Learn from the Masters

Grand prix jumper Char­lie Jayne shares how watch­ing videos of suc­cess­ful top riders and em­u­lat­ing their style can help you fine-tune your own po­si­tion.

Practical Horseman - - Contents - By Char­lie Jayne

What­ever dis­ci­pline you ride in, one of the best ways to im­prove your skills is to study suc­cess­ful riders at the top lev­els and try to em­u­late them. You can learn so much by ob­serv­ing how they use their aids, what they do be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter the jump and how they ride in be­tween the jumps. With on­line sites like YouTube over­flow­ing with free videos of riders from around the world, it’s easy to cre­ate your own cus­tom­ized, at-home view­ing li­brary. Whether you’re learn­ing some­thing new or try­ing to fix a bad habit, this is a great ref­er­ence tool to take ad­van­tage of at any point in your rid­ing ca­reer.

Watch­ing al­most any ex­pe­ri­enced rider can be ed­u­ca­tional, but you’ll ben­e­fit the most by ze­ro­ing in on in­di­vid­u­als uniquely suited to your spe­cific sit­u­a­tion. Riders come in all shapes and sizes, and we all have dif­fer­ent train­ing ap­proaches, rid­ing styles and strengths and weak­nesses. You’ll get the most out of watch­ing and try­ing to copy riders whose body types are most sim­i­lar to yours and who ex­cel in the ar­eas that you need to im­prove most.

For ex­am­ple, as a younger rider, I strug­gled to con­trol my large up­per body. I tended to duck a lot over fences and move around too much in the saddle. For smaller riders, th­ese habits might not have been so con­se­quen­tial. But at 6-foot-4 and 188 pounds, I was big enough to throw my horses off bal­ance with all this ex­cess move­ment. So I hunted around on YouTube for videos of riders built like me who were suc­ceed­ing at the very top of the sport. Three of the best role mod­els I came across were Cana­dian Olympic sil­ver medal­ist and two-time World Cup cham­pion Ian Mil­lar, Ger­man Olympic gold medal­ist and team World Cham­pion Ludger Beer­baum and Bel­gian Olympian Gre­gory Wathelet. All three of th­ese su­per­stars are over 6 feet tall and ex­tremely tal­ented. Ian is a master with his up­per body. I watched over and over again how he moved his body while rid­ing a course, es­pe­cially on take­off. Gre­gory, too, has amaz­ing up­per­body con­trol and a very strong seat. And I love the way Ludger rides and the way his horses go.

As I watched videos of th­ese great riders, I made men­tal

notes of every­thing they did—how they po­si­tioned their bod­ies and used their aids, how their horses went. Then I went out in my prac­tice ring at home and tried to model those skills. I started over small jumps, so I could fo­cus en­tirely on my po­si­tion. Even­tu­ally, I moved up to larger jumps and then, later, tried to carry th­ese skills over into the show ring. This last step is harder to do than it sounds. When you go in the ring, your adren­a­line starts pump­ing, you get ex­cited and then every­thing hap­pens so fast that you some­times for­get the good habits you’ve been try­ing to de­velop. Ev­ery­body’s weak­nesses show up in com­pe­ti­tion. That’s why it’s so im­por­tant to ham­mer away at your bad habits

at home un­til they give way to good, re­li­able habits.

Ludger, Ian and Gre­gory were great role mod­els for me, but study­ing them wouldn’t be nearly as use­ful for, say, a pe­tite 5-foot-1 woman. Smaller riders have to worry a lot less about in­ad­ver­tently in­flu­enc­ing their horses with their up­per bod­ies. On the other hand, they may lack some of the strength that big­ger riders en­joy. This can be par­tic­u­larly dis­ad­van­ta­geous on large, strong horses. To learn how to com­pen­sate (by fi­ness­ing their aids, for ex­am­ple), they’d be bet­ter off watch­ing videos of bril­liant pe­tite riders like 10-time Amer­i­can Grand­prix As­so­ci­a­tion Rider of the Year Margie En­gle. Sim­i­larly, taller women and av­er­age-sized men would ben­e­fit most from em­u­lat­ing top riders like U.S. Olympic cham­pi­ons Beezie Mad­den, Laura Kraut and McLain Ward.

Be­cause we’re all unique in­di­vid­u­als, you won’t find one per­son who rides ex­actly the way you do (or the way you hope to ride). You’ll prob­a­bly pick up bits and

pieces from a num­ber of dif­fer­ent riders. But first, you must fig­ure out what skills and po­si­tion is­sues you need to work on. The best way to do that is by watch­ing videos of your­self.


Ask a friend or fam­ily mem­ber to video you rid­ing on course at a show or dur­ing a les­son. Then watch the video sev­eral times, an­a­lyz­ing ev­ery as­pect of the round. How did you ride your cor­ners? Did your up­per body lean in at all? How were your po­si­tion and bal­ance on the take­offs of the jumps? Does it look like you were mov­ing with your horse’s mo­tion or were you jump­ing ahead or shift­ing your weight in some other dis­tract­ing man­ner? Where were your eyes fo­cused when you were in the air over the jumps? Were you look­ing ahead to the next jump as you should be or off to the side or down at the ground?

