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International Eventing Forum 2016 – What Doesn’t Change?

imageThe theme for this year’s 2016 International Eventing Forum was ‘Back to the Future’ and it was a busy Hartpury where the different demonstrations took place. The theme was looking at what does not need to be reinvented and what will people be taking with them into the future.

The first demonstration of the International Eventing Forum was ‘What doesn’t change?’  Trainer and Ground Jury member Angela Tucker was on the ground while renowned riders Pippa Funnell and Tina Cook rode their horses.

Pippa Funnell – Billy Walk On – owned by Walkinshaws since a 4yo. Out of the same mare as Billy Shannon. Workmanlike and a great temp. 7yo will go 2* this year.

Tina Cook – 7yo had him couple of months from Derbyshire. Has done 90/100 with old jockey. Bought for owner Jim Cromiak who had De Novo News. Started again with a young horse. Beautifully bred Frankfort Boy. High level of TB. Lovely temp. Gone back to basics.

Purpose: to remind ourselves of how 3 phases of competition work together. Angela first rode at Badminton 45 yrs ago. Seen so much change, but in the end a 3 phase competition which we try to link together.
Poles in the arena which we like to use to play with feet and get more athletic through their body. Though at times we want to focus on 1 thing we work with all other phases in mind.

Start with a bit of a warm up and in the end whatever phase we are working on for eventing, the basics have not changed. We want a horse which is forwards, supple, relaxed, elastic and able to hold a rhythm and a line to a fence, and so much is reflected on the flat.

As we watch, going to look at what we can develop across the paces. Tina’s is well put together model and has a nicely set on neck. Not an extravagant trot at the moment but as gets more supple we can develop that with the exercises.

Tina – ‘I have been working on flat as I felt he was stiff when I first had him. I have been brought up in TB world and developing the back is my obsession. This horse has now learnt to trot around with a stretchy back. I feel he has the attributes to move better with time. I have not done much jumping but he had a good technique, but did not use his body to the max, so I’ve been working to develop him. Will do 3/4 x BE100 this Spring, and from my point of view it’s good that he is a bit older, and once the basics are right I can crack on quickly, and I need to be patient now with basics.’

Angela -‘ I like where you have positioned him in the work and the horse must be comfortable in his imageinitial work. We must have the scales of training always at the back of the mind. They look like sensible horses who are nice to work with. No point having a horse with ability if not easy to work with you. ‘

Tina -‘ I do like young horses to learn basics. Even though he has done very little I want him to learn shoulder in and transitions rather than leaving it till further on in career and not such a shock or if I forget to look at the dressage sheet before I go and you have to do Travers, which I am sure we have all done. ‘

Angela – ‘Pippa does your structure in the warm up stay the same?’ (at home as at competitions.)

Pippa – ‘I would say I try and keep it similar but have to be aware of how the horse thinks and what their difficulties and strengths are. Lots of purists are into long and low which is what we want ideally but at the same time more relaxation is good, getting them to carry themselves rather than worry about how low the nose is. It can take a whole session to get them long and low. To me so much is in the brain, getting the horse’s mind right and thinking with you. So much comes with training and how you deal with all the little problems which come up with you. I am the biggest one for getting them to realise they are a partner. If unsure, the horse should realise through my body language that it’s ok and assure him that you will be ok and give your confidence. For me so much is about the brain and we talk about horses with good brains, but so much is produced from how we work them.’

Angela – I was reading about secret weapons and mine would be corners, followed by transitions. Going to get Pippa’s horse more supple through transitions and doing walk to trot. Tina is doing transitions within the trot so steps under with hind leg and stay forwards in front of her. Some people say use more leg but what we need is a reaction to the leg in the right way. Stays elastic and in front of you. The trot to walk transitions are the basis for the half halt.’

Tina – ‘At the moment he stays a little rigid and leans on me, I feel like I want to support him a little but he still needs some self carriage. How much should I have in my hand A?’

Angela – ‘I think you can see if can go more forward and use rising trot to help you, that you feel you give him the rhythm of the trot as you rise and take hind leg with you.’

Tina is doing trot walk trot transitions at a corner with a square turn in the corner. Angela “Bring the shoulders round”.

