Tuesday, 5 February 2013

International Eventing Forum 2013 - My Highlights

No This Isn't An Event Horse, But It Perfectly Illustrated Some Basic Fundamentals & Floated When It Entered The Arena
February would be almost bereft of anything vaguely eventing were it not for the International Eventing Forum, and I'm very pleased I made it back home for the occasion. As you'd expect the day
 was split into three sessions one for each of the phases.

A Quick & Amusing Lesson On Presentation
Sadly I arrived late and was distracted by "hello's" & "how are you's" so missed a fair bit of the first session on Dressage and flat work led by Ian Woodhead, which included an amusing little slot on presentation and an exaggerated example of how not to present yourself and your horse for the dressage phase. It was all about look smart - think smart. If you put effort into your presentation, you'll be more prepared to enter the arena was the simple message.

The dressage horse pictured above did grab my attention when it entered the arena though. Please excuse my forgetfulness though as I can't remember the rider's name, but as you can probably see he rode beautifully and had switched from eventing to pure dressage.  One of the key purposes of this section was all about the relationship between flatwork and the other phases something both Mark & David reenforced later in the day (more on that in a minute). As such we were treated to watching this very expressive horse almost gallop round the arena and be brought back down to a balanced forward canter as if "galloping down hill and then preparing to jump an upright rail". The desired result: a horse underneath and in front of you.

After a short Q&A session with Ian we had a brief veterinary update from the FEI on vaccinations and some work they are doing to shorten the quarantine times for sport horses travelling abroad, and then on to the Showjumping session with Mark Todd.
Sir Mark Todd Leads A Masterclass in Jumping Exercises.

By this time the arena had been set up with a variety of jumping exercises, aimed at improving technique and rideability, not getting the horse 'in the air'. The three riders Mark used in this session were Kitty King on her 6 year-old, Ceylor LAN, David Doel on a senior 4* horse & Louise Skelton on an advanced horse.

Mark started by getting them to practice shortening and lengthening canter strides over a series of poles on the ground. "After 3 strides, there is no correct number of strides, the more adjustable your horse, the more options you have". Mark stressed that making adjustments to stride length early is best to ensure you have more time to balance and focus on the fence in front of you. He also made the point of returning to proper transition to walk after each exercise (something I'm constantly reminding myself or being reminded to do, usually after the fact!)

One of the exercises, with a single fence, I recognised, and it was reassuring to see this, and interesting to hear Mark's many uses for it. Involving just one fence you ride figures of eight over the fence. This means you are almost constantly on a circle, and changing direction over the fence. I always remember having it drummed into me for both jumping and flatwork that riding on a bend or circle gives better balance, especially for younger horses, hence using the corners of a dressage arena to re-establish or re-affirm balance. Mark went on to explain that turning your head and shoulders, without leaning, will aid a horse in landing on the correct leg, as well as opening the rein over a fence.

After these exercises Mark moved on an 'S' bend exercise involving three fences on a snaking line to illustrate the need for riders to be looking for the next fence, and asking for a change in the landing leg. Then it was onto a straightforward grid line exercise.

The riders for this session were fascinating to watch. David Doel made the exercises look as easy as a Sunday hack, and Kitty King rode beautifully on what is in essence a pretty green horse, I reckon her lower leg was glued in place.
Mike Etherington-Smith & David O'Connor Go Head To Head In The Hartpury Arena

The Cross Country session I found particularly fascinating. It was staged as essentially course designer pitched against team coach - course designer sets the question, team coach teaches the solution.  So who better to to have run this session but US Team Coach, David O'Connor, and course designer extraordinaire, Mike Etherington-Smith.

Walk Past A Ditch for Familiarisation Not Towards It
The three riders for this session were, Caroline Powell riding a fabulous chestnut horse wearing a Micklem bridle (William Micklem was in the audience too), and a horse David was keen to take home. Caroline was accompanied by Mille Dumas & Neil Spratt.

The two main exercises revolved around a water tray (representing a ditch), with a skinny either side of it, jumping straight on, on an angle etc., and then also a pair of open corners. With 3 experienced riders and horses, this session went pretty much to plan, but here is a quick run down of a few interesting pearls of wisdom from David O'Connor:

  • Always use flags when training on skinny fences, horses recognise these and will hunt for the next fence once established.
  • Bad experiences with ditches can ruin a horse for eventing, more so than water complexes will.
  • Walk horses past things to familiarise them, rather than walk them towards it. (eg. ditches)
  • Use a low pole over a water tray when training, it encourages a proper jump and better shape over the fence. (particularly useful when used in a combination)
  • When training a combination jump the last element once or twice first to show the horse the exit. 
  • Move from your 'galloping position' to your 'preparing to jump position' 5-6 strides out (I always remember Andrew Hoy explaining he prepares about 10 strides out)

Particularly interesting for me about this session was hearing the extent to which course designers, or at least Mike, take so many factors into consideration when designing a course. This included the subtleties of what a horse can easily see and making sure they can read the entire question of a combination and not be surprised when hoping over a hedge, right through to planning how a horse will jump a certain type of fence in a particular type of terrain, and adjusting preceding elements of the course to to adjust how the following fence is jumped, taking into account effort, mental stress and even how certain types of fences can cause different types of physical strain on muscles and soft tissue.

From the Q&A section of this session, two interesting questions:

To David: What are you thoughts on stirrup length?
It can depend a lot on your body type, taller people may need to ride longer, and ironically shorter people too in order to maintain balance, but generally you should be looking for a 90 degreee bend in the knee (I've been frantically studying photos of me on xc now!)

To Mike: Do you think we need more Alternatives on course?
No, quite the opposite. "Options" maybe, but alternatives (that are generally used to waste time) suggest the question set is beyond the level the course should be set at. Courses need to be a fair test at the particular level.

All in all this was an extremely interesting and engaging event. I've learnt things I didn't know or consider before, and had plenty of things I have known re-affirmed, all of which I will use in my riding from now on. Truly worth the money, and plenty of others must have agreed as the place was packed.

No doubt there will be a more comprehensive report in Horse & Hound as Pippa Roome was live tweeting from the event. I also spotted Jenny Rudall from Horse & Country TV filming the entire event, so it will be on TV soon. It is also available the HorseHub App too!

In the meantime search the web for other reports and take a look at the following twitter links for some interesting nuggets of information:

Horse & Hound On Tour

Eventing Forum

#IEF13 #IEF2013

Plus I think eventingnation.com will have something from Gavin Makinson

IEF 2014 is on 3rd February.

More Info: IEF Website

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