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Guest Blogger: Amy Parker

For those who wish to know more about the *riding* than the *riders* this excellent post stolen from Amy who rode Nick in the Entry group.  Visit her blog here: A Rider's Tales


Rhythm & Suppleness: Waylon Roberts’ clinic @ GRS

Graduate Riding School hosted a clinic Sunday February 19th with Waylon Roberts, an international-level Canadian rider who has competed in Show Jumping and Eventing around the world. My first reactions to Waylon were probably quite common, the first thought being “how old is he?” and the instantaneous second thought being “how did he ever learn so much so fast?”… For so young a person he carries himself with great confidence and charisma – his depth and breadth of knowledge was immediately apparent and his enthusiasm for helping both horses and riders was fantastic to watch.

Waylon’s exercises focused on rhythm and suppleness, getting horses to move forward in front of their rider’s leg and carrying the rider forward through an exercise. Rather than riders being static in the tack, he asked riders to try for more fluidity, moving with the horse, allowing for better movement from the horse through the various exercises, and looking for greater strength and consistency in rider commands.

My ride started off with an exercise in bending and suppleness – the horses in trot and canter were guided through a shallow-loop serpentine of sorts – coming in off the track and looping back to the track, first in one long shallow loop then two. The emphasis was on riders moving with the pattern, not sitting stiff in the tack, but moving about and playing with the feel – using seat and leg to guide the horse to come off the track and change the bend and putting less emphasis on the hand and reins (the upper body staying tall and steadying the ride). The rider’s seat was encouraged to move naturally and swing freely, the inside leg shifting forward to help guide the horse to bend around it and seat and outside leg guiding the horse off the track and encouraging him to move forward into the bend. Then the outside leg was asked to shift forward to create a new bend, inside leg and seat encouraging the horse to step forward from behind and bend around the new ‘inside leg’ (the outside) and head back to the track. The exercise helped with suppleness both in horse and rider – helped ease nerves in the groups and got horses energized and listening to riders, breaking out of the regular warm-up routine.

For Nick, this was obviously an interesting change of events for him, more used to following a track about the ring with the rider aboard more focused on learning to post or finding their balance, we had a few “arguments” (shall we say) to start. At first he was a little perturbed by being asked to move forward with a little* (*a lot) more energy and then being asked to listen carefully since the exercise changed with each pass of the ring. He had quite a few bucks and head shakes to let us all know he was feeling pretty good and full of himself. :) Throughout the warm-up I found it a challenge to keep him forward and engaged while trying to incorporate more and more suggestions from Waylon – letting my seat swing, shifting the legs to encourage the bend and keeping the focus on the seat and legs directing the movement. But one thing Waylon said that stuck with me after the ride was to expect more of the horse in maintaining a rhythm – ask for the energy and rhythm you want and expect the horse to keep to that level rather than always asking and asking and asking for more but not getting quite as much as you want (anyone that’s ridden Nick before should be familiar with that scenario). If an aid to ask for more energy is not working, do not repeat it – he said. So for all of us ‘cluck-ers’, if the first cluck does nothing dramatic to influence the rhythm do not repeat it or you end up desensitizing the horse to the command, rather find another way to get the result you are looking for. One trick Waylon had for us was to use a leg aid in front of the girth toward the shoulder as a way to ‘wake’ them up and a second step to asking for more energy out of our mounts. While I found it tricky, it did get a response. Once Nick was warmed up and we got further on, we found out how well that gas pedal really worked!

Some groups then went onto cavaletti (raised poles) on a twenty-meter circle. Waylon equated this to the horse-equivalent of side-crunches in an abs work-out, the horse moving through the cavaletti on a circle strengthens the muscles, creates suppleness and encourages good rhythm at the canter, getting the horse out in front of the leg and moving with energy from behind. Riders quite often found it difficult to maintain balance on the first few passes and horses worked on getting their striding. What was great to see was that nearly every horse that went through the exercise who struggled to begin with, by the second try (having had time to ‘think about it’), found themselves much improved and more confident. The canter afterwards was much more balanced and coming through from behind, horses were maintaining rhythm and carrying the rider through the exercise (rather than being behind the leg and the rider pushing the horse through the exercise). For the few horses that were a bit more energetic and over-stimulated, the consistency of the exercise worked to calm them and focus their energy. The key to the day was definitely in the design of the exercises which encouraged the horses to flow through each exercise with rhythm and good impulsion and balance. Each exercise was designed to help put the horses out ahead of the rider’s aids, coming through from behind and flowing through the exercises with the intent that further practice would encourage horses to carry themselves and improve their way of going and develop the rider’s tools for creating rhythm, suppleness and balance in their mounts.

After the cavaletti on a circle, next came the grid-work which again focused on carrying forward the idea of rhythm and having the horse in front of the leg and carrying the rider through the exercise. For Nick and I, new to working together, this was quite challenging to begin with, but I found the exercise extremely helpful in all the right ways. Starting out with trot poles we advanced to adding an x directly after (my guess was about 9′ away), asking the horse to come through the trot poles with good energy and step forward over the x with a canter stride (no trotting the x allowed, or you had to do it again, and again). When horses and riders were accomplishing this well a standard one-stride to a vertical was added. Horses were expected to carry through to the vertical with good energy on a steady rhythm, emphasizing straightness with a chute of poles afterwards that every rider had better hit or be forced to repeat the exercise. After this a bounce to another vertical was added, encouraging horses to round and making the need for impulsion and rhythm evermore apparent to the riders who without it found the bounce quite challenging. On the first couple of passes Nick and I found the bounce to be a bit of a challenge, ending in one knocked rail and one good “arm-flapper” of a ride before we got our rhythm figured out. Our group advanced then to a set of about 6 canter poles to an oxer, giving the horses the tools to find a steady forward rhythm to the fence at the end and putting it all together. This was challenging the first couple tries due to the tight 10m corner approach, trying to keep the rhythm out of the corner for Nick and I proved to be difficult but not unmanageable as we found after a try or two. By this time I distinctly remember thinking “It’s almost over” because after a couple weeks with only one time in the saddle and one of those weeks spent on the couch with the flu my body was starting to loudly protest that it was finished and muscles weren’t functioning to the same level as they were at the beginning! :)

  • Always expect a reaction from your aids. (It’s sort of a ‘no-brainer’ on first appearance, but honestly, it’s easy to get a little lax about enforcing that expectation. Especially if you occasionally approach your ride with the mentality of “I’m sitting on a schoolie.” Even a “schoolie” should react to your aids when you apply them correctly, so if you’re asking right but getting no response or less than you wanted, get the response you want!)
  • A good rhythm that puts the horse in front of the riders leg and carries the rider through an exercise allows the rider to focus on straightness and the horse to round and take the obstacles with fluidity and roundness. Rhythm is the key to all the rest.
  • Do not repeat aids that do not elicit a reaction. In Waylon’s words “If the cluck didn’t work the first time, don’t use it again.”
  • If you expect suppleness in your horse you must be supple yourself. (This is just something I thought of as the day went on… How does a stiff position in the tack create suppleness in the horse? We need to be just as fluid and supple with our aids and position if we expect the horse to be fluid and supple in his movements.)
  • Caveletti on a circle = highly entertaining.


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