You should feel you can influence in rising trot and feel like he understands you want more step with the hind leg so you are working on suppleness from back to front and more suppleness through poll and rib cage. You will see this in canter that he finds it hard to stay with shoulder in front.’

Tina – ‘would you do more lateral work? He has not learnt to lengthen yet. Or is he not supple enough yet?’

Angela – ‘Can start easy leg yield and learn to connect more from inside leg to outside rein. Develop a little more swing. That is looking better. You should feel the horse is straight and inside hind leg steps through.’

Pippa – ‘this horse has a good brain, to be honest but is a bit tight here as not seen a crowd like this, but you can see he is quite long behind saddle. Bit like a Labrador puppy – big horse yet to furnish. Very easy to be tempted to ask too much but I want to develop into that strength rather than try and ask it.’

Angela – ‘feel like you can do little transitions in circle and feel that he understands your seat and with your seat push a little bit more forwards in rhythm with his canter, so remind him to stay in beat and when you sit quieter he sits a bit more. Do as little as possible with leg and hand so he understands your seat. With young horses always give them chance to relax a little bit. All little adjustments, do not make him tight over back, so think about relaxing and breathing within that canter. So you are not helping him too much with upper body, and allowing canter to remain expressive. When we judge eventers i’ts surprising how many don’t show the quality canter you would expect. Think about quality of beat in canter. Think of riding a square more so shows suppleness in rib cage and poll. Don’t help too much round the corner so he starts to lean on the inside rein and not support himself on the outside hind. ‘

Pippa -‘ I find it so easy to overdo what is being said and it’s so easy to forget that tiny movements can make such a difference that you don’t need to exaggerate.’

Angela – ‘now canter over canter poles and try hard to not change the rhythm over them or change legs. That’s it, now get poll up a bit, with seat half halt and ride nose forward a bit more. Canter poles make you relax upper part of your body, allow a little with the hand. Pippa, back to trot keeping him up in front. Now see if you can swing a little bit in the trot without getting quick in the tempo. Trying to build the air time in the trot. Perhaps come in canter the other way. This exercise is good for all of us that only might have 1 or 2 horse that you can use them to practice your eye. Now with your body language back into trot.’

Pippa -‘ He is quite long I have to watch as he wants to be carried, so I need to be strict that I don’t give him anything to lean on. Too easy to give him to much support. So much is about self carriage and applies for all 3 phases. Horses can balance themselves very well. We should not hinder them. Top jumpers hardly move, the quieter and less we do the more the horse can find his own balance.’

Angela – ‘easy when trying to get a result that we forget about relaxation. The walk is a reward and a relaxation. Hardest thing to correct in older horses is the walk if it starts to get tight. Really important to spend time on the walk.’

Tina – ‘I would always have poles on the floor to break up a flat session. This horse is physically a bit stiff in the body. I don’t want to dominate him, but ask nicely and find ways of asking to do something but make it clear between right and wrong. My surface is not great so do a lot of schooling out hacking. I try not to nag them but might practice my transitions so work is elsewhere out of the school. I don’t want it to be like going to school, I hated going to school! Horses need to enjoy what they are doing. ‘

Pippa – ‘You have to forgive Tina for the way she is riding today because we had to share a room last night and she told me I snored and talked all night and made so much noise so she did not have very much sleep.’

Angela – ‘I often have raised trotting poles in the corner to help them bend their joints. Tina, go on a circle so we can work a bit more on suppleness so he canters through the whole body rather than just moving the legs. Just subtly changing the bend within the canter, making sure the canter does not change. Keep the line of the circle and make sure that when he allows you with his balance that you can straighten him a little bit and then ride him forward without him losing the balance. Make sure – he has such a good canter – that you can keep developing it. Then with it you can make subtle adjustments through the bend. That he does think a little more forward through transition back. Keeping that same quality to canter, you can put in a slightly smaller circle but not too much with inside hand, really using your seat to help with balance. In smaller circle transition to trot. forward and swing. That’s it. He might quicken the rhythm so think little half halts and using your rising to help him, then go large. ‘

Tina asked to now show developing leg yield.

