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When Flo & Atty met Sam Griffiths...

When I found out I won the HorseQuest Training Bursary back in February of this year, I knew it was one of the most exciting opportunities that I have ever had as a rider, and within the Bursary came the opportunity to have a lesson with Sam Griffiths, which has to be up there with one of my Eventing dreams come true!

After scheduling the lesson for late April, I spent the first half of March counting down the days..... and then Coronavirus broke out, lockdown began and put an obvious end to that plan! Eventually things were up and running again, a hope of Eventing and a new date in the diary for my training session with Sam. The date rolled around quickly and before we knew it Mum and I were sat in the lorry ready for the 3 hour trip to Sam’s yard!

We arrived at Sam’s yard and the weather brightened up, making for a lovely sunny morning. I met Sam and we spoke about what I wanted to achieve in the session. I wanted to focus on getting Atty picking his feet up a bit more, he’s got such a big, bold jump but at our first event back since lockdown we had 2 unnecessary poles with his back feet, because he wasn’t really bothered about picking his feet up. Sam was really great at adapting exercises to help get Atty focusing on his feet.

Before we started jumping, I warmed up on the flat and Sam pointed out that Atty was behind my leg and that we should try and fix that before jumping.

He showed us a really useful exercise, in which you use a classic ‘Pony Club Kick’ to get your horse thinking more fowardly, we repeated this exercise 2/3 times and then Atty was like a different horse! With this new-found power on the flat we worked on changes of speed within a pace, to make sure he was using this power correctly, and still listening to me as the rider.

We then began some polework, the poles were set out as 3 canter poles, which would later be put into bounce jumps. But trotting down a line of canter poles actually helped Atty to get thinking about the placement of his feet right from the offset, we worked on coming down to these poles in a nice rhythm, resisting Attys tempting to speed up into them. Then we repeated the exercise in canter, and then again with the poles up as bounces. This was certainly a useful task, as I haven’t done many bounces with Atty before, I could feel him really thinking about picking his feet up quickly beneath me, and am definitely going to incorporate more bounces into my training from now on.

Next we added the bounce fences into a grid, and used this grid to work on my position. Sam explained that to give Atty the best chance to pick up his feet quickly, I should try and be a little slower with my position. He gave the great analogy of jumping a huge drop fence when out Cross-Country. You would be slower with your position to give the horse time to react. I really found it beneficial that Sam gave a visual as to how I could change, it helped me as a rider to understand what I should do to improve. After that, it did feel like Atty was able to pick up his feet quicker beneath me. Sam also has a rule whereby every exercise must be repeated backwards. So after successfully negotiating the grid one way, we had to give it a go backwards, which was harder than it sounds! It was a decent upright, on 5 strides to a slightly smaller upright, and then a short 3 stride distance to 2 bounces. This made me work hard, as I had to focus on not letting Atty rush at the end down to the bounces, because the distance was deliberately designed to be a little short. This was a really great exercise which helped me think about my tactical riding, and it also showed how costly a mistake at the first element can be later on in a technical grid.

We added in some low, wide oxers to really help him picking his back legs up, I was a little nervous at how Atty would find them as Sam kept moving the wings further and further apart making the oxer even wider! But he didn’t bat an eyelid at it. Finally it was time to put everything we had covered in the session into practice and jump around a course, incorporating low, wide oxers and the bounce grid into the course. Atty jumped around it really nicely, and I could feel such a difference from the start of the session, he was thinking a lot more clearly about the placement of his feet and I was focusing on my position more. These two things combined meant the course rode really nicely, I felt that it flowed well and Atty was definitely enjoying himself!

We ended the session with a debrief, talking through what I had learned and what I will take away, and put in to practise when I next go out Eventing. Sam also reminded me of the importance of ‘resetting’ your canter when out competing, perhaps half way through a showjumping round, to regain the quality of canter you initially started with.

Overall, my lesson with Sam was amazing, and I’m so grateful to HorseQuest for this amazing opportunity. After a 3 hour drive there, a session in the heat and a 3 hour drive back with 3 more horses to ride... it’s safe to say I slept VERY well that evening! I have learnt so much and cannot wait to continue to practise these exercises on my own and hopefully improve further. A huge thank you to Sam for giving up his time as well. If anyone has a horse who doesn’t always like picking their feet up, I really recommend trying out some of these exercises as I felt such an instant difference in Atty.

I did vlog the whole day, so you can visualise the exercises we did, and I did a voiceover, talking through all the exercises as they happen which you can watch here:

Enjoy! Flo x


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