Back to Basics – By Amy Collinson

Back to Basics

Back to Basics


The last few weeks I have spent training with Julie on my homebred kiwi horse ET. We have been working on the longe line a few times a week. First Julie longes ET and after she continues to longe him with me riding. Seriously back to basics! My first thought was what a waste of time – how is this supposed to help but I am starting to notice a big difference in ETs canter and my position.


Here are the important points from my back to basics training with Julie Ulrich


There are three points to the seat: crotch, left sitting bone and right sitting bone – on the flat you should feel all three – it feels like a triangle. Many riders including myself end up sitting on only the left and right sitting bone this is too heavy and makes your leg position weak and slide too far forward. George Morris calls it the chair seat. This kind of seat causes very bad balance!


To find the triangle take your feet out of the stirrups make your legs long and pull your knee back from the knee pad. Sit taller and press down on the “triangle” – lengthen yourself out to find your balance like someone walking on a tightrope.


Once you think you understand this feeling try it at the sitting trot. You will feel that sitting trot without stirrups is actually not hard in this system as you are not supposed to tense up to hang on. You need to take your leg off – pull it away from the side of the horse – stop gripping and get comfortable with bouncing around. You need to use your core strength to stay in balance. Using the core muscles helps to stabilize the seat (the three points) this helps the hips move with the horses back.


A good exercise at the walk or trot is to take leg off the horses’ side then push it down and put it back into a better position – knee away from the knee roll. Keep doing it, keep repeating eventually your leg will stay there. Look at pictures of a dressage rider – the angle of their leg is like they are just standing up straight. Of course, you do not want that position for jumping but it is necessary to learn the right seat for your flat work, this will improve your balance for jumping.


At the end of the first few lessons on the longe I really felt like when I was a little kid again – the time before all the defenses were built up. As a rider you need to get comfortable and loosen up like a cowboy – when you get in the right position it feels like you can do it all day long. It is important to be at home on the horse, the best way to be on a horse is loose. This way you are truly with the horse, if the horse trips you just go with him and regain the balance together no drama no ruptures.


Another important point I have been refreshed on is about the canter. It is obvious a good canter is needed for a jumping horse. However, I never noticed how ETs canter is still so weak and unstable. He is not able to hold the canter at a slower pace. I did not think my jumping canter was still too forward and a little out of control. I now know it really was!


A good way to strength the canter – stabilize the gate is to trot a 20 meter circle at working trot. While doing this count the number of strides it takes to make the full circle – then canter the same circle and make the same number of strides – this pace of canter is “canter one”.  The goal should be to canter around this circle in “canter one” consistently without having to manage it. The horse needs to learn to just take that canter and do it on his own. The best way to do this is to practice cantering around in “canter one” – go off the circle then back to the circle and check the number of strides. Do this until you can sit totally relaxed in a way you would be able to write a letter or drink a cup of coffee– basically make your horse feel like a vaulting horse. If the horse learns this consistent canter imagine how easy it will be to get to the fences. To help a horse learn this you need to give them support from the outside rein, you can even bend them slightly to the outside. This really helps horses who break into the trot or horses that have a four-beat canter. For example, when the canter is four beat the inside hindleg is taking too small a stride. Bend to the outside and push the hindlegs in to make the hindleg push better and lengthen.


When teaching a horse how to canter slower make sure you start out doing short sessions and have breaks in the session. You do not want to drill the horse, if you go too far and make the horse exhausted, he will give up. It is important to understand most of the time the horse is not unbalanced or out of rhythm to annoy you. He is not trying to make things difficult. As a rider you need to understand the weaknesses and find a way to strength them.


“It is often said that in elite sport the margins of victory and defeat are measured in milliseconds: the reality is that they are measured in variables that are far more elusive.”
― Matthew Syed, Bounce







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