Chris Burton instructs both demo rider, Michael Nolan, and the audience at the USEA ICP Symposium. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Two poles on the ground, a cross rail to an oxer, an angled line – Chris Burton used seemingly innocuous exercises to teach the demo riders how to ride cross-country during day two of the USEA Instructors' Certification Program (ICP) Symposium. Throughout the day, Burton was full of insight into his training and teaching methods and shared numerous snippets of advice to the instructors in attendance.
With so much knowledge shared over the long day it would be impossible to report on all, but a selection of Burton’s advice, quips and instruction is below.
On finding the right distance
- The best riders get the horses to the right distance without the horse knowing.
- A good rider makes a choice. Equally a good rider sees when they are on the right distance and they stay in a rhythm.
- It's the rider’s job to meet the fence in the right place at the right time. Don't turn around to me and say they are just feisty.
On improving a horse’s jump
- In training knock the front rail down not the back. How do you get closer? Lengthen each stride.
- You can't help a horse a jump - you are on their back. To help them you would have to get off push them up and get back on and land. It's very difficult.
- In the air there is nothing you can do, so always be allowing.
- I like to start over an oxer. Keeps them from jumping over their shoulder. Inspire good jumping.
On halting at the end of a line
- Halting at the end of a line really helps insist on straightness.
- Canter to halt. No trotting; no walking. If they step back it's rider error.
- Fight. You don't get marks for equitation.
- They're not like a car you – don't put the brakes in them and it's done. You have to continue to practice. Repetition is how horses learn.
- How did I learn how to be a fast cross-country rider? I'm fussy that I want them to be like Ferraris and Ferraris have good brakes. When I gallop I make them stop on a dime. It's like when they are galloping in their field and they stop in front of their feed bin on a dime. It's not that complicated - to stop the horse you pull on the reins.
Caroline Martin jumps Islewood Captain Jack into the water as Chris Burton and the attendees look on. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
On training horses
- It's my job not to hurt that horse and to stay alive.
- Ride the 4-year-old better than you ride the four star horses.
- Horses are creatures of habits. Never let them learn they can run out.
- Let going forward relax the horse.
- Don't over think it. Let the horse do its job. The horse has to do the jumping.
- Always school with a stud in. I don't want them slipping and losing confidence.
- If you train him better to the snaffle then you won't need big bits. I use pelhams in competition because I don't want to work that hard, but in training I do work that hard. If you can't make a halt in a snaffle without him resisting you can't go to a bigger bit.
- The day after I school my horses cross-country they go so much better on the flat.
On being a good rider
- A good rider has fast reactions.
- I have a left leg and a right leg and a whip in my hand. It's pretty primitive.
- Don't circle because a horse only has so have so many horses left in them. Circles are for the riders.
- Don't kick and pull at the same time . . . but you kind of need to
- As an instructor there is nothing you can do but teach the rider what happened.
- Sitting lightly in the saddle helps amateurs loosen their arms.
- When the instructor gets on and can't do it's a good laugh and when he does it on the first try it's good for his ego. Put your money where your mouth is.
- Teaching good riders is a gift not a chore, but I'm still charging for today!
On difficult horses and using the whip
- You don't need to be jumping cross-country fences with this horse; you need to be doing poles on the ground. You need to put a good education on this horse or this is the kind you will see at a CCI4* later on with a huge bit and ugly riding.
- The special ones are never easy. In the wrong hands they will end up with Pat Parelli, but in the right hands they can end up winning a 4*
- Spooky horses live longer because they pay attention when they are tired.
- If you feel you need to use the stick use it. A horse that jumps weakly will scare himself.
- I never hit a horse on the shoulder. Need to hit them on the bum to create the power.
And what scares Burton the most on cross-country?
- Banks out of water are the scariest thing. I'm never more nervous then schooling them.
Stay tuned for a full write-up in Eventing USA and another day of Burton at the YEH Symposium tomorrow.
About the USEA Instructors' Certification Program
Instructors certified through the USEA Instructors' Certification Program (ICP) have been educated to the highest standards on the most effective and safe teaching methods of event riding, training competing, and care of the horse. The ICP Symposium will took Monday and Tuesday (February 20 & 21) at Longwood Farm South. The lead instructor for the ICP Symposium at Longwood was the world renown Australian Olympian, Burghley CCI4* and Le Lion d’Angers winner, Chris Burton. Thanks to ICP sponsor, Event Clinics and the Retired Racehorse Project for their partnership and support of this Symposium.