Everything Else Everything else Tip of the day Training

Tip of the Day: Every Picture Tells A Story

It is always worth really scrutinising any photos you can get of yourself and your horse in action. You can tell a LOT by the photos, from absolutely any angle that’s available. Of course videos are a great tool, to see the speed, rhythm, and the way you are meeting the fences, but a photo will show lots of things that the eye misses when the video is run in real-time.

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This photo of me and Daisy over a BE100 trakhener last year is a good example. We got there on a good stride from a good pace, but it’s approached downhill so she saw the ditch, and although she went without hesitating I think you can see the slight worry in her ‘form’ over the fence. She’s not relaxed over her back, for example, not basculing, and is making a slightly odd shape.

For instance:
Is the horse pushing off evenly behind?
Is it skewing in the air, perhaps because of the former point?
It is snapping up its knees high enough, and evenly? (Don’t be fooled by a photo taken very early in a jump, which shows the non-leading leg coming up slower than the leading one though, that’s physics, not a casual horse!)
Is the horse really coming up through the shoulder?
Is it relaxed or worried?
What is its expression?
Ears forward or back, tense or relaxed?
Is it really using its body, or does it look tight somewhere?
If so, where?
Is this typical of its style normally, or during this round, or just an unusual jump?
Does the style change according to the type of fence or the distance around the course?

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Here’s another one: this was probably the biggest fence we’d jumped xc at the time, and was an early fence on the course. She’s not making a good shape over it, not coming up through the shoulder, not using her body like an athlete, although in fairness she did not touch it. I’d say she looks slightly unsure, the sprawling front legs and low chest are a bit of a giveway!

All of these things tell you a LOT and should affect the exercises you decide to do with that horse, both on the flat and over fences, to build its confidence, strength, agility and experience.

Cocky horses might need testing a bit more, whereas insecure horses might benefit from more repetition over easy fences, for example, until they are really happy and keen, then raising the difficulty slightly.



The next two photos show the same horse and rider combination, a year and a half later (and in a different saddle, which may have a bearing too – it is a WOW, which we both love), and I think it’s clear that the shape the horse is making over the fences, and its expression, have both improved.

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Much better leg position from me than usual, although still not good enough, and much happier horse in her shape over the fence.

Of course I also use photos to critique my own position extensively.
Stills from videos are great too, they may not be top quality pictures but they give moment-by-moment shots of how ones balance and position changes (or not, in some enviable cases!) during the phases of a jump.

Is there tension in the rider’s body, and if so, where?
Is the lower leg secure, the weight and heel down?
Does the rider look secure?
Is the rider at the point of balance, or in front of the movement, or behind the movement? (If the latter, has s/he slipped the reins to allow the horse to use its neck?)
Are the shoulders too far forward?
Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 18.08.49Are the elbows flying out, or tidily by the sides?
Are the hands releasing forwards, or dropped down and leant on?
Is there an acceptable contact on the horse’s mouth, or a strong punishing pull?
Has the horse been given enough rein to be able to really use its neck and bascule?

By taking all these things into account, you can become your own ‘trainer’ if you can’t afford to have someone there on the ground as often as you’d like. Setting up an easy grid and then going through it a few times and really working on your position (ideally, video’d!) is a great way of improving it.

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