Clinic Report - Bettina Drummond

For those of you who don't know (and I didn't?) Bettina Drummond was taken to Nuno Oliveira when she was 7 years old and her mother said "teach her to ride"! She trained with Nuno for 17 years and became the youngest student to earn the title "teacher". While most of us were galloping around on ponies, she was executing airs above the ground on highly trained stallions. She now lives and works in America so it was with great interest that I went to Devon to see her teach and work the horses in hand - her speciality.

It is always easy to sit in the gallery and criticise but I have to say that I was extremely glad that I wasn't in her shoes as she had such a wide range of abilities and horses - from "happy hacker" to a completely messed up "high school" stallion! She gave every one of them her total attention and time, more than that, she gave every ounce of energy where I would have gone for a tea break and said "Let me know when you decide to start riding your horse". I?m not sure if she had experienced "Natural Horsemanship" previously but she must have learnt a thing or two while she was there...?!

Joking apart, when she was in familiar territory her expertise was tangible. The messed up stallion was seriously challenging and his lessons were "right on the edge". Fortunately his rider was extremely experienced and it made for some exciting moments. Some other exciting moments were provided when she rather foolishly told a rider not to bother with Alexander Technique as it made you sit like a ballerina with a hollow back. I took great pleasure in repeating this comment to the 4 Alexander Teachers who had been watching and sat back and watched the fireworks! Sally Tottle, Philippa Morrell and I challenged her directly and it was clear that a) she knew very little about the technique and b) she was not going to change her mind, (unless we could show her a Grand Prix rider who used the technique and as she had absolutely slated Anky van Grunsen this seemed like no win situation for AT.) Sally told her about her work with the Irish Young Rider Event Team but this was dismissed as completely different and not real riding. Her main argument seemed to hinge on the use of the back and seat and she felt that Alexander Technique puts you in the "wrong" position to do this effectively. About 20 years ago, I would have agreed with her. It is all very well to sit there looking elegant but that's not "real riding"! I had no idea how to influence the horse without using a great deal of power and so did not recognise any other sort of riding, (unless of course it was the Spanish Riding School but that was something completely different and unattainable...!). It is easy to admire the flash and exciting, the horses that look as if they are barely under control, the riders that have you on the edge of your seat, and not so easy to see the much greater skill that appears effortless. Each to their own...

However, she had some lovely expressions and here are some of them:

Training the horse:

  • Half pass - (the horse's) legs cascading over each other
  • Canter depart like you are setting him up for a big upright fence, not like you are going at a water jump.
  • In order to bend well the horse has to be in front of the leg.
  • Position his nose in line with his inside shoulder (for bend), not beyond it
  • The horse either is or isn?t connected. There is no more or less
  • Brake! (half halt)
  • Horse must be one piece before you do higher level stuff
  • Steering and brakes are not optional extras in cars. Neither are they with horses!

Rider responsibilities

  • By neglecting the gaits and the transitions, you cause your own problems
  • You guys may have all the time in the world but I am on an agenda - the clock is ticking!
  • You doubt your riding to the point when you don?t ride well
  • You are a good listener but you also need to be a leader
  • It is useless to ask the horse anything until the rider has the hands, seat and legs in position. These are basic skills.
  • All that Classical theory and horse whispering stuff is no good if you can't sit in walk, trot and canter.
  • Join up the dots
  • Get in the front seat
  • Good catch! (when someone caught and corrected a crookedness at the right moment)
  • Have your hands like you are holding 2 lit candles
  • Think of your hands creating 2 funnels and send the horse through them.
  • Lift your hips and back into your hands

Horse and rider "know how"

  • The horse evades and says "she'll never notice so what the hell" Make (the horse) take you seriously.
  • You created a monster - you sort it out. (talking about a horse with no discipline)
  • (This horse) has the eye of a chess master not a tiddly winks player!
  • Who cares about doing it properly when (the horse) is being improper - get in there!
  • It is suicidal to ride horses without training them to the leg.
  • You are afraid of wrecking it but you will wreck it anyway (if you don't do something)
  • Don't sit like a rabbit caught in the headlights.

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