“Believe it; you’ve got to believe it,” Kirsten Coe said to more than a few riders during the mounted gymnastic session held Jan. 20 during the USHJA Gold Star Clinic in Thermal, California. In what proved to be the most challenging part of the day’s exercises, Coe asked the riders to fit seven strides in a vertical-oxer line set six strides apart.
“For some of the riders, you can see they’re not quite sure if they can fit it in, and they end up with an in-between distance,” she said. “You have to believe you can do it, and that reflects in your body position. You have to believe you can get the horse back; you have to believe you have control of him.”
Coe stressed the importance of adding early in the line rather than waiting until the end and having to pull back at the next jump. If you “do your homework” early, then you can go forward to the oxer, which is preferable to pulling to the oxer, she said.
The 21 participants in the clinic at the Desert International Horse Park started the day early with 6 a.m. barn chores and then a 6:45 a.m. course walk, which included instruction from USHJA Technical Advisor DiAnn Langer. Then the riders split into three groups for the gymnastics sessions. The exercises ranged from trotting poles to cantering a cavaletti line to completing a short course.
“We have a lot of different riders here, so the gymnastics have to be applied across all levels,” said Coe. “I don’t think it needs to be complicated. You can accomplish a lot by perfecting your flatwork, and that’s what we did today. It was just an extension of the flatwork but now over jumps.”
Coe used strategically placed flowerpots to encourage riders to think about their track and using the corners of the arena. “The horse has to come back when you land after the line, so the pots are there to help remind them you need to do some flatwork and some homework at the end of the ring before the next jump,” she said.
Position was another key element. She used the phrase “in the tack” to remind riders to sit up and rebalance themselves and their horses while on course. “Sometimes riders get excited; they do a few jumps in a row, and they get more and more out of position,” she said. “They build as they go jumping in two-point, but at some point maybe to a double or a triple you’ll need to wait and to actually be in the tack to rebalance the horse and regroup.”
Coe once again proved adept at helping a few riders handle their horses who were on the hotter side, including Kayla Long’s gray mare who is head shy and doesn’t like head-on traffic. Coe had the pair perform figure eights around the jumps and around Coe herself after the mare reacted. “I had a mare like that,” said Coe. “She’s not really scared of me or of the jumps, but you have to give her the feeling of trust. You have to soothe her when she gets nervous; you have to take care of her and be patient.” After just a few minutes, the horse visibly relaxed, and Long finished up the day with a great course.
The Gymnastic Exercises
Three poles set five strides apart. Coe asked the riders to post in between the poles and then sit the trot as they went over the poles, to get the horses accustomed to waiting at the jump. Then they went through the poles again, this time cantering the first pole and trotting the second two, and then the poles were raised to cavaletti and riders cantered through in five strides to five strides, working on maintaining a consistent rhythm.
One-stride combination with a pole set in the middle. Coe used the pole to encourage the horses to keep their strides the same. The riders cantered the combination on both leads, with an emphasis on proper flatwork before and after the gymnastics.
The final gymnastic exercise of the day was a small course, consisting of a crossrail off a left lead then a rollback to a vertical-oxer line in seven strides, then a rollback to another crossrail off the right lead, then back to the line the opposite direction, this time riding the oxer to vertical line in six strides. After all the riders worked with Coe on that exercise, she added on the one-stride double combination, plus a rollback to a liverpool.