly what’s going on and assuring them it’s not scary the riders then go over at trot and then immediately again at cross-country canter. Sam’s point is that the basis has to be easy and reassuring for the horse, it’s not a matter of teaching them to jump out here, it’s about teaching them to trust you and to have a positive experience.

They move on to the higher part of the bank and canter straight off it, “canter up, reins up, ready with your body, let him get his head down to see it.”

“Can you see how giving your inexperienced horse the reins it gave him confidence to see what he had to do?”

The riders pop on and off the bank, jumping a little brush afterwards, “You’d be amazed by how horses learn about what they need to do in combinations, but they have to trust that you’re not putting them in a scary place.”


We move on to the water jump, again designed to cater for all levels, tackling the easiest part first at walk, letting the horses have the rein and figuring it out for themselves, then moving up to cross-country pace.

“Horses do things without understanding what they’ve done, so it’s better to take it easy and really let him switch his brain on to where his feet are.”


Once the horses have gone through at walk and trot it’s into cross-country canter and they cruise through, again the ones who phoofed and pawed at the water on their first try, now bowl through without worrying. If they’d tackled the water first at cross-country pace one or two riders might have ended up a bit wet…

“What you’ve got to remember is the last thing the horses want to do is hurt themselves, if we just play to that, make them understand and trust them, it’s amazing what they can do.”

The riders move to bigger drops in to the water and exits, “horses are herd animals and they will learn to follow others so like before, just walk up like they’re an old plodder out on the high plains and let them have a look. Then it’s cross-country canter and all go through.”

Sara’s dog, a lovely coolie has been cruising around the property all day, cuddling up to me as I tried to take notes, now wanders into the water jump to have a drink, totally unperturbed by the thundering and splashing hooves all around him…

next it’s on to ditches


Next it’s on to the ditches. Fairhurst really is quite a big place so Sam jumps into the gator on the property and gives Roz and I (and the dog) a ride over to the other side of the hill where we find three ditches of different widths.


Sam gets the riders going over the narrowest ditch, again they walk, letting the heads go down, “we need a bit of repetition here because you can see some of them are saying ‘I don’t know what to do’.” Then it’s more of the same and on to trot and cross-country canter. Now the horses are doing it by themselves, the rider doesn’t need to push and pull because the horse trusts them, they just need the rider to be there, “at a competition you might need to adjust the speed but the main thing is to get them to understand.”

They move on to an apex.

“For me training a young horse to jump apexes you jump them square on at the front, ride a bit of an oxer at 90 degrees to the front of the jump. At the higher levels I’ll adjust the angle and get them jumping on the angle, but here just keep it simple for them and don’t worry about the other side.”

Sam adds in a second apex, “so it’s just oxer to oxer on a bendy line, nothing scary.”


Moving on, and we’re tackling all the tricks of cross country, so next it’s a ditch at the bottom of a shadowy gully. A young dappled grey doesn’t like the shadows and spooks at the ditch, so they go through three more times, as Sam said, repetition is the key, and when asked again at canter, there is no hesitation.

Sam then sends the riders off on a course: one jokes, “wow we’ve got our solo ticket!”

While they are bowling around Sam chats about his training, commenting on the increasing technicality in cross country and how this affects his schooling: “I school over skinnies in the arena, it’s just my showjumping training with a different focus, my cross country schooling is more banks, ditches, waters, like I’ve done today. They don’t need to learn to jump out here on the course, that’s for the arena.”

The dog is in the way of the course the riders are on, and as we call it back to us it looks quite insulted by this bunch of interlopers roaming across his property.

Roz and I had a chat to Sam before he headed out to the cross-country jumps…


You have quite a mixed bag of horses and riders for cross country, how do you balance the different levels and abilities?

“Well I have the same principle for training from the start right through to the advanced horses so I’ll just do the same but over smaller fences for the less experienced horses. You know it’s just about building up the horses’ confidence so the riders will just do what they feel comfortable with and hopefully it will go well…”

Do you do much teaching in the UK?

“I do a bit, I’m usually so busy competing, it’s quite tricky, but I do the odd clinic here and there, which I quite enjoy doing, particularly the cross country side of things, today you’ve come and seen some challenging students!”

How long have you been based in the UK?

“About 15 years now, I only went over originally to travel around and I worked for a short time with Blyth Tait and Matt Ryan, and one thing led to another and I sort of stayed over there. I really miss home, but there’s such a great circuit over there, I’m quite established now so I’ll be staying there for a while…”

So with younger riders thinking about heading over, you see it with showjumpers especially, what would you advise, do you think you made the right decision?

[Sam laughs] “Career-wise yes, it’s the best circuit in the world over there, but it is very much a lifestyle choice, Australia is such a beautiful country to live in, but career-wise Europe is the place to be, I think anyway. But having said that, there’s riders like Stuart Tinney who have proved that you can do it just as well from here… It’s a big decision to leave your home and your base…”


What would you say to people like your talented nieces who might be thinking of going over there?

“I think if they wanted to do it I’d say come over for a short stint and see if it’s for them. I mean come over and try it for a while, don’t overly commit yourself until you’ve had a taste, do a season or half a season and see what you think. The hardest thing about leaving home is you lose all your connections and support group. It’s great when you’re going well, but it’s when things aren’t going so well that you need the support and that’s what makes going abroad so tough…”

Plans for Happy Times…

“I will take him to Badminton this year, and I’ve got another horse, an Irish mare with unusual name of Paulank Brockagh, that I’m going to take to Badminton as well. She’s a promising horse.”

You’ve had some good runs at those big events…

“Yeah, they’ve gone pretty well, I just haven’t quite cracked at representing Australia… but I think if I just keep plugging away I’m sure I’ll get there…”

And Sam’s prediction on Pauline Brocklagh proved correct. The combination won Badminton in 2014.

They were part of the WEG team at Normandy…

And part of Australia’s Bronze Medal Team at Rio – Hippo foto


Back to Basics with Princess Nathalie

Words Chris Hecto and Photos by Roz Neave & Peter Stoop

One of the great things about Princess Nathalie’s Victorian clinic, was the quality of the horses and the riders that Pernille Hogg assembled for the visitor to work with. One real star was Gitte Donvig riding her five year old Sandro Hit stallion Shiraz Black (out of a Donnerhall mare) – fresh from being crowned 2008 Dressage with the Stars Champion of Champions.

Gitte tells the Princess that he ‘can be a bit sticky at the start’. A bit sticky seems to be an understatement as the horse executes acrobatics across the arena. It is moments like these that the Princess is probably feeling thankful she hasn’t got her boots on. However, Gitte calms him down and the young stallion, who she has been riding since March, relaxes nicely. (There is one consolation for a minute or two of bumping around, since Gitte’s mother, Mary Hanna, watching proudly from the sidelines, confesses that when she got on Shiraz after returning recently from Europe, his antics caused intense pain to her dodgy back, and Gitte got to keep the ride… )

The black stallion has lovely paces but is trying to lean to the outside. The Princess notices this immediately and instructs Gitte to ‘tell him to stay in the middle of his shoulders’ and to keep her lower leg on the girth, not behind, so as to keep him ‘straight underneath you.’ Again lots of half halts are used, and as the horse is not responding quickly enough, not doing what Gitte asks of him, the Princess tells her to ‘be really aware when you ask him to go forward he does it immediately, not when he wants to.’


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Princess Nathalie emphasises the importance of having the horse in front of your leg, particularly with stallions, for when you later ask for collection: ‘if you can’t get them in front of your leg when they are four of five-year-olds don’t think you’ll get them in front when you start doing more collected work.’

“Feel that you can balance his shoulders between your hands. Keep steadying your seat. He has to step under your seat. He has to be able to balance himself on his hind legs rather than plunging down. He will need this balance when he starts to do pirouettes.”

Gitte is told not to exaggerate carrying her hands high, ‘I don’t want these Bundeschampionate arms,’ laughs the Princess, as Gitte puts in a couple of the exaggerated uberstreichens (giving of the rein) that are such a feature of the great young horse showman, Ulf Möller’s repertoire. Gitte spent quite a lot of time at PSI working with Ulf, and is obviously a good student.

When working in the walk, the Princess says that she hardly works on collection in the walk, that ‘if they can collect in the trot and collect in the canter they can collect in the walk.’ It is important not to lose the quality of the walk, or in higher classes ‘lose a lot of marks for nothing.’

The horse is then put through some half pass work. The young stallion tires when going across the whole diagonal and the Princess gets Gitte to just ask for some small amounts of lateral movement, not the entire diagonal. ‘Don’t try for the whole 60m, kick him if he gets too squashy on your leg, get the rhythm back and try again.’ With this technique the horse keeps his rhythm much better. ‘Don’t ask for it to be perfect all at once,’ the Princess tells Gitte, ‘he still has to learn it and keep the balance – he is a baby.’

“Take the hind legs with you on the diagonal, but don’t ask too much. That’s what I would do with a five-year-old to get him to half passes in the correct way. As Kyra says, ‘don’t try to make a problem out of a problem’.”

The Princess tells Gitte off for not holding a straight line on the diagonal, ‘if you’re unsure, you’ll make him unsure’. Gitte later explained this was due to not being able to see the end of the arena, but kept on with the lesson, squinting at the far side.


