Fab article by William Micklem on eventing safety

LEC

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I think its that any training can be too much and change the way the horse has been. If the training is done correctly there should be no adverse effects.
 

SpottedCat

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I've read similar things by predominantly US coaches before, and I have to say whilst I see the point they are making it does worry me a bit.

Firstly, you are giving people who quite frankly need to go and take more lessons a legitimate excuse from a trusted source to say 'I don't school x/y/z for XC safety purposes'.

Secondly from an entirely selfish point of view, I have a superb XC horse who really does have a fifth leg and will get me out of trouble. We were also getting shoddy dressage scores and our SJ was nothing to write home about. So I have been having specialist help in both disciplines, both of which have improved markedly. Of course I am now concerned that if I get something a bit wrong XC my horse will no longer help out, and that our XC is doomed to be getting worse. And that's not a sensible/safe/useful attitude to take into the start box.

Is he saying no dressage training is better than mechanical/domineering training? In which case where is the evidence that it is better to have a more unbalanced less supple horse XC? Because I bet that even the horses trained 'incorrectly' as described in the article are more balanced and supple than something not really trained at all or trained by someone who doesn't have a good idea of feel.

I'm not suggesting he is wrong (far be it from me to contradict someone who's probably forgotten more than I'll ever know), just feel vaguely uneasy about it and think it raises as many questions as it answers. Of course had I not bothered to go away and work on my dressage I would probably be citing this as a good reason why my horse is so great XC and why it isn't worth trying to improve the dressage, so maybe that's why I am a bit ambivalent about it?
 

kerilli

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Is he saying no dressage training is better than mechanical/domineering training? In which case where is the evidence that it is better to have a more unbalanced less supple horse XC? Because I bet that even the horses trained 'incorrectly' as described in the article are more balanced and supple than something not really trained at all or trained by someone who doesn't have a good idea of feel.


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Nope, he's not saying that at all. In fact he says later in the article that training beyond Prix St Georges is fine "IF done with good steady progression and real partnership, and IF it is part of an overall strategy and programme that allows sufficient time for all aspects of an integrated training programme".

i disagree about the balanced and supple part, if we are talking purely about being a good xc athlete, and one that uses its brain and its body to take care of you. i've known hunters that couldn't have done a decent Prelim test with Carl Hester aboard, but which were AMAZING xc horses, the kind that would carry an utter heavyweight numpty safely over a hanging 5 bar gate from a long standstill-kick-4 strides of surprised lumbering canter approach, and then cleverly work out a long double of gates, and fly huge hedges 5 mins later. (i witnessed one such horse in action doing just this, in fact i got him fit, and he was SO lopsided that you could not rise to 1 diagonal, he'd chuck you back to the other one in the first stride.) didn't stop him being an unbelievably safe xc ride for a very heavyweight uneducated plonker!

I think what William Miflin is saying is that the WRONG type of flatwork training (dominating, forcing, relentless) wrecks horses' brains, and a horse with a wrecked brain is emphatically NOT a safe thing to ride into a fixed fence on.
plenty of eventers that do a super test have been exceptional xc horses - i could name scores off the top of my head. probably more than the "amazing xc horse that WON'T do dressage" group actually - but these get the attention because they're newsworthy!
it's only at the very highest levels of dressage that you get to the problems it can cause physically to a jumping horse (as opposed to the problem of dominating a horse too much mentally, and wrecking his crucial 'work it out for myself fast' instinct), because working on the extreme collection of piaffe-passage asks for separate placement of hindlegs, while jumping from canter asks for parallel placement of hindlegs.
(my trainer told me this, he knew someone with a top eventer and sjer, can't remember his name but someone v famous, who taught it Grand Prix dressage and realised he had actually wrecked its ability to jump a big fence.)
 

kerilli

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So is he making a mountain out of a molehill, scaremongering even?

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I think he's bang on the money about certain forceful/non horse-centric training techniques (and therefore certain trainers, i guess) being deleterious to the xc capabilities of horses.
the story he tells about the 3* horse is a perfect case in point.
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(crikey, a short answer... from me!)
 

SpottedCat

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See I don't quite understand that 'separate placement of hind legs' vs canter jumping using them together because surely piaffe/passage is only a variation on trot work and horses seem to cope with the idea of trotting and jumping just fine.

I don't disagree that there are amazing hunters out there who are stiff as a board, but William Micklem isn't talking about hunters and neither am I - I am talking about modern XC horses who have to be supple and balanced to do the turns and skinnies and awkward angles which we set up for them on modern XC tracks.

Baydale - I don't know if I'd want to go that far....I'm just vaguely uneasy with attributing X fall to Y method of training when with horses there are a million other variables which might come into play. Just because a horse has had a shift in attention to one element of the sport during its training does not mean that the deterioration of another element is or isn't caused by that. There are so many other possibilities - in both the fatal falls he talks about I'd like to know if the horses were checked for any physical issues which could have caused the deterioration, whether the riders had any issues (illness, dehydration, lack of sleep the night before, whatever - any one of those could lead to a mistake).

