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Anne Kursin­skil Beezie Mad­den and Laura Kraut share wis­dom with young rid­ers at the Ge­orge H. Mor­ris Horse­mas­ter­ship Train­ing Ses­sion.

Practical Horseman - - Features - By Sue Weak­ley Pho­tos by Amy K. Dra­goo

Anne Kursin­ski spoke about de­vel­op­ing con­nec­tion and feeling with your horse by es­tab­lish­ing a solid po­si­tion and rid­ing lots of tran­si­tions to test re­spon­sive­ness. Beezie Mad­den built on Anne’s lessons, fo­cus­ing on con­trol and ad­justa­bil­ity by get­ting your horse in front of your leg and rid­ing tran­si­tions over ground poles. Laura Kraut taught how to ride a suc­cess­ful jumper course by think­ing about the time al­lowed early, cre­at­ing en­ergy to get over the jumps and never giv­ing up. The three Olympians shared their knowl­edge with au­di­tors and 12 young rid­ers, who tack­led train­ing on the flat, gym­nas­ti­ciz­ing and com­pet­ing their horses in a Na­tions Cup-style event, at the 2017 USEF Ge­orge H. Mor­ris Horse­mas­ter­ship Train­ing Ses­sion, held in Jan­uary in Welling­ton, Florida.

The clinic, pre­sented by the U.S. Hunter Jumper As­so­ci­a­tion and spon­sored by Ad­e­quan, Ariat, Prac­ti­cal Horse­man and Equestrian Sport Pro­duc­tions, is de­signed to de­velop the next gen­er­a­tion of U.S. Equestrian Team ta­lent through in­ten­sive mounted and un­mounted in­struc­tion. Ath­letes earned in­vi­ta­tions to the 2017 Train­ing Ses­sion through one of three av­enues: suc­cess in spe­cific U.S. Equestrian Fed­er­a­tion com­pe­ti­tions, per­for­mance at the U.S. Hunter Jumper As­so­ci­a­tion Emerg­ing Ath­letes Pro­gram Na­tional Train­ing Ses­sion or by se­lec­tion from a com­pet­i­tive pool of wild-card ap­pli­cants.

The three coaches’ tips and ad­vice, though, can im­prove the horse­man­ship skills of rid­ers of all lev­els.

Anne Kursin­ski: Con­nec­tion and Feeling

On Day 1 of the Horse­mas­ter­ship Train­ing Ses­sion, Anne fo­cused on work­ing on the flat. Anne, a five-time Olympian with two team sil­ver medals, was voted the 1991 Fe­male Equestrian Ath­lete of the Year by the U.S. Olympic Com­mit­tee. Dur­ing that year, she claimed in­di­vid­ual and team gold medals at the Pan Amer­i­can Games in Cara­cas, Venezuela. In 1988 and 1992, she was named the AHSA (pre­cur­sor to U.S. Equestrian Fed­er­a­tion) Horse­woman of the Year and in 1995, she was named AHSA Equestrian of the Year.

1. Rider po­si­tion, at­ten­tion to de­tail and flat­work are key.

Anne is a stick­ler on rider po­si­tion and sweat­ing the small stuff while work­ing on the flat. “Self-aware­ness and po­si­tion are be­ing sup­ple and elas­tic but not frozen,” she says. “If you are crooked, your horse will jump crooked. You can re­ally solve most of your jump­ing prob­lems on the flat.”

2. Con­nect your body to con­nect the dots.

Your legs, seat and back are not sep­a­rate from your body. Talk to your horse with your aids. Hold him with your seat and back. Re­mem­ber to keep your arms elas­tic with short reins. “If you can’t feel your own body, you can’t re­ally feel your horse’s body,” Anne says. “I had a trainer who used to say my hands are in my seat and my hands are in my back, like my legs are in my seat and my legs are in my back.” Ride with your en­tire body. “My whole body rides the whole horse. McLain [Ward’s] whole body rides the horse. Beezie’s whole body rides the horse. You don’t see them pulling the horse’s head to the side with just their hands.” 3. Be patient and aware. Be clear, con­sis­tent and patient. Never lose your tem­per. Don’t be overly crit­i­cal of your horse or your­self. “To be a great rider, you have to be aware of everything—no stone left un­turned.” 4. Test your con­nec­tion—a lot. Lengthen and shorten the trot and go from post­ing trot to sit­ting trot and back again. Do count­less tran­si­tions. Then bal­ance in two-point po­si­tion to test if your horse has ac­cepted your seat, legs and reins with light­ness. If he has, he will main­tain the same bal­ance and rhythm for sev­eral steps. Pi­lot your horse into small cir­cles to test his re­spon­sive­ness to your aids. You have to put in the time and then test or ask as if you are go­ing to get the right an­swers.

