January 7, 2009 -- The eight young riders participating in the 2009 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session learned about the intricacies of riding a Nations' Cup class in a fun format designed by Olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut.
The first two days of the clinic with Robert Dover and Anne Kursinski focused on the nuts and bolts of position and riding technique and how it affects the horse. George had told Laura that he wanted her to cover course strategy, so her session put all the technique together with all the components of jumping a Nations' Cup course--from the warm-up to the jump-off.
Laura set up the day so the first group of four riders was one team and the second group was the other. Each rider jumped the course two times, as would international riders competing in a Nations' Cup class, and then rode a jump-off. Here's what Laura said about how she came up with the idea of doing a Nations' Cup Team:
The first team was Jessica Springsteen, Victoria Birdsall, Matthew Metell and Carolyn Curcio. The second team included Sophie Benjamin, Chelsea Moss, Jacqueline Lubrano and Taylor Land.
The Course Walk
The riders began by walking the course and discussing how to plan their rides. "Think about what you need to do to prepare your horses," Laura said. "When you walk a course, you really want to focus on the horse you're riding. What are your horse's strong points? What are his weak points?"
When walking a course, you need to think about your horse's stride length, his spookiness and what type of scope he has. When they walked the second to third jumps, Laura asked how the line rode. The riders replied, a short four strides. "More important than knowing that it's a short four is knowing that it's a four and use your eye depending on what your horse does. He may spook, he might land shallow. Think about that."
For the water jump, Laura said that most people are taught to ride really forward to it, but on course you have to think about what comes after the water. In this case it was seven or eight strides to a quiet one-stride vertical in-and-out. So, depending on their horses, she cautioned the riders not to get too forward to the water. "Use your eye and deal with what's going on underneath you," she said.
When riding the warm-up, Laura said, "George stresses not jumping a lot, not wasting your horse. You come to the horse show prepared. So when you come to warm-up, you want to loosen the horse, then go in the ring." She said that George will let them jump only between eight and 10 fences in the warm-up.
Laura's strategy is to jump two crossrails off both leads to loosen up the horse's muscles, two verticals then two oxers to get the horses jumping across a fence and then one big vertical. As Jessica Springsteen warmed up, Laura told her to stop her horse, move him forward to test his brakes and back to test his accelerator. After the fence, she told her to bend him left, bend him right. "That way, when you go on course, you know you have the tools to make it happen," Laura said.
Throughout the session, Laura urged the riders to do what they knew was best for their horses. In the warm-up, she asked Carolyn if she wanted to jump a wide oxer again, Carolyn said yes. "I agree," Laura said. "He needs to be stretched out a little bit."
Though clear about what she wanted, Laura empathized with riders. When Matt's horse, whom he was borrowing for the clinic, stopped at the oxer during the warm-up, Laura relayed one of her 2008 Olympic experiences warming up Cedric. "George was at the ring, so we started our warm-ups on our own. Cedric did the exact same thing. He thought about leaving the ground, then put one more in. He broke the rails. I thought, 'This is excellent. I'm so excited about this. I'm off to a good start.' But in this situation, you just have to put this out of your mind and say, 'Everything is OK,' and ride a little stronger."
Riding the First Round
Once the riders started the courses, their strategies varied. Victoria rode the first line, which she walked in seven or eight strides, in nine strides, which Laura said was OK. "In a real Nations' Cup class, if there were a tight time allowed, you'd store that you added a stride and use it to make up time later on course where you know you're safe to use it. For example, you wouldn't try to make up time at a triple combination. You'd make it up by making a tighter turn to a fence."