Eric Smiley’s Course Walk to Training Report

  1. Correct Speed .   Arrival.   Set tone for course.
  2. Correct Speed .  Scope .  Brave.
  3. When to balance. How much. When to turn , line, left or rt.
  4. When to balance , what canter. What position. Balance.
  5. Distance, speed of thought off bank ( alternative ), focus horse.
  6. Gallop, when to balance. Line in and out. Honesty to left.
    7,8. Mind game. Are you in gear?     Line , speed.
  1. Choose and get on.
  2. Crowds, when to balance and focus. Not much view. Where do you want the horse to look. Choice. Gymnastic , stay focused on line.

11.12. Honesty to line. Scope means keep going.

  1. Footwork needs brain work.  Know your horse.
  2. Will he look or not?
  3. How will he jump in? Rider position, speed of reaction, focus on ‘b’
  4. Rebuild mind.

17.18.  Decisions to suit where you are. Adjustability, courage, honesty.

  1. Balance to correct canter. Line after ‘a’ focus and speed of thought. L / R
  2. Speed

21.22.23.  Make or break round. What does horse feel like after Ditch Alley ?

Line , honesty, focus.

  1. Don’t hurry him. Let him look at the crowds.
  2.   The correct balance and attack. Rider psn.  Balance , focus, speed of thought.
  3. Focus . Forget the last jumps. The correct gallop
  4. Support horse, rebuild
  5.   Balance, canter, focus. Ridability
  6.   A disruption to flow. Creates balance issues with tired horse.
  7. Tired horse , support help home.
  8. Arrival at take off.
  9. Type of canter ? Tired horse.
  10. How fast have you come home?


  1. The Canter / Gallop

– what makes a good gait.

– how to train it

– balance and the rebalance

– aerobic training

– terrain


  1.     Take Off

– training the decision maker

– training the arrival

– training the mind to ‘look and react’

– thinking takes time !

– terrain


  1.     Steering

– the horse as a partner

– warning of turns and how it benefits

– how this helps the flow of XC and the mind



  1.     The Horses Mind.

– clarity of role

– why this is important

– how to clarify ‘doubt’



  1.     The Riders Mind

–  the importance of clarity and simplicity

–  how to train this and prioritise    ( E-H-T )

–  how to recover and regain it on course



The evening opened with a brief introduction about Eric’s amazing career by our Chairperson, Jillie Rogers.  Whilst Eric’s name is known to everyone in the audience, not all would know of his fantastic experience and achievements at the highest level in the eventing world but also the fact that he is a Fellow of The British Horse Society. It was immediately obvious we were in for a real treat.

Eric began his presentation with a general chat on the opportunities available in the 21st century for educating ourselves in all aspects of our industry, namely the internet. He emphasised the importance of checking that this information is accurate and relevant as anyone can post whatever they want. He went on to say this can be achieved by checking in what way the writer is qualified to give advice, is it fact or opinion? The source should be evaluated. He reminded us all that the BHS qualification system enables us to give guidance to our clients, something which we all recognise as important. He also briefly chatted about the various types of Course Walks and the information that can be gained from each one.


We then moved on to the Course Walk through the eyes of the Trainer with his/her rider. He used Badminton 2019 as the basis for this, moving from fence to fence giving us the benefit of his knowledge and experience, reminding us throughout that he would go into detail in the next section how to train the various aspects discussed. It was in this and the following section that demonstrated his straightforward, no nonsense, down to earth attitude to the job. So, refreshing was his manner that he made the entire audience feel it could be an achievable goal with the right training. His mindset when walking the course is “What is the course designer asking of me….”.

What followed was a fantastic explanation of how to ride each of the Badminton fences according to his training principles and experience. The whole thing was littered with his words of wisdom, many reiterated time and time again, here are just a few examples….

“At all levels, do not run free at the first three fences on a course as you will become unstuck at Fence 4 which is always the first question”.

“Where there are options make training decisions” (this was explained in detail later).

“Balance at the right time, rebalance too soon and you waste time, rebalance too late and you’ve had it”.

“Swap your whip hand throughout before next fence to help keep your horse straight where a runout could potentially happen”.