An­other ex­er­cise you can use to test his re­spon­sive­ness is to ride a shoul­der-in.

When go­ing to the left, keep your hands even and move both of them and your torso slightly to the left. “Take a lit­tle and give a lit­tle,” Anne ad­vises. “Push with the seat and re­ceive with the hands. Keep the in­side leg ac­tive.” Lat­eral work is men­tal and re­quires the horse to be re­spect­ful of the rider. 5. Sit the sad­dle. When you have trou­ble get­ting your horse to move forward into the trot without him break­ing stride or back­ing up, drop your stir­rups to sit deeper in the sad­dle. Con­cen­trate on the rhythm by keep­ing your body back and your hands to­gether. Anne’s oft-re­peated mantra is, “Sit the sad­dle.”

6. Knot the reins for sym­pa­thetic con­tact and con­nec­tion.

Try ty­ing a knot in your reins “just for fun.” Hold the reins in front of the knot, clos­est to your horse’s mouth. The knot re­quires you to have longer arms and use more give and take with the reins. Make a cir­cle and then leg-yield out to en­cour­age your horse to step into the out­side rein. You’ll know the ex­er­cise has merit when your horse is softer and more re­spon­sive. “Con­nec­tion is key,” Anne says. 7. Give when your horse re­sponds. When your horse re­acts pos­i­tively, give with your hands. “I feel his mouth,” Anne says. “When he stretches down, I give. When he’s flex­ing, I’m giv­ing and re­ward­ing. As he ac­cepts the con­tact, I give. I sit the trot to see if he ac­cepts. As he gets it, I keep my seat and my con­tact. I fol­low his neck as it goes down. If he roots a lit­tle, I re­sist a lit­tle. No saw­ing. I have a very light hand. When he fusses with his mouth, I close my legs and tickle him with my spurs and make him think about his hind legs.”

8. Iso­late the shoul­der to move the haunches. Iso­late the haunches to gain shoul­der con­trol.

Work on turns on the fore­hand to iso­late your horse’s haunches and con­trol the shoul­ders. If your horse backs up to avoid the ex­er­cise, move his hind legs forward by deep­en­ing your seat as soon as you feel him back. It’s im­por­tant to feel in or­der to gain re­spon­sive­ness. Try us­ing haunches-in to bend the horse “like a ba­nana” and make him use his hind end. “To be a great and ef­fec­tive rider, you have to be able to do many things. The sign of a great rider is a happy horse.”

Beezie Mad­den: Con­trol and Ad­justa­bil­ity

Day 2 fea­tured Beezie, who built on Anne’s lessons while work­ing on gym­nas­ti­ciz­ing the horses. Beezie is a three-time Olympic ath­lete, an in­di­vid­ual Olympic bronze medal­ist and a mem­ber of two gold-medal U.S. teams. In 2006, she won both team and in­di­vid­ual sil­ver medals at the World Equestrian Games and in 2014, she re­turned to the WEG to claim both a team and an in­di­vid­ual bronze medal.

1. Con­trol the pace and line while free­ing the neck.

Get ready for ac­tion by putting your horse in front of your leg and on the out­side rein while mak­ing sure he doesn’t drop his shoul­der to the in­side. “If the shoul­der [bal­ance] is on the out­side, it frees up his neck,” Beezie says. “That’s one of the rea­sons to have the horse on the out­side rein. The other is that the out­side rein con­trols the pace and the line.” No mat­ter what you are do­ing, feel as if you can jump a fence with enough im­pul­sion so that the horse has spring in his step. Re­mem­ber: The goal is to make ev­ery jump in the mid­dle of your horse’s arc over the jump.

2. Use ground poles for prac­tic­ing a va­ri­ety of ex­er­cises.

Beezie sets up ground poles in a num­ber of ways to help rid­ers gain the skills to im­prove their horses be­fore grad­u­at­ing to big­ger jumps. Set the poles 45 feet apart and fluc­tu­ate the num­ber of strides and dif­fer­ent gaits be­tween poles. Work on pace, bal­ance, rhythm and rid­ing with feeling. “They have to stay in your hands so you can con­trol the bal­ance and the stride,” she says. The changes in stride and tran­si­tions test and im­prove your horse’s ad­justa­bil­ity. 3. Halt. Stop your horse in a va­ri­ety of places to test re­spon­sive­ness. “I like stop­ping straight in the cor­ners be­cause horses an­tic­i­pate turns in a short arena,” she ad­vises.

