Chat Transcript -- Louise Serio

July 25, 2003 -- EquiSearch hosted an online chat with renowned hunter/jumper rider and trainer Louise Serio, sponsored by SmartPakEquine. Read the edited transcript.
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July 25, 2003 -- EquiSearch hosted an online chat with renowned hunter/jumper rider and trainer Louise Serio, sponsored by SmartPakEquine. Read the edited transcript.

EQHost: Welcome to our chat with Louise Serio, sponsored by SmartPakEquine.com. Please feel free to ask Louise questions.

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Karrie: Zoie likes to lean on her forearms when I jump her. But, when I longe her over a jump she does OK. We are still going over trotting poles, but what can I do to help her pick her feet up and keep from leaning forward?

Louise: As far as being heavy on her forehand, she probably needs some more flatwork. I would suggest working her in a bit that would make her a little lighter in her mouth and possibly using some draw reins. That is, using draw reins to the side--not down low. As far as hitting the trot poles, I would try to open the groundlines up so there is more depth to jump

Karrie: Okay, thank you.

horseangel:My 10-year-old mare tends to either take off too long or go in too deep to the fences. How can I help her judge her distances?

Louise: Finding a distance is more of a rider responsibility rather than a horse responsibility, so I would suggest you practice finding the distance. Maybe you can practice jumping a distance with a prescribed amount of strides between the two jumps--probably a five- or six-stride line. I would do it repeatedly so she slows down and does it quietly. I would also teach her to add a stride in the line and then do the prescribed amount again. This will help teach flexibility.

horseangel: Thanks.

Karrie:What can I do to help me from bringing my legs back?

Louise: To help you from bringing your legs back, put more weight in your heel. Usually people who ride on their toes find that their legs go back and their toes go up. If you would put your weight in your heel, push the weight down and a little forward, you are actually pushing your leg underneath you. Practice the two-point position a lot, Karrie.

Karrie: OK, thanks.

adgirl: If my horse has a slight club foot would this prevent him from jumping?

Louise: Having a slight club foot will not prevent him from jumping at all. The important thing is that you keep the foot properly balanced. You need to have a good farrier who will not let the foot get too long.

MSTG: Hi Louise. My young warmblood hunter spooks a lot at colorful jumps at shows. How can I work with him at home to get over this? My schooling jumps are very plain compared to all the walls, gates, etc. at shows.

Louise: You need to improve the color and kind of jumps you practice at home. Use straw bales, and buy some colorful flowers at the dollar store. A lot of the warmbloods are spooky starting out and with repetition they tend to get over the spookiness.

MSTG: OK, I can do that. How long might this take? He's been showing a year and a half now, and I've been thinking that he should be getting more used to the jumps. He shows about twice a month, year-round.

Louise: Be diligent and continue to try for another couple of months. If that doesn't work I would go to an experienced professional in your area to get some more training. Maybe you can try turning him out at night so he is quieter. That may help, too. I also find that with the warmbloods, your reactions to them spooking has to be very subtle. The more you react, the more they spook.

MSTG: Yes, I am finding that warmbloods are a totally different ride from the Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses I have owned.

equirider: Hi Louise. How do I make my upper body look not so busy during a trot and canter? Thanks.

Louise: You need to improve on your balance if your body is busy at trotting and cantering. I would suggest some basic two-point positions so you can balance easier. I would also suggest possibly some longe-line lessons so you can work without your reins and learn to establish better balance.

equirider: Well, thank you--I will try that out!

High*Flier: Hi Louise. I have a Thoroughbred/walker colt and he has a slight rack. Is it hard to train racking horses to jump or do dressage?

Louise: I have never had a cross like that, so I think you should try it and see if it would work, but I really don't know. Maybe you can have a professional take a look at him go.

equirider: Hi, I was also wondering, since I have a Percheron/Hackney mix and I want to achieve a more forward canter stride in equitation what exercises can I do to make her canter and trot more forward??

Louise: Try doing hill work to build up her hind end. The horse gets used to lengthening stride consistently.

equirider: Well, thank you very much. I will certainly try that out tomorrow. We have hills all around!!

Seabiscuit: Hi, Louise. I'm a young trainer in California. I am currently working with a 4-year-old Thoroughbred who is coming along nicely and looks to be a good hunter prospect. What's your opinion on training and showing young horses? How much will you show and jump a young horse?