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Despite Gitte assuring us Shiraz Black would be calm the next day, with no wickedness, we have a little show at the start of the lesson on the second day. He is revved up by the first canter transition with a pig root and it looks like we could have a repeat of yesterday. However, after a big canter around the arena Gitte has him under control again. Princess Nathalie says less in this lesson as they work on the same elements, but focuses on the pair the whole time.

Using the exercise for the leg yields from the day before, they focus on moving the hind quarters a little on the diagonal, not the whole way. Princess Nathalie tells Gitte to ‘push away his outside leg, if he hasn’t got that, he will find it hard in half pass.’ Shiraz Black understands well and Gitte looks happy with him, which the Princess acknowledges, ‘you have to be satisfied with those steps – he understood what you wanted, he is truly responding to your leg.’ The Princess uses another of her interesting explanations, telling Gitte in the leg yield left to ‘ride his right shoulder into your left rein’ not pulling the rein, just riding the right side of the horse into the left rein and ‘just asking the hind legs to follow’

Even on a twenty metre circle the Princess emphasises straightness, ‘he really has to get straight – shoulders in front of hind legs, really straight.’ ‘Keep his right shoulder in front of his right hind leg’, straight. This emphasis on straightness really appears to be her adage in dressage, ‘you want the neck to come straight out of the shoulders, don’t want to overbend him’.

In the canter Princess Nathalie tells Gitte that ‘you have to be able to sit there and it looks like you are doing absolutely nothing.’ They focus on the rhythm of the canter, ‘it’s more important to keep the canter good’ than to have such a big canter, as ‘he needs to have time to put his legs underneath him’. The horse really has an effortless canter; he looks to be just bouncing.

The Princess emphasises the importance of getting a reaction every time, ‘he’s not reacting to you, make him react.’ Gitte promptly gives the horse a kick and he pigroots, ‘there, you got a reaction,’ Shiraz Black quickly calms and responds much better to Gitte.

The last ten minutes are spent on the trot work. Balance is emphasised again as ‘we don’t want these big long steps, he needs time to put his legs underneath him. Too long makes it difficult for him to balance.’ Shiraz Black does have a nice, expressive lengthening of the stride which the Princess acknowledges, however she tells Gitte to work on the other aspects, ‘you know he can lengthen, so don’t do it too much. That’s what I would do.’

They finish the lesson with an affectionate pat for Shiraz and a quick word of praise from Princess Nathalie, ‘today was much nicer Gitte.’

2017 Update

Princess Nathalie is now the trainer of the  Danish dressage team who were successful at the recent European Championships taking the Silver team medal and team member, Cathrin Dufour taking individual Bronze in the Grand Prix, Special and the Kür behind Germany’s Isabell Werth and Sönke Rothenberger.

 Princess Nathalie, team trainer

Chris Hector spoke with Gitte Donvig after the first day:

“She’s an amazing instructor. I knew that she had the really good training from Kyra, and Mum had spoken very highly of her riding. She was a very good communicator and had a very good way of explaining things. She was very good on the technical things – like teaching Shiraz the half pass. He is a stallion and he can come a little against my leg sometimes, she showed me how to find a way to ride it, that made it easier for him, and that made it very easy for me.”

“She said not to try and ride a whole half pass, to ride a little bit across the diagonal, and then take the hind leg a little bit, and then if I lost rhythm to go straight on the diagonal again. To give him always the chance to have the rhythm, and make it easy for him – because he is still a five-year-old.”

I thought it said something about the difference between riding in Europe and riding in Australia that Nathalie got after you for not aiming exactly at your marker on the wall…

“I had to pick a pole, but unfortunately I can’t see that far, so I was having a little bit of trouble, but I squinted and got there eventually.”

But it is a bit of an Australian thing, oh yeah, I’ll do it exactly when I get to the competition but at home it’s a bit of an Achilles heel…

“Absolutely. It was the same as she said about concentrating on every transition, especially with a stallion, he’s got to be in front of you and he’s got to go when you say ‘go’ and stop when you say ‘stop’. It seems very basic but you forget to do it, you start concentrating on other things and lose some of those important details.”


Nathalie was very interesting with her emphasis on keeping the horse’s shoulders between your knees and hands and straight in front of you…

“Again, if you spoke to my mother, that’s a bit my Achilles heel, bending them too much in the neck and then losing the shoulder.”

But that is the easy thing to do – tug on their mouth and you get a reaction…

“Especially if you think they might be about to do a bit of a yee-ha, it’s a nice place to be then. But really it helps to just think about having the horse between my hands, that got it into my skull.”

And not try to ‘help’ by taking your hands up…

“That might be a little bit to do with some of the training I’ve had in the past – not Mum’s – so I got in trouble for doing the over-exaggerated ‘Bundeschampionate’ give away of the reins. I thought ‘oh I wonder where I got that from’. But it’s good, it is good basic, correct riding. It’s a different style of riding from what I’ve done before at PSI but this is riding for Grand Prix – the important stuff.”

I think it is always interesting where you see a lesson from someone like Nathalie who is currently riding and riding at the highest level?

“There’s a certain degree of sympathy and understanding I think, when you have someone like that teaching you. She said a few things to me, like ‘I know he’s by Sandro Hit, what’s on dam’s side’ – Donnerhall, oh okay – and you could see her thinking I can understand this horse a bit better because I’ve ridden ones bred like that. It means the instructor can help you with more perception. And for test riding today – it’s not the same as it was twenty years ago, it’s changed dramatically. It was really enjoyable, I got a lot out of the lessons.”

3401 HM Ashlea Day

New South Wales rider Ashlea Day attended the Hunter Valley Princess Nathalie clinic on her Prix St Georges grey Warmblood gelding CP Perolus. Ashlea, who is only 18 years old, has been training with Christine Crawford and previously trained with Silva Stigler. CP Perolus, known in the stables as “Minty”, is Dutch bred, by Junior STV and was imported from Holland for another young rider. Minty was previously trained by Rachael Sanna and has now been with Ashlea for the past two months. When asked how she found the clinic she said, ‘the lessons were really, really fantastic.’

“When Christine asked me if I wanted to do this clinic I was so nervous. But actually the Princess was quite normal. I did think she was going to be very ‘German’, but she was precise and her instructions were clear. She really knew how to push Minty’s buttons. She started off the lesson with lots of basics which helped me understand how these higher movements are trained and how the basic exercises warm him up.”

“She was seriously into the half halt as a basic and gave me some easy to remember tips on how to start and finish a correct pirouette. She used all the basics to improve the higher movements and the explanations were simple.”

“Princess Nathalie taught me something very different. She gave me triggers to visualize the feeling of what she was teaching me in the actual lessons. I now use those triggers in training every day to recall what to do and in what order. She used the half halt to correct and line up every movement. I could tell this gave Minty and me a second to think and set up the movement – especially the pirouettes. Then when we put it together it all flowed, it was so cool. I remember smiling most of the lesson.”

3605 HM

Finding your style…

Like so many of the world’s top riders, Princess Nathalie started out with lessons from the great Kyra Kyrklund….

“I was sent to Kyra when she was at Flyinge in Sweden. When I’d made my students exam, my parents sent me to her, and it was meant to only be for half a year to see if I had the talent, and if it was really what I wanted to do. From half a year it became four years, and then when she moved to England, I moved to Germany and started training with Klaus Balkenhol.”


What are the key elements of Kyra’s training that help you?

“Kyra’s way of training has followed me all through my career, and now I am back training with Kyra and Richard again. It’s a way that suits me very well, and when they train they really have the ability to explain what feelings you should have in certain moments. It’s not just like the German way: pull on the right rein and take the left leg then whoosh the horse goes to the side. You want someone to explain the feeling, which feeling am I looking for when the horse is doing that. Kyra and Richard are just unique in explaining things.”

But it is all still within the framework of the Training Scale?

“Absolutely, Kyra is really stuck on that German Training Scale, it is a system everyone can copy. It’s not like that extreme system that Anky has – which is working fantastically for Anky, but it is not a system that would suit me. I really like the way Kyra trains, and the system that Klaus follows, it is also along the lines of the German Training Scale, so it was good to take first Kyra and then Klaus and it helped me to develop my own hand writing in riding.”

“Kyra and Klaus are very similar. There are a lot of parallels, but again, both of them have their own hand writing. Everyone has a little bit their own way, but the main red thread is the same red thread. Kyra and Richard can just explain things differently.”

Klaus is not such a ‘talky’ instructor?

“No,  you put him on the horse, he rides the horse, corrects the stuff, and you get back on and feel what it feels like. He is not so good in explaining things, but then again, Kyra is just unique, there is nobody else like her.”

Watching you teach, you are a ‘talky’ trainer, you give a lot of information, lots of layers…

“I think that is where I have a little bit of Klaus and a little bit of Kyra. I like the way Kyra and Richard can explain, and that’s what I try to give on to the pupils, but again you have to get this German discipline into the riding – trying to go from point to point and really think of what you are doing there, not just riding around… If you don’t ride from point to point, you lose one mark, and it is a stupid mark to lose just because you are not riding from letter to letter. If you have a mistake in the movement, if you go from one letter to the next and hit the point, you should still get one or two marks for that, even if the horse breaks gait, you should still get a two or a one because you hit the mark.”

It was interesting, your concentration on straightness?

“It’s all about straightness. If a horse is not straight, you will always have difficulties, for example the half pass left and right, it makes it very difficult to get the same quality. A horse always has one weaker side, so it is important that you train both sides to be the same.”


