Training Solutions from Top Riders, Presented by the USEA ICP

A panel of the “who’s who” of the event world spoke to a packed room of eager members on Friday morning at the USEA’s Annual Convention.   During her introduction, Karen O’Connor created the parallel that there are “many roads that lead to Rome” in terms of the riders on the panel and their different approaches to training.  With that she announced that the one hour session would be an open format, allowing the audience to tap into the training solutions of the nation’s top competitors.

The questions from the audience were numerous, and covered a wide variety interesting topics.  Here is an excerpt of some of those questions:

1.     At the lower levels of eventing, where do you see room for improvement in the warm-up?

The overall consensus from the panel addressed that time spent in the warm-up needed to be more about engaging the horse and rider for the task at hand, and was not an appropriate time for a riding lesson.  Phillip Dutton remarked that people who come into the warm-up unprepared for riding cross-country needed to focus beforehand on what they needed to do on course.  This was also reinforced by Buck Davidson, who emphasized that trainers and riders needed to ensure that their homework was done prior to entering the warm-up.   Kim Severson wrapped up this topic by suggesting that trainers shift the focus to the security of rider’s position, and to refrain from over jumping in the warm-up.

2.    When is it determined that a horse ∧ rider are ready to move up to the next level?

Again the panel was in agreement that all riders should stay at their appropriate level until ready to move up.   Mike Huber emphasized that riders needed to evaluate their proficiency on the cross-country.  Allison Springer very wisely advised that riders and trainers need to “Make sure your horse understands all the questions at the current level, almost to the point of boredom." Once that is accomplished, then have a discussion with your training about the appropriate time to move up a level.  It was also refreshing to hear her say that “it’s okay to stay where you are comfortable and to enjoy your current level.  That is a big part of sportsmanship“.

3.    How much emphasis do you put on rider fitness and what practices do you suggest?

Karen mentioned with a laugh and a poke at Mike Huber, that “As you get older, you must do other things to help with your fitness." Whether it is aerobic or weight training, she found time for cross training in other sports.  If looking for fitness techniques while in the saddle, “gallop sets with shorter stirrups & being stable in your position with the ability to sustain that (position) for an extended period of time” is a great test of one’s fitness level.  Allison also saw a huge benefit through the practice of yoga, which had proven helpful with maintaining a strong yet soft position in dressage.

4.    What are your favorite clinic exercises?

Will:  “Start without stirrups or take away a rider’s tool (ie: one hand behind the back) to sharpen your balance & intuition”.
Buck:  Set up exercises to measure your speed to the jump.  Incorporate gymnastics to adjust balance on strides”.
Karen: “Do all your dressage movements in your jumping position” as a change of pace.  “Give riders lots of things to do AFTER the jumps to encourage landing with correct posture and the use of core strength”.
Mike:  “Set smaller jumps with poles and turns.  Take the short approach and utilize small figure eights which promotes better schooling for the horse and to better able master the flying change”.
Phillip: “Work with poles on the ground and working the correct canter approach by taking away & adding strides.  Get that exercise down pat before adding the fences is very important”.

Speakers included Buck Davidson, Will Coleman, Phillip Dutton, Mike Huber, Karen O'Connor, Kim Severson and Allison Springer