‘Indoor eventing’ was the title of the ‘continuous professional development’ training day held on Monday 15th March 2010 at Hadlow College, nr Tonbridge in Kent. The coach for the day was Nick Turner FBHS.
In my ongoing quest to climb enthusiastically up the BHS ladder of qualifications as far as I can, I have been on many, many training courses over the past few years and I have to admit to being mildy sceptical at the prospect of yet another ‘been there and done it’ type character showing the rest of us how it should and could be done normally with the help of several highly talented (out of reach) riders with serious quality horse meat between their legs.
I teach part time at Hadlow College, so already enjoy the fab facilities on a regular basis and I appreciate that college students are sometimes cursed for being protected from the real world with the indoor schools and smart yards with money pumped in from Government funding but there is another side to what colleges, good colleges can offer.
I would argue that the students at Hadlow, on the whole, in my experience, do understand the pressure of the real world – especially when they throw themselves into their learning experience and every opportunity on offer. Well I sincerely hope that the 2 young students that were selected to ride at guinea pigs for this training day appreciated the fantastic chance they had to learn from an exceptional coach. For he was exceptional in the truest sense of the word. He was working with raw materials no more sophisticated than the everyday clientele of most of the audience. And moreover, we weren’t really an audience! We were participants! There was to be no sneaky sleeping in the back row or planning a new feed chart in the back of a notebook – we were on our feet, involved, walking distances, thinking, feeling, learning.
Nick Turner is a fairly recent FBHS – with a fresh, modern approach. He is involved in the real coaching world as he helps the Brazilian eventing team making trips to that part of the world every couple of months. His qualities as a coach stem from his experiences both within the BHS but also by gaining accreditation through the BE coaching development programme. As well as competing at the top level – 4* eventing including Badminton and Burghley, Nick’s passion lies in producing young horses and helping riders of all levels. See www.ntsporthorses.com for more information.
As the topic for the day was ‘indoor eventing’ a discussion took place fairly early on about the merits of this as a competitive discipline versus the idea of simulated cross country exercises. Nick’s point of view was that although becoming popular, indoor eventing competitions can be detrimental to a young event horse’s confidence if they are not designed intelligently enough. There is currently no stipulation for an equestrian centre to require the use of a BE course designer for such events, so the standard of course building can be variable. There are some exceptions, but we would do well to advise clients to exercise caution in taking horses to what can be confusing, crammed arenas packed full of twists and turns to fences that become show jumps taken at eventing speed! Having said that, training over simulated cross country type layouts within an arena does have a place in an eventer’s training and it was with this focus that the day proceeded.
With hunting and outdoor riding becoming less and less part of young people’s education, there is a need for a good basic understanding through coaching. The riders must develop ACTION and REACTION, to avoid crashing into trees, missing skinny fences or worse still causing themselves a nasty accident. Nick encouraged us to build the confidence of the horse and rider combination, reiterating the importance of putting back reserves of confidence that are chipped away every time a combination competes. So, going back to basics and walking horses through water complexes when training – to relax and reassure them that they are not going to be expected to leap 6 foot down into a surprise splash every time they come across this feature. Little nuggets of simple psychological insight like this made Nick’s approach useful, on the ground, for real, stuff we could take away and use – tomorrow. In fact his own acronym rang true. His philosophy for many questions was KISS. Keep it simple stupid!
A technical, interactive exercise Nick used was to draw different obstacles such as a trakehner, a sunken road, a bounce of logs and then Nick gave us a scale of 1-5 for the gears possible. 1 being small collected canter, 5 being flat out between fences and we discussed the gear appropriate for each question. There was not too much disagreement about the gears needed which was reassuring, but a good way of involving our brains and thinking about how we would advise clients. Another key strength of the day was that I believe everyone in the audience went away reassured that they are a good, knowledgeable coach. Nick emphasised how we were thinking along the same lines as him, he did not dazzle us with new science or radical viewpoints, he reaffirmed our beliefs and stretched our expectations of what we could achieve as coaches.
The students that were lucky enough to ride were pre-BHS Stage 2 standard and then a lecturer from Hadlow, Sarah Mollett who is taking her BHS Stage 4 this summer and competing her horse Ted at BE Pre-Novice level this season. The main thread of Nick’s coaching pushed all riders out of their comfort zone enough to ensure they took some new feeling away from the session. Sarah had to Ted with her reins much longer than normal and her hands much higher to prevent her from over influencing before a fence. The importance of balance over stride was underlined. Riders were encouraged to feel a rhythm rather than to look for a stride ensuring that the horse had responsibility for jumping, as it should have. Nick made a real, visible difference to the riders he had, the horses they were riding and to the audience who enjoyed watching the transformation.
A continuous professional development day, to my mind, should refresh, inspire, give confidence and underline the reasons for being within said profession. I drove home happy to be working as an equestrian coach, feeling positive about the future and thankful to the BHS for offering such a good training structure for the sport.