The mentor – Kyra Kyrkland

Your channel was important, between the arms, the shoulders, the legs…

“It all hangs together, if you don’t get the first step, you definitely won’t get the second and third or fourth step. You have to get the first step right to be able to get the other steps right.”

Do you teach a lot?

“No, I have my girls at home who help me with my horses, and who get to ride quite a bit. So I try to help them to improve my own horses – for me it is important that they get it right from the beginning so I don’t have to change so much when I sit on the horse. But I like teaching, it makes me have to think about my own riding and think ‘how would I do it?’ and then get it into words for others to understand. I think that is quite fun.”

“It’s been fun here in Australia. Emma told me that in Queensland there would not be many very good riders… Hunter Valley was better and in Victoria, nearly every horse I have to work with is really fun to work with. There’s a lot of potential here. It is fun to see Australia, you don’t realise how big the country is, until you move around.”

Are we going to see you back here?

“I hope so, I would love to come back.”

This article first appeared in THM December 2008.

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Zu Sayn Wittgenstein, Nathalie


George Morris in Australia Part 4

Words by Christopher Hector, pix by Roz Neave

It’s an eerie moment as we settle into our deck chairs in the shade of the magnificent trees Wayne Roycroft planted and tended to maturity, as the sky is filled with thirty or so exotic birds… and I mean seriously exotic, like giant Macaws, rare Red Tailed Black Cockatoos, and the odd white Correllas that were happy to sit on the shoulders of the spectators. The flock is owned by a neighbour, John Singleton, and each morning, they are let out of their aviary for a lazy day of freedom, before being summoned back by a special whistle in the evening…

It’s the perfect setting as far as George Morris is concerned… an open field with a few natural obstacles, since George is fanatical in his belief in the benefits of jumping ‘rustic’ obstacles. Rustic they may be, exactly placed they are also – once again George has his tape out and spends a long time setting up his courses and getting them just so. And woe betide the helpers – dubbed the Tootsies – if they get the slightest bit slack. They must run, run, run to get the fences re-built and they must be EXACTLY like they were first time round…

It’s another fine group. For all there was a disappointingly large number of Australian showjumping and eventing ‘stars’  that failed to grab the opportunity to work with the world’s number one coach, there were plenty of good riders who jumped at the chance. This group features Chris Chugg and his younger stallion, Conquistador, Olympic gold medallist, Stuart Tinney and his exciting mare, Panamera, Colleen Brook and her World Cup horse, Poet’s Corner, Vicki Roycroft and her front-liner, Infatuation, Amanda Madigan and Alondra and Danielle Butcher riding her top horse, HP Landsong.

And, surprise, surprise, right from the start, George insists that they get it perfect. Amanda’s Alondra is one of the stars of the group, but when she comes above the bit for a fraction, George pounces:

“When she goes above the bit, hold the contact, keep your hands up, and equal pressure on both hands. It’s the first thing the horse has to learn, if his head is up, your hands go up, the horse drops his head, you drop your hands – but watch you don’t over drop, and don’t spread your hands. You must get out of the habit, that the horse goes up and you drop your hands.”

It’s the same in the halt:

“Keep the contact, don’t drop it so quick. Keep the horse round and in your hand and in front of your leg. Don’t wrestle with the horse’s head, I don’t care if it takes an hour, you don’t drop your hands and let her come above the bit.”

With pretty well all his students, George wanted them in a more forward, forward seat:

“Adjust your seat forward and I want more angle in your upper body. Adjust your seat constantly towards the front of your saddle. You are behind the movement of the horse, get your upper body much more forward.”

Poor Danni Butcher was a real target for the get your body forward command, and to show her what he wanted, George jumped on Landsong (no one can accuse the Great Man of picking the nice easy horses for his rides).

This time it is the fancy stirrup iron that cops it: “Sexy stirrups, stupid fashions! Old fashioned quality heavy stirrups – nothing new or fancy…”

“Danni the problem is that you are behind the horse, this is necessary at times but there must be a balance. This is a very high headed horse and she gets hollow and resistant. I am showing you equestrian tact… I have more time than the horse. You people are so anxious, you have to wait for the horse. I’m teaching the horse contact, it’s difficult for her, she’s never had this lesson before. The first principle is the horse is in front of my legs and goes to the bit.”

“The second step is to start getting her a little lighter in the shoulder… left turn, right turn, but making sure she doesn’t get rubber necked. We want a short rein and a definite – yet supple – contact. This horse has no submission to the hand, I’ll keep the contact until the horse starts chomping the bit. She’s starting to relax now, watch the mouth chomping and chewing. It doesn’t have to be perfect right away, it will get perfect. As she stretches, I follow down. She comes up, I come up. My half halt is backward, up and give a little, and keep doing that. Every horse resists pressure, and pressure is contact. Resist resistance in direct proportion to the resistance, this takes years to learn.”

more follows

It was time for a little jumping exercise: a little fence, to a cavaletti and then a halt in front of a bank.

more follows

“When he stops at the bank, the horse should stop with you and stop UPHILL, the horse stops on his arse… I shouldn’t say that, you are very lily white here in Australia. The horse has to go forward into a downwards transition.”

At least the horses were meant to stop at the bank, Vicki’s Infatuation had a better idea and popped on top of it! “I thought one horse might think about it…”

George started to add more and more jumps to his line, all the while emphasizing the message, let the horse teach itself.

“If the horse is beautifully ridden and makes a mistake, just do it again, exactly the same, and the horse teaches itself. If the horse has the capacity and is beautifully ridden, let the fences teach the horse.”

Even the ‘teacher’s pet’ was not immune to criticism: “Chuggy I told you not to open your fingers. On the third vertical you opened your fingers and that’s why he didn’t get the oxer. Do it again.”

He does, and Conquistador through the air is something special.

Colleen Brook is a veteran George Morris student, and he likes her style and likes the ‘go’ of her Thoroughbred jumper: “Watch Colleen down the line, she has a feather touch, that’s exactly how you have to ride that horse.”

Stuart too, comes in for praise: “That’s a patient jump, watch horse even his rhythm is.”

A rider is considered balanced when his legs, seat, upper body, hands and arms are in equilibrium.

George Morris, Hunt Seat Equitation, p 7

Time for something just a bit unexpected at a jumping clinic – a plank over a little ditch. By now the course is quite complicated. Over a skinny, tight turn left and seven curving strides to a vertical. Six an oxer, seven to the ditch, a half turn in reverse (remember that school figure in the indoor clinic?) back over the ditch and over the oxer again. And if the man said, seven that’s what you did. An eight and you had to do it again…

“Stuart STOP, you’re an Olympic gold medallist, but if I say six, it has to be precise. If I say six I mean six.”

Woe betide the rider who circled in front of the fence: “The options are a little long, a little short, or very long or very short. Circling is not an option – that’s an addiction that grows and grows. Circling has to be prevented at every cost…”

And over and over again, the message was position, position, position:

“Up in your heels in working gallop, close your hip, upper body forward, weight in your heel, go with your horse.”

“I take as my hero Eric Lamaze at Hong Kong. He rides with his horse, he’s magnificent, he teaches his horses to do it for him, to set themselves and help themselves, it’s the opposite of constipated hippy/handy riding…

Colleen Brook – back for a Re-Fresher Course

“It’s been fantastic. It’s been a really good reminder and I love to hear George say that we are very good with our galloping and jumping but it’s our flatwork that the big boys knock us over with, because that’s where we’ve been slow to catch up. Unless we get that through to the up-and-coming generation, we won’t improve, because it doesn’t matter how good the horses are, we’ve got to be able to ride them. George has been emphasizing that the whole time, which I really enjoyed.”

“For me personally, it was a good tidy up. He’s challenging, he’s tough, and he is very non-PC, but he is bloody right.”

We talk about progress, but I bet that your aunt, Gertie Brooks, the famous campdrafter, would have been able to bring along her campdrafter come hack, and it would have been into the hand, stopped round, and been rideable…

“Your right, that’s what they did, they trained them. I just think that generally we think we are doing okay, but the truth is, we need to do it better.”

It’s scary when you see professional full-time riders who are struggling with a turn on the forehand or a leg yield?

“Very, that’s not a good indication. George has been saying that there is nothing boring about the basics. The basics are in fact, good fun and let’s do them as well as we can.”

But there’s nothing secret about the basics, they have been around almost as long as the ten commandments…

“But when you pick up the tennis rack, you want to hit the winning shot like Rafael Nadal, you don’t want to practise your swing and your footwork, you want to grab the racket and PACHOW! – straight across the court.”

I bet Nadal does a fair bit of practising his swing…

“I bet he does but that is human nature – you put on a pair of skis, you pick up a golf club, you want to do what you see other people doing. That’s the good thing about Europe and America, there are a lot of riders giving you the right example. I’ve always believed that Australia is a nation of very good riders, we can do things, but we need that bit more finesse in our training. We can ride the pants off most of them, it’s our lifestyle, and we are hands on horse people but we need that finesse, and it is fantastic that George has been here hammering us. The class I was in, there were seasoned World Cup horses with Olympic riders, and we were practising halts – walk/halt, trot/halt – simple but effective, and that’s what he is the master of.

This article originally appeared in the October 2009 edition of The Horse Magazine

Ulla Salzgeber – A Masterclass



Don’t forget to look at the Rusty and Ulla gallery at the end, and this article was written in the pre-helmet days.