“Your horse must have three gallops/canters, GOING, NORMAL AND SNEAKY”

For fences where there are crowds watching or distractions placed by the course builder, “This is a stage fright problem so Train your horse and yourself to focus on what matters, not on distractions”.

“When confronted with options of landing and then going left or right to the next fence, go for the route the horse prefers to maintain his confidence and enthusiasm”.

For fences in line but offset angles, “When training, always land on the same line you approach on to take you to the next fence”.

For drops, as in jumping into water followed by a fence soon after, “Training the rider to slip the reins and pick them up again, is an essential skill”.

Some fences require your horse to make a quick decision due to the nature and lie of the land, “Teach your horses how to make decisions themselves”.

On travelling down to a question fence, “Always listen to your horse and how he jumped previous fences so that decision making at following fences which have alternatives allow the horse and rider to recover and rehabilitate”.

“Do not override simple fences, just go and jump it”.

“Your horse has to buy into the process” (this again will be explained later).

Towards the end of some tracks if ground conditions take their toll or the horse starts to tire, “Develop the skill of how to ride a tired horse home safely”. This point was discussed at length in the question time at the end.

By this point, we were all so engrossed and looking forward to the next part where he elaborated on his training principles to be able to put everything said so far into practise.


Eric moved on to the next section where he presented his Training Principles so horse and rider can perform at their best. This part was delivered with the same enthusiastic straight talking where again his matter-of-fact manner removed many myths of over training. He splits this up into 5 sections:

The Canter/Gallop

The Take Off

The Steering

The Horses Mind

The Riders Mind

He emphasised how from our training, the horse should be able to change smoothly from a “Sneaky” canter/gallop to an “ordinary” or “going” one. There is huge importance in training this on all types of ground, not just on a surface as the horses do not worry about undulating ground as much as we might. This helps with the rebalancing between fences and the rider’s ability to achieve this with his upper body rather than relying on the reins. He reminded us; the rider should be altering the length not the speed of the stride generally. This should be achieved with an ‘Aerobic’ gallop, not ‘Anaerobic’ in which the horse would tire more quickly. He reiterated; rebalancing should be done as early as you need to but as late as you dare!

Eric moved on to the training issues when it comes to the ‘Take Off’, he prefers not to train riders how to see a stride as it gives them a complex. He prefers to develop their skill to arrive at each jump with the correct and relevant canter/gallop and let the horse make the decision of where the best place is for him to take off. Eric emphasised the need to not tell them but support their effort. He trains this with endless work on balance and types of canter and continuing use of Grid Work to help the horse to develop this skill. This decision making begins with a young horse right from the start. “The horse must buy into the process” …. how good is that statement! To achieve this, we should never change the horses mental process when he is going well but support him.

He then moved on to talk about steering and the horse’s ability to look where he may be going before actually turning to the required fence. In training, when landing, the coach shouts left or right, so that the rider learns to open the relevant rein and the horse must follow that direction smoothly.

In respect of the horse’s mind, we must train the idea that either horse or rider must take over instantly, as in any relationship. We should have clarity of roles but a partnership……the rider does his part in ensuring the horse gets to each fence in a way which enables the horse to take over and jump, his part of the partnership.

Eric then moved on to talk about training the riders mind which must be based around clarity and simplicity and not to over analyse for them which would complicate their thought process. Encouraging the rider to talk as they go is a great way to find out where their focus is and where we need to train it to be. He stressed over thinking wastes too much time. Too much information given to a rider results in cluttering their brain.

The evening subsequently moved to conclusion with a few questions which Eric answered in his usual, down to earth way. An interesting point was made when he said we do not have to “Talk the Talk” to be a good Trainer. Too much information and technicalities given can be unhelpful. Stick to the simple things in training as outlined above.

For me, one of the last things he said which will stick in my mind as much as anything when asked about the young horse classes….


Surely this applies in all aspects of training horses and riders.

I am sure I am not the only one to think what a brilliant example Eric is of how the BHS system of which we are all proud to be a part of produces talented riders and trainers who can stand on their own in the competition world. We should showcase this!!

A good time was had by all!