Af­ter com­plet­ing a jump or a line of jumps, halt your horse in­stead of turn­ing to slow down. Make sure you halt straight. Use your back by stretch­ing up for

strength, not your hands. Your seat needs to stay in the sad­dle for a down­ward tran­si­tion. If your horse backs up in­stead of halt­ing, leg him up and al­low him to walk forward a step or two be­fore halt­ing again. When he fusses, keep your hand above the withers. Try to make the halt smooth and keep your horse on the bit with your shoul­ders be­hind your hips. 4. Use leg to cre­ate round­ness. You want your horse’s hind legs reach­ing un­der your seat and not be­hind you while he stays up in the bit, cre­at­ing round­ness. You need this ac­tiv­ity in the hind end to jump big jumps and your leg is the im­pe­tus for get­ting that round­ness. When your horse length­ens his body, the way to shorten it is by think­ing of us­ing your leg to your hand. Make a fist and close your fin­gers on the reins.

Next, pi­lot your horse in small cir­cles while push­ing the haunches out into a big­ger cir­cle. For ex­am­ple, as you turn your horse to the right, look to the right, open the right rein and push with the right leg to give the feeling that the leg is bend­ing the horse in­stead of an in­di­rect rein. To make your horse more sup­ple, be sure and use your in­side leg when com­ing around a turn and not just your out­side leg. 5. Use your body to slow down. Make sure your shoul­ders are be­hind your hips while slow­ing your horse. “Your seat needs to stay in the sad­dle for a down­ward tran­si­tion,” Beezie says.

Try rid­ing over a se­ries of ground poles and halt mid-pole with the horse strad­dling it. The ex­er­cise, meant to teach con­nec­tion, the del­i­cate con­trol be­tween the

hand and the leg, and pa­tience, is not eas­ily mas­tered. “Use your back for strength,” she says, by stretch­ing up. “Do not use your hands. You have to get more in­de­pen­dent with your bal­ance. Soft with the hands, soft with the hands, soft with the hands.” If your horse re­sists, he may not be con­fused; some­times it’s an avoid­ance of the con­nec­tion. “You’ve got to be strong when they’re re­sist­ing and soft when they’re giv­ing,” she says.

6. Don’t zone out while rid­ing.

Make a habit of en­sur­ing that you and your horse are at­ten­tive whether walk­ing, cool­ing out or when you are hang­ing out and talk­ing to friends while mounted. When rid­ing, if your horse zones out and ig­nores your re­quest for more en­ergy, first use your calf to re­mind him to pay at­ten­tion. If that doesn’t work, turn it up a notch and keep in­creas­ing the vol­ume with the spur or the stick un­til he lis­tens. “Ask and take your leg away,” Beezie says. “When you ask, there has to be a reac- tion.” Re­mem­ber, if you want a reaction forward, you have to take the brakes off and not pull on the reins. He should hold the reaction for a stride or two. 7. Keep weight in your heels. When your horse hops or bucks to avoid the halt, put weight in your heels. “You have to weight your heels without stiff­ing him by grip­ping with the legs,” she says. “There is a fine line. Some­times you’ve got to push them through some­thing, but you also don’t want to get them so frus­trated they can’t con­cen­trate.” Don’t in­crease your horse’s anx­i­ety by con­stantly grip­ping with your legs in­stead of tak­ing pres­sure off by weight­ing your heels.

Laura Kraut: Make the Most of a Course

On Day 3, the 12 rid­ers were di­vided into teams of four and a Na­tions Cup-style com­pe­ti­tion pit­ted the three teams against each other.

Laura gave the rid­ers feed­back spe­cific to each com­peti­tor af­ter their rides on the Con­rad Hom­feld-de­signed course. She cau­tions that some of the ad­vice is geared to a sit­u­a­tion unique to that course and to tai­lor these tips to your in­di­vid­ual cir­cum­stances. Laura rep­re­sented the United States at the 2008 Olympic Games and came home with a gold medal. She was a mem­ber of the 2006 sil­ver-medal World Equestrian Games team at Aachen. She is highly ranked on the All­Time Money list in ca­reer earn­ings with more than 100 grand prix wins.

1. Make ju­di­cious use of your time early in the course.

“Some­thing I think about when I’m in a grand prix Na­tions Cup is if there’s an op­por­tu­nity in the be­gin­ning of the course to go quick be­fore you get to the meat of the course, so you can get rid of the time faults early,” Laura ad­vises. 2. Cre­ate en­ergy. “You have got to put leg on. Help him out. Give him that reach,” Laura says.