This article was written in 2008 by Chris Hector.  Ulla Salzgeber gave the Masterclass at Equitana in Brisbane.

Quite by chance, I ended up watching a demonstration by Pat Parelli on how to teach flying changes. Now Mr Parelli does have a lot of interesting and useful things to say about handling horses on the ground, but it doesn’t do his credibility a lot of good, when he actually sits on a horse. The ‘secret’ had something to do with touching the horse on the rump with a stick – of course most riders know if you breeze a horse through a swinging figure of eight, as Pat was doing, then nine times out of ten it will change, even if it is a little late behind sometimes, as it was in the case here. He may not be such a talented rider, but the man with the mo is very good at finding new words for old truths.

It makes it hard when you go to report on a serious instructor like Ulla Salzgeber, because she doesn’t have any fancy new tricks to show, which is not surprising since her number-one trainer is Ernst Hoyos who spent 29 years in the world’s longest running riding school (the one in Vienna) and her advisor is the octogenarian, General Albert Stecken. All she has is clean, coherent training guidelines for both horse and rider, based on the German Training Scale and her own awesome talent as a rider, and years and years of patiently moulding young riders.

So what are the crucial elements of that German scale? Probably the most important element is the awareness that the rider’s inside rein must allow the horse into contact with the outside rein – which is easy to say, not so easy to do. Look hard at photos of even our top riders and see how often the connection fulfils this requirement. How often is there too much weight on the inside rein, which then restricts the engagement of the horse’s hind leg, and throws the weight of the horse onto the forehand.

next Ulla talks to the audience about inside rein and balance

Essential then to the freeing of the inside rein, and the nice contact on the outside rein is that the rider be in balance, in the centre of the saddle. Again, this is something that any pony club instructor ‘knows’, but look again, and see how often riders are leaning back, or crooked, or hunched.

I suppose that is what is so frustrating about what Ulla (and Martina, Lisa, Jo, Ernst etc etc etc) have to say. In one sense it is so blindingly simple. On the other hand, it is obviously very difficult to achieve.

This is where Ulla’s experience as a coach of juniors was so useful. Too often, dressage trainers in this country ignore the rider and concentrate on criticising how the poor horse is going, when in truth he is usually going at least as well as the rider’s poor position and balance allows him. And Ulla had her own ‘magic stick’ and she used it to good effect with all her pupils. Ulla was unhappy with the way her pupils put their hands too far forward, straightening the angle of their elbow. To get them to make the nice straight line from the elbow to the horse’s mouth, Ulla had the rider’s rotate their whip behind them so it pointed backwards and up. With one rider in the clinic before the Equitana, Ulla had her riding with two whips, her stirrups tied to the girth and vowed that if she could think of a way to do it, she would have tied her seat to the saddle at the same time!

Nicole Tough was one who was instructed to keep her whip pointed behind her, with the additional injunction that every time she was tempted to nod her head going ‘yes, yes, yes’ she was to think of shaking it from side to side as if saying ‘no, no, no’.


With the six-year-old Glencoe Manhattan, Nicole was working on collecting the canter and some young horse training pirouettes. The important thing in training the canter is to maintain the quality of the canter – and yes, it is the old collect with the outside rein, keep the activity with the inside leg, and this inside leg became more critical riding the working pirouettes, which started with a circle, with the horse’s inside hindlegs in. “Don’t flex him, just bring his quarters in, keep him on a five metre circle, now into a volte to check that he is on your inside leg. If the horse is not on the inside leg in pirouette you will have trouble getting out of it.”

And that is another secret, when you’ve got it, get out of it! It was a message that Ulla kept stressing over and over, don’t ask for too much, a couple of steps, then get out, relax, refresh, then a couple of steps again…

“Try to ride a half pirouette. Ride it big and stay on the outside rein, not too flexed to the inside, and ride out…” Whereupon the rider started pumping with her upper body and again found Ulla a stickler for rider position: “The horse should go more forward, you should not move your body.”

It was the same message for the flying change.

“Now a few flying changes without moving your body. He will do the change from your legs, don’t you move your body.”

And sure enough the changes came up ever so sweetly (I guess she never considered sending Nicole off at three quarter pace on the buckle for a series of figure eights!)

Kelly Layne and a nine-year-old Amoucher

The next in for the clinic was Kelly Layne and the nine-year-old imported Hanoverian gelding, Amoucher. Kelly said she was hoping to demonstrate some Grand Prix movements, whereupon ‘Smooch’ tried to wipe out the visitor: “Is this part of the exercise of Grand Prix in Australia? Kill the teacher!”

Kelly’s Amoucher is a spectacular mover, but he is also fairly hot and spooky, and time for another invaluable tip from Ulla:

“Never try to ride your horse to something he finds scary with your outside rein. Flex the horse with the inside leg, and think of shoulder in as you go to whatever he finds scary, push there with your inside leg instead of trying to pull him there with the rein.”

Horse under control it was time to work on some half passes, and here, according to Ulla, the most important thing is ‘to keep his bum under control. Think more shoulder in, even get him a little deep – later you can bring his neck up, in the meantime, it is better to have him flexed.”

Flexing the horse was a crucial element of control at many points in Ulla’s working session. Even when asking for a few steps of piaffe, Kelly was asked to flex Amoucher to the inside to make him concentrate a little more. Flex him again, he is looking to the door…”

Not that Ulla minded that the horse was a bit hot: “Good horses have to be a little like him. If they are dead they never have the power they need.”

And even a rider as elegantly correct as Kelly came in for the position critique: “See she is falling a little to the front when she goes to medium trot, and that is why the horse goes to canter. She did it again, exactly the same mistake, and the horse cantered again – it is a well-educated horse! You must not get out of the saddle and then back into the saddle, it interrupts the movement. Kelly stay sitting, the horse should be more hill up.”

‘Hill Up’ was a wonderful Ulla-ism, along with ‘crinkled’ which is so much more expressive than the more customary, ‘crooked’.

“When he twists his neck in the half pass, it shows that he is not truly on the outside rein. Flex him to the outside to make sure he takes the outside rein.

more rider position next

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Sara McDonald was another who had been given the ‘rider position treatment’ big time, but the effect was just startling. I’d seen Adloo Georgia only a few weeks earlier at the Australian Dressage Championships, and now she was so much more engaged and forward after the time in the Ulla Clinic. Improve the rider – improve the horse…

“The position of the rider is the most important thing. Without the right position, you will never ride the horse in the correct way. Down your heels, they should be the deepest part of the rider’s body. Down, down, down, open your muscles, don’t press your knee on the saddle. Turn your feet in a little more, but you should turn your toes by starting at the hip – if you just try to turn your feet it will hurt. We don’t want the rider’s knee so open that you could shoot a ball through the space, but we don’t want it too tight either. If the knee is too tight you can’t turn your foot. Shorten the inside rein for the shoulder in because your hands should always remain in the same position. Right hand on the right hand side of the horse, left hand on the left side. Flex the horse a little more at home because at a competition, you will always lose some of it. It is easier to train with more than less. Play with her mouth, it is something living, something very soft.”

In the canter half pass, the rider had to give the aids for a canter strike off every stride of the half pass. “Every stride, give the aids as if you are going into canter, and if you have to take the inside rein a little, remember you have to use the inside leg more to keep the inside hind leg active.”

And this was another rider who had to stay quieter in the flying change: “The change was good but you have to stay sitting on your bum – no air between the saddle and the bum.”

I have a feeling that perhaps Liz Owens and her six year old mare, Class Action would have preferred to be at Pat’s Flying Change clinic, it certainly would have been much easier to just breeze through the changes with a big change of direction – it was the change of direction that Ulla had nominated as a problem…

“In the flying change the horse always comes a bit against Liz and when she makes the change she is really flying, two metres in the new direction. We are trying to make the change and keep the horse straight. So we make her a little more round so it is easier to keep her under control. Now try the change, a fluid, collected canter, never bring her back before the flying change because you want a big expressive change, and try not to pull her head in the new direction…”

And the handsome black mare stayed absolutely straight as she tossed off a big expressive, brilliant flying change! Or she would have if there were simple magic solutions to every problem. The truth is she got hot and bothered, then more hot and bothered, and that perfect change is looking further and further away. At this point, Ulla confronts the options: “We have two choices. We could keep working for two or three hours and get it, or put her away and come back and try again in a couple of hours. But first we will make a little leg yield as we shouldn’t finish on the bad note.”

And we finished on a nice note too, with a very pleasant session with Kate Overton and her eight-year-old La Viva. They too worked on the canter pirouette.

“Think of a very little circle, forget the word ‘pirouette’. Riders hear the word pirouette and get fear. If they just think a little circle, get the flexion, get the turn, give the aid for canter every stride. Make him faster behind, no more speed, just faster behind.”

There are even some nice four tempi changes even if they could have been a little more ‘hill up’.

Then it was time for Ann Serrao to get her reward. She had lent both her horses, Wisdom and Centaur to Ulla for the Mane Event, and now she had Ulla’s undivided attention as she rode the eight year old Wisdom, trying for the one times changes. “Start left / right, then left / right / left, left / right / left / right, adding one each day.”

More pirouettes: “Normally you go into pirouette and the outside rein is gone. I say ‘keep him straighter’ and it helps the rider keep the outside rein.”

