Here’s an insight into Nick Gauntlett’s Masterclass held at The Grange Equestrian Centre earlier this month, written by Carolyn Richards.
‘Enthusiastic, Encouraging, Engaging and Energetic’ – 4 E’s to summarise Nick Gauntlett’s Masterclass
The Grange, Oakhampton hosted a British Eventing Masterclass with International Event Rider Nick Gauntlett. The evening was broken in to three groups, starting with BE beginners competing in 80 classes, onto three new riders competing around 100. Finally a pair of professional riders at 2-3*. Each group had a different exercise which tested the partnership at the varying levels.
The first group consisted of three teenagers, Nick begun by assessing the riders’ position. He gave a clear demonstration on stirrup lengths, showing how you should be able to keep balanced on or off the horse, impressing the audience by squatting! If your stirrups are too long you can loose balance leaning forward over the horse.
Continuing on rider position it was apparent from jumping some riders were folding on take off which can hinder a horse as Nick explained it is the heaviest part of the body the horse then has to make extra effort to pick up the additional weight. Due to muscle memory and the repetition of jumping, kicking the habit of dropping forward too soon over a fence can be hard to overcome and needs consistent thought. He related this to fellow International eventer William Fox-Pitt, as he uses his height as an advantage.
He reiterated the phrase ‘neutral position’ which allows the horse freedom in its neck, to see and judge the fence, as it is the horses job to jump the fence.
As the Masterclass was focused on cross country Nick explained to the audience to importance of ‘make believe’ he talked through the short course in the indoor area, defining each jump as a particular XC fence, starting with a parallel, described as a steeplechase fence to be ridden into on a forward moving stride. Next an upright, imagined as a 5 bar gate which you cannot touch! Then a double which is followed by an imaginery pond. Finishing with a skinny, this was real!
His key top tip was using the horses’ ears as sights, measuring up the fence between the ears, so you know the horse is lined up straight to the fence.
Testing straightness of horse and rider
Group two had three more experienced teenagers, with PC and BE competitions under their belts. The exercise began testing straightness of horse and rider, through tram lines of poles, over a pole on the floor and through more tram lines across the short side of the school (see diagram). Nick detailed the fundamentals being: elasticity in the reins, connection between leg and hand. One particular horse was tense, Nick instructed the rider to shrug her shoulders, be loose, pat it and trot to settle it first. When turning to a fence the horse became tight, shortening the canter and often becoming disunited, Nick told the rider to hold nearly the buckle end whilst jumping, she was understandably apprehensive, but Nick installed her confidence with a Tinkerbell quote if you want to fly ‘wriggle your shoulders and believe you can!’ Impressively the horse came quietly held a good canter rhythm and jumped beautifully.
For the final group Nick set up a combination he had witnessed from the recent Boekelo Event which had caused many problems. He described it as the fun part, time to challenge the horses and riders! Three poles in a semi-circle with 4 strides between each, which got built up to to skinny fences. When putting a course together, Nick strided out the related distance as 5 and a half. He asked the riders how many strides will you get? One replied five and the other replied il try 5. Nick had another great quote, this time from Yoda ‘do or do not, you do not try’. Both horses showed true class, although one horse being six, showed its in experience on its first approach to a skinny, having a slight wobble, but Nick complimented the rider as she had given the horse confidence, with clear directive riding. At this point Nick noted the skinny jumps had clip on flags, he believes it is imperative to have flags as you wouldn’t be asked to jump without them at a competition he stated:
the best horses in the world look to jump between the flags.
Which is a lovely analogy, he was full of these! Such clear, knowledge, which was comprehendible to all he shared through the evening. The most impressive thing to my eyes was the improvement we witnessed in such a short space of time for every partnership involved through the evening!