Every year I make the effort to go to Your Horse Live. I really love it as an event. It appeals to my bargain hunter mentality and in order to justify spending money on my horse I get to pick up a bit of knowledge from listening to demonstrations.
This year we went to see both Geoff Billington and Jay Halim demonstrations.
Geoff Billington demonstration
Geoff Billington demos are like going to watch pantomime. You know it’s just going to be 45 minutes of harmless silliness where you will be lucky to walk away with a single insight into training horses or improving your riding. This time Geoff had bought along some kids on 12.2hh ponies and 14.2hh ponies who show jump at the top levels. I found listening to the people behind me gripe about these kids on ponies more interesting that watching the demonstration. Firstly there was griping about the size of the bits, then about how the ponies went. I was desperate to turn around and ask what level they competed at.
Geoff Billington gave us a bit of background about himself. How he started in a riding school age 9 and that he did not come from a horse background. In 1966 there were ten kids at the riding school including Geoff and they were offered the chance to all jointly buy a pony for £10. They all scrped together their pound and gradually all the other kids gave up and Geoff was left with the pony to himself. He met a coal man who had a waggon and was able to start going to shows. Geoff met John Whitaker when he was 12. Geoff joked that John had won 93 cars and he had only won 1 in the course of his career.
Small snippets we did get from Geoff were:
- ‘Showjumping is about rhythm and balance.’
- ‘First fence is as important as the last.’
- ‘Make mistakes and learn along the way.’
- ‘Every horse will have a pole, even Milton had poles. He just had less than most other horses.’
- ‘Concentrate on straightness with young horses particularly over a fence.’
We watched the kids jump their ponies and my observation from not having watched kids jump decent ponies for years was how good they are over a fence. There was not what I call a ‘superman’ impression in sight. They had amazing upper bodies and lower legs. Many of the ponies are not conventional in how they go and the kids have to have great eyes because the ponies will stop if they are not right at a fence.
Jay Halim – Jumping Clear
Jay was riding a 15yo horse called VIP. He is a grade A showjumper who has been jumping 3* and 4* Grand Prix. VIP was originally bought for an amateur but is now with Jay.
On the flat, Jay ride three holes longer in his stirrups. When starting to warm up he is looking for forwards with stretch down the neck. When he first started riding VIP he had lots of tack on him but now he has fallen back to no martingale and a simple Waterford snaffle to stop him grabbing the bit. Jay prefers to have less kit on the horse and spend more time working on the flatwork.
The expectation of the horse is that you can change the neck through having them low and stretching or up and into a stronger contact like a dressage horse.
Jay then moved into shoulder fore with a straight neck. The horses inside hind leg should feel like it’s coming between the front two legs. ‘So many horses go round and the hips are swinging all over the place. Straightness and natural suppleness are essential.’ Jay told the audience that he had to work hard to make VIP supple and gymnastic as it did not come naturally to him.
When cantering VIP he gets tight in the canter and tries to push Jay out of the saddle. So Jay looks to sit deeper and have a bigger canter. When the horse went disunited in the canter Jay said he will look to get him softer over the top line and drop the neck more. ‘Even changing the angle of the neck, the contact should remain the same. The horse must always carry himself.’
Jay moved onto cantering a small circle. ‘You should be able to change the inside and outside bend through the neck. The hind leg should be active and if they are not you need to get the hind leg to speed up if it gets too slow. Now into a walk transition. All the time I am thinking about the horse sitting in the downward transition and the tail touching the floor.’
Jay’s first exercise jumping was a canter pole exercise on a fan. There were 5 poles in a fan shape which required a short and bouncy canter. Jay admitted with his experienced horses he would work them 80% of the time over poles in order to save the jump yet work on all the skills they need for jumping. Jay said he would only really jump the experienced horses to keep their muscles strong for the job. With this exercise it can take practice to get good at it. The horses rarely get it straight away and it can take 3 or 4 sessions for the penny to really drop. Jay rides in half seat during the exercise. The exercise was added to when the last poles on the fan were raised into straight bars and the horse was expected to pop through the same.
‘The rhythm should be the same on both reins and that is your aim. You should also be thinking about yourself. I work hard on my posture, making sure my knees are soft and thinking about whether I am even.’ Jay as a rider spends a lot of time making sure he is fit by going to the gym and flexible through seeing a physio and going to Pilates. ‘I want to be the best rider I can be and that requires me to work as hard out of the saddle as in it.’
‘A lot of classes are won and lost on turns. Horses will come round a turn, pop their shoulder out and then lose the canter. I ride the shoulder round the turn in front of me and don’t just pull on the inside rein. Horses must not fall in round the inside leg.’
‘Sometimes as a rider you can do too much and create a problem.’
Jay talked about a rider who he helps who has evented at top level but was just struggling with their showjumping lately. He explained how this rider always has a lovely stride but they took their foot off the gas on the approach to a fence so the horse loses the jump. Jay had her riding around 90cm jumps just working on the tempo and rhythm to try and solve her bad habits. ‘You don’t need to jump big to improve.’
Jay then swapped onto an 8yo stallion called Darby by the stallion Verdi. Jay said that when he saw him he just knew he had to buy him. ‘He was bum high and everything I would not buy in a horse but I jumped him over about ten fences, felt power I had never felt and then I got off and said he was ok!’ Darby has had a quiet year so he is behind where he should be for an 8yo but he is really special.
‘When you get onto another horse, think about what you need to do on this horse. You need to mentally make a switch on each horse you ride.’
Jay told the crowd how at home he works on shorter distances than you would have at a competition. While riding Darby he popped a fence and said that if the horse runs through the hand he does and circle and if he does it again he will be pulled up before the fence. Jay told the audience that the horse was playful and he did not want to completely squash the enjoyment out of the job for the horse but that discipline still needed to be retained. ‘I put discipline in through pulling up before or after a fence. This should be done on a straight line.’
Darby is a powerful horse so Jay works at holding him off a fence slightly. To do this he pulls his shoulders back and holds the horse though his core. This means he does not need to take a pull with the hand and alter anything.
Normally in training he would add V poles to the second part or a related distance to help Darby to sit and back off the front rail. This teaches him to sort out his shoulders because he is so good behind.
As he went round a course of jumps Jay talked through what goes through his mind. ‘I start thinking about the canter, have I got enough? Am I landing straight? Have I got the outside shoulders? Use the corner to sort the canter, keep the canter, forward stride, good boy.’
As ever Jay’s demo was a reminder in excellent flatwork basics and being super disciplined with you as a rider. I always come away motivated to work harder and know that a good round is never going to come unless the flatwork is strong.