And even after what had been a long, long clinic, Ulla is a stickler for detail, even as the horse is warming down it must be done correctly:

“Even when you give the rein, he is not allowed to run away. Keep the rhythm.”

Rusty and Ulla Gallery of Pix

The Veterinary Basis of Correct Training

I have to confess that I find most veterinary lectures boring. But not the one at the German FN’s Bundeschampionate Seminar – that one was amazing!

It was really an extraordinary presentation from the famed German equine veterinary expert, Professor Stadler. Here it was laid out, black and white, good training  (that means correct, progressive, gymnastic training) is not ‘correct’ because this or that ‘expert’ thinks it is correct, it is correct because it promotes the physical welfare and long-term soundness of the horse…

I guess it should have been obvious, but I had just never ever thought about it – vets have been crucial in the development of civilized training techniques, and not just famous modern vets like Gerd Heuschmann, but right through the Ages…

Not surprisingly, the Professor started with the Ancient Greek, Xenophon, pointing out that his essay had aimed to outline a training regime that inflicted ‘the least damage to the horse that is being used…”

He passed quickly over the Age of Chivalry, merely noting that at times the horses of the Medieval Knights looked a little like some of today’s dressage horses…

The professor pointed to some of the more extreme training methods of early ‘masters’ like Grisone and Newcastle, and suggested that the aggressive attitude to the horse was a result of the belief that horses were sentient beings and ‘the animal as an intelligent being is responsible for its actions and obstructiveness must be punished.’

The cruelties of the Baroque Age (1575 – 1770) were replaced by the civilized values of the Age of Enlightenment (1750 – 1780) where, led by the teachings of de la Guérinière,    the horse came to be viewed as a graceful work of Art. Great value was placed on elegance, beauty, unconstrained movements and discrete aids.

François Robichon de la Guérinière published École de Cavalerie in 1733, a work that stressed three key points: 1 – Knowledge of the horse, 2 – Adequate training, stabling and grooming and  3 – Maintenance and promotion of health.

This new attitude went hand-in-hand with the establishment of the first schools of veterinary medicine: the University-Riding-Institute of Göttingen opened in 1734, followed by the Écoles Nationale Veterinaire of Lyon (1761) and d’Alfort (1765), then the Rossarzneischule Hannoer in 1778. Horses had become valuable so veterinary schools sprung up to keep them sound…

The nineteenth century saw contradictory threads. “The riding masters of the 19th century proposed very different approaches, from the very horse-friendly to positive torture.” (S. G. Solinski, Rider, riding, horse; The basics of the modern riding horse, 1993) Trainers like Baucher and Fillis used maximum flexion and absolute head elevation.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, this debate had crystallized in Otto de la Croix’s Natural Equestrianism (1901). He pointed to the extremes, Paul Pfinzner’s hyper-flexion and Fillis’ high elevation: “The time has seldom been more favorable for a detailed evaluation of the natural basics of the art of riding. Almost simultaneously we have hyperflexion and high elevation, and the riding world remains clueless who is right.”

It wasn’t just the vets who were trying to keep the horses healthy, the military also had a vested interest in their welfare, this led to the publication of the legendary Heeres-Dienst-Vorschrift or HDV 12, the Cavalry rulebook, published in 1912 which became the basis for the modern German training scale. When it was published the aim was more utilitarian: “Teaching riding must result in a reduction of temporarily unusable horses.”

The HDV 12 was revised in 1926 and 1937 by Hans v Heydebreck, Felix Bürkner and Richard Wätjen – all famous names in German equitation, all cavalry officers, all great dressage riders and trainers.

The goal was now: “By preserving and promoting its natural abilities, the horse will be brought into a shape and carriage that allows full development of his strength.”

Look at Bürkner riding, now we see the ‘classical (natural) style’ in action with an optimal, relative head elevation.

Also influential in refining the HDV 12 were a couple of influential vets: the anatomist at the Hannover Veterinary School, O. Zietchmann and a Veterinary Officer at the Cavalry School Hannover, Udo Bürger, the author of that classic, The Way to Perfect Horsemanship (1939).

What emerged was the scale that we all should know off by heart: cadence (rhythm), suppleness and rein contact – the 1st stage of training – and impulsion, straightness and collection, the 2nd (advanced) stage of training. The goal of all these principles is the maintenance of equine health.

This approach is enshrined in the 1997 FN resolution: “Dressage means gymnastic schooling and careful education of the horse to develop its natural talents, to improve its performance, to maintain its health and to achieve harmony between horse and rider.”

Professor Stadler showed a number of photos of horses illustrating their natural head carriage, and suggested that the:

Goal of classical training =

Body carriage with functional muscle tone:

With natural muscle tone at the correct level for the work load

And this involved:

Slow development of elevation or as Udo Bürger put it:

“Carriage will develop by itself as a consequence of schooling.”

However the schooling has to be correct schooling, and Professor Stadler pointed to the ‘modern’ riding style which he described as a ‘significant deviation from the natural head-neck carriage.’ This style of training led to a body carriage with dysfunctional muscle tone, which if practised for a long time leads to lameness. It also produces movement with the foreleg elevated, the back stiff, a protracted hindleg, and ‘dissociative movement’. Where, Professor Stadler asked was the FEI code of conduct, which stipulates… at all times the welfare of the horse must be paramount and must never be subordinated to competitive or commercial influences.’

The Professor went once again to Xenophon for an historical take on ‘clashing aids’:

“…if the rider holds the horse back with the rein and at the same time asks him to go forward, the horse will be irritated and will throw the chest forward and lift the legs higher because it is hot-tempered, not agile.”

Here we have the crucial connection between the psyche of the horse, the suppleness of its muscle tone, and resultant orthopedic health.

Jean-Marie Denoix and Jean-Pierre Pailloux in Physical Therapy and Massage for the Horse: Biomechanics – Exercise – Treatment point out that ‘emotional equilibrium is as important for optimum sporting performance as the physiological fitness of the anatomical structure’ – this is well-accepted for human athletes, but not always understood in relation to horses. Denoix and Pailloux establish that the pre-requisite for healthy forward movement is a favourable psychological environment, and that the cause of pathological orthopedic conditions are poorly coordinated movements that are executed too fast or slow. The causes of poorly coordinated movements can  be diseases, limb disease, ataxia – and these are easy to see, the horse is lame.

Psychological stress results in dysfunctional muscle tone and tenseness. Because the horse is a flight animal, fear is expressed by contracting the muscles. The causes of dysfunctional tenseness can be environmental stress, or the demands of the rider, as when the horse is put in an inescapable aversive experience ‘jerk and spur’. Dysfunctional tenseness can also be caused by significant deviations from the natural body carriage. The function of the muscles in movement is contraction followed by elongation. If this process is incomplete, the muscle    remains in contraction and the musculature hardens, this produces a wrong tension leading to poorly coordinated movements.

Is the goal of dressage an atonic [lacking muscle tone] horse? The professor asked, of course not. With the correct level of tension and the maintenance of an appropriate level of relaxation, then antagonistic muscles do not spasm, and the horse shows well coordinated movement, resulting in increased performance capacity. The alternative is a worn-out horse.

Suppleness of the individual muscles, muscle groups and the entire body, are a result of: education, repetition and training. Once this suppleness is learned it is always attainable. If it is not learned in the first month of training then it will not be achievable in the future. Suppleness is a psychological as well as physiological, or as Bürger put it: ‘innocence of mind must always precede suppleness of the body.’

The Professor was firm that the ‘modern riding style’ of working the young horse with tight head-neck carriage was the way to a tense horse and dysfunctional muscle tone. He suggested that as a result in modern times there were more examples of poor piaffe/passage than we saw with the Old Masters. But Professor Stadler was really at pains to show that the result was not only awful images and poor piaffe and passage, but also health problems.

This is no modern insight. La Guérinière in the eighteenth century asserted that ‘sadly even quite good horses can suffer bone and tendon injuries – impatient ‘trainers’ attempt to school them too quickly and destroy them.’ Again: ‘Strength and natural perfection are lost and disappear through over-working and exhaustion with  too strenuous and prolonged exercise. The horse will develop joint and tendon sheath swelling, spavin and other diseases.’

Of more recent times, Professor Stadler pointed to the article in The Veterinary Journal (April, 2010), Identification of risk factors in dressage horses by Rachel Murray. The study found that lameness was the most common disease or injury in the dressage horse and that elite horses tended to be off work longer. The work indicated that 24% (557 out of the 2532 in the study) of dressage horses may become lame in a two year period. The most frequent problem was suspensory ligament and tarsal joint diseases, while 20% of dressage horses suffered from back pain.

Another paper, Identification of risk factors for lameness in dressage horses (Murray, R.C., Walters, J.M., Snart, H., Dyson, S.J. and Parkin, T.D.H. 2010) found: ‘It has been noted that extravagant moving young horses prepared for sale or young horse classes have a high incidence of hind proximal suspensory desmitis.’

In a paper in 2006, Rachel Murray noted: ‘During the stance phase of the stride, the hind limb is loaded, with the tarsal joint in flexion and metarasophalangeal joint (MTPJ) in extension, resulting in loading of the suspensory ligament.’

In the mid stance of the extended trot, if the movement is not correctly supported by the horse’s back, then the suspensory ligament is loaded, but the same problem can also occur in the collected movements, As Udo Bürger noted: ‘premature exercise in piaffe and passage-like steps without suppleness, results in pathological changes in the suspensory ligament.’