Louise: I think in training any horse, the horse has to tell you how much it wants to do. I think a 4-year-old can have a medium amount of showing and, as long as they remain consistent and continue to improve, you are doing a good job. If the horse starts to go poorly, act a little sour, cut corners, all those things, then maybe less showing and more training at home. I think horses, like people, get tired of doing the same thing all the time. A little variety is a good thing.

Seabiscuit: OK...let's say the horse in question has been progressing incredibly quickly, is very filled out for a 4-year-old (I thought she was 6) and has one heck of a jump...and clearly loves it. Would you say it's too early to put her in the greens?

Louise: Seabiscuit, it is not too early to put your 4-year-old in pregreens, as long as you don't over-show. Seabiscuit: OK, great...thanks. The owners are VERY eager to show, and I don't want to overdo it. She learns so fast I forget she is a baby sometimes.

horseangel:What about jumping young horses--at what age should you start doing that? Of course, after they have nice flatwork, but what is the youngest age?

Louise: I think you can start to jump them late in their 3-year-old year--I would say more of an introduction to jumping rather than actual training. Then as you introduce it to them and they turn 4 years old, then you start training. As 4-year-olds, they can absorb all the training and be able to perform what you are asking them to do.

horseangel: Thank you.

pnygrl: Congratulations on your successful show season. Who are some of your favorite horses of all time?

Louise: Probably going back into the '80s, I had a group called the A Team, and that included Harbor Bay, Irresistible and Catch a Spark. From that era, they were my favorites. Then in the '90s, probably Roxdene (even though I didn't ride her!). More recently, Red Panda is a favorite. I am also fortunate to have a string of outstanding hunters right now.

Seabiscuit:I have always wondered....what kind of ride is Red Panda?

Louise: Red Panda was a lot of pressure! He was so good that it put a lot of pressure on you to be at your best every time you walked in the ring. I don't think I have ever ridden a horse that gave you such a fantastic feeling over jumps. I never had a horse that had as many consistent, fantastic rounds. He would score consistently in the 90s. He was just amazing.

WarAdmiral: Sounds like a wonderful horse.

High*Flier: When should you start ground-training a young horse?

Louise: I had a broodmare that had a foal, and we started on the ground when the foal was six months. We taught it to wear a saddle and bridle. We walked it around. As a yearling, my daughter sat on him because he was so big. I was afraid that if we waited he would be too big and strong. Then after we broke him we brought him back again as a 2-year-old. Again my daughter rode him. As a 2-year-old we taught him to walk, trot and canter under tack. He was probably ridden consistently for two weeks as a 2-year-old. When he turned 3 we started to ride him again and then late in his 3-year-old year is when we introduced him to jumping.

High*Flier: We started laying arms over his back when he was little but his back is straight as a board. Is that natural?

Louise: I think it is good to lay your arms over him. A lot of foals are very angular when they are young and they change as they get older.

equirider: Since I am just starting to go in Equitation classes, do you think the judge might score me and my horse a little lower because she has a very Hackney-like stride and not like all the Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses?

Louise: It is hard for me to say without seeing you and your horse, but I think you should try showing and see how it goes. You will be able to compare your horse with the others and see if it is the horse.

horseangel:I have a 3-year-old Quarter Horse gelding, and have already shown him in some walk/trot. Starting next year I would like to start showing twice a month or more year round, but I don't want him to get bored. We will be traveling to lots of different shows. But I will continue to take him on two trail rides a week plus lots of different things; is that too much for a young horse?

Louise: I think a lot of it depends on the quality of footing you are working on. I think you can show a lot on excellent footing, but when the ground gets hard and their feet get sore you have to slow down. I think showing twice a month is fine as long as at some point the horse has a 30-day vacation. I believe in giving my horses breaks--no riding, just turnout so they can be a horse.

horseangel: Thanks.

cakewalk: Have you experienced a green hunter swapping before the jump if you squeeze for a more brilliant jump?

Louise: Yes, I find that horses tend to swap their leads before the jump with longer distances. Usually a medium to a deep distance keeps your horse on the correct lead. They have to push so hard with the long distance, they often grab the other lead to balance.

cakewalk: If a green hunter is having sporadic cross cantering issues, what physical problems do you look for?

