When starting riding, I was fortunate to have great horses who took care of me—and I let them. Then I went through a phase where I thought I needed to control their every step. I became obsessed with whether or not I saw a distance, often fussing with my hands to try to find one. Eventually I started to learn that I didn’t have to work so hard to see a distance.
Because of this experience, reading hunter trainer and judge Tom Brennan’s article brought back a lot of memories (page 28). In it, Tom gives advice and exercises to help you produce a hunter round that exudes confidence. A big part of that, as Tom says, is getting “comfortable with the concept of going forward until you see it’s time to do something else. … Focus on establishing the right rhythm, pace and track, and then relinquish control of the distance.”
Show-jumping coach for the U.S. Eventing Team Silvio Mazzoni echoes that idea in our article that features him and eventer Buck Davidson discussing show-jumping warm-up strategies (page 50). “I’m very big on working to get a better technique and teaching a horse to show-jump clean, in the right form with the least amount of interference or help from the horse,” he says.
To avoid interfering with your horse, he must be rideable, which Buck also discusses in the article. With a horse going Novice or Training, he says his priority is “rideability first, clean round second.” You also must have a secure and effective rider position. If you don’t, you’re going to negatively affect your horse whether you realize it or not. In our article with the Chief Rider of the Spanish Riding School, Andreas Hausberger, he offers advice on common challenges riders have with their positions, from gripping with the knee to maintaining a deep seat to keeping the upper body supple (page 36).
Finally, in answering a question about his style of riding, top hunter rider John French says (page 22), “It’s not very controlling. I ride a little looser, more forward. I try not to interfere. … I think sometimes people do too much and you can take the jump out of a horse.”
In my own riding, once I stopped worrying about distances and began focusing on rhythm, pace and track, the takeoff spots started appearing and riding, though still taking discipline and practice, became a lot more fun. So, yes, getting to a point where you can do less while riding to a jump takes hard work, but the effort is worth it.