Some­times we do things on course that we’re not even aware we’re do­ing. For ex­am­ple, if your horse hits a jump, you might not re­al­ize that you turned to look back at the jump af­ter land­ing to see if a rail fell down. That twist in the saddle, as in­signif­i­cant as it may seem, can shift your horse’s bal­ance and in­ter­fere with his per­for­mance. Watch­ing your­self on video is a great way to catch lit­tle mis­takes like th­ese. Cor­rect­ing them can make a big dif­fer­ence to your suc­cess.

As you re­view your videos, try to iden­tify both your strengths and your weak­nesses. It’s im­por­tant to give your­self credit for what you’re do­ing right as well as to tar­get things that need im­prov­ing. Know­ing that you do pos­sess cer­tain strengths will give you con­fi­dence when you’re com­pet­ing and will help you main­tain a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude. It may also help you sin­gle out the best elite riders to study. For ex­am­ple, you might ob­serve that your lower leg is solid and se­cure, but that your hands are re­ally busy in be­tween the jumps. Look for videos of a top rider who is built like you and has a great lower leg, but also very quiet, ef­fec­tive hands.

Get Spe­cific

Videos can also help to ac­cel­er­ate your mas­tery of new lessons and con­cepts your trainer teaches you. For ex­am­ple, if she’s just given you a les­son on how to per­form an au­to­matic re­lease, find the top 10 best videos of other riders demon­strat­ing great au­to­matic re­leases. (Anne Kursin­ski is one ex­am­ple.) If you don’t know how to judge a good au­to­matic re­lease, ask your trainer or a knowl­edge­able friend to help you sort through videos.

If your trainer points out a bad habit that you need to im­prove, such as a slip­ping-back lower leg, find 10 on­line ex­am­ples of riders demon­strat­ing the cor­rect po­si­tion.

What­ever videos you choose, watch them un­til the im­ages are filed into your mem­ory. Then play them in your head the next day when you ride and try to model your rid­ing af­ter them. Learn­ing good new habits takes lots of prac­tice but hav­ing th­ese pic­tures in your mind will help more than you re­al­ize.

An­other great way to learn from videos of other riders is by seek­ing out ones with horses very sim­i­lar to yours. Like us, horses come in all shapes and sizes. How they’re built af­fects how they travel. Some are more up­hill, some are more down­hill, some are nat­u­rally bal­anced and some are tricky to put to­gether. Some horses gal­lop with huge, rhyth­mic strides while oth­ers are quicker and less rhyth­mi­cal. Their tem­per­a­ments vary dra­mat­i­cally, too. Some have more “blood” (are sen­si­tive and high-strung) while oth­ers are lower-en­ergy and less sen­si­tive. If you have a “hot” Thor­ough­bred, you won’t learn much by watch­ing a rider on a mel­low warm­blood—and vice versa.

A great way to see a lot of horses go in a short amount of time is to watch live-stream­ing video. Many ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions now show their big­ger classes on­line. To learn how to solve par­tic­u­lar train­ing prob­lems or just to get the best-pos­si­ble per­for­mance out of your horse, iden­tify suc­cess­ful riders whose horses seem to have a sim­i­lar build, way of go­ing and tem­per­a­ment to your horse’s. Then an­a­lyze your horse’s weak­nesses, too, just the way you an­a­lyzed your own, and study what th­ese riders are do­ing dur­ing those same mo­ments on course to pro­duce bet­ter re­sults.

Re­mem­ber, change takes time. So prac­tice hard to build your good new habits. And if you ever feel like your progress is stalling, go back to the videos!

ABOVE: Char­lie Jayne, rid­ing Amice Z at the Tryon In­ter­na­tional Eques­trian Cen­ter this year, says that study­ing videos of suc­cess­ful riders and try­ing to em­u­late how they ride is a great ref­er­ence tool to im­prove your own rid­ing.

LEFT: As a younger rider, Char­lie strug­gled to con­trol his 6-foot-4 frame, so he watched riders whose body types were most sim­i­lar to his, in­clud­ing Ian Mil­lar, here rid­ing Dix­son at the 2015 Longines Global Cham­pi­ons Tour in Mi­ami. Char­lie says this Cana­dian Olympic sil­ver medal­ist and two-time World Cup cham­pion is a “master with his up­per body.”

Char­lie says you’ll get the most out of try­ing to copy riders who ex­cel in ar­eas that you need to im­prove most. He watched Ludger Beer­baum, here rid­ing Casello at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, be­cause he loves the way the Ger­man Olympic gold medal­ist rides and the way his horses go. Char­lie made men­tal notes of how th­ese riders po­si­tion their bod­ies and use their aids.

Taller women and av­er­age-sized men would ben­e­fit most from watch­ing videos of and try­ing to em­u­late the tech­nique of top riders like U.S. Olympic gold medal­ist Beezie Mad­den, here rid­ing Bre­itling LS at the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jump­ing Ocala qual­i­fier.

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