“When you pull a rail, the first thing that should go through your mind is, ‘I just had a bad rail. I need to kick into gear and get go­ing.’” Don’t slow down. You’ve got to get a reaction. Get over it fast. Make up time. Of­ten the rider’s choices al­low the chance for the horse to clear the jump.

Help your horse over the jumps by us­ing your body or ap­ply­ing your legs to give him con­fi­dence. If there is a wa­ter jump, you need to build mo­men­tum and keep that mo­men­tum to clear it. If you need to in­crease en­ergy, do so.

When you ap­proach a wa­ter jump, get be­hind him and sink down in the stir­rups. “Never, never, never ap­proach the wa­ter with your shoul­ders out in front.” 3. Jump the fence like you mean it. If your horse is run­ning out of en­ergy, don’t lose your fo­cus. “Know that you’re run­ning out of horse. Use this to fight for the jump and lift him over.” 4. Shake off set­backs. If you have a prob­lem in the warm-up arena, shake it off and move on. “Know that if you have prob­lems in the warm-up area, that is not nec­es­sar­ily trans­lat­ing to the ring,” she sug­gests. Sim­i­larly, when you have a rail down, move on. “When you have a fence down, that’s hap­pened. That’s passed.” 5. Never look back. If you pull a rail, never, ever look back to check. Never. 6. Never give up. If your horse re­fuses a jump, of­fer a quick rep­ri­mand and then con­fi­dently go forward again. “It’s about learn­ing, and one of the things you learn is to never give up. You can be tough and make some­thing hap­pen,” Laura says. “When some­thing goes wrong, par­tic­u­larly when [the horses] are afraid and they stop, don’t give up. Re-ap­proach it and give him con­fi­dence and give your­self con­fi­dence.”

TOP: Un­der the watch­ful eye of Beezie Mad­den, Gra­cie Mar­lowe and Valde­la­madre Cen­talyon clear a wide liver­pool on the sec­ond day of the train­ing ses­sion.

FAR LEFT: Anne Kursin­ski shows Michael Wil­liamson how to sit deeper in the sad­dle to cre­ate a more ef­fec­tive seat and bet­ter con­nec­tion when rid­ing Casco Ju­nior.

CEN­TER: Beezie of­fers ad­vice to Coco Fath af­ter her jump­ing round with Bart C.

NEAR LEFT: Af­ter fin­ish­ing her jump­ing course with Bari­cello, Emma Mar­lowe re­ceives feed­back from Laura Kraut.

LEFT: While main­tain­ing elas­tic arms with short reins, Emma asks Bari­cello to lengthen his trot across the di­ag­o­nal and stretch into the con­tact.

ABOVE: Anne in­structed the rid­ers to per­form nu­mer­ous tran­si­tions without stir­rups to help de­velop a deeper con­nec­tion, test their bal­ance and be more aware of their po­si­tion. Emma on Bari­cello, Caro­line Dance on Bizette B and Gra­cie on Valde­la­madre Cen­talyon per­form a halt on a straight line.

Anne knots Madison Goet­z­mann’s reins to help her lengthen her arm and es­tab­lish a more sup­ple con­nec­tion to Pres­ti­gious. Anne knot­ted each rider’s reins and then guided the stu­dents through cir­cle and leg-yield ex­er­cises to cre­ate softer and more re­spon­sive horses.

ABOVE: Madison and Pres­ti­gious lead the way through a pole ex­er­cise, which Beezie de­signed in or­der to im­prove the horses’ ad­justa­bil­ity.

FAR LEFT: Taylor St. Jac­ques ex­hibits a strong po­si­tion as Devine tack­les the low course built to help the stu­dents fo­cus on fun­da­men­tals be­fore mov­ing to the big­ger jumps.

NEAR LEFT: Cooper Dean main­tains his fo­cus while keep­ing WEC Quidam-Quidam straight and at­ten­tive through a gym­nas­tic ex­er­cise.

ABOVE: Halie Robin­son adds leg and a soft following re­lease, which gives Air Force the con­fi­dence to jump boldly across a wide oxer on the fi­nal day.

LEFT: TJ O’Mara plans his next fence aboard Queen Jane af­ter Laura ad­vised rid­ers to make bet­ter de­ci­sions dur­ing courses to avoid frus­trat­ing time faults.

As they tackle Con­rad Hom­feld’s course, Maya Nay­yar en­cour­ages Car­lina to stay straight as they jump down a line.

Brian Mog­gre stays fo­cused to give MTM Ace of Spades a good round over the Na­tions’ Cup-style course.

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