The summer camp started on Tuesday 24th September where Eric Smiley FBHS was going to be doing gridwork sessions focusing on mental gymnastics. There was a line set up in the indoor arena, but Eric promptly changed the lay out.

I was in the first group of the afternoon and you could tell straight away Eric wasn’t going to accept any “waffle”. We had to give him clear and precise answers and we were questioned a lot to really clarify our understanding and to make sure what we say can be understood by the clients we teach.

We started working on a 20m circle with poles at each four points and we had to focus on riding forwards, straight and regular. Eric wouldn’t use rhythm as it is a different thing to regular (if there’s a three-time beat with a moment of suspension then there’s rhythm but we then need to make sure the canter is regular). We also had to keep out of the saddle and in a light seat. It was discussed that all the top riders keep a light seat, in particular we discussed Andrew Nicholson’s position.

These poles were then raised to jumps and again we had to keep the canter regular. The exercise then progressed to riding a figure of eight with a bounce, all the while making sure we kept riding forwards, straight and regular but not riding any corners! The theme continued through all three grid sessions.

After the grid sessions, we were very fortunate to observe a study being conducted by The Animal Health Trust on the use of Water Treadmills. They are conducting this study as currently water treadmill use isn’t regulated and there isn’t evidence to show its effects. They put GPS sensors on the horse and filmed the horse walking up in hand on the hard prior to going onto the treadmill. Once complete the horse went onto the treadmill and the water levels were increased throughout the session and at every increment the horse was filmed for 20 seconds. The water went to knee/hock height at the end. After 15 minutes on the treadmill the water was drained, the horse was stationary and had measurements of its back taken and recorded. After this, the horse was then walked in hand whilst being filmed. This is done every time to measure and analyse any changes in the horse’s muscles and movement. After we were also lucky to have a debate with Rachael Corry the Equine Bowen Therapist & Director of Wellingtons therapy centre.

Wednesday morning, Eric started with two flatwork lessons where the theme from Tuesday continued – riding the horses forward, straight and regular. Eric wanted the riders to control the balance and get the horse to sit and wait whilst keeping the hind leg active and under and not to let it drop out.

This continued into the SJ lessons where we also focussed on the riding the line and pace. We still weren’t allowed to ride corners as corners change the canter whereas riding a curve doesn’t. We still had to be clear and precise and not give any waffle. Throughout all lessons, Eric got us to look at the horse’s eyes and ears as they will lock and hone in on where they’re going. It is our job to consistently ride the canter forwards, straight and regular and it was the horse’s job to do the jump and if it didn’t, we were to change nothing – the horse must want to do it. If they knocked a pole, we were to growl at them to give them a conscience and make them allergic to paint!

After the SJ lessons, there was a Pony Club demonstration where Eric taught two plucky PC girls.  One called “Aoife, Caoimhe, Maeve Murphy” who had her D+ badge and Ann who didn’t have any PC badges. These riders are also known as Jillie Rogers BHSI and Ann Bostock BHSI! Now, Eric took his life into his own hands and made them jump the jumps as a pair as he stood between them to keep them straight! It was all good fun and light entertainment.

We stopped for a yummy lunch put on by the Café at Wellington before going XC, which if I do say so myself, was FANTASTIC! The emphasis was still on riding clear and precise and forwards, straight and balanced. In the warmup, we had to jump to the line. Eric put two bits of bark on a log and we had to ride between them straight and on angles. We discussed and put to practice riding away from fences as well as riding on curves to shorten the course which will help to make the optimum time. He got us jumping lines that really got us thinking.

After XC we watched and discussed two young horses being ridden by David and Mandy. During this time, it was very much a discussion on how Eric produces his youngsters, and the confirmation and going of the two horses in front of us. He wanted the horses to be relaxed and forwards, not us putting them into an outline. He said he would much prefer to have a contact, not an outline as that can come later.  He wanted the horse’s poll up and out to prevent the nose going on its chest.

Next up for this full-on day was loose jumping two young horses. One owned by Cheryl (for a week) and the other was David’s. We discussed how loose jumping can be done badly and how we must avoid this. We would see how the horses went as to what we would do with the jumps next – guide rail, shortening the distance, putting a block in etc.

In the evening, we again had a super dinner thanks to the café before an exclusive evening talk and book launch with Eric which was very interesting and we could buy a signed copy of the book “Two Brains, One Aim”

Thursday morning Eric continued with SJ lessons and Nereide Goodman, List 1 Dressage judge come in to judge a test we had chosen and then work through it with us. The tests ranged from Novice to CCI 2 & 3* and Inter 1. It was so useful to hear the comments and marks in our ear whilst doing the test and working through certain movements afterwards was invaluable. I also found Nereide very much coached in a similar style to Eric, we had to keep it regular and to control the shoulders and keep the hind leg active and engaged as that’s where its won or lost.

The whole camp was superb, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank David and the team at Wellington Riding along with Eric and Nereide for superb lessons. I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels enthused, refreshed and motivated for coaching clients and riding. 

Report written by Charlotte Tarrant BHSI