For the second year, Chris Ryan, MFH of the Scarteen Black and Tans in Ireland crossed the Atlantic to impart some of his knowledge to the participants of the Woodford Hounds-sponsored clinic held over the three days of the Labor Day weekend at the Woodford kennels in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. There were divisions for the open horse and rider as well as for green horses and for hilltoppers. Chris has been Master of the Black and Tans since 1987 and the hounds have been in the trusted care of the Ryan family for over 350 years.
Chris & Woodford member Justin Sautter
Overwhelmingly, the results were positive. Chris's teaching style leaves one a more positive, confident rider. He pushes and pushes and gets results! He even had some of the participants jumping wire after explaining that we must be prepared to jump what is encountered in the hunt field. Several of the clinic riders have since moved up to first field and they credit the work they did in the clinic for giving them the confidence to do so.
Chris responded to several questions posed by members:
What were your teaching objectives going into the clinic? We can all ask more of our horses and ourselves. There is huge satisfaction to be gained and a fortified bond and trust between horse and rider. There are some rudimentary points in my equine philosophy:
1. When I put my leg ‘on,‘ my horse goes forward. No ifs or buts. They must go from the leg. This gives the horse the security and confidence he needs to go tackle that fence or whatever. It also engages the horse’s hind end, which he needs for all forward propulsion.
2. I want the horse thinking for himself. I wish I was a David O’Connor but I’m not. I like to define my responsibilities to the horse and my horse’s responsibilities to me, the rider. My sole responsibility to the horse is to bring him on the correct line to a fence with the correct amount of energy, rhythm, balance and pace. His job is to jump. If I’m on his mouth at take-off, the horse thinks the rider is doing the jumping. Watching the clinic jumping the wire tape shows this clearly.
3. I want the horse aware that this partnership is a team. I might have a lot to say, nearly all of it rubbish, but I want him receptive to me.
4. Training hunters and eventers, I want the horse to be able to ‘park,’ e.g., stand still at my request and without the support of my leg and hand. I might want to talk to my friends or wait in front of a fence while others are jumping. A horse must learn to switch on and switch off. It is so useful. Parking after a fence also allows him to assimilate information and learn by it.
Do you feel that most participants reached another level of proficiency in their riding? Without a doubt. Firstly, they are starting from a very good base. The Woodford hunt members are real goers. There is fantastic camaraderie generated by their Masters and Huntsman. Do you know that when a horse’s ears are pointing forwards, they are thinking forwards and the reverse is also true. Well the Woodford hunt members are always thinking forwards. To watch the members galloping upsides (side by side) over a steeplechase fence grinning from ear to ear and the horses doing exactly the same, is fantastic.
What inspires you to teach? I love it. I love the bond between horse and rider and the pleasure we get from this amazing alliance. I love the sorting out of issues and miscommunication that we all go through. When you can take all the heat and pressure out of the situation and see the progress it’s a real buzz. You relate so well to others in your instructions.
To whom to you attribute this rare quality? I don’t know about that. I can sympathize with most situations because I’ve possibly been there and know, perhaps, what it feels like. With regard to asking more of our horses and ourselves, why do you think you are so successful at getting riders to be more confident and push beyond what they think they can do? We all need confidence, horses and riders. If the rider’s leg contact comes off the horse a stride off the fence, it leaves the horse in a bad place. We’ve brought him there and we are suddenly saying we’re not sure what happens next. That’s the very time he needs the security of the contact and a lightening of the hand. If I’m pushing with my leg and pulling with my hand I’m telling the horse to stop go, stop go... impossible. When we feel what positive thinking from the rider does for the horse all boundaries recede.
What would you advise most of us do at home on our own to build on what we learned and to keepmoving forward? Those stop-start exercises are great and reinforce the half halt and therefore the engagement of the hindquarters. I wouldn’t advise the galloping around with your eyes closed without supervision, though it is great to feel the horse operating on auto pilot! Foxhunting in Ireland or in the UK starts at an early age as opposed to North America where riders usually start hunting as an adult.
How does this affect teaching technique? We had 60 kids at our ‘mock hunt’ (just off lead reins). They have no fear and have a dangerous need for adrenaline. As adults we are more inclined to tense up therefore restrict the horse. It just takes a little more conscious effort to push with the leg and ease the hand. The level of horsemanship, style and seat of riders with Woodford Hounds was fantastic. You have a great club. The schooling facility you have built at the kennels with Huntsman Glen Westmoreland and his wife Sharon Holmes is fantastic.
All photos courtesy Alys Emson.