Sit in Row 24 and Keep Off The Floor!

Positive position changes! Before (below) and after (above) 

Fresh after our Roland Tong clinic on Friday a couple of weeks back, Sammy was rather intrigued at being put back into the horsebox on Saturday. “Jumps Sammy” I promised as I bribed him up the ramp with a haylage net. We set off for Killossery for the Sarah Ennis eventing clinic but ground to a halt at the M50 on ramp which pretty much resembled a car park. I rang the venue who rather than saying oh well go home, said take your time we will make it work in another session which was really accommodating of them. We arrived an hour later to find the clinic had it’s own delays but we were ready to join a group of four other riders and get going in the indoor.

The indoor had a range of brilliant XC fences set up ranging from nice and welcoming rollers to corners created from poles to challenging enough brush topped skinnies. There was an imposing looking dark hedge set just 2-3 strides away from the viewing gallery and two wooden ‘T’ with flag either size which I can only call a starving skinny as there was nothing to them.

We started with a talk from Sarah on rider position. She explained her own journey with coach Chris Bartle and how she has embraced his system and philosophies. Her advice was clear and concise – get your bum back in row 24 and keep yourself off the floor. Feet in front of you on the dashboard, backside and shoulders behind you, hands low at the breastplate strap and look up and never ever look at the base of the fence. We were advised that you need three quarters of the horse in front of you to jump and that you never try and tell your horse what stride to jump – keep him in front of you and let him figure it out as he has eyes and a brain and needs to use them. Now anyone who knows me will know I am useless at two things 1) sitting up. Jesus I am wonderful at tipping forwards but sadly I haven’t found a sport its useful for yet and 2) riding short. I am terrified of riding short as it helps me tip forward. I am not going to mention riding with even stirrups as my crookedness drives me mad. My mantra going into this clinic was – this lady is not much taller than you and won a silver medal in WEG so if she says do something, you are going to do it.


So, having put my stirrups up I learned another chapter – turning with the outside rein and outside flexion to control the shoulder into a jump. I love dressage and this made perfect sense as inside leg to outside rein is the goal there. I was glad to hear this myself as when I teach I try always to teach that outside rein is god and that no one ever did more than turn a head or bend a neck trying to use the inside rein to turn. When you like me are teaching at a lower level its nice to get that confidence in what you are doing. This tied nicely in to the work I have been doing in my show jumping lessons with my coach too around turning and using outside rein and flexion. Bridging the reins was a new thing for me and of course I was the only person with two sets of reins as I ride XC In a Cheltenham gag so learning to bridge was a co ordination challenge!

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We started off jumping a roller focusing on position and then rode some lines with corners and cottages with the theme of ride your line and look up. I did my usual clinic strategy of going first as nothing scares the hell out of me more than seeing someone else go first and having an issue as my brain starts turning the hamster wheel too fast and I over think.  Sarah asked us what else did we want to jump so I said the brush skinny. She told me to go and jump the wide brush first. I set off down the line and every time I was tempted to check I just reminded myself to keep the horse in front of me  – we hit the hedge on a long one and not only did he sail it – I was actually looking up! We jumped the skinny on first attempt but were too quick on the way in with Sammy showing his most challenging habit of locking his jaw and ignoring me which is my biggest issue XC – nothing worse than coming into a fence with a horse pulling down on your hand.

Sarah told me to stop shortening my reins and not to tolerate him being rude and bullish. I do it to try and get control but she explained it only shortens his neck and then he pulls me more. I asked her advice on how to get him back with a longer rein – did I need to pull back my elbows or something and her answer was wonderfully simple – rattle the bit in his mouth with your hand and simply get him off the lean. I tried this and as he knew where he was going Sammy got gobby as hell on the way in trying to speed up and pull down which is exactly how I nearly ended up eating a roller in annaharvey last year. I did as instructed and Sammy yielded his jaw, backed off and got off my hand! She said he looked shocked – he probably was as I have never been that bullish back to him before. Myself and another rider were then advised to jump the roller, jump the corner at an angle and jump the starving skinny. I let the other rider go first while I tried to co ordinate what I needed to do – riding bending lines and angles mentally is something I find hard and is what put me off trying pre novice Eventing Ireland yet. I walked the lines and decided where to aim for and off we went. Sammy pinged it. I can honestly say it’s the best he and I have ever felt over XC fences and the angle and the narrow fence just were not an issue as he locked on and just went. I even managed to sit back and look up.

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I went into the clinic not expecting a huge amount as I rode three intros in 2017 and did very little last year and I went home feeling like I wanted to take on a pre novice this year. I would recommend Sarah’s clinics to anyone – I loved her style as there was no fluffiness or indecisiveness – everything was clear, concise and methodical which is how I learn best. I have many times been told to sit up or sit back XC but no one had ever made it click before or given me a clear physical instruction of body position. All going well I’d love to gift myself a private session to set us up to event this year without me or the horse  leaning forward or on each other. I had a show jumping lesson a few days after this clinic and I am delighted to say my position looked a lot better!


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