Postcard: 2009 George Morris Horsemastership Day 4

Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden works on improving the horse's rideability with a few simple exercises at the 2009 Horsemastership Training Session.

January 8, 2009 — You wouldn’t think that jumping 18-inch fences would be difficult or all that much fun, but the young riders in the 2009 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session found out they were during their session with Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden.

Beezie Madden explains how to jump one of the exercises. | Photo by Sandra Oliynyk.

Beezie had the difficult job of giving her training session on the fourth day of the five-day clinic. The riders had done flatwork with dressage Olympian Robert Dover Monday, gymnastics with Olympian Anne Kursinski Tuesday and course savvy with Olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut on Wednesday. “You want to be able to continue to train your horse, but it’s the fourth day of the clinic and you have one day to go,” Beezie said. “So we’re going to work on low jumps and doing them perfectly.”

Here’s what she had to say about the day’s work:

Rideability on a Straight Line
For one of her exercises, Beezie set a line of three, 18-inch verticals in a straight line, each 45 feet apart. She had the riders canter up the long side on the left lead and make a short rollback turn to jump the line in a flowing three strides to three strides.

After the last fence, the riders stayed on the straight line and within a few strides, drifted left, asked for a flying change, rode a half-turn to the right and jumped the line back in a steady four strides to four strides.

Sophie Benjamin jumps the straight line in combinations of three and four strides. | Photo by Sandra Oliynyk

Then they drifted right, rode a half-turn to the left, jumped the line back in three strides to four strides and finally repeated the half-turn to the right, jumped the line in three strides to four strides and halted.

Though the exercise was seemingly simple, there were many caveats to riding it smoothly. Beezie instructed Chelsea Moss to turn and establish her pace to get the flowing three. When the horses landed from the last fence in the line, she stressed that the riders use an opening outside rein to half-pass toward the rail and half-halt to collect their horses to ask for the change. “Don’t just pull for the change. Come back on a straight line. Then ask.”

The hard part of the exercise was collecting the horse after the fence, then moving up for the three stride to the four stride. “The quicker you get the collection, the better chance you’ll have at getting pace to the next three stride,” she told Taylor Land. And by coming to the last line with more pace to jump the three stride, it made jumping the four-stride easier.

Beezie stressed that all the details of entire exercise were important–not just the jumping.

When Taylor had trouble halting, Beezie told her to land, drop her weight into her heels, put her elbows forward for an instant, then pull back. “Putting your elbows forward will take practice at first, but it’s more effective.”

She praised Carolyn Curcio for a particularly balanced, upward transition to canter when starting the exercise. “It’s easy to get sloppy with transitions when you start jumping, but it’s good to have the discipline to do it correctly every time,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of being careful about what you could be inadvertently teaching your horse. “If you’re still pulling your horse in the air over the fence to get him back, he knows you don’t really mean it because he has to go forward to get over the fence,” Beezie told Jessica Springsteen, whose horse was pulling her. “So he’ll get dull to it.” Instead, Jessica needed to be sure to get her horse back before jumping the fence.

Diagram of the mini-course involving bending lines |

Rideability on Bending Lines
Beezie then had the riders ride a mini-course that involved riding bending lines of three jumps across the diagonal and bending lines of three jumps on a semicircle. They started by riding a bending diagonal line off the left lead in a forward four strides to four strides then halt. They turned right and rode a semicircle of three jumps, riding them in seven strides to four strides. Then they went across the opposite diagonal in five strides to five strides. They made a left turn and jumped another semicircle in eight strides to five strides then halted.

To get the first diagonal line in four strides to four strides, Beezie told Sophie Benjamin to use an opening left rein over the first fence, then an opening right rein over the second fence. To get the next semicircle line, Sophie had to hold a strong outside rein. Over the center fence to the four stride, she needed to use a soft opening rein to guide the horse.

To jump the semicircle in eight strides to five strides, she had the riders use an opening left rein over the first fence. “The opening rein is a little softer, so your horse is not going to fight it so much.”

“All of you are a little uncomfortable with that opening right rein,” Beezie noted because many of the riders wanted to use the indirect inside rein to pull the horse through the turn. “Have a little trust in your horse.”

Beezie then challenged the riders to come up with their own number of strides in the semicircle. “Make it fun, a little more challenging. I’d like to see something wide to something direct. Tell me which one you’re going to do so we can hold you to it.”

Chelsea chose to ride nine strides to four strides in a semicircle on the left lead. “I like it,” Beezie said when she finished. “You stuck to it.”

Training session organizer Connie Sawyer takes a short break to enjoy time with the training session

Jacqueline Lubrano rose to the challenge by saying she would ride the semicircle line in 10 strides to four strides. To ride it, she angled the first fence from left to right and put a big bend in the line. As she neared the second fence and worked to fit in the 10 strides, she was smiling, and the audience let out an excited “Ooh,” as she succeeded.

“Practice looking in and holding out,” Beezie coached her through the line.” Hold out for the second part of the turn, too. Don’t get anxious.”

Jacqueline, who has ridden with Beezie before, explained after how much she’s learned from Beezie:

To all of the riders, Beezie said, “Have some fun by challenging yourself to do different things. Maybe do 15 strides. It’s a good exercise for holding out and looking in while still working out of a lot of stride.”

She ended the session by commenting again why such simple exercises could be so important to the riders’ education. “This time, we didn’t jump big or too complicated. But we tried to get the job done perfectly,” she said. “And it’s not just for equitation purposes. What is the only job the horse is responsible for? To jump all the fences and not knock them down. Is it easier if you close your fingers at a fence or if you’re ripping his face off at the fence? The same with the leg. Is it easier for him to concentrate if you’re just closing your leg or if you’re spurring his guts out and going to the whip? His job is to jump the fences. Your job is to get him there as easy as possible.”

Look for more about Beezie’s training session in the July 2009 issue of Practical Horseman.

Sandra Oliynyk is the editor of Practical Horseman magazine.

The training session is hosted by Bates Saddles and Equestrian Sport Productions and supported by the U.S. Equestrian Federation. In addition to Bates, supporting organizations include Purina Mills, the U.S. Equestrian Team Foundation, the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association, the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament, Nutramax (Cosequin ASU), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Practical Horseman.

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