Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Photo Submission - Description from rider - In this picture, my horse, a 13 year old off the track thoroughbred, and I are schooling a fairly difficult grid for him. It was 3 trot poles to 3 bounce x-rails to a one stride 2'6" vertical to a two stride 3' vertical to a three stride 3'6" oxer. All strides were set a little short for him to encourage him to get a little deep and have to round a bit over the fences. He is very much a long and flat kind of jumper. The eventual goal was to compete at USPC Show Jumping Championships. The picture was taken in March while it was still a bit cold here so please excuse the extremely informal attire on my part and Jazz's slightly less than gleaming winter coat. katieandjazz.blogspot.com

is it okay to post the picture with your description (below) along with the critique on the blog? I just wanted to be sure about that before I posted. Thanx~!

Most definitely! Feel free to edit it or whatever if you think it would read better/be easier to understand.

I added the email dialogue so everyone would know I have permission from the rider to post the picture and her description of the work being done in the photo.
So that said, attire is not an issue, nor turnout of the horse. I was very happy to see an auto release. This type of release just isn't being taught these days and it is so much more efficient especially when working through some tough gymnastics. I'm so tired of seeing upper level hunters and riders using half crest and even full crest releases. So I commend the rider for having such a nice hand and auto release. Following well as you can see the straight line from the bit to the elbow. Her rein is merely an extension of her arm. I can see a little slack in the rein. Just a slightly shorter rein and you could have brought your arm a little more forward and not test your center of gravity to the nth degree. As with any release, you need to keep those thumbs up. Although your hand is showing towards an angle downward, it is not enough to keep your elbows in, which is why when you look at the photo, the elbow draws your eye to it. Ideally your hand should be parallel to the horses shoulder angle as seen from the saddle. When you are mounted, turning your thumbs up is fine for full & half crest release riders but the most efficient for auto release is to keep the hands apart the width of the neck and look down at your horses' shoulder. Position the hand with thumbs turning up and carry your hand parallel to the downward angle of the shoulder. It is so efficient and nice to see this technique in hunters or jumpers. By using the auto release you simply keep your hand following the motion of the horse and your horse is able to stay easily between your hands. Can you tell I really am partial to old school and the auto release? Well, it's not really old school. It's still the release that should be taught but I believe that as competition has evolved into something geared more  towards a 'get it done now' attitude, it just isn't taught. You should be able to watch any national level medal rider come out and use the auto release on course and now time just isn't taken to do that. SO, I commend your use of the auto release, just shorten up a little on the rein so as to keep contact at all times over the fence. Get your hand parallel to the neck with thumbs on the up side.
Nice leg, right at the girth. You're neither falling behind or forward of the motion. The only tiny nitpick here which if it wasn't a still shot, I probably wouldn't notice is that it seems your iron is slightly forward of the ball of your foot. Not a huge problem but it has kept your upper body very conservative within the hip angle. For this kind of gymnastic work, you need the utmost of security and I would like to see you close that hip angle a bit more but I think I am seeing the correllation with the center of gravity due to the iron being set a tad forward.
Shoulders back and open..... I love it! A keen eye with chin up.....I love it! Freeing up your horses' back to work and show such a nice bascule off the departure is really nice.
Now I didn't see the approach but with regards to your horse not being square behind on departure.....and this is purely speculation... but it could stem from not having held medium contact in the rein to the fence. If you were not able to sit a stride into the base of departure in order to keep contact through legs, seat and hands, your horse can lose a tad of balance compensating, and come off with a less than square departure. Remember to ride the back end of the horse. Get used to knowing where the hind legs are in reference to your stride and departure.
Now I know some of this seems intricate, but being a picture of perfection means being an efficient, handy rider able to use small subtle aids to optimize their mounts best attributes. Sometimes I see trainers and parents only worried about the presentation if it's a hunter judged class. If it's equitation, they don't always understand that unless you are using yourself AND your horse to max efficiency, you are not the best eq rider.
That's why you'll see at upper levels of equitation, horses that are specialized as equitation horses. Just as stock horses are specialized for halter, pleasure, trail and what not, so are hunters. Not all good show hunters are good equitation horses and not all equitation horses are good show hunters. Jumpers is a whole different 'animal' and rarely is a horse good in the jumper ring and good in the hunter ring although a handy jumper can make a very nice equitation horse.
If you see everything in my critique seems directly related to what is going on in the picture, then you are ready to start adding the small details to finesse your equitation, thereby bringing out the best in your horse. If you don't, please feel free to ask for clarification.
Overall, this appears to be a nicely paired horse and rider working well within their abilities. If the rider tightens up their equitation a bit, the horse may also be tighter and more confident in the legs, giving a picture of more symmetry.
I'd also like to ask that no ill comments be left or I will have to moderate them. I was worried about doing individual critiques, but if we all play by the rules and understand this is for positive constructive opinion, use tact and diplomacy, it should be just fine.
Thanx for your submission and I hope my critique will help you. I mean not to offend you in any way and if you've a need for me to clarify anything I've said, feel free to ask.