Louise: I think often the stifles are a big issue. I have found that having my vet check them and possibly doing an internal blister or actually injecting the stifle joint have helped a lot of my lead-change problems. It is important to get your vet's opinion.

ruffian: What are the qualities you look for first in a hunter/jumper prospect?

Louise: I would have to separate hunters and jumpers because I look for different things in each. In a hunter, I look for conformation, way of moving, jumping style and disposition. In jumpers, I don't care if they are not the prettiest. They don't have to move well, they have to have good jumping style and scope, and I still prefer a good disposition, but it can be a little hotter, a little harder-to-ride horse.

ruffian: How do you feel about hunter prospects off the track?

Louise: The sooner you get them off the track, the better. It often takes quite a while to undo the nervousness of the racetrack. I love Thoroughbreds, but it is more difficult once they have been to the track. I think you have to let them down for awhile so they can relax and forget about the racetrack. Then start them back very slowly.

ruffian: Thank you, Louise. My main source is horses off the track. What sort of soundness problems will you tolerate? Racehorses are seldom perfectly clean.

Louise: One thing I won't tolerate anymore is bad feet. I like a good foot. The old saying "No foot, no horse" is really true! As far as unsoundnesses, I think it is the degree of unsoundness and how that soundness problem relates to what I am going to ask him to do.

WarAdmiral: Out of curiosity...what is your opinion on this being a "rich man's sport" and what do you think we can do to make it more accessible to the average middle-class person?

Louise: There is no doubt that this is an extremely expensive sport. I don't know that there is any one answer to make it more accessible. One thing that comes to mind is better prize money. I think it levels the playing field when you can compete for more money so the average person with a nice horse can compete at any level and win better purses, which would support your showing.

WarAdmiral: I definitely agree....the amount of money it costs to go to a show is definitely not offset by the money you can win. Without the generosity of the people I work for, I would not be able to continue in this sport.

High*Flier: Referring to my earlier question about ground training, he's used to having objects on his back but his back is extremely straight. He's not underweight, though. Is this unhealthy? He's a year.

Louise: If your horse's back is that unusual looking, you should have your veterinarian check it.

High*Flier: Although he sees him often he's never mentioned it but I will have him check it out--thank you. So when did you start riding when you were young and how did you get to the top? Louise: I started riding probably before I could walk. My mother taught riding and we grew up, my sister and I, riding ponies all day long. Bareback, you name it, we rode all day long. Then I started showing locally. Then we started going to bigger shows, still riding, riding, riding, just the fun and joy of riding was how I kept going. I was just a young girl who wanted to ride horses the rest of her life. Now I have a huge business and I'm blessed with top show horses.

equirider: What exercises do you recommend to get the right lead over a fence?

Louise: I like to use a small X rail and first I would circle to the left, and the circle should gradually get smaller. Then I would turn around to the right and do the same thing. As he understands, the circle gets smaller. I would ask him to land right using my right hand and leg in the air. Keep doing that until he lands right. Once he starts to land right at the X every day, then when you do a course of jumps, hopefully your horse uses that right side. I think usually when they land on one lead all the time there is a physical reason why they do it.

cakewalk: Do you work on shoulders-in and haunches-in with your green hunters to help with straightness?

Louise: Actually I do very basic flatwork with my hunters and jumpers. I use shoulder-in and haunches-in when I have a horse that is crooked and I need to teach him to go straight. Then I will use that exercise. Otherwise, very basic flatwork.

imasleep78: Do you prefer Thoroughbreds or warmbloods for the amateur or junior rider?

Louise: I prefer a horse with a good disposition. I don't think the breed is as important as the disposition. As long as they are quiet and easy to ride it can be any breed.

equirider: What exercises do you recommend for getting a horse to stop from going behind the vertical?? Louise: First make sure you have the softest bit possible so the horse feels like he can put his head out. Work him on a loose rein with soft contact. I would encourage a lot of stretching so that when you are riding him if he starts to stretch down you will follow with your hand so he will stretch even more. Make sure he feels comfortable with the contact you have with his mouth. It's a hard problem to deal with.

imasleep78: Do you think horse's over-fences form can improve dramatically as they become fitter/stronger/less green?

