BD Training Director and List 1 judge Paul Hayler led the inaugural lecture-demonstration of the newly established Southern Equestrian Training at Belmoredean, West Sussex, 7 October. He had an ‘everybody is welcome’ audience of judges, trainers and amateur and professional riders. In the FIRST MORNING SESSION his focus was on achieving soft jaw communication between rider and horse, improving impulsion and jump, and straightness in the canter — and the value of corners. He also rallied judges not to be over-pernickety at lower levels and gave his own position on the contentious double bridle issue.
PAUL HAYLER immediately zeroed in on the Scales of Training In his first session of the day with two very different six-year-olds both at the early stages of their careers. His daughter Bobby rode the chestnut warmblood FJ Veyron who has been very successfully shown in young horse classes nationally; and local amateur rider Judy Troughton rode her own grey Lusitano, Fadista. Paul said: “We want to get the best out of these horses and maximise their way of going and the marks they are capable of. Whether I’m judging, riding or training I always turn to the scales of training, it is an easy step-by-step guide.” Judy’s grey, finding himself exposed to an audience for the first time, gave Paul an opportunity to explain achieving acceptance of a contact with a soft jaw and gaining the horse’s attention.
A conversation between rider and horse
Paul started by asking Judy to shorten her snaffle rein. “I want you to move your second and third fingers — not moving your hand — and play with the contact. You say to yourself, ‘II’ll do this until I get his response to my fingers’. He has no idea what you’re doing to begin with. He’s experimenting, too. He’s thinking ‘I don’t like that, how can I stop it?’ He will then move his tongue and that will make him swallow, and when they swallow they let go of the jaw.
“When he softens like that, you don’t throw the contact away, but tell him, ‘my hand will remain still’. That’s his reward. You’ve stopped annoying him. Once you have felt him soften in his jaw, that softening runs all the way down his neck, the rein can reorganise the neck, the steering wheel, and the leg can engage the engine to the bit.”
Applying the ‘clutch’
With Fadista moving off again in walk Paul asks Judy to soften her horse’s neck a bit more and take a deep breath herself. He commented: “Now the walk is getting better because you are starting to relax. You have to relax your back and legs as well.” Then he instructs: “squeeze both your knees once, really tight, so that he almost stops: that’s your ‘clutch’. Any time you want to go slower, squeeze your knees. Now if you push your stomach forward, it will make you tighten your knee and thigh: that is your half halt. I like to keep it simple.”
Returning the pair to the trot Paul looks at developing suppleness: “Now he is coming a bit rounder and over his top line you want to start to ask him to flex a bit more through his ribcage. Take a little inside bend, but keep your inside knee on, because when he bent, he brought his shoulder in too much.” He asks the rider: ‘What happened to his hindlegs?” Judy, “They swung out.” Right, so what do you do? “Support on the outside — correct.” He added to the audience: “When I’m teaching and coaching I like to find out from riders what they think they should and shouldn’t be doing. Sometimes they have the exam answer, but don’t really understand what it means.”
Observing the combination working he says: “now the rhythm is good, the contact is good and we are starting to work on suppleness. That’s the nuts and bolts of training a horse: when they are working over the back, giving us the bend we want, working through the body. Once they accept and understand that, you can progress your training”
“Now we come to impulsion. I think that at this moment this horse is going forward enough. If it was more forward its quarters would swing out more and we would lose the roundness and the outline. He asks Judy to flex more to the inside and ask him to lower in the neck with the outside rein. He explains, when he’s tight in the base of his neck, by the chest, it restricts the shoulder movement. The lower you get him the more relaxation you will get in the neck and the more swing we will get through his shoulders.”
The combination then work on a circle spiralling in and out in rising trot to improve suppleness — and then take a breather. Paul asks what pace mark would the audience would have given the trot at the beginning? Then he continued, I would have given a 5.5, but now I would quite easily give him a 7: he is starting to tick all the scales of training boxes.
Outside leg asks for impulsion and jump
Paul turns his attention to his daughter Bobby and Veyron’s canter which he observes needs more impulsion and jump. He asks: “Which leg in the canter sequence are you thinking about when you want to influence the canter?” The correct answer is the outside hind, because that is the first step in the canter and he asks Bobby to use her outside leg a couple of times quickly and she gets a reaction.