Despite the views of some that the classical principles were hopelessly outdated and super-ceded by the ‘modern’ techniques, the professor showed that they were more needed than ever. In fact, the cavalry horses, schooled often by less-than-expert riders, lasted longer than the modern dressage horse! Cavalry horses in times of peace on average lasted in service until they were 15 years of age, and then went on to an additional 3 years of civil duty. In other words, they were sound and useful up to the age of 18. Modern Warmblood horses studied between 1974 and 1982 and 1986            and 1996, had an average working life of 8 to 10 years.

The Cavalry Report of 1929 found that out of 37,000 horses, there was a wastage of 436 or 1.18% of the total, while Orthopedic disease affected 32 or 7% of that group, and that the horses had a mean age of 10.2 years. On the other hand, Sedensticker, (1999: Abgangsursachen entschädigter Pferde einer Tierversicherung aus den Jahren 1990-1995. Diss. med. vet., Tierärztliche Hochschule Hannover) looked at 30,000 horses between 1990 and 1995 and found a wastage of 519 horses (1.73%) and of that group an enormous 233 – or 45%! – suffered from Orthopedic disease. The modern horses had a mean age of 8.7 years.

And yet the solution to this modern wastage is there in the training program:

Cadence, rhythm   >   well coordinated movements

Suppleness   >   optimal economical muscle use

Contact   >   elastic response to the aids

Impulsion, swinging    >    shock absorbing

Straightness    >    even-loading

Collection   >   load reduction of the front quarters

What then is the solution? Professor Stadler says there is nothing wrong with the FEI rules, or the FEI ethical guidelines, it is just the discrepancy between these noble ambitions and the reality. He pointed out that on the entrance door of the Versailles School of de la Guérinière, one could read: ‘Where art ends, violence starts.’

One of the Seminar participants, Dr Schüle, felt that the Professor’s depiction of the ‘modern riding style’ lumped too much together. “Not all the riders train in the same way, there are different lines and many train in the correct way – look at the European Championships in Rotterdam and the riding of Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, that was very correct. There are two types of ‘modern’ riding and one of them is correct.”

But Professor Stadler was not backing away from his criticisms:

“What I criticize you see very often at the lower levels. While lots of riders practice the sport very well, most horses are prepared in the wrong style.”

Bordeaux – competing himself and siring winners – available in Australia from International Horse Breeders – www.ihb.com.au

Cross Country training with Stuart Tinney


Join Stuart Tinney back in 2004 talking about training eventers, and his secrets to riding Cross Country, successfully. Stuart is still competing at the top, and was a member of our Rio Bronze Medal winning team.

Back to 2004

So where did you discover that ‘re-balance’ was the magic word that unlocked the secrets of cross country?

“Trial and error. I’d ridden to two-star level before I moved from Queensland, where I was born, down to NSW and became involved with Wayne and Vicki Roycroft. A lot of the stuff I did was not too bad, but it was done subconsciously. The biggest thing about working with Wayne was making everything conscious. Where do you take off from? I didn’t know. Obviously I took off from a reasonable spot, or my horses wouldn’t have left the ground. After working with Wayne, everything became a lot more conscious.”

“Then the next thing was to realise what makes a fence work. Why did that one work, and not this one? It’s about thinking, about concentrating. Every jump I jump on cross-country, I analyse. That didn’t feel too good – why not? Canter – was the canter good enough? Was the spot bad? Did I rebalance enough? Was I coming down a hill and I tried to re-balance but I failed. All that happens when I am riding, and it is just a matter of realising over time, what works and what doesn’t.”

Are you consciously doing that as you come to a fence – re-balance, re- balance, where’s my take off point?

“No, that becomes a feel. Once you’ve practiced it enough. What I am trying to do is show riders a way to try and feel it themselves. It is a bit like driving a car, you don’t say ‘oh I’d better brake now’, it becomes a feel but you have to drive a fair bit to get the feel happening.”

“You keep refining it. for example, I took a few young horses out at Sydney, it’s a bit undulating, and it is noticeable when you hit a few hills, on a downhill slope things are not as easy as they are on an uphill slope. It’s all about balancing them, and you want to keep the balance when you run downhill. As they become more experienced themselves they won’t just run down the hill, because at the bottom of that hill will be a double of arrowheads. They start to listen to you more, and they stay better balanced all the time. That happens through training as well, even the horses start to do it themselves.”

Stuart representing Australia at the WEG in 2014 in Normandy

So is the secret more boring flatwork?

“Definitely. If you can’t do a half halt on the flat, you are going to struggle to do one cross country. It does change. You can do a lot of flatwork, but when you go out to jump them for the first time, you notice there is a huge difference between jumping and flatwork. Everything needs to happen quicker, they have to react straight away, whereas on the flat, you actually want your half halt to be a little smooth and nice – not abrupt. Then when you go to jump a fence you find you are way too close to the next one, and you go, ‘quick, wait’ and their reaction is that nice slow flatwork half halt… too late. It is related to your flatwork, but you have to speed everything up. Your reactions have to be much quicker. Again that is influenced by the horse – a good intelligent horse will react much quicker.”

Can you get those reactions happening with poles in a jumping arena, or do you need to get out in the adrenalin powered environment of a real cross country competition run? Or doesn’t the horse know the difference?

“You can certainly get them half way there with the stuff you do on the arena. From dressage to what you do on the jumping arena is quite a big step, quicker reactions. When you take them out on the cross-country, they get better the more they do. I’ve found with my young ones that when I first take them out cross-country, they spook on maybe logs on the ground. You can’t do that on the arena – and that spook might happen right in front of the fence you are about to jump. You do need to get out and do that type of stuff, see new things and different types of jumps.”

“My new grey horse, Dettori, finds logs the most offensive thing, he finds them quite scary. They’ve just got to get used to cantering past a log on the ground, they’ve got to get used to going up and down gullies. Once they’ve got out and done a little bit of that, then the events pretty well do the rest. A different sort of jump here, a different sort of jump there, water jumps … ”

Once that starts to happen do you back off on the amount off jumping you do at home?

“I probably only jump them twice a week at home, and that would move down to once or twice as they get more experienced. When they are at Jeepster’s level then I don’t jump them very much, towards a three day event, Jeepster would jump once a week, but at the moment for instance, it’s dressage every day.”


Stuart and Jeepster on their Gold Medal winning round at Sydney in 2000

Do they need the jumping to develop certain muscles?

“At the start of a fitness program, it is all dressage, just getting all their muscles working. When you do high enough level dressage they are using quite a few of their muscles. Then they start jumping, which will be really low; we’ll jump twice a week because the jumps are tiny. I’ll work up to jumping two or three times a week at a reasonable level, then I’ll go to an event. It’s gradual with the jumping. Then if I find anything faulty, I’ll work on that.”

“When you walk up to some of those Olympic Games fences they look so enormous that you don’t think it is physically possible for horses to jump them. But that is you looking down into the ditch – on a good horse, when you canter in, they don’t take their eye off the top of the fence, yes they see the ditch, but they don’t look in to see how deep it is, neither do I when I am on course. That’s how I try to train them. It’s the same with showjumpers, they put amazing distractions all over the showjumping courses, to make the horse’s eye go away from the top rail, but the good horses don’t fall into the trap. Think of a showjumping course like Seoul; first just watch the horses jump and they are all focussed on the fences, then after a while you start to look around and see what the wings are made of, and that is amazing, beautiful and stunning, but they don’t look at them. It is the same at the Games with some of those beautiful cross-country jumps, honestly I see them on the video now but I didn’t see them when I walked the course because I was too busy focussing on where the horse should focus. That is what you are trying to teach the horse.”

Stuart and Pluto Mio competing at Adelaide 4*

“These fences can look quite complicated at times, but it is not that difficult, if you look at it as a fence and a distance and a fence, that’s all anything ever is, and then it is quite simple. Sometimes when you are walking a course and you come round the corner and from 30 metres away you think what’s THAT! It will be a house, literally a house; you have to jump up to the top of it and off it.”

“Think about it, if I cantered my horse up the drive to my house would he try to jump on the roof – yet they just look at it as a fence, jump it and go on. That’s what it is all about because they do make them quite spectacular looking sometimes. It is amazing how you can spend half an hour at a fence, examining the angles, the flags are here, the flags are there, we try to work out how to do it and we eventually do – then we come down to the fence with the horse – sure we get them there in a nice distance and a nice pace – but the horse has it sorted out straight away and just jumps through it.”

Has the nature of the game changed with the greater emphasis on showjumping – once upon a time there were those legendary cross country horses that bashed fences all over the cross country track?

“I don’t ride horses that hit cross-country fences, that would make me too nervous. I think if they are hitting cross-country fences they are certainly not going to be very good showjumpers. I think now that we are aiming to get better jumpers, they are going to be more watchful, more careful, and then it is a matter of keeping them confident.”

“In cross country, to some degree there are fences that they have to hit, drag their hind legs over – they certainly don’t have to hit them in front. It’s very hard to jump some of the combinations down into the water, without tapping your back fetlock on something, and if horses are genuinely quite careful, they find that a little bit offensive. It does come down to riding them well, and keeping them confident so that when they do see something big and difficult, they want to have a good look at it. I’ve always tried to ride them as well as I can, if they are seriously uncareful, they are not going to be in the sport for long.”

