In this episode Jimmy looks at David O'Connor at the Head
of the Lake at the Rolex CCI*** 1999. We encourage readers
to submit photos of themselves, friends, or students to be
put under the microscope. Preference will be given to series
of three to five photos showing a horse and rider before,
during and after a jump, regardless whether or not the
jump(s) was negotiated successfully! Securing permission
from photographers to use photos is the responsibility of
the individual submitting the photos.
David O'Connor on Rattle & Hum
Clip: David through the Head of the Lake on Rattle & Hum,
Rolex Kentucky CCI*** 1999.
you have looked at the video clip several times, come back
to the still photos, and I will tell you how David O'Connor
makes the Head of the Lake at Rolex '99 look so easy. The
first thing that struck me about this sequence was the
balance in the turn between A and B. If David put on a
top-hat and tails, and let his stirrups down 8 holes, he
would be finishing his Medium-to-Working Canter transition,
and starting his turn onto the short side of the arena.
Notice that the horse is bent in the direction of motion,
and David's eyes are already on the top of the next
is the most important phase of the jump…the take-off. We can
be a little too close or too far away if we keep the horse
in balance at this instant .But how do we do that?
Well, in theory, the perfect "bascule" is
a 1/2 circle, which takes off the height of the fence away
from the fence, reaches the high point of the arc above the
highest point of the fence, and lands the height of the
fence behind the fence. If we are going to be perfect, that
means that the first part of our arc is going straight "up",
and not "at" the fence. Now all those comments from your
coach about "wait for the horse - don't jump ahead of your
horse" and so on are starting to make sense, aren't they?
Rattle & Hum is getting ready to jump, but
it hasn't jumped yet, so David is still seated. Look at the
straight line from his elbow to the horse's mouth and the
strong leg, placed exactly at the girth.(Compare my
comments with Bill Steinkraus's excellent article in
PRACTICAL HORSEMAN.) The most important thing David has
done is to maintain contact with the reins as Rattle & Hum
has drawn his head and neck back. You can see that David has
brought his elbow all the way back. His upper arm is
vertical at this point.( I don't use the expression much,
but this is the "automatic release" that some coaches talk
about. I want the contact to stay the same throughout the
exercise, so I don't talk about a release.) We can tell from
the bending of his hocks that Rattle & Hum is going to
engage and jump well.
enough! David found a take-off spot that arrived a little
bit too close to the log and turned it into a good arc by
keeping the horse in balance at the point of take-off.
Although Rattle & Hum has complete freedom of his head and
neck , he is still on a nice following contact. David has a
classical position in his lower leg, with the stirrup
leather forming a vertical line to the ground. I would
prefer to see the reins a little longer at this point, and
the rider a little more upright, in case the horse pecks on
course designers like Mike Etherington-Smith are no longer
content to build big obstacles. These days, there will be
several big obstacles in a row, and, just to keep things
interesting, they will be on a related distance. This means
that the rider has to decide whether to add a stride or
leave out a stride. In order to save time, David has
obviously decided to go forward . That should not surprise
us, as most top-level riders choose that option, if at all
possible. What is important here is how soon David has
reacted to the required change in the length of the horse's
stride. One stride after the log, and Rattle & Hum is
already moving up to the next fence. It is not enough to
walk the course and make perfect plans…you have got to make
it happen. Part of the horse's willingness to explode into
action here is the strong leg aid being applied. But more
important are the soft hands being used. My adage about this
is "kick to go, pull to whoa, but don't kick-and-pull".
There is no doubt in anybody's mind about what is going to
happen next .
we are right! Because David made such a strong move on
landing in the water, he leaves out a stride to the Jetty.
If the water were deeper, that might not have been the
correct decision, but for this horse in these conditions, it
is just right. David's legs have slipped back a little. This
worries me, as the horse is landing back into water, which
can cause some horses to stumble. I would like to see the
rider have his legs more at the girth, with a flat back, not
rounded as we see here.
you look at the video again, notice how quickly David turns
and how his eyes are already fixed on the last obstacle.
Rattle & Hum knows there is another fence in his immediate
future and he is already looking for it. All in all, this is
an excellent example of going fast without being in a hurry.
Practice letting your reins slip and then
recovering them so that when you get to Rolex, you can
handle exercises like this. Remember to adjust both reins at
once, not one at a time. That way you won't wander in the
middle of your combinations. If you don't know how to do
this, I describe it for you on page 100 of my book,
Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider.
has met the last fence on a forward stride and stands off
this ditch and coop from a respectable distance away. I can
make a good argument that the forward stride here was
created on the landing into the water. Rattle & Hum is
jumping for fun and will land at close to the required speed
of 570 meters per minute with his ears up, already galloping
and looking for the next fence .While I would still like to
see the rider's back more flat, the consistently soft hand
and strong leg has created the attractive picture we see
Balance, soft hands, strong legs at the
girth - are we talking about Cross-Country, or Dressage
here? My point is that it is hard to separate them these
days, as the course designers are so adept at combining the
requirements of the various disciplines. That is why the
sport is so difficult to learn, so much fun to do, and so
beautiful when we see it done well.