Angela – ‘think about outside rein coming off 3/4 line. Keep the shoulders moving forward’

Tina -‘ difficult as you want them off the leg but you don’t want to nag. Easier one way than the other. I still have quite a lot in my hand and try to test if he’s looking for support as I don’t want him to lean on me.’

Angela – ‘half halt should be finished with a softening of the hand to encourage self carriage. A feeling that you just straighten him a little, and then forward. Sit very relaxed and use little adjustments, very subtle. Neck needs to be independent of his body. Remind him that he connects on outside and keeps shoulder in front. One more transition to canter to connect him. Lighten your seat and then sitting again.’

Tina – ‘You can feel that the back is beginning to move and come up under my bottom. Every bit of work I have done in getting him connected has helped the jump. I have not challenged him with the jump at all until he is more supple in flat. He is a work in progress. Sometimes people try and do everything over the winter and then don’t do anything well. I strongly believe in getting the flatwork right.’

Angela- ‘It’s by repetition that the horse learns. Must have structure and consistency that every transition is right. What you are so particular about Pippa is every time they halt they are square so it’s a matter of routine.’

Pippa – ‘for me, so much it’s about rider discipline. No point in trying to put across something like transitions and then at the end of a SJing round fall in a heap. If hacking, in a school, at all times it’s about repetition and consistency. A lot of my upbringing has been from Ruth McMullen and her whole way is that 85-95% of a horses problems are the rider. Whether I am right, or wrong, I try to think what did I do to cause that and then immediately the horse goes better. We need to remind ourselves to concentrate on our own riding to get the horse going better. This gets harder as you get older. When I talk about rider balance it get harder. I have to do Pilates 3x a week to keep core strength up. It needs to be thought of at all stages.’

Pippa swaps horses

Pippa – came in on MGH Grafton Street a horse that Andrew Nicholson rode. He was bought for Pippa by her loyal owners Jonathan and Jane Clark to replace Billy Landretti who has retired.

‘Really odd for me, as about production from the young stage but this one is 8 this time and I got to do a couple of events at end of last year and did a 2*. Going to find my way this spring because I feel he needs to get used to the way I ride. Andrew Nicholson is some jockey to follow so horse needs to get in my way of thinking. I love the way he is, short and compact. I really like him. Great attitude and brain. But some areas which are hard, particularly to get him into the rein and he sits light and gets tight in the neck and in downward transitions. We have so many different types that make good eventers and we can rule horses out so easily as might not have this or that or might be spooky but it’s astounding if you work with them that you can change them. ‘

Angela – ‘He has a lovely walk Pippa. If you want to pick him up and work on his warm up. Just to start with don’t go any faster, establish the rhythm so he does not get too quick in the tempo. You can build quality as you go further. With the work on the circle play with the transitions within the trot on the circle. Get him to quicken the hind leg and feel that in the rising trot you can quicken the hind leg . When you have those moments you go forward use it to lengthen the frame, but not quicker in the tempo and keep the shoulder up. You should really feel that you can influence in the rising trot. Start to show suppleness through ribs and submission in the poll. Shoulder fore on long sides. Pippa, pick a corner to transition to walk, turn and then trot so you are connecting the outside hind and inside rein. Easy leg yield to change the rein. Use every corner. Such a good exercise for horses lazy to leg or a bit sharp to accept leg. Don’t let him rely on your inside rein. If you feel he is ready do a little sitting then refresh and go rising. Upwards with the poll. One more leg yield then give him a little walk before we do some canter.’

Pippa – ‘When I slow him I can feel the hind leg slow and sometimes he can be a little inactive in the hind leg. It’s trying to get them to wait for the aid.’

Angela -‘ now stretch in trot to remind him that the frame can be a little longer.’

Tina riding Calvino II now a 3* horse who did Blenheim and Strzegom last year and will be aimed at 4* this year.

‘I find him quite tricky as wriggly and spooky. He has a lovely brain which wants to try but it’s like sitting on an eel. In his eagerness to please he wants to go faster and if I take a half halt he gets short in the neck. He has the attributes of being a top horse if I can get the consistency. If I was at a show, I would put him on the lunge for 20 minutes. Then I canter quite soon under saddle as I find him better. I have to trust my judgement with him because I have worked him too long before and have overdone it as gone flat. He is 11 but he looks stronger this year and he is an amazing jumper. He finds that side of it easy and is coming to his prime now. Very excited about him.’