Are you doing more showjumping now than you did in the past?

“It depends on the horses. The horses I’ve got now are green so they’ll do quite a bit of showjumping. It is difficult to fit it all in. I do take them out to jump club, or take them to friend’s places and jump them there – to simulate going out to compete. I’m happy going to showjumping shows.”

Do you get help with your showjumping?

“All the time. At the squad schools I’ve had help from Alexa Bell, I get help from George Sanna, and Vicki Roycroft’s influence is always there.”



Tell me about the grey horse, Vettori. You’re not worried about him being by the Warmblood stallion, Voltaire II?

“Not at the moment I’m not, he’s a nice mover – he is also out of the Field’s Grand Prix dressage mare, Silver Fern – and he is a lovely horse to ride. He is a nice jumper, and he has just had his first two starts, and he won them both. It all comes down to talent. We went there, looked at the horse – how does it move, how does it jump? How does it gallop? He gallops fine, the speed is fine. Has he got the stamina? He has to gallop for ten eleven minutes … he did six at the weekend.”

You think that with the new CIC format will place more emphasis on rideability?

“Look at something like the Sydney Games cross country track, then take two or three minutes off that, but with the same amount of jumping efforts – that’s the new format- and that just means that you lose all that galloping after the second water. All the jumps are still there, you come round the corner and there is the next one and the next one – there’s no galloping in between, that is the only way to shorten the course. The courses will just become more busy, straight away the horse has to be on the ball, focussed, they can’t have little rests between them. You could catch up at Sydney, if you were on a fit horse you could just gallop that last stretch. The horses you take more time on are generally horses that you have to set up more, get them more organized, they might be the ones with a big bit on – so if you’ve got a snaffle mouthed, easy to balance rideable horse, just gallop down to a fence, set up in two strides, jump the fence and go to the next one. That is the horse that is going to be quicker, that is going to be the horse for the new format.”

Are you worried that the new format will mean that eventing will become more like showjumping and dressage, you are going to need the super freaky horse to win – and that means the good horses will get very expensive and it will be hard to keep them in Australia?

“Probably there is going to be less of a spread of horses competing. Look now, the horses go all the way from Megan’s big horse (Hallmark) to … Megan’s little horse (Jester). You can see lots of different horses in eventing now, with lots of different qualities, or weaknesses. With the new format I think it is going to narrow it down. They are going to have to be fancy horses on the flat, talented showjumpers, and nice rideable horses cross country, I think that takes that variety of horses away, they will still be out there competing, but the big ones won’t be able to gallop fast enough or be manoeuvrable so they’ll lose a few marks on the cross country, horses that are good jumpers but don’t move, are going to be left behind in the dressage.”

“Then you would think that a specific horse that looks very very good for the job is going to be expensive, and some of those overseas riders have huge budgets. When you look back at the successfu I horses over the years, some of them have had a weak phase – there haven’t been a lot of horses in the world that are fancy at all three. It is a tough sport and for a horse to be good at all three phases is very rare – and they are going to be worth a lot of money when you find one.”

1barrellonsideEXERCISE 1: THE BARRELS

“The way the cross country is going is that it is getting more and more technical. It still surprises me, you walk a course and see something difficult or technical, narrow… and you’ll think, wow that is really difficult. You seem to get surprised by it every time. An arrowhead used to be four feet wide, now they can be much less – what does that mean, they are going to end up being four inches wide? So you need to teach our horses to be focussed and straight. When they see a narrow fence they should aim at it and take you over it, that’s very important.”

“Once they are jumping confidently over normal fences, then start introducing narrower ones making sure they stay straight.”

“With green horses start with two barrels side by side. I’ll put two wings on either side. With some horses unless there are wings on either side of the jump, it is great drama for them. If there are two wings, they go between those, no problem. Take the wings away and some of them just go ‘I have no idea of what you are asking: They just get so drilled into what they are doing, so if they can’t cope with the two-barrel thing, then I’ll put wings on either side and then it looks like a jump. Then I’ll move the wings further away, so they are still there but there is a big gap between the drums and the wings. Once they have got that down pat, then replace the wings with rails, then down to a single drum lying down.”


“It is a step from a lying down barrel to standing up barrel. I start with a big rail on top of the barrel so once again it is like a jump without wings. Then reduce the rail until you are just jumping the drum. When it turns from a narrow rail to a drum, it becomes difficult. You can’t steer them over a drum. If they are crooked or want to drift a bit, the drum is too narrow; they actually have to be aiming for the drum. It is just a process to teach them when the fence is there, they jump it. It is like a normal width fence – you don’t have to steer them between the wings, you come round the corner, and they take you to the centre of the fence, that’s what you teach them. You try to do the same thing with this exercise – you turn around the corner and they take you down to the drum.”


“If they are confident about jumping three foot three, which is the barrel height, then on average after two or three sessions they should be jumping something reasonably skinny. You’ll get the odd one that will always try to cheat- it will l jump the barrel twice, and then it will run out.”

more arena exercises below


This is another one you need to work on at home because we don’t get many … I guess we aren’t supposed to call them ‘coffins’ any more, rail- ditch- rails. It is a fence you will find on course, where you jump a fence with something behind it, through a road, over a ditch, any of those sorts of things, but you don’t see a lot of them on our courses. I’ve had a horse that has been eventing for 12 months and he hasn’t seen one.

Whereas in England, if you go Pre Novice, you ‘ll get a sunken road, a rail -ditch – rail two water jumps- not at a big height, but you will always get them on a Pre Novice track. That’s why you need to do it at home. You don’t want to get to your first serious event and find there is some sunken road type thing, and the horse has never seen one before. We like to start them early here; we try to jump a fence with something behind it, so they work out how to focus. Some of the green ones, because you’ve got something behind the fence, they can’t work out how to jump the fence properly, they muck up the fence because they are just looking at the ditch behind it, or they jump the first fence then have a heart attack because there is a ditch behind it that wasn’t there a minute ago.


The more you do that sort of thing, the less they react when you take them out on a cross-country course. They jump a fence, and there is a ditch, it appears as they take off or while they are over the fence and you don’t want them to have a heart attack and throw their legs down and stifle themselves. You just want them to use their brains and concentrate.

When you first teach them this exercise, the distance has to be reasonably correct, later you can start playing around making it a bit shorter and longer. Quite often the distances on cross country are normal, but the fences might happen on a seriously downhill slope which will make the distance long, or short, so that makes it different. I don’t ever tax the horses too much with difficult distances. A little bit long or a little bit short. You’ve always got to keep them confident.


You can try to replicate a ditch on the arena but there is nothing more impressive than a seriously big ditch. You can build a fake ditch with a tarpaulin, colourful rugs, put a rug over a fence so it looks a bit like a palisade, just something that is going to draw their eye down a little, then they learn not to bother drawing their eye down, they keep their eye on the top of the fence. That’s what you want.

This article first appeared in the May 2004 issue of THM. 

Carl Hester – Back in the limelight – Uthopia

Carl Hester’s stallion Uthopia has made a dramatic return. With Carl riding Barolo, that Charlotte previously rode, Charlotte has given a demonstration on Uthopia that has set the tongues wagging. We look back at Carl and Uthopia’s decisive emergence that changed the face of dressage at the Euros in Rotterdam back in 2011 with Carl and Uthopia and Charlotte and Valegro going on to win Gold in London the next year…

It was a sensational Europeans for Carl Hester. Coming out on a relatively unknown young horse, he has firmly established himself as a potential individual gold medal winner at next year’s London Games. As usual, Carl is the journalists’ dream – witty, insightful and oh so quotable. I caught up with him minutes after his triumph in the Grand Prix…

“It’s funny, two years ago we had a course with Jan Bemelmanns, Uthopia was only eight years old at the time, and Jan said, this could be the new wonder horse… I believed it, but it’s very difficult to tell everyone you’ve got a new wonder horse, because if it’s a black wonder horse now, it’s called Totilas. It’s amazing when it comes right isn’t it? I still think I am more emotional about Charlotte and Valegro because I think that is so special, she is so young. I’m glad that before I die I’ve made a decent score, but for me to see Charlotte come through, that for me, was just as pleasant.”

And the score of ten from all judges?

“I thought for a minute that there must be a dog in the arena, or a bird had landed, everyone was laughing. I didn’t know I had seven 10s.”

Carl can’t believe the seven 10s, it was a Championship at the time when seven judges were used and every judge gave the extended trot a 10. Everyone in the crowd, which was largely Dutch, gave a collective ‘aah’ of approval which was quite a loud noise as it was a big crowd. 

Carl and Uthopia receive a standing ovation from the Riders’ stand – you can see Edward Gal, Hans Peter Minderhoud – wearing their orange jackets, Patrik Kittel and then Lyndal Oatley taking a photo.

Has Paul Schockemöhle rung you yet?

“I’ve turned my phone off for the day so I don’t get all that rubbish. He’s owned by Sasha Harrison from Northern Ireland and myself, I have a share, and so does her father. I bought him for her when he was four years old.

more on Uthopia follows

“I trained Uthopia from four years old. He was the first horse I looked at, and that was the problem. I was going to Holland for two days, and the first horse I see is this small one. I rode him and he felt huge. No one can believe what he feels like to sit on. He is sixteen hands but he is massive to sit on.”

Was that the best test you’ve ridden on him?

