With my penchant towards fun, today I tootled off to a hunting clinic with Beanie Sturgis around the grounds where Dauntsey Horse Trials are held. Our group was a fairly mixed one with my horse being a green 6yo who has jumped round a 100 track once, an experienced horse competing at Novice, a little coloured mare who has done a few BE90 and an ex racer who has done a few unaffiliated 80cms. Beanie is an experienced hunter as well as 4* eventer and known for her flair across country.
Beanie warmed us up by cantering round a field and started us off over some telegraph poles which we kept coming round in a circuit and popping. We then moved onto the log out of the dew pond before jumping a baby hedge and moving up. The ex racer was asked to jump the hedge a couple of times to get him confident and his technique improved as he grew in confidence. His rider was advised not to sit down in the saddle before the jump and drive because he is quite a hot horse and it flattens the jump. There was a notable difference and his jockey had to think Andrew Nicholson when approaching a fence.
I was advised to stop being so technical in my approaches and to have a good forward shot with power. Funnily enough my rhythm into the fence was better and so was the horse’s jump when I did focus on getting more engine.
The Novice eventer had a super time jumping for fun and so did my friend on her little coloured mare. The coloured is part cob so not as naturally scopey as the others so Beanie was more circumspect in what she asked this combination to do so they still had fun but were within their comfort zone.
We jumped several hedges, a metal gate and a wooden gate. I found myself lamenting my complete lack of ability to SJ
normally, but when focused on something which looks pretty horrible I can manage to get it right. Both the Novice eventer and my horse ended up finishing over some meaty enough hedges and I was thrilled with how my horse had gone especially as he was always went first in order to get me riding positively and so did not have a lead. Beanie gave our group that right level of confidence to push ourselves and improve while not letting ourselves get into deep water. It was perhaps the most fun you can have on a horse possibly aided by the more than generous measure of Port to begin with!
I caught up with Beanie afterwards to have a chat about eventers and hunting.
The value of taking eventers hunting: It’s something I get asked to do a lot of, I take a lot of eventers and hunters who are perhaps not going forwards and to get them going. We are lucky here with the farm and can get them going first. The grey horse I was riding today, will probably go round again tomorrow to sort its act out. Most eventers can jump skinnies all day long so its a very good way of getting riders to stop going to the hand and to ride forwards to hedges and its a great thing for people to learn. I think people get too technical about a lot of things. I always maintain I have no eye for a stride at all but can keep coming to a fence and then the horses can work things out for themselves.
Hunting does not suit every horse. There are horses that might spend all their time on their back legs. They might not have the temperament for it. But the majority of them you can get right and get them sorted out and they love it.
Young Horses and hunting: With 4/5yos rather than messing around with Young Event Horse classes people should be taking them hunting because it teaches them where to put their feet and deal with the terrain. It also weeds out the unsound ones. A lot of people spend so long in artificial conditions like an all weather arena, gallops and rubber horse walker. A lot of those horses will never have cantered across an uneven surface, field or track. Which is all very well but then you are not weeding out any unsound horses at an early stage in their career. You see a lot of these horses which go onto advanced level and they don’t last and I think that is where people go wrong.
Ask them good and sensible questions for their age and development, put a little bit of stress and strain on their joints by riding over different types of ground and conditions and then you are going to find out if you have any problems with a horse rather than having put five years of work into a horse then find it gets further up the ladder and its not very sound when you could have found this out when the horse was younger.
Less experienced riders or those who lack confidence: The worst thing an unconfident rider could do is go hunting on a horse that has not hunted. If its then strong, bucks or naps, they will have a terrible time that could actually set them back. They would be better to go on an experienced hunter or send it to someone who is experienced, so that when they get the horse back they can actually enjoy it and grow in confidence. People come out on their eventers, the horse has blown its brains, the rider then increases the strength of the bit and instead of taking them out four times a week for three hours they take them out for an hour, say it’s crazy and then take them home. Then you are not going to achieve anything or improve the situation.
Introducing horses to hunting: Introduce horses to hunting through Autumn hunting. It’s much more boring for them. They stand around more, there is no galloping about and after three or four times most horses decide there is nothing to get excited about. If horses have evented, they are used to being in situations with other horses. I find that most horses who have raced or evented are fine in crowds. The key thing is to go Autumn hunting, lots and lots. When we have horses new to hunting here we try and put two weeks aside per horse so they can go out Autumn Hunting nearly every single day for two weeks if they need it. Normally after a week and a half they are calm and not in a flap and then they benefit from it.
Transferable skills between hunting and eventing: I think an eye for the ground transfers across from hunting
to eventing. Its amazing how you can walk a course somewhere and see a bit of grass which is darker green and has some reedy bits of grass in it. To me straight away that means wet ground so I would avoid that. 95% of people at the lower levels might not notice that. If you are already riding in wet conditions and you have a wet patch, then that ground will be nearly bottomless. It will take you out of your rhythm and be harder for the horse. Hunting makes you brave. On your own you would not necessarily do half as much but when your blood is slightly up then it makes you brave. Hunting makes you more confident because you might have jumped a trappy rail out of horrible ground, which makes jumping a BE90/100 coffin over a log seem simple. Its also very good for the horses because it teaches them where to put their feet and handle conditions.
Giving riders mileage: Hunting gives you hours with your horse. It’s a lot of mileage going cross country in a way that you might not necessarily get otherwise. If you are on your horse for four hours you get to know your horse a lot better. You get more of a relationship and you learn to spot little subtle things such as when the horse is worried about something and when it is beginning to get tired. You pick up those signals better and quicker.
Beanie is a known for being a bold cross country rider: The most horses I have ridden in a season was 72 horses. Those were from a dealers yard. I might only have ridden them two or three times before they were sold and if you are riding that many different horses in that amount of time then you have an effective survival system and it makes you very aware of where you are jumping fences and speeds. It makes you aware of which gears you need to jump different fences because what gear you need to jump a metal gate and a hedge are very different. You have to be able to have that control and I am confident in my ability to get that.