After the initial "getting to know you" tack and position check at the beginning of the sessions and a brief warm up, Bernie asked the riders to canter on the right rein through a series of poles on the ground set at two strides, one stride, and three strides apart. As the riders complied, he noticed a couple teams drifting to the left and asked the group what they considered the primary aid to correct that drift might be. Most riders agreed that they'd use the outside leg or the outside neck rein, and Bernie pointed out that while those were perfectly acceptable secondary aids, the primary aid he'd use would be an inside opening rein. He then had them come through the poles again, asking them to pay careful attention to any drift and to correct it with the use of the opening rein.
At one point Bernie stood in front of the last pole and asked the riders to canter down and halt in front of him. One horse ran through the exercise shaking it's head, which Bernie attributed to the rider's clashing aids -- adding too much leg while closing her hands. He said it was like a car: "You don't use the gas and the brake at the same time."
One rider on a very forward pony found it hard to get the exercises done without rushing, She was asked to school the pony by slowing her approach and adding a stride in the two stride. Bernie stood at the end of the exercise in order to encourage the pony to stop. When the rider managed to stop the pony Bernie had her back him, then pat him and ride forward a few times. He told her that she, too, was using too much leg and hand while asking her pony to stop, which was confusing him and making the already forward pony anxious and causing him to rush. Bernie had her canter through the exercise again and she was able to get it done effectively. Bernie also changed the pony's bit, saying he felt the pony was unhappy in the corkscrew he was currently in and would go better in a rubber D.
Bernie had set up a small course which started with two verticals set five strides apart on the diagonal. The riders then came around the short side and up the other diagonal on a long approach to an oxer and then around the short side to a line of verticals set on a short seven strides down the long side. At first the riders were asked to trot in and canter down the line in 6 strides. The pony came down the line in 5 strides, so Bernie asked the rider to came back through and halt in the middle. He told the group how the bit change allowed her to school the pony effectively. " You don't put a big old sharp bit in there. You put a bit in that he accepts, which allows you to school him and apply a level of pressure that he can accept."
Bernie had the girl bring the pony back through the exercise, then had her school him again by halting in the middle, backing, and then patting. He recommended schooling lots of control exercises for the pony to retrain him to listen, and urged her to be firm in her requests, but then to immediately reward the pony when he complied.
EquestrianCoach.com and in his DVD, The American Hunter/Jumper Forward Riding System, there is a segment called Building Blocks to a Great Position: To Sit or Not to Sit. It describes the types of seats one can utilize while on course and when to apply them. At a couple points in the course work there were good opportunities to discuss this. One rider on a big bay sat in a full seat through the 7 stride line and her horse was too forward. Bernie thought her full seat was acting as a driving aid, and had her try the line again in a half seat. She did, and the result was a much smoother ride.
Another rider on a lovely chestnut 4 year old came through. The chestnut sucked back, and the rider changed from her half seat to a full driving seat, which Bernie said was an appropriate reaction to encourage an apprehensive horse.
A couple of the horses were sluggish and unresponsive to the leg aid to go forward. Bernie had the riders correct this by going out to the rail and practicing canter to gallop transitions. He asked the riders to sit the canter for about 5-6 strides, then get up into the half seat and gallop for 5-6 strides, then sit and canter, and so on. He had them do this in both directions until the transitions were prompt. When one horse still puttered about phlegmatically, Bernie hopped about, nudged him up with his spurs a couple of times, and soon had him galloping around like Secretariat.He noted how the rider's overly upright position caused a backward horse and an overly deep distance, while his forward galloping position encouraged a more forward, active horse jumping easily out of stride. He gave the horse back to the rider joking, "I know one thing, you have a new engine in this horse!"
Bernie stressed how the flat preparation is the most important part of jumping disciplines. "You hit the gas and if the horse doesn't react, correct it. Same thing coming back."
The session finished with another control exercise. Bernie set a pole on the ground out of a corner with 5 forward strides to a small oxer. After everyone went through he rolled to pole back two feet. After everyone managed to go though that successfully, he rolled it back another foot. "This is a great exercise for playing with long distances and short distances," Bernie told the group. "You have to have control."
Gotcha, Bernie! Going to the barn to work on that now.
Happy trails, everyone!