I dunno, I guess I am probably the wrong person to discuss this as it does affect me personally so I probably can't be as objective as I should be about it.
 

Baydale

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I think it's possible that talented horses can get by with less training, therefore stages can be missed out or glossed over as they breeze through the levels, collecting points for double clears and qualifying for the upper echelons of eventing.

Maybe the more talented they are, the more they need the training along the way, almost to make them aware of how it is that they do the fab things they do - proprioception, spatial awareness etc - so they don't get "found out" by a confidence-damaging moment or fall even?

I'm not explaining it very well, am I?
crazy.gif
 

SpottedCat

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Do you think he is making a mountain out of a molehill? Be interested to know....

I agree with what you are saying, in fact I had an interesting conversation with a pro who said that they thought it did a horse good to have a fall/hit a fence hard/have a nasty moment at the lower levels (by which they meant up to and including Novice) because if they breeze on through never having a thing to worry about and then something does go wrong (as it inevitably will given enough runs over enough time) at the higher levels then 'the bottom falls out of their world' and they just cannot cope and tend to lose confidence far more and be harder to get back on track.

I haven't ridden enough or at a high enough level to know if it is true or not, but it makes logical sense to me, and ties in with what you are saying about training so they know how they do something.

On the other hand 99% of people who event are not very gifted amateurs (and I include myself in that category), and with the best will in the world they cannot hope to train a horse as well as a pro or to even know if they have one of those special horses which needs the training you describe. In which case all the article has managed to do is make me concerned about taking my horse XC next season because I have worked on and improved the dressage/SJ. I'm not sure that's a great place to be in.
 

kerilli

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[ QUOTE ]
in fact I had an interesting conversation with a pro who said that they thought it did a horse good to have a fall/hit a fence hard/have a nasty moment at the lower levels (by which they meant up to and including Novice) because if they breeze on through never having a thing to worry about and then something does go wrong (as it inevitably will given enough runs over enough time) at the higher levels then 'the bottom falls out of their world' and they just cannot cope and tend to lose confidence far more and be harder to get back on track.


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i had the same conversation with Derek Watts, bless his soul, years ago, he said exactly that.
i've known a few horses for which a xc mistake (or near-crunch) was the making of them - instead of being cocky and headstrong i saw/felt the cogs whirr as they realised "hmmm, actually... maybe she does know what's coming, i'd better listen", making them far safer to ride xc. it's that so-delicate balance between 'listen/accept rider's input' and 'instantly think on my feet'.
LG is similar in her teaching, when the rider fluffs the stride she says "GREAT, he'll learn from that, come again!" when some trainers do the opposite (and end up encouraging backwards riding to fences because one ends up SO worried about seeing a long one, a wrong one, whatever, and getting yelled at).

i wouldn't worry about the xc because you've improved the other parts, quite the reverse. you haven't forced/brainwashed your horse into blind, unthinking obedience (judging by the video of the other night, quite the flipping reverse... how are the bruises?!), you've suppled him and improved his balance in an educated, horse-centric way, which can only help.
 

LEC

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Many of the riders who have had serious falls have been at advanced level and so I do believe it scaremongers for lower levels. I find it more shocking that a rider has no idea that the dressage trainer and Sjing trainer are asking different things and not complementing each other when that rider is going round advanced tracks.
 

SpottedCat

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[ QUOTE ]

i had the same conversation with Derek Watts, bless his soul, years ago, he said exactly that.
i've known a few horses for which a xc mistake (or near-crunch) was the making of them - instead of being cocky and headstrong i saw/felt the cogs whirr as they realised "hmmm, actually... maybe she does know what's coming, i'd better listen", making them far safer to ride xc. it's that so-delicate balance between 'listen/accept rider's input' and 'instantly think on my feet'.
LG is similar in her teaching, when the rider fluffs the stride she says "GREAT, he'll learn from that, come again!" when some trainers do the opposite (and end up encouraging backwards riding to fences because one ends up SO worried about seeing a long one, a wrong one, whatever, and getting yelled at).

i wouldn't worry about the xc because you've improved the other parts, quite the reverse. you haven't forced/brainwashed your horse into blind, unthinking obedience (judging by the video of the other night, quite the flipping reverse... how are the bruises?!), you've suppled him and improved his balance in an educated, horse-centric way, which can only help.

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Well I'd count mine in the group for whom a mistake was the making of him! He is much more inclined to listen to my input now after hitting a fence v hard (put down on top of it) and realising sometimes I am useless, but when I pick a line there is a reason for it.

The bruise, is, err, sore! My elbow is spectacular, to the point that climbing the other night people were marvelling at its colour! The rest of me is fine - you do not need a point-2, you need thermals + t-shirt + fleece + bodywarmer is my conclusion!