Pippa – ‘So much is rider balance and having the relaxed seat and how do we develop that? The sports science side has helped with team physios , I work hard with Pilates and how can we get up with Michael Jung and how can we get another 5-10 marks and need to not give anything away. I have been thinking about my own game and how I need to improve. I feel there are areas I want to improve and I know as a rider I get tight in right thigh and knee. I know, when I am on left rein my right leg is a little further away from the horse, I know it needs to get closer and I know it’s an issue. I need to work with physios so I need to do the work off the horse to strengthen it. I know my shoulder in are a 6/7 because of how I come into the corner where I get tight. I will go without stirrups to get my seat more relaxed, letting my legs sit longer. I will ride round with arm up (vertical in the air) on the side I collapse and if I think about this and take the focus off the horse then the horse will relax and the seat will relax. We try so hard, and try different things and I forget to just breathe. That deep breath to keep it unlocked. I just feel anything that can help me to develop better balance and a better feel is good. I don’t like doing sitting trot and we need to let ourselves bounce to find the balance so not gripping with the leg and let our brains trigger and find the balance. At an event, I think if horse is not where I want them and you have so many things to think about and work on by the time I have done all that the horse will have done that the poor horse will have done several tests in one session so try to pick a few exercises thinking about my own position and the rest slots into place in the warm up.’

Angela – ‘Tina ride on a square, you can make it quite big so feel in control of every stride. Just try to feel that you relax him, soften and relax the neck. Lighter seat so allow him to lift back and drop the neck. Now feel you are connecting that softer frame now back onto a square. Turn the shoulders and make him wait on your seat. You must keep his body on the line of the circle so his neck stays independent of his body. ‘

Pippa doing large training pirouettes to develop feel and comes from inside leg to outside rein. Think – why you are doing the exercise. What effect do you want on the horse?

Angela -‘ once horses have learnt these training pirouettes it’s easy in the travers and easy in the half pass. Keep him up in front of you and transition to halt and it helps to teach them a square halt. ‘

Pippa -‘ I was struggling to get him into the rein and I feel that at home would ask for littler steps to get him accepting leg more as he throws contact and fiddles. Things I find difficult like P that it’s easy to scrunch them up. I have to keep him a little more in front of me.’

Angela – ‘ keep submission in the poll, without shortening the front in the walk you ride the hind leg under. ‘


Q for Pippa – When you go from the warm up into competition area you seem to trot or canter, is this a thought process?

‘What I try to do the way I structure my warm up I don’t pick them up to test frame until quite late so I get an extra bit of time. I probably need to address this as might not be able to keep connection through into main arena at Olympics. Even little things like that might ruin a performance as chances are it could change. We still need to stay open minded in our training. Even at a major champs something can get thrown at you, as might lose a shoe. There are situations that we have to deal with. I really like when they spook before they go into a test as gives me a reason to put leg on and get them focused on me.’

Tina – If you had a horse which was tense in lateral work what would you do to reduce it?

‘ Making it easier and not asking so much. Short distances and then reward. With all the young horses they need to be around my leg so practice it on a hack. I try and vary it so it does not become an issue like on hacks. ‘

Tina – What did you think when the roof was coming off the Judge’s box at London Olympics during your test?

‘ I just tried to stay focused and going through the test as if nothing was going on.’

The whole session was interesting but it felt slightly unstructured. Pippa Funnell in particular had fascinating insights into her mentality and about rider improvement that could have made a whole session. Having attended pretty much all the IEF forums, what this session felt to lack was a cohesive structure and this could have been put into place with Angela Tucker leading the session more. Instead what we had was three people leading a session which pulled apart the structure we perhaps needed as an audience and we missed some of the gems of change in a horses way of going that we have seen with past trainers such as Christophe Hess and Isobel Wessels.

About the author


An amateur rider who produces all her own horses. I have competed at novice level and sadly never got further due to bad luck with horses but I am still ambitious to achieve a lot more. I have a riding qualification in UKCC2 and a diploma in NLP. Sports science and particularly the mental game fascinates me. For a day job I work for a large multinational brand.