Louise: You can teach most hunters how to use their front end better. If your horse is strong behind you can teach him a lot of different styles. A weak hind end is like a weak motor.

master: Hi Louise, thank you so much for chatting. Will you be giving any clinics on the West Coast of Florida?

horseangel: Louise, do you have a web page with information on your clinics, etc?

Louise: I don't do them very often. My schedule is quite heavy with horse shows. I probably only do one a year. I do a local one at my own farm, but don't have a specific schedule or anything.

imasleep78: What do you think are some good techniques to build a nice, round topline?

Louise: To build up the neck, putting your horse in a bitting rig helps. Hill work helps develop the hind end.

imasleep78:lol stupid question...what exactly is a bitting rig?

Louise: It is a surcingle, side reins and a bridle. The fit should be loose at first and then you will tighten it a little bit so the horse will bring his nose in a little bit. Have the horse stand in his stall to start. When he is used to it, and you have the nose vertical, this will help develop the neck muscles. You can actually longe them in a bitting rig, but not until you get them used to it in the stall. Get them up to 20 minutes in the stall--slowly!

equirider:How can I get my horse to bend more to the left considering that is his stiff side?

Louise: Do some hill work, making sure the hind end is strong. Start at the walk and work on bending at the walk before you ever advance to the trot. Focus on the horse's mouth and make sure the neck is fluid. Keep him at the walk to make sure he can bend from side to side. Always start at the walk to teach your horses anything. Be patient.

EQHost: We had some questions for Louise from our EquiSearch forums. Lena asked: I need some advice on how to attract the attention of trainers or pros looking to buy young horses. I have a nice TB gelding, 5, unraced, going nicely around a hunter course-2'9"-3'. He's green but showing a lot of potential and doing well at local shows. He's a homebred for sale.

Louise: Introduce yourself--tell professionals you have a horse for sale and would they watch it. Try to establish some kind of relationships with professionals in your area and let them know you have young horses for sale.

Eq Host: This question is from ASZ6 and Flying Spots: What exercises would you recommend to help improve my eye (i.e. finding the perfect distance to a jump)?

Louise: One thing I like to do is have people count so they establish a rhythm in their heads. If they are counting 1, 2, 1, 2, it keeps their minds and hands nice and still. It allows the horse an undisturbed rhythm and helps the rider look for the correct distance. Also, use poles on the ground and jump lots of lines so they see the right distance out of the line.

EQHost: Snow 2022 asks: "My horse is lovely at home, and even at clinics, but gets very excited at shows. Other than just taking him to more shows for the experience (and thus earning a bad reputation for being silly), how can we help him show as well as he performs at home?

Louise: I would make sure he is turned out the night before he goes to a horse show and when he arrives at a show I would put him on the longe rope right away so he is allowed to get rid of nervous energy. Then I would get on and ride.

EQHost:ADAGLANCE asks: "I bought a 5-year-old Thoroughbred mare in April. She was a racehorse until November 2002, when she was put to pasture until the beginning of March. My question is, how long is enough for the basic flatwork? We are walk/trotting with a little bit of cantering, trying to get her to engage her hind end and balance. However, I don't want to rush her at all.

Louise:You're on the right track, but I would go ahead and increase the workload, doing more cantering and adding hill work to it if you are working on the hind end. As long as she can mentally handle the work, I would keep going. If you don't have hills, walk and trot a lot for fitness training. Get your horse to the point where she can do a 20- or 30-minute trot. You're accomplishing the same thing as with hill training, but hills do the job a lot faster.

EQHost: Tressy asks: "I would like to know what Louise would look for when analyzing an off-the-track Thoroughbred and what special program she would use for one.

Louise: I look for a big, long-strided horse with a good disposition--but usually they are a little bit hot at first. You have to be confident they will get a little quieter. I like a long, sloping shoulder. The program that I use would be to initially let them down, turning them out and then bringing them back slowly and quietly. Hopefully they understand that it is not a race anymore!

EQHost: Thank your attending our chat with Louise Serio, sponsored by SmartPakEquine.com. Louise has been an influential member of the hunter-jumper community as a successful rider/trainer, judge and founder of the American Hunter-Jumper Foundation.

Louise: Thanks for attending, everyone. Good night!

Chat Transcript-Louise Serio

Louise: Thanks for attending, everyone. Good night!