I'm gaining a lot from some SJ training with someone who just says 'never mind, come again' when I get it wrong, and interestingly who told me not to be backwards after that fall. I think an ability to put the mistakes in proportion is helpful!
 

kerilli

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[ QUOTE ]
I'm gaining a lot from some SJ training with someone who just says 'never mind, come again' when I get it wrong, and interestingly who told me not to be backwards after that fall. I think an ability to put the mistakes in proportion is helpful!

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gosh yes, i agree wholeheartedly, your trainer sounds great, very positive.
i know a few girls (nice riders) whose riding was WRECKED by nit-picky trainers giving them grief for being a bit inaccurate... to PN/N fences ffs. different if you're jumping huge tracks, don't get me wrong, i know accuracy is a good thing etc etc, but crucifying someone for being a bit wrong to a 3' fence their horse could have jumped safely if they'd been VERY wrong to is never productive.
anyway, i'm convinced that it does horses good to be put on wrong spots here and there, keeps them thinking and reacting.
 

Baydale

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I think that his article holds some relevance whatever level you ride at, but you can bet your bottom dollar that of all those who read it, the ones who should really take note of it won't.

I totally agree that horses need to make mistakes at the lower levels as it's easier to sort them out and they're usually less catastrophic and confidence-challenging - unless that horse is borderline being out of its comfort zone in terms of scope and ability. If it does go wrong you go back to the previous step in your training, confirm his understanding of that level, practice until he's confident again and then go back up to the next level. All that should hopefully have reminded the horse that he must jump higher, stay straighter, be tidier or whatever it was caused the hiccup in the first place.

I'd like to think I knew why the hiccup had happened without too much navel-gazing or head-scratching, but that's all about the feel you have, partnership with and understanding of your horse.
 

TarrSteps

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^ What she said.
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I would add that in the "learning from mistakes" department, context is all. Why the mistake happened and what happens afterwards - and what lesson the horse takes away - is just as important as the actual moment.

If it's a rider error and it's repeated too many times, what the horse will learn is not to trust the rider.

If the rider makes a valid correction but the horse ignores it and gets into trouble, hopefully the horse will learn why it should have listened (I'm not sure it works exactly like that but the effect is pretty much the same) and the rider might learn to moderate the correction somehow to get a better result.

I was always taught, when schooling, if you have a decent approach and the horse makes a mistake, come back and ride it the same way again - it's your job to get the horse to the jump, it's the horse's to jump it. (Obviously if you were woefully underpaced or crooked or on a half stride or whatever then you have to make a change.) If you change the approach the next time the horse won't be able to learn from the mistake because now the situation is different. I don't think this is contradictory to training properly on the flat. I would say, though, the horse has to be ridden differently over fences. It's all very well to say jumping is dressage with jumps in the way but that's simply not true from a very basic level. So the rider has to let the horse know what reactions are appropriate under the circumstances.


If the mistake happens because of a set of circumstances which the rider and/or horse are unaware of, I think that's the most damaging. So if you leave off the long one all the time and it sort of works out but then you do it over a bigger fence, in deeper ground or whatever and the horse hits the dirt, I think that is more damaging than getting the occasional long distance and getting a fright from it. In the former circumstance the rider "lied" to the horse, requesting a particular response (knowingly or not) that is, in fact, unsafe. I think the big problem with this situation is it often doesn't really go wrong until the horse and rider moves up, which brings us back to the issue of the information being pertinent to riders at all level. Just because you don't fall doesn't mean it wasn't scary.

It is true, though, that there hasn't been enough real investigation to draw concrete conclusions. Maybe the horses that fall do have spavins, or kissing spines, or muscle problems which *seem* okay until the exact moment they aren't. Maybe the problem is we keep more horses "on the go" than we used to when we either just let them go however it suited (the crooked hunter example) or removed them from the sport.

I also do believe that some types of horses that excel at dressage and show jumping are not natural SAFE xc jumpers. I don't mean warmbloods, per se, I mean horses that jump with a particular form. So maybe more people are picking horses that do well at dressage with less work but are an accident waiting to happen xc?

Too many variables.
 

kerilli

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good points, TD.
yes, i was talking about times when i have made what i considered a valid correction/input on the approach and the horse has said "naah, i'd rather do it like THIS.... oh ****" and had to make a real effort (or hit the fence hard.) they learn from this... i've only had it happen the odd time but it's salutary all round!

i wasn't talking about repeated errors, which definitely shake a horse's confidence, totally agree.
 

oldvic

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I think William makes some very good points. The good XC horses are very often by nature quite strong minded and a competitive rider is the same. It is not always easy to get the balance between sufficient rider control and the horse having his input for the XC. While there needs to be control, if the horse is over responsive this can be as bad as no control especially as no rider never makes a mistake. Making the horse as supple, balanced and straight as possible can only do good. The problem comes when the horse is drilled that it must not blink without permission (and this does happen).
 
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