After the bungle of my flight from Lisbon to London, it was a relief to finally make it to Totnes, Devon on Monday to start my Enlightened Equitation Teacher Training. I only ended up being an hour late - which under the circumstances, was not too bad!
One of the advantages of going by train from London to Totnes in daylight was seeing more of the beautiful English countryside - even if a peak fare rail ticket cost me £125! (gulp!). I'd never been that far west, so exploring new places is always fascinating (note to self - glad I did not hire a car as I would have freaked out about those narrow sunken Devon lanes....oh my!).
Many people would probably think it strange that as a hot blooded eventer I've kind of "gone alternative" (for want of a better term). After all, I've missed the last three events of the season! However, my time training in Portugal in January and then subsequently training with a classical dressage coach on my horse this year has opened my eyes to just how much rider position affects the horse's way of going. It's taken me months to have a more symmetrical position, independent control of my body and to stop being so "busy" with my hands and legs (and there's still work to be done!).
Out competing, yes there are many riders who are successful, even with a less than ideal position. But how much better would they be if they sat straight and quietly, moved with the horse without blocking him and didn't have distracting waggling legs, busy hands and a nodding head?! My goal is to ride with barely perceptible aids and a quiet, elegant seat...and to teach others to do the same. I'm also inspired to train my school horses to a much higher level, in order to teach correct "feel" and show how correct training can improve any horse - whether competing is the goal or not.
It is difficult to put into a few words what I have learned in the first module of my course. The core work for the week consisted of observing numerous "guinea pig" riders of various abilities have a lesson with Heather Moffett. I found her teaching and training methods are simple and easy to follow, making the basic aids very clear, yet without force. Position is obviously the key theme - however it is being able to maintain a good position whilst correctly applying the aids and making transitions where many come unstuck! I like the fact Heather has the ability to train horses as well as riders - meaning horse and rided together make considerable improvements.
Saddle fit was another major issue. It is astounding how much correct saddle fit and balance affects a rider's position. I know a lot of emphasis is now placed on making sure the saddle fits the horse, but if the seat size is too small for the rider, or the saddle doesn't sit the rider centrally, it is extremely hard for a rider to achieve the correct shoulder, hip, heel alignment in flatwork. In GP saddles, the problem is compounded by stirrup bars being set too far forward and knee blocks in the wrong place, so they are continually forced into a chair seat. We learned some simple remedies for some of these issues - not always requiring a new saddle!
As well as discussions on the various schools of classical training, we spent afternoons on the Equisimulators, which are machines that (with assistance of a coach) teach riders how to correctly absorb movement - particularly in sitting trot and canter - often what riders find most difficult. The electronic machines are good for developing feel in walk/trot, whereas the rider powered mechanical simulators enabled us to practice walk, rising/sitting trot and canter, plus transitions - an invaluable tool whether for a beginner or an experienced rider needing remedial work (let's face it - none of us are perfect!!). The rider powered machine is great in that if you follow the movement incorrectly, it will stop - much like the effect of blocking the horse. The beauty of teaching this way is that corrections to position can be made whilst a rider is in motion - not even possible when teaching on the lunge.
So...I'm now a trainee EET and will return to the UK in 6 months to complete my training (with a number of assignments inbetween). I look forward to meeting up again with a lovely bunch of like minded individuals - we all had a wonderful time and many laughs!
My most exciting news is.....Gretgrix Equestrian will soon be home to the only rider powered Equisimulator in Victoria (there are currently only two in Australia, in New South Wales). This means I will be able to offer lessons on the simulator alone, or in conjunction with a lesson on a horse to transfer skills across. All of my beginner clients will soon have the opportunity to use the simulator to get the basics right from the start - speeding up the process considerably. It will be an invaluable tool for those returning to riding and/or lacking confidence - once their seat is more secure, the transition to a real horse will be much easier and less scary! It is also a great way to improve rider fitness and core strength.
Next year, once I have transport for the Equisimulator sorted, I hope to be able to offer demonstrations and lessons at Riding Clubs, Pony Clubs and other groups. Unlike the much more sophisticated computerised machines, the Equisimulator is transportable. Lessons can take place regardless of the weather or time of day (as long as shelter/shade is available) and unmounted workshops are another possibility.
Watch this space!!