“That test actually felt more controlled than it has ever felt before. I thought in Hickstead, he was almost wildly flamboyant whereas here in Rotterdam, he was so light in my hand. I was a bit worried, ‘god is that self-carriage or isn’t it?’ he was like a little fairy sitting up there, that feels alright, I hope it looks alright. He is so nice to ride, I don’t know what the piaffe looked like, it felt a bit slower, he was just very relaxed. He has that incredible temperament, he walks on a long rein when you’ve done, and builds up when you pick him up. I don’t think there is a better temperament for dressage really than that horse.”

more about Uthopia below

Are there more marks to be had?

“He loves the Special, I love riding the Special. That was the plan, the Grand Prix and the Special. I made some new music last week, I haven’t ridden it yet, so that will be fun. It has been specially written for the Kür. Two weeks ago I rode the Tom Jones Freestyle in Hickstead, and I was sick of hearing everyone saying, please god, not that music again. On Monday morning, I thought, I can’t go to the European Championships with this music, I rang up the guy who does my music, that’s like once every ten years, and sent him the program on Monday, and he sent the music on Friday, I’ve been watching it on the computer every day. It looks lovely, it looks great, but the Special is really what I’m aiming for.”

You’ve had some pretty amazing horses over the years, but is this the highlight?

“Absolutely. The horse I loved to ride as much was Escapado, but I was much younger, much more inexperienced and I didn’t know how to deal with a much hotter horse – it took a lot more knowledge than I had. This is just a pleasure, I can’t believe he is only ten years old, he does it like he’s an old man. He used to be different as a young horse, he’d go into the arena and get so big and bouncy, and he was a bit backward, so we didn’t compete him much, this is only his sixth Grand Prix – it’s still a bit of a learning curve. I am still finding out how to warm him up, I had him out twice today, I don’t normally do that but when you see everyone coming up here in the morning, you panic that you are not doing the same thing… go get him I want to ride.”

And did that big team of psychologist, physio, and press officer and everyone tell you what to do today?

“They didn’t tell me to do anything. I think they know I’ve done it many times. I don’t have a mental health problem and the physio, I said don’t touch me until I’ve ridden because I want to feel the same as normal. The press people hopefully know I don’t swear, and I won’t say the wrong thing. No instructions.”

Do you get a lot of support from the British Olympic committee?

“Not the Olympic committee, but the Lottery Fund. This Lottery funding through Sports UK has been a long-term plan. For someone like me who has to make a living, I have to teach to ride. I can’t just ride horses every day, I have to go away two days a week and teach. For me the support is invaluable, the weeks we are away, I need financial help to keep the whole place going. I bought my own place, mortgage and all, so juggling riding and the bills, without UK Sport, I would struggle. I think we have one of the biggest back up teams in the sport, there is something there whenever you need it. I know we get such a lot of flack, that we have such a big support team, but British dressage has done the best it has ever ever done, and that didn’t happen on its own. We’ve always had good riders, but everyone needs support and now we’ve got it.”

Story: Christopher Hector & Photos: Roz Neave

Looking at breeding a dressage star this season, consider Vitalis or Fürstenball, two of the great stallions  available from International Horse Breeders – www.ihb.com.au




Types of Suppling Exercises by Hilary Clayton

hilaryclaytonHilary Clayton combines her own love of horses and riding, with a rigorous scientific approach that over the last 30 years has showed how superstition and guesswork can be replaced by clear logical thought…

PASSIVE SUPPLING – slow controlled movement to the limit of joint motion through the action of an external force

DYNAMIC SUPPLING – rapid movement of a joint due to active muscular contraction or weight-bearing

For the most part suppling exercises are directed toward the shoulders, hips and vertebral column. In working through a series of suppling exercises, it is recommended that the major joints of the neck and back be worked on first, progressing to the upper limbs and finally the lower limbs. Suppling exercises are described as passive or dynamic; both types are useful and effective in horses.

Passive Suppling

Passive suppling involves a slow, controlled movement of a joint to the limit of its range of motion through the application of an external force. Because the force is applied slowly it avoids stimulating the myotatic stretch reflex, which would result in muscular tension opposing the stretch. When the limit of movement in a particular direction is reached, the stretched position is held for 20 seconds to enhance permanent elongation of the ligaments, tendons and joint capsules. Passive suppling is used as an adjunct to dynamic suppling to bring about long term increases in the range of motion in the neck, shoulders and hips, and to promote relaxation and reduce post-exercise muscular soreness. As with all types of suppling exercises, the tissues should be warmed up before passive suppling is performed. This is best accomplished by a period of exercise under saddle or on the lunge, which means that it is more appropriate to perform passive suppling during or after, rather than before, a workout.

Ventral flexion of the neck is accomplished with the aid of a tidbit held between the horse’s front legs. As suppleness improves, the horse will be able to take his nose further down and back between the legs. For lateral bending the tidbit is held at the side of the trunk behind the girth. As the horse gets more supple it will reach further back toward the stifle. Strictly speaking these are not passive suppling exercises because the movement is controlled by the horse’s muscular activity. However, they are easily integrated into the passive suppling routine.





Ventral and lateral bending of the neck

The shoulder region and the hip joints are stretched in all directions using a series of passive suppling exercises. The horse should be in a quiet environment, and standing squarely before starting. It is safer if the horse is held by an assistant rather than being tied up. The person performing the stretches should have plenty of room to move around on all sides of the horse. Suppling of the shoulder region involves moving the front leg to the limit of its range of motion forward, backward, laterally and medially, and holding each stretched position for several seconds. The front leg is pulled forward slowly to stretch the elbow and shoulder, keeping the knee slightly bent to relieve tension in the flexor tendons and suspensory ligament. The stretched position is held for 20 seconds. The whole leg is moved laterally with one hand applying pressure above the horse’s knee and held in that position for 20 seconds. It is then pulled backward using one hand above the flexed knee to extend the elbow, and held in the fully retracted position for 20 seconds. Finally, the leg is moved medially, in front of the opposite leg, to its limit of motion for a 20 second stretch. The sequence is repeated in the other front leg.

A similar set of passive suppling exercises in the forward, backward, lateral and medial directions is used for the hip joint. During the forward stretch the stifle and hock are flexed to about 90˚ with the tibia vertical and the cannon bone horizontal. By applying upward pressure on the hock, the tibia and stifle are raised and the hip joint is flexed. In the lateral stretch the stifle and hock joints are partially flexed, and one hand applies lateral pressure above the hock. When the leg is stretched backward the hock is flexed to 90˚ with the tibia horizontal and the cannon bone vertical. Gentle pressure is applied to the front of the stifle, pulling the femur back and extending the hip joint. In the medial stretch the stifle and hock are moderately extended, so that the hock of the stretched leg moves across in front of, and slightly above, the opposite hock. Each stretched position is held for 20 seconds, and the exercises are performed in both hind legs.


Forward and lateral movements of the hind leg to stretch the hip joint

The horse should always be comfortable during the stretching exercises. Initially it may take a few days for the horse to relax during the shoulder and hip stretches, but most horses soon learn to enjoy the procedure. When the horse is rehabilitating from an injury and cannot be exercised, passive suppling is particularly useful for maintaining or restoring the normal range of motion. Under these circumstances, the tissues are warmed up using a heat lamp or hand massage prior to stretching. The joints are flexed and extended as far as is comfortable and held in the stretched position for several seconds. Passive motion, in which the joints are moved slowly but continuously through their range of motion, may also be beneficial, especially for horses on stall rest.

Next Dynamic Suppling follows

Dynamic Suppling

Dynamic suppling involves rotating a joint rapidly through its range of motion due to muscular contraction or weight-bearing, as occurs during locomotion.

Examples of dynamic suppling exercises that are a part of the normal schooling routine include turns, circles, voltes, and lateral movements (leg yielding, shoulder in/out, haunches in/out, half pass). The beneficial effects of this type of exercise are due to the sliding motion of the scapulae across the chest wall; flexion, bending, and rotation of the vertebral column; and swinging the hind legs through a wide arc of motion. Other exercises that have a dynamic suppling effect include walking and trotting over raised rails, gymnastic jumping, working on steep gradients, and riding through shallow water or snow. All of these exercises are associated with active limb flexion and extension through a wide range of motion. Swimming is sometimes used to preserve the range of joint motion, while avoiding weight-bearing exercise. It is a useful form of dynamic suppling during recovery from certain types of limb injuries.

Dynamic suppling is particularly effective for enhancing dynamic flexibility in sports that require rapid movements, and for developing specific sport. However, the rapid rate of stretching favours elastic deformation; indeed, the horse makes great use of elastic rebound to reduce the energy expenditure during locomotion. The long term adaptive response to dynamic suppling occurs slowly over a long period.


Forward and backward movements of the front leg to stretch the shoulder


Overstretching tears the fibres of the muscles, tendons or ligaments, which is a painful process. The risk of overstretching (straining) depends on the temperature of the tissues, the intensity of the stretch, the rate of stretching, and the number of repetitions. Cold tissues are susceptible to strains. The signs of a strain include local heat, swelling, and pain on movement or palpitation. In the early stages cold applications (cold hosing, ice packs) are beneficial, together with rest and the administration of anti-inflammatories as necessary. The severity of the injury determines the length of rest and the need for further treatment. During rehabilitation, passive suppling is useful for preventing soft tissue constrictions that restrict the range of motion. Exercise is reintroduced gradually after the acute phase is over.