He adds: “Now Bobby can use her inside leg to do two jobs: one, to ride the shoulder up and, secondly, use it just by the girth or slightly back to improve suppleness.” Now, “Collect the canter, keep the hindleg active and put the front end up,” he instructs. “The horse has become a little tense, but it’s positive, the horse is thinking, ‘Oh I’ve got to get to put myself together a bit more’. Now Bobby can spend a little time softening the jaw and topline then give a little so that he can relax into his new frame.”
Engaging inside hind/outside fore
Bobby is instructed to ride canter shoulder-fore. Paul explains: “Now we are thinking of impulsion and straightness. A little shoulder-fore encourages the activity of the inside-hind/outside fore, the second canter stride. Cantering naturally and most economically for the horse, it will be on its forehand. We need the shoulder to be up. With the inside foreleg slightly in off the track, the horse is straightened. It brings the horse’s shoulders in front of the engine so that the horse can learn to carry its weight further back.
“With young horses we use a lot of counter-canter along the fence to help them get straight. If you can put the horse’s front feet on the track in counter-canter and then bring their quarters in they straighten themselves so they don’t bang them. The exercise also improves strength and balance.”
Corners to condense and expand paces
“Corners teach the horse to collect and sit and allow the rider to influence the horse and set up movements in the test. We teach our horses from early on to come back for themselves for the corners, so we half-halt before every corner we do. Then you can put your leg on and ride through the corner with more balance and impulsion. When you ride out of the corner the horse finds impulsion comes naturally.”
He adds: “Horses use their necks for balance. We as riders have to be in control of the horse’s neck and teach them how to balance with their neck being a bit rounder and while more over the back. This horse has to develop his strength and behind, but we have to build that strength gradually over time. We don’t want to lose his big elastic paces, so we do a lot counter-canter and lengthening and shortening the canter, so that he pushing and carrying muscles will get stronger.”
Bobby explained: “Because I’m much smaller than Dad, I can’t hold him up [with my legs] like dad so I do a lot of counter-canter serpentines which helps me keep him through the body and also, going large: halt-counter-canter; halt-true canter transitions. Responding to an audience question, Bobby confirmed: “Yes, I use counter-flexions when I’m doing my counter-canter serpentines, because it encourages the horse to sit, and when he is being quite hot I do a lot leg yield round the loops which enables me to get my leg on and get him through the body and neck.”
Doubts about doubles
Paul and his audience were eager to air arguments in favour of double bridles. Paul said: “There are a lot people being unhappy about riders competing in a double bridle at elementary. I agree that there is some bad riding at elementary level in a double bridle. But if we banned it at elementary, two things could happen: some people would move up to medium to ride in a double and the horse would be asked to do more difficult things: would that be fair on the horse?
“The other thing is, if we do ban it, they’re still going to ride the horse in a double bridle at home, or go unaffiliated. My feeling is that it is up to us trainers and judges to help educate riding. To make training better and judging better we should be braver and question why they’re riding in the double bridle. We need more rider education.”
“At what point in a horse’s training should you introduce a double?” the audience also wanted to know. Paul replied: “Later on you will see Bobby’s grey grand prix horse. When he was a young horse I tried to do everything as correctly as possible but when I started to compete him at novice I got dreadful marks because he was horrible in the contact. We tried all sorts of snaffles but nothing worked. So I tried him in a double bridle and he loved it. Over period of years I became able to ride him in a snaffle.”
Judge, trainer and competitor Sarah Williams commented: “I compare a double bridle to a harness on a dog in that it gives more points of contact. With a snaffle there only one or two bearing surfaces and it can be severe. A lot of horses prefer the contact points to be dispersed.”
Motivating the front legs for lengthening
The riders put their horses in motion again for a look at lengthening the trot. Bobby demonstrates a lengthening on the diagonal and Paul comments: “He is not strong enough yet to be really spectacular and he occasionally gets a little wide behind, but so what? It has amazing quality. When he’s stronger, he’s going to lift that shoulder right up.
Turning to Judy, he asks: “What is it that you are trying to move? Use your legs a bit quicker by the girth area because you want him to move his front legs. If you use your legs too far back he will just get faster; nearer the girth he will bring his stomach up and that sling of muscle with tighten and support him. It’s about learning what aid works where to change your horse’s mechanics. You need to think what you can do to help him move his shoulders.
“Now he’s showing a difference in his steps you must help him support his balance. Yes, he might be a bit stronger in the hand for a while, because he needs some support. Once he learns to lengthen and develops more strength you can focus on roundness.” The pair return to walk, and Paul concludes. “You can see the improvement in the walk now; he is starting to over-track now he’s relaxing his topline.”
© Celia Cadwallader, 21 October 2016