Invite Your Horse to Be Round
Despite the fact that this rider is reaching for her stirrups, her base of support is excellent and she is demonstrating a beautiful automatic release. I can tell her stirrups are too long because there is little angle behind her knee, which needs to be about 110 degrees—she should shorten her leathers about two holes. The iron needs to be twisted so its outside branch is ahead of the inside. This rider’s heel is down, her ankle is flexed and her toes are turned out 45 degrees.
Usually riders who have to reach for their stirrups compensate by throwing their seats out of the saddle and jumping ahead, but there is no sign of that here. This rider’s back is natural and relaxed and she is very focused. This is where I want the hands in an automatic release: alongside the middle of the neck, creating a straight line from the horse’s mouth to the rider’s elbow, which requires balance and stability. As a minor point, I would have more of the end of the whip above her hand so the whip is better balanced.
Though this workmanlike horse has a big head and looks a little plain, I like the concentrated expression of his ears and in eyes. He has a good front end—his knees are even, but below them, the left is a little loose. He’s round from poll to tail, showing that he’s using his back. This type of fence, with the pole set across the top rails, is not allowed in the show ring, but I take no offense to it. It requires a gutsier ride. However, I usually do this only with a square oxer.
The horse is in good weight and well cared for, demonstrated by a clean coat. I believe they are schooling, but even so, the overall turnout is a bit musty—the horse’s mane is too long, the bell boots and hooves are dull and the busy saddle pad and sheepskin girth detract from the horse’s beauty. These are small details, but they count a lot toward overall appearance.
This is a good rider who needs to make some position corrections, especially regarding her restrictive hands. Though her heel is down and her toes are turned out, her leg has slipped back. Her stirrup length might be OK on a bigger-barreled horse, but on this narrow horse she may need to ride one hole shorter so there is more contact with her leg to prevent swinging. She needs to ride on the flat in two-point and drive the weight into her heel and keep the stirrup perpendicular to the ground. Then she must practice the same thing over crossrails.
She is dropping back too far in the saddle—I’d like her buttocks to be farther out of it. Her back is exemplary and her eyes are looking up and ahead. Her hands are not attractive. She looks as if she is trying to turn her horse by moving the left hand forward and above the neck and using a fixed right rein, which hollows a horse. If she is turning, she needs to bring the left hand back a few inches, pushing it into the crest, and move her right hand to the right to lead him with a giving feel. While he’s not the roundest jumper, she wants to at least invite him to be round with a better release.
This seems a sour little horse with his ears and eyes pointed back. Though he appears to be safe, he’s not using himself very well. His front legs are not even, with the right lower than the left. He’s also a “stepper”—his belly is the lowest part to the fence.
Though his coat looks sun-bleached, he also doesn’t look clean and neither does the tack and equipment. The saddle pad is unattractive and the rider’s boots aren’t polished. How the horse and rider are turned out has a lot to do with horsemanship. So many horses I see today lack in spit and polish.
This looks like a focused rider, but she has some work to do on her leg and her release. Her leg has slipped back. She needs to work on the flat and over fences in two-point, dropping her weight down into her leg so that the leather is perpendicular to the ground. She also needs to move the iron forward toward her toe. Despite these issues, her heel is down, her ankle is flexed and her toes are out.
Her seat is too high out of the saddle and too far forward, demonstrating a slight example of jumping ahead. Her back and posture are good and her eyes are up. Instead of following the horse’s mouth down, her hands have popped up. While I wouldn’t say she is lifting the horse, she’s close to doing that. The point of a crest release is to support the upper body by pressing into the crest of the horse’s neck and giving him some freedom with a longer rein. Once this rider’s leg is stabilized, she could drop her hands a few inches alongside the horse’s neck and work toward an automatic release, where there is a straight line from her elbow to the horse’s mouth and an elastic, giving feel.
I love this horse’s big ear, large brown eye and beautiful color. Though he’s a little less symmetrical below his knees, the knees themselves are up and his forearms are symmetrical. Once the rider lengthens the rein a little and drops her hands, she will invite the horse to use his head and neck, allowing him to have a rounder back and better bascule. Once he learns to use himself better, he’ll have an even better front end.
The horse is well turned out, but I’d like to see a more attention to detail: The rider’s and horse’s boots could both be better polished. The horse’s fetlocks could be trimmed. The black saddle pad gives a musty feel to their look and all of the tack should be scrupulously clean.
This horse and rider are beautifully turned out, and the rider’s leg and seat are very correct, but she is not releasing him—a serious fault. Though I’m not a fan of hinged stirrups like this rider’s appear to be—the ankle is supposed to flex, not the iron—the stirrup is beautifully positioned at a right angle to the girth, her little toe is touching the outside branch, her heel is down, her toes are out and her ankle is flexed. With the proper stirrup length, her calf is in contact with her horse’s sides. She could consider working with a dummy spur, which dresses up a leg. When you work a horse with an actual spur, it reinforces the leg.
With the proper stirrup length, the base of support is much more likely to be correct. This rider’s seat is exemplary. Her posture is, too, and her eyes are up and looking ahead. Unfortunately, she is setting her hands right down on the withers. In a short release, the rider gives the hands up the neck an inch or two. In an automatic release, she drops her hands about 6 inches alongside the martingale yoke. This horse looks very alert, so maybe if she releases him, he’ll take off. But because she can’t give with her hand, he can’t use his head and neck, so he can’t round his back. As a consequence, he’s jumping very flat. If he is quick, she needs to check that she is using a sufficient bit with him. Then she needs to trot fences and stop him after so that he is not taking over. If she could give with her hands, he would start to use himself better.
This horse is a flat jumper, but his knees are up, though he could be tighter below them. Their turnout is simple and beautiful, allowing the horse’s natural beauty to take center stage. The horse is beautifully groomed. The sheepskin pad fits like a glove. The tack looks clean and fits well. This rider is attempting the old-school style of turnout, which I appreciate.