  1. Nice pair. I'm partial to the auto release too and have always used it. You are right about no one taking the time to properly learn how to do things anymore. It's always hurry up and get it done. I feel this is the wrong attitude and can't help the horse or rider in the long run. Everything comes with practice and time.It's nice to see a younger rider learning the correct way of navigating a course.

  2. Yes, I absolutely think that if she had less rein in front of her hand, she could have kept contact and moved her arm forward, thereby getting the hip angle closed just a bit more. I do not know how long she has been using the auto release so I hope my critique helps her. I hope she continues on the path of being a fluid and efficient rider as that is what I see here as a work in progress.

  3. good critiques! i am also not a fan of the crest release (i did a whole post/rant on it!) and i really commend this rider for using the following release, which must have taken time and effort to learn properly, but is always worth the effort. too few riders in the H/J world - especially at the higher levels - take the time to master this release and make it 2nd nature over fences. but, in part because of her choice of release, she has a lovely, secure position and her horse has come under himself and jumped fairly well for her, even from very a short distance at an airy vertical. not easy to do! too often horses learn to jump flat or rush their fences because the rider is unbalanced over the jump or is unwittingly restrictive with the rein, but that does not seem like the case here.

    i too would like to see her hip angle closed just a tad; i'd also prefer her seat came closer to the saddle and back more toward the cantle, which i think really helps with balance but, either way, they present a nice, proper picture. and good for her taking the time to not only improve her own equitation, but also her horse's technique. best of luck to them both :-)

    (ps - i really like to trot to the base of a low oxer, maybe with some trot poles in front if the horse likes to rush or canter in, to help a flat horse learn to round himself; or canter a single low sq oxer on a true figure 8 - ie 2 round circles with a straight stride or two in the center. just simple, low-stress, low-impact exercises that have helped my horses, so i thought i'd mention them....)

  4. Thank you so much for taking the time to look at the picture! I'm printing out the notes about what to work on and exercises to tack up in the barn.

    I've never heard the part about sitting the stride out and really balancing to get a square take off. I'm guessing the square take off gives them more power, a better bascule and a generally better jump?

    again, thanks so much!

  5. That's a good rider right there!!

    I think that not enough people start out with mean old Drill Instructor trainers who make them trot - daily - endless hours in two-point, over poles & tiny cavaletti, building the strength, balance and *feel* that are hallmarks of an independent seat, which I believe then gives riders so much more freedom to develop educated hands, which this young woman is doing.

    I was always too chicken to jump much more than 3' but I did do entire trail rides over uneven terrain in 2 point. It was SO GOOD for me.

  6. Jimmy Wofford has an excellent book on jumping gymnastics and grids.
    My 2 cents as regarding the grid and the horse preferring to jump flat, since you mentioned that in your explanation and mostly equitation has been commented on. By the way, it's so nice to see good eq in a jumper rider, function really will follow form! I think you both look great.
    I can see where the grid might be difficult for your guy, although he is not showing that. (I am really jealous you have a place to jump in wintertime where you can set up that long of a grid!). I assume you are working on more than just trying to get him to round with this exercise... if not, to make that more of the focus, one would probably use less efforts, trot poles into a cross, then the verticals with those ascending heights with equal number of strides in between instead of increasing, with minimal (inches) increase in length of strides to allow for the increase in height. I understand your grid for handiness (bounce) and focus(length). When encouraging the horse to use his body to do things differently, you build front end tighteness with short distances to decent height and maintain hindend coupling/depth to the base by not increasing # or length of strides and pushing them on with the expectation that they keep their shoulders UP. Lots of efforts in one grid can have them mentally looking for the quickest (flattest) way out. I don't see that in this picture, just a little more on gymnastics (which you probably already know if you're using this type of grid).
    While many TBs find in general that longer/flatter is easier than collection- with a thirteen year old it may also pay to look at his joints... rounding is a lot harder work than just pushing from a longer spot, and they will take the easier way out if they are a little uncomfortable. My old Swede/Tb would get long and launchy when his hocks needed to be injected.
    Hope your championships go (or went) well!

  7. Thank you Bif! I definitely have a tendency to lean towards equitation. It is my favorite class to judge!

  8. Riding IHSA and staring at literally hundreds of show hours of really good (and some fairly awful) equitation has done great things for my eye, even if I don't always know how to fix a given problem ;-)
    I wish people still really listened to Bill Steinkraus, George Morris, etc. There IS a point to equitation, and "back in the day" you did jumpers out of a natural progression of sound flatwork, medals and maclay eq classes, so when you got to the big fences you didn't interfere with your horse. Now people seem too willing to just buy a better/packer jumper, instead of learning to really ride. Rant over =)


I am just one judge with one judge's opinion. Almost all of the classes I judge are based on the rules of USEF & AQHA. Judging a horse show is very subjective to the interpretation of the rules. Please keep this in mind when commenting.