By Erin Gilmore
“A correct position is not always the same position all the time. You’ve got to be able to adjust what you’re going to do.”
Adjustability was just one show jumping cornerstone that Beezie Madden emphasized during Day 2 of the GHM Horsemastership Training Session, on January 1, 2016 in Wellington, Florida.
It’s almost a shame that being the United States’ leading lady rider and an international Grand Prix star takes up so much of Madden’s time; her crystal-clear method of explaining –and demonstrating– the foundations of the sport and her laser-accurate focus on each rider showcased her exceptional skills as a coach.
Madden rarely teaches clinics, making the twelve young riders participating in this year’s GHM Horsemastership that much more fortunate to have the opportunity ride with her for the day.
After riding under the eye of dressage trainer Christine Traurig on Day 1, the riders returned to build on that flatwork with Day 2’s gymnastic exercises that focused on adjustability, balance, rhythm and connection.
“Jumping is a sport of concentration,” Madden said. “The real test is – can the horse concentrate, with a new environment, with a tricky distance. His concentration has to be mainly on the fence.”
While the sun was still rising above the palm trees at the Winter Equestrian Festival showgrounds, Madden began the morning by riding the exercises that she would ask of the two groups of six riders. Mounted on a young horse that was coming back from time off work, Madden used the grey gelding’s uncertainty to demonstrate the aids needed to effectively school through each question. Her work started with three poles, placed 20 feet apart, and ended with a water jump and several gymnastic grids.
“When you’re at the level of grand prix, your horse should be able to do that like an accordion, and not even notice that you’re making an adjustment. It’s a test every time,” she narrated while riding down a line of three, small verticals set one stride apart.
If Madden herself has a secret in developing the kind of horse she can win with, the key lies in transitions. A sitting trot half pass transitioning to walk and then back to trot while keeping the half pass. Trot walk transitions between a line of poles. Plenty of changes of direction. Shoulder in. She demonstrated it all, and then the first group of riders mounted up.
In Group 1, Tori Colvin stood out with her trademark consistency in the saddle. The young rider who just completed her final junior year is riding a horse that she didn’t know before this week’s clinic, but by establishing the correct rhythm, getting responsiveness from her horse in the warmup exercises, and keeping the connection, she answered each question on the mark.
Weak points among other riders surfaced, and were addressed immediately by Madden, who seemed to miss nothing. Lucy Deslauriers’ energetic mount wanted to rush through the small gymnastic lines, so Madden worked with the pair to ensure that they approached the line in a steady rhythm and kept the control through a halt after the line. California’s Ransome Rombauer had trouble keeping the pieces together and earned Madden’s undivided attention until she was able to step up her riding.
“We’re always learning; I’m still learning,” Madden encouraged. “But now, you’ve got to make that transition from your horse being a bit of a tool for your own education, to the horse’s level being the most important part of the program. You’re making the transition from educating yourself, to developing their skills and their ability to jump bigger fences.”
Madden also set an example by voicing an active awareness of the rising heat and humidity of the day. She allowed the horses and riders frequent walk breaks, and as temperatures rose again to the high 80s, she spoke frequently of recovery time for horse and rider.
“I don’t want to see that the horses are in a lather when they’re done,” she emphasized. “I want to see them relaxed and happy, and ready for tomorrow.”
After Day 2’s steady and solid exercises, the group is certainly ready for Saturday’s third and final day. Laura Kraut will take over to coach both groups over fences in a Nations Cup style format. The GHM Horsemastership Training Sessions are being broadcast live in their entirety on USEFNetwork.com.