by Emily Baker
Riding a Hunter Derby is no easy feat, as demonstrated by the recent International Derby Finals at the Kentucky Horse Park this past weekend. In light of this, Equestrienne spoke with Savoy Stables' head trainer Brianna Davis about her tips for riding the Hunter Derbies. Davis humbly denounced her expertise in the area of Hunter Derbies, but is in fact a decorated hunter rider. She grew up riding here in Colorado but spent a few of her professional years running the Cedar Brook Farm in Connecticut where she received Horse of the Year awards in the 2nd-Year Greens and then Regular Working Hunters two consecutive years.
Today, Davis is back in Colorado running Savoy Stables which specializes in hunters, jumpers, and equitation. Davis currently has a few different Derby horses at Savoy that she has shown around the country, and can be seen competing in the Grand Prix de Santa Fe International Derby with Bailando in the video below. From all of her experience, she has developed some tips and tricks to help current and aspiring Derby riders in these challenging classes.
1. Know Your Horse
One of the most important facets of riding a Hunter Derby is knowing your horse's strengths and weaknesses. This helps you to know how to ride the course that you are given.
"For example," Davis stated, "Bailey (shown above) has a huge stride which could get me into trouble in a tight line." If they were to jump in big to a line or were to override it, that would put them in a difficult situation getting out of the line and could cost them points. It's important, therefore, to know what your horse is best at in order to showcase those talents while avoiding situations that might illustrate their greatest challenges.
2. Assess Where You Can Take a Risk
In line with knowing your horse, it is also important to analyze on your course where you can take a risk. Especially in the handy round, tighter "more handy" turns are going to get you more favor with the judge, however they may not always be a risk you can take. Also, you must be able to plan where you'll be able to do the high option on course, and where it would be best for your horse to jump the low option.
"I have two derby horses that don't have great lead changes," Davis stated of this situation. So on those particular horses she has to be very aware of where those tight turn options are on course and plan for the lead change ahead. If her horse does not land the lead, Davis has to have a backup plan that will still make the round look as organized and well-executed as possible.
4. Know Your Course
This sentiment may seem like an obvious piece of advice, but that does not make it any less vital. Davis stresses the importance of knowing your course backwards and forwards.
"I'll go over a course at least 50 times before I go in the ring," she says, "and honestly that's on the low end." Reviewing your course at the gate is key but you can continue to go over it in your head wherever you are at the show. If you have an image of your course in your mind even when you're not at the ring, still keep practicing! Furthermore, if you're afforded the opportunity, it is obviously helpful to watch how other riders perform on the course as well. However we are not always that lucky.
Each of these tidbits of advice are equally important, but can be summed up in what Davis refers to as the 7 P's: "Proper Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance." If you've prepared your tack and your attire, prepped your horse and yourself, and practiced and reviewed every aspect of your round you will be much more prepared for a successful Hunter Derby!
The Octagon of Death
by Emily Baker
When trapped in an indoor arena all winter it can be challenging to come up with creative lesson ideas that make the best use of a smaller space. "The Octagon of Death" as this exercise has been dubbed, is one of Johnson's favorite ones. Heading into the summer months, Steve says of the lesson, "I'd love to set it up outside and we can really make it bigger," noting that it would also be great with larger distances between the jumps.
As the name implies, this exercise is comprised of 8 jumps arranged in an octagonal shape. In this smaller space the jumps were set at 32' apart. This works out to be an easy two or a very collected three stride. Riders can jump straight through the exercise or turn in the middle with the same striding in between. At various points jumps outside the octagon were also incorporated as a bending line in or out.
This means that in this lesson it is extremely important to keep your eyes up. You must always be looking at the next fence. Sometimes that fence is straight in front of you or sometimes it is a tight right or left turn. As Johnson states, "It's about learning how to straighten your horse while turning your horse." This of course really emphasizes the ever important outside rein.
Furthermore, pace and track Johnson says are the most important elements here, "Make your pace match up with the exercise." Meaning, the track with which you approach the octagon determines your success in the middle and jumping out of it. It's a lot to look at for a horse, and I can personally vouch for the fact that my horse's eyes popped out of his head the first time he saw it.
But the ultimate result, if you keep your eyes up and are moving your horse off your outside aids is an incredible amount of suppleness. Go ahead and set this exercise up at home and let us know how it goes in the comments section.
by Emily Baker
Steve Johnson is an assistant trainer at Savoy Stables, and one of the headliners for our Trainers' Corner Features. Steve has been a professional in Colorado since 2005 and has worked with many trainers in our community including Tracye Ferguson, Keri Kaneps, Karen Stone, Laurie Jeuneman, John McConnell, and Michael Dennehy. Steve channels each of these riders in his training, tailoring each lesson to fit the rider, the horse, and the situation.
He grew up working for the sport he loves, riding all the horses that nobody wanted to ride. He says of his career, "I love doing what I do. I love that I have the privilege to do this." This passion is evident in his method of training, and Steve enjoys concocting different exercises and lessons every day for those at Savoy. He has agreed to share many of his ideas with us at Equestrienne, starting with his personal current favorite: The Wheel.
Above is a diagram of The Wheel. It consists of four jumps set in a circle on the quarters, each space 58' apart center to center. Two jumps are set leading in and out of The Wheel also at a distance of 58'. This length is intentionally two feet short of a regular four stride line. This allows riders the option to do four or a very collected five strides in to The Wheel.
The jumps in The Wheel are set so that riders can adjust their track to do three, four, or five strides in between each fence. Johnson recommends that if you do collected five strides into The Wheel, you should do four strides in between each fence on the circle. Whereas if a rider comes in at a more forward four strides, it would be three strides in between the other fences. After one or more full spins on The Wheel, you can exit over the other outer fence.
Steve loves this particular exercise because it requires riders to practice "the big four" as he says: pace, balance, track, and impulsion. If a rider has a consistent pace, stays on the track, keeps their horse balanced with outside aids, and has enough impulsion they will smoothly navigate The Wheel. "Do your job, and the distance just appears," Steve says of the exercise. However, lacking one of these elements it could make for a topsy-turvy spin on The Wheel, so to say.
Give it a try at home with your riders and horses, and let us know in the comments section how it goes! Then keep an eye out for more lesson tips and tricks from Steve Johnson.