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Postcard: 2009 George Morris Horsemastership Day 4

Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden works on improving the horse's rideability with a few simple exercises.

Beezie Madden explains how to jump one of the exercises.
Photo by Sandra Oliynyk.

January 8, 2009 -- You wouldn't think that jumping 18-inch fences would be difficult or all that much fun, but the young riders in the 2009 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session found out they were during their session with Olympic gold medalist Beezie Madden.

Beezie had the difficult job of giving her training session on the fourth day of the five-day clinic. The riders had done flatwork with dressage Olympian Robert Dover Monday, gymnastics with Olympian Anne Kursinski Tuesday and course savvy with Olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut on Wednesday. "You want to be able to continue to train your horse, but it's the fourth day of the clinic and you have one day to go," Beezie said. "So we're going to work on low jumps and doing them perfectly."

Here's what she had to say about the day's work:
Listen: Beezie Madden

Rideability on a Straight Line
For one of her exercises, Beezie set a line of three, 18-inch verticals in a straight line, each 45 feet apart. She had the riders canter up the long side on the left lead and make a short rollback turn to jump the line in a flowing three strides to three strides.

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After the last fence, the riders stayed on the straight line and within a few strides, drifted left, asked for a flying change, rode a half-turn to the right and jumped the line back in a steady four strides to four strides.

Photo by Sandra Oliynyk
Sophie Benjamin jumps the straight line in combinations of three and four strides.
Photo by Sandra Oliynyk

Then they drifted right, rode a half-turn to the left, jumped the line back in three strides to four strides and finally repeated the half-turn to the right, jumped the line in three strides to four strides and halted.

Though the exercise was seemingly simple, there were many caveats to riding it smoothly. Beezie instructed Chelsea Moss to turn and establish her pace to get the flowing three. When the horses landed from the last fence in the line, she stressed that the riders use an opening outside rein to half-pass toward the rail and half-halt to collect their horses to ask for the change. "Don't just pull for the change. Come back on a straight line. Then ask."

The hard part of the exercise was collecting the horse after the fence, then moving up for the three stride to the four stride. "The quicker you get the collection, the better chance you'll have at getting pace to the next three stride," she told Taylor Land. And by coming to the last line with more pace to jump the three stride, it made jumping the four-stride easier.

Beezie stressed that all the details of entire exercise were important--not just the jumping.

When Taylor had trouble halting, Beezie told her to land, drop her weight into her heels, put her elbows forward for an instant, then pull back. "Putting your elbows forward will take practice at first, but it's more effective."

She praised Carolyn Curcio for a particularly balanced, upward transition to canter when starting the exercise. "It's easy to get sloppy with transitions when you start jumping, but it's good to have the discipline to do it correctly every time," she said.

She also stressed the importance of being careful about what you could be inadvertently teaching your horse. "If you're still pulling your horse in the air over the fence to get him back, he knows you don't really mean it because he has to go forward to get over the fence," Beezie told Jessica Springsteen, whose horse was pulling her. "So he'll get dull to it." Instead, Jessica needed to be sure to get her horse back before jumping the fence.

Diagram of the mini-course involving bending lines

Rideability on Bending Lines
Beezie then had the riders ride a mini-course that involved riding bending lines of three jumps across the diagonal and bending lines of three jumps on a semicircle. They started by riding a bending diagonal line off the left lead in a forward four strides to four strides then halt. They turned right and rode a semicircle of three jumps, riding them in seven strides to four strides. Then they went across the opposite diagonal in five strides to five strides. They made a left turn and jumped another semicircle in eight strides to five strides then halted.

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