Some horses find new places very exciting, and Oli has some great advice for riders with this problem. As he watched Julie and Bumble warm up, he noticed the mare was feeling fresh in her new surroundings. Rather than walk and trot, she wanted to canter.
“You’ve got on her in a new place and are riding slightly differently because you know something exciting is going to happen. Somehow, in your head, you need to think that nothing different is happening and put it across to your horse, too.”
Oli explained that it’s important for any horse to be relaxed so they can learn. “All I want you to do with Bumble is trot,” said Oli, “don’t think about anything except maintaining a rhythm, almost to the point where she thinks it’s boring, not exciting.”
While Julie was trotting, Oli asked her to change direction regularly to help keep Bumble’s attention. As well as this, Julie circled Bumble around Oli, increasing and decreasing the size. But although Bumble did begin to settle, Julie would sometimes lose the mare’s attention and she would look out of the arena. So, while still circling, Oli advised Julie to do frequent walk-to-trot transitions.
Once Bumble was more consistent in the trot, Julie moved up off her back and let her canter around the arena to help her relax even more. “Ride her like you’ve got all day to ride her, never get on and think, ‘I’m in a rush’,” advised Oli.
He also asked Julie to move down to the other end of the school, so that Bumble could become familiar with the whole arena. Here, she continued to circle on the right rein, doing frequent transitions. “All the time you need to remember that this is not new and exciting, so Bumble relaxes and listens to you,” added Oli.
Oli’s top calming tips
1 It’s important to have a clear control panel, so always be consistent with your aids. ‘Say’ to your horse: “This is how I put my leg on if I want you to go away from it, and this is how I put my leg on if I want you to bend around it.”
2 When you’re warming up in a new place, give your horse a good 10 minutes to be fresh, and just let her trot and canter around. Then ask her to work.
3 Use frequent transitions and change direction regularly to keep your horse’s attention and make sure she’s thinking.
4 Decreasing and increasing the size of a circle is a great way to get your horse listening to you.
5 Ultimately, aim to be at the stage where you get on and your horse is automatically asking you what to do next.
Controlling the speed
With Bumble now far more responsive and working well, Oli told Julie to start thinking about her own position. “It’s your job to show her off, so sit up and think about how you’re going, as well.”
With this in mind, Julie rode some trot-canter-trot transitions, which Bumble really seemed to enjoy! “Slow down half-a-mile and feel each transition finish before you ask for the next one,” said Oli. “Because she’s so enthusiastic, everything needs to slow down and become almost boring.”
Julie changed the rein and continued the circles and transitions, but Bumble was still tending to rush. “Remember, when you change from the canter, move straight into that slow, active, trot rhythm,” said Oli. Julie heeded his advice and continued to do lots of transitions and rein changes – and Bumble became noticeably more consistent in her movement. “That’s good,” praised Oli.
“Now start to play with the trot within the pace you’ve got. Push her forward, but remember it’s not fast or exciting. The trot needs to be more powerful, that’s all.”
Jump to it
With both horse and rider nicely warmed up and working well on the flat, it was time to start jumping.
Oli asked Julie to jump a simple cross pole fence a couple of times from both directions, to get going. “Her first few jumps are usually quite big,” said Julie, and sure enough, Bumble put in an enormous leap first time round!
The second attempt was better, but Oli spotted the problem straight away. “About three strides out you saw your distance and over-rode for it, which you shouldn’t do.”
Julie approached the fence again, but this time Bumble jumped awkwardly and twisted to the right. “For some reason you went ‘whoa’ on each of the strides after Bumble saw the fence and changed the canter before you got to it,” explained Oli.
“Remember, if you’ve got enough power and a good line, you will have a good jump. But if you get three strides out and try to change them, the jump will be uncomfortable. Think of it as loose schooling with you on board.”
On their third attempt, Bumble produced a bigger canter, which resulted in a much better jump. “That’s good,” praised Oli, “now try the other rein.” Julie did and, once again, Bumble met it correctly and they had a nice jump, although Julie was still trying to help Bumble.
“It seems to me that you don’t 100 per cent trust that the horse will jump the fence, but she can jump it all by herself. You just need to set up the canter, put her on the right line and then show her the jump. If she messes it up I don’t care, because she’ll come around again and won’t make the same mistake – that’s the whole point of training,” explained Oli.
“Don’t go into a fence thinking it’s scary and your horse might spook. You’re on top, so tell her it’s not and make her go”
Having jumped the cross pole nicely, Oli put up an upright for Julie to tackle. And his wise words were effective, as Bumble met it perfectly and gave Julie a comfortable jump.
They then followed this with a left-hand turn to a parallel with a plank, which Bumble spooked at and refused at the last minute.
“If you’d had her taking you into the fence she would have spooked, but then jumped,” explained Oli. “Your canter wasn’t strong enough, which is why she put in a stop.” Julie approached the fence again and, although Bumble had a look, the canter was a lot more forward and they cleared it.
Julie leaves Bumble to it and has a perfect jump
“Get the engine going and keep the horse level, then leave her alone to jump”
Oliver Townend shot into the limelight when he represented Great Britain at the 2005 European Championships at Blenheim. He has represented his country at championship level each year since, and in 2006 Oli finished third at Badminton with his top horse, Flint Curtis, earning him a place on the gold medal-winning European team, at Pratoni last year.
Julie Rooney owns Bumble, a home-bred Thoroughbred mare. They compete at unaffiliated dressage, showjumping and cross country together, and last year completed two affiliated horse trials at Intro level.
“We do a bit of everything together, but this year I’d like to do more affiliated eventing,” says Julie, who was thrilled to win her lesson with Oli in a competition sponsored by Toggi.