F&I ‘Annual Course’ – Wednesday 6th January 2021, 7pm, via zoom
It is uncertain whether the 80 F&I members attending on Wednesday 6th January was indicative of our appetite for knowledge or a desire to escape the chaos of the outside world! One thing is for sure, many of us have significantly upskilled our tech knowledge and ability over the last 10 months – and some of the opportunities this affords us are invaluable.
Danny Anholt introduced and led the discussion with our 2 trainers for the evening. Both of his interviewees are of course distinguished Fellows of The BHS and highly regarded riders and trainers. The overarching subject was training philosophy, and Danny began by asking each trainer what they believed theirs was.
Caroline’s approach is that she trains the rider to coach their own horse. She firmly believes that the rider should listen to the horse, have an understanding of their conformation and how to work with this for longevity in their career. The rider should develop their own system, which is adaptable and has established basics to fall back on. Caroline also feels that the dressage, showjumping and xc phases of eventing should all interlink with this system – riders must recognise and use the flatwork aspects whilst jumping, for example. Danny passed comment that this is exactly what he sees from Caroline every time she coaches.
Richard sees his job as training horses and says it is essential that the rider understands how horses learn. Movements such as piaffe and passage are a behaviour for the horse in the same way as rearing and napping are. Our job is to shape the horse to present our desired behaviours at the desired time. This can be seen in GP and GPS tests, where the horse learns the position and order of the desired behaviours through a chain of association.
Richard works with pressure and release to motivate the horse – which Caroline agrees with. The point was made that we need to create horses who are happy and willing to work. Being in front of the leg is a state of mind for the horse, in part linked to his cortisone levels and adrenalin, and we need to understand how to motivate him. A discussion ensued on how many riders create a lot of energy, but keep the ‘front door shut’ and never allow this energy through. Both agreed that this is a very difficult skill to coach, but a real lightbulb moment and very rewarding for the coach when it happens. At this point Richard shared that he often uses terminology that, to the outsider, may seem nonsensical! Horses do not care what terminology we use – it must work for the communication between coach and rider.
Danny asked both coaches how they would approach assessing a new partnership – as they would need to do at the F&I convention or as a coach in the Fellowship assessment would need to do.
Caroline starts by watching, to establish what the rider’s current system is. Do they have a plan? Do they praise the horse? How is their position and do they have an awareness of any crookedness or challenges? How is their discipline over a fence? Do they maintain 3 straight strides over the fence? Caroline says she can assess most of this in the first 5 minutes or so – and often in the first 30 seconds!
Richard will begin by finding out what is the starting point for this combination? Where are they starting from and what has their journey been so far. He will then observe and ask questions – in particular if something seems ‘random’ – e.g. ‘Why did you choose to canter then?
Our trainers were then asked, ‘What have been the biggest challenges to your training philosophy?’
Caroline replied with an answer which we will all be familiar with: when riders come seeking quick fixes ready for an imminent competition or event. As a coach what do you let slide when you can see that the basics need readdressing?
Richard made a self-confessed politicians answer, answering a slightly different question, (but just as interesting) about how his philosophy has developed from as a youngster being repeatedly told ‘more leg’, to now coaching how there are better approaches than continual pressure.
A short discussion ensued on training – including how one might involve ‘outsiders’ – such as observing coaches at the F&I convention, owners and parents. Points included giving coaches specific topics to consider and certain horses to focus on. Getting coaches and riders to mark out of 10 – this then led to a discussion on making sure there is an understanding of the correct canter (for example) at the time. A good pirouette-canter would not be a good canter around the short side to show off to the judges, for instance, and this is not always understood. Richard repeated that he may use unusual terminology which doesn’t always make sense to the outside observer. A question was raised on Stefan Peters’ use of clicker training for the piaffe, and Richard repeated his thoughts on the chain of association, with sound being a useful training tool, combining the aids with a sound for the desired behaviour to be learned by the horse. This raised a thought on classical vs circus training. What works for the horse is the key – but this is a discussion for another day! The coach must balance between engaging with the ‘paymaster’ and supporting team for each rider/horse combination, whilst maintaining their coaching integrity to the job in hand.
Both coaches were asked what led them to the Fellowship and how has it affected them. Both replied that they love to learn and to prepare for and take exams. Caroline commented that if there were a Fellowship +, she would be first in line! She did admit that she found the exam daunting. Both believe that the Fellowship comes as a result of how you have developed and worked through your life rather than by being trained for it. Richard noted that he was told he would be taught to be a good horseman, not to pass the exam. He also noted that he did have to study (as most do!) for certain areas of the syllabus which, at the time, he did not necessarily see the relevance of. Now he uses many of those things on a daily basis.
A question was asked on whether the coaches have any preferred bloodlines which they would seek out for horses, and their thoughts on young horse classes. The overarching answer was that a trainable brain is far more desirable than a bloodline.
Caroline said she would never dismiss a horse for its bloodlines, adding that Dutch horses often get bad press but she likes them. Richard says he looks for conformation, movement and brain, mentioning that one can have 2 horses assured to have identical bloodlines but who are very different. He will be interested to see the results of cloned horses – as is now happening in Polo. Caroline is against training specifically for the young horse classes. If the class suits and the competition would be useful then use it. The 7yo classes ask a lot of the horses. Caroline’s approach would be to look at the 5yo horse and ask what does that horse need to do to be going to Blenheim as a 9yo? She will then work backwards from that. Richard feels young horse classes have breeding and commercial purpose, but not necessarily for future GP horses. He believes they have improved in recent years, but could still be more practical.
There was a short discussion on current events and the precarious future of venues for shows etc, including the likelihood or otherwise of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics begin able to take place in 2021, together with an insight into everything it takes to get a major international event to take place safely.
However both agreed that it was noticeable how the lack of shows had really helped the focus on training, and the horses in every discipline were all the better for that when they did get out this year.
Finally, to lighten the mood, we ended by asking each trainer what they would have been if they hadn’t gone into coaching – or what they would do if they couldn’t coach. Richard loves to argue, and challenge, and to go into detail about how things work – so he would probably have been a barrister – but would want to work on equestrian cases. Caroline has learned in recent years to deep-sea-dive, which has been a fascinating experience, and she would probably be a diving instructor.
We concluded with Danny thanking both of our wonderful trainers, who so freely shared their thoughts and motivations – and thanking also the questioners, including Islay Auty, Ann Bostock, Mandy Luesley, Amy Bannister-Bell, Brendan Burgin, Alison Craig and Ruth Baxter, for submitting their stimulating questions, facilitating the flow of the discussion.
The session concluded with many comments coming through on what an enjoyable and interesting evening it had been. Thank you to Caroline and Richard – and Danny – for presenting, and thank you also to Ann Bostock, who has been dragged kicking and screaming into the world of Zoom – for organising such a great evening!
Report by Ruth Baxter