Equestrian Life
10 tips from the top, and only from the top

Libby Price

The author, Libby Price.

© Main Event Photography


By Libby Price

As horse lovers, be it of any of the numerous disciplines, we all know that one of the best things about equestrian sports is you NEVER stop learning.  Now that I'm the ripe old age of "about to turn 53",  I've had access to some of the best instructors in the eventing in the world.  And I mean, in the world. But it's taken me until my fifth decade on this wonderful planet to have developed a good "filter".  I'd like to share this with you so that you too, can learn to filter what works for you and what doesn't.

My first real revelation was when I read in an article in an English magazine about what advice one should listen to.  Actually it was more about what advice NOT to listen to.  There were three major elements to take into consideration: motivation, authority and relevance.  Here's what I mean:

1.  Motivation:  I know you're thinking I'm going to say, "you must stay movitated".  Well duh.  Actually it's more the motivation of WHO is giving you the advice.  Do they genuinely care about you and improving your horsemanship?  Or could it be they're trying to do something else?  Big note themselves, belittle you, are they "projecting" their opinion because they are actually insecure about their own abilities?  I know, heady stuff.  Put simply, do they really give a damn about you and your horse, or is it really more about THEM.  Penny starting to drop???

2.  Authority:  Again, you're probably thinking, be authoritative, show your horse who is boss.  Oh please, we're talking partnerships here, and if you're riding a horse that thinks it's boss and weighs about 500 kg, good luck!  No, again, it's assessing the person giving the advice.  Do they have the authority?  Do they know what they're talking about?  Everyone loves to share their opinion, not only whether you want to hear it or not, but also when they really don't know much about what they're talking about.  I'll never forget a woman at a one day event telling me my thoroughbred would be "quite good" at dressage, if only it was more "over and the through the back and had a better topline".  Hmmmm.  OK.  My horse looks pretty good to me.  So I asked her how she went in her dressage test, and she ummed and aahhed.  And then the kicker, "Tell me about your horse?" , I asked suspiciously. "It's our first ever comp.  We didn't do so well."  "Is he a young horse?"  "No he's fifteen.  That's him over there".  OK.  "He's a standardbred isn't he"?   "Yes."  "So can he canter?"  "Not yet."  "Well, he has a nice tail.  BYE". Needless to say, I made an assessment of her advice and rapidly concluded she was motivated by a need to SOUND like she knew what she was talking about, to appease the fact that my horse was clearly far superior to hers.  Nothing against standardbreds, and I'll take it all back if her horse is now, "over and through the back and has a topline".  Last time I went to the trots, (in Warrnambool and it's a great night out by the way), I didn't see too many that were on the cusp of becoming dressage stars.

3.  Relevance:  This one speaks for itself.  You don't have to have a degree in equitation to know that a Western Pleasure rider's advice is going to be contrary to what you're trying to achieve in dressage, show jumping, or even other sports with quarter horses, such as cutting or camp drafting.  What they're trying to achieve with their horses is pretty much the opposite of what other horse sports are trying to do. 

So, now you have your "filter" well and truly in operation, let's talk about some of this "best in the world" instructors.  My first was the former coach of the British Olympic eventing team, the late Bertie Hill, who rode the Queen's horses for many years.  It's a story for another day, but I trained with him for three months in Devon when I was just 18 years old.  It was a hell of a shock.  I'd come from pony club in South Australia, not even knowing about having a horse on the bit, thinking that was something show horses did; basically I didn't have a clue and was on a steep learning curve.  My biggest mistake was not admitting to this and battling on.  I soaked up as much as I could, but there was one thing Bertie couldn't impart, and that was confidence.  I was very quickly over-faced and have to admit that, though most of my peers thinks I'm pretty gutsy on a horse, it doesn't take much to rattle my confidence.  I like to think of it like driving a car:  it just takes split second of indecision, the horse gets confused, and yet again end up on my arse.

I've been to clinics with Lucinda Green, Clayton Fredericks, the McLean's from the Australian Equine Behaviour Centre, Barry Roycroft, Michael Baker, Amanda Ross, Edith Kane, Charlotte Blakely, Sam Lyle ... am I missing anyone?  Well to be honest, without a doubt the best advice I've had from them is not someone shouting at me to go more forward, to count my strides in jumping, to sit differently, the list goes on.  No, the best advice has invariably been a few wise words when I'm nowhere near a horse.

Here's my top 10:

      1. Lucinda Green: "Don't worry what you look like cross country. Ride defensively, with at least two thirds of your body weight behind the vertical."

      2. Clayton Fredericks:  "With a difficult horse that napped. Gallop, gallop and more gallop. Problem solved."

      3. Manu and Andrew McLean:  "It takes a horse 3 to 5 times doing a movement correctly for them to absorb that they are doing what is being asked of them."

      4. Michael Baker:  "Set your horse up in a rhythm at least 6 strides out from a cross country fence, see your stride and then go forward.  None of this fiddling in the last 2 strides or you're asking for another bruised arse."

      5. Amanda Ross:  "Let the young horse make a mistake jumping.  That way, it will learn how to get you out of trouble when you really need it.

      6. Edith Kane:  "There are not two gears in the trot, working and lengthening.  Try to work on having about 5 and then you can dictate how the horse travels."

      7. Charlotte Blakely:  ""Feel" the horse under you and learn when it's travelling well, then leave it alone."

      8. My favourite at the moment, from Barry Roycroft: "Don't ride like a "girl" and trot all the time.  Work on getting a good canter, and the trot will automatically improve."

      9. From my horsey friends:  "Remember what this horse was like when you first got it, and appreciate how much progress you've both made."

     10. And from my late father, who was unbeatable for decades as a yachtsman:  "It's 10 per cent talent, 10 per cent luck, and 80 per cent bloody hard work."








© copyright. Equestrian Life. Friday, 29 May 2020