While piaffe-passage helped Aldborough Rubenhall gain strength in his core to become a grand prix athlete, as a youth rider Bobby Hayler developed hers with the help of a fitness ball. In the final session at the Paul Hayler lecture demonstration at Belmoredean, West Sussex (10 March), the spectators were treated to ‘the tricks’ from Ruben and Medium Winter Championships contestant FJ Veyron was helped to contain his excitement and his balance.

RUBEN came into the arena for the second time to demonstrate some of the tricks and get his competition hat on for the start of the summer season. Due to his downhill conformation, roach back and 12.2hh pony trot, Ruben was not successful at novice level so Paul decided to keep him at home and develop his strength and a competition trot. It emerged that he had a talent for half-steps and piaffe which led to him learning passage and then the other trot gears.

“We have a big trot with Veyron but at the moment he is using that against Bobby. He starts to get his trot bigger and bigger and climbing too much and blocking, so we have to say, no, this will come later when you’re a grand prix horse. At moment he needs to have a smaller trot so that he doesn’t keep offering an alteration in his balance.”
In the half-pass, Paul observes: “The rider must dictate when the movement starts and ends, and not let the horse take over. He needs to stay balanced on the outside rein so that the inside shoulder could come up and the inside hind come through.”
Veyron’s session ended with Paul explaining: “He still needs to get stronger over his back, develop more muscle behind the saddle and in his second thigh to get the hind leg stronger. That will take another couple of years’ work”

With only a handful of advanced medium tests under his girth, Ruben became a second string horse for Bobby Hayler as a Junior rider. He eventually ended up as the one she competed at the Junior Europeans in 2010. Paul joked that while it made Ruben grow up, it also made Bobby’s arms grow longer and that Ruben was nose on the floor, tired-out by the end of the competition.

Paul said: “However, Ruben was a disaster in young riders [PSG], so we decided not to mess around with all the small tour stuff, but because we thought he could be a grand prix horse we kept him at home and trained.

“Because he has a talent for piaffe-passage we used that to help him find his grand prix balance. He’s learn’t how to lift his stomach up and step under and lighten his shoulders. He’s also had to learn how to hold his neck and find that balance from he rider’s seat.”

Equally, Bobby has had to find a way to do ride without him hanging on her hand, but listening to her seat.

She had to work a lot on her own fitness:

“I’ve had to get very strong in my core so that I was able to sit [still with a light contact] and know that I could get enough reaction from my seat to ride him in a test situation.”

Paul added: “Bobby still had her hand in reserve to hold him when he needed to be held. When Bobby goes abroad and competes him she will spend most of the time in the warm-up doing counter-canter serpentines. People think you’re mad, but it works for this horse. It helps him sit behind, get straight and get back onto the hind leg and it helps Bobby to get her leg on, concentrating and getting the uphill balance and sitting. Then she can push him through and get him to let go in the ribcage and back. Because he is a little bit roach backed it takes him longer to let go. We have had to experiment with what works so that he will let go and come through — and then he’s ready to be presented in a test.”

Rider straightness and balance
Replying to a question from a member of the audience, Bobby explained: “When I was in Ponies I had a really bad accident. I wasn’t able to go to the gym because of the damage I’d sustained but I had to get riding fit so I used a fitness ball. If you’re crooked or not straight the ball goes away from you when you sit on it and, if you like, it mimics what is happening when you’re on a horse.

“I can stand here and straighten you on your horse and you will think I’m barking mad because it feels strange. You need to sit on a gym ball in front of a mirror so that you can see where you’re out. It works on diagonal lines: If you’re dropping your left shoulder you see that you’re also out with your right hip. Then you start to understand that the connection is where your body is.

Once you’ve corrected yourself sitting on the ball looking at yourself in a mirror, you can take that corrected feeling onto the horse. Horse’s aren’t the best guide to whether you’re sitting crooked because some will compensate. It may be that one horse feels resistant in the ribcage and against the inside leg and the saddle goes to the outside. Another, say, pushes you to the right but you don’t feel it because you automatically lift up your right shoulder and he takes up that space for you, but you’ll still be falling through that right hip.

“I get people I teach to sit on a ball then lift one leg and then the other. It’s amazing how often people can only lift one leg up without the ball moving because their muscle strength is not symmetrical. Then I get them to kneel on the ball and find their balance and straightness. When they’ve developed the strength to stay balanced on the ball kneeling they will able to use their hands and the legs more independently.”

Ready for flying changes?
A questioner asked: “What is the right age to teach a horse flying changes? Paul replied: “I’ve got a four-year-old at home now doing flying changes each way. He finds them quite easy, but Veyron  who’s eight has been doing changes just this last year because, although he had a lovely canter, he was too weak and couldn’t organise his ‘spider’ legs at all, so we left off doing them for a while. Now his canter is better controlled he can put his legs where he needs to and has got the idea of a change.

“As a general rule, I would say at the end of a horse’s fifth year is a good time to start teaching changes, once they have learned a little bit of counter-canter. You don’t want the counter-canter too balanced and secure, but still a bit wobbly, so that when you change the bend and put the new outside leg on, the loss of balance will encourage the horse to change legs.”

© Celia Cadwallader, 19 March 2018

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