“We are all forecasters today and experts tomorrow!” Chris Bartle, Blenheim 15.9.17

As a guest at the course walk I had expected to be overawed by such an important and respected figure in the eventing world but when Chris pitched up on his bike he was quietly spoken and understated. He was so unintimidating, calm and easy to understand, with such a lovely approachable manner that I soon felt I would be happy to jump round the 3 star.

We were lucky that Kitty King joined us so this was a “real” course walk focusing on her specific horse as well as the more general points and so adding an extra interesting dimension. Several other British riders approached him for advice as we walked, including Pippa Funnell and he took time to advise them all.

His approach centred as you would expect, on rhythm, balance and good lines but most importantly, consideration for the horse, both physically and through understanding the horse`s brain. A repeated theme was to make sure the horse kept a sense of where it was going, to remember that the horse hadn`t walked the course and so to give it time to see which fence was next. He suggested a lot of curved lines “A curving line says to your horse,  `we are jumping that` ”. He encouraged Kitty to change her planned line through some trees to avoid a right then left turn reducing possible confusion for the horse and giving it more time to see and understand the fence into the water.

At the coffin, he pointed out that to the horse the fence after the ditch might look like just another tree.   The line had to be chosen carefully so the horse did not think it had to follow the track between the jump and the trees.  A number of useful comparisons were made to dressage tests. For example, stay inside the “centre line” between fences on a turn and medium canter on the 20-metre circle to help the balance cross country. In general, the closer the preparation point to the fence the more time saved but it depends on the horse and type of fence

A big oxer off a curve at the top of a galloping stretch was the course builder`s way of giving the rider reason and opportunity to rebalance the horse. “Balance, turn, ride.”. In particular towards the end of the course the approach to related fences might depend on the horses` response to fatigue. For some keeping the forwardness by taking the longer curved line would lose little time but others might be becoming too flat in the stride and be better if set up on a shorter line and bouncier stride.

Chris` advice to riders could be summed up as “Think, feel but don`t count.” He does not believe in counting strides in detail and at home builds training fences on suitable lines but without measuring the distances. He feels that too often riders become fixated on a specific stride and interfere too much.  If a rider pushes him with regard to the number of strides he is likely to reply, “Oh it`s about three and a half.” Jane Holderness-Roddam voiced support for this approach saying Lorna Clarke had told her that you can`t be more than half a stride wrong and if you can`t adjust that then you shouldn`t be riding! “Hold them on the outside rein” was repeated often and for one tight turn, weight on the inside stirrup and turn like a motorbike with outside flexion.

He emphasised using upper body position to help with control and balance. It could be summed up with, “Always keep the horse in front of you. Sit up and ride with your position, don`t fight with the horse`s mouth.”  Some comments were traditional: Sit up, hands down, look into the distance not down at the bottom.  Find a reference point beyond a single fence or on part of the next   element to help you see the line. A clear pattern emerged of a trainer wanting both horse and rider to be fully effective with neither hindering the other. Other comments were to stay back in the “what if” position ready in case the horse “sucks back” when it sees the water Look for the generosity or otherwise of the ground lines and sit up and stay away from a very upright skinny.

“Let the neck a little away from you,” was how Chris described the slightly longer rein he prefers into fences especially when there is more than one element and many riders would tend to over organise with the hand. This is partly to allow the horse more freedom to see, judge and jump and just as importantly so that the rider stays in balance on landing avoiding being pulled forward by a too short and tight rein creating the “head bob” which stops them keeping their eyes up “on the ball” and the horse`s focus on the next element.

I would like to thank all the F and I members for being so friendly and welcoming and especially Ann for organising the course walk. It was a great experience and I went away remembering,

Make it Happen. You are here to win it!”

Report by Emily Firminger with thanks to Mum for taking notes.