When Caroline Martin cantered into the imposing show jumping arena at Aachen in Germany last summer, she felt a sense of calm. A commensurate professional in every arena, the 25-year-old event rider had spent the previous eight months preparing for this very moment. Together, she and the Living the Dream LLC Syndicate’s Islandwood Captain Jack tackled the twisting and technical track, leaving all the poles in their cups to finish a successful weekend with no added show jumping penalties.
It was a bit of a redemption tour for Caroline, who was more than a little disappointed when she had multiple rails on both her rides, The Apprentice and Danger Mouse, during her last overseas trip to Bramham in 2018. Seeking ways to improve her craft, Caroline sought some outside help when she returned from England last summer. And she connected with none other than show jumping legend Anne Kursinski, whose farm was just down the road from Caroline’s.
Learning from a coach outside of your own sport can provide new perspective, and that’s exactly what Caroline received when she began working with Anne. We asked Caroline to give us the scoop on some of the biggest lessons she’s learned from one of show jumping’s all-time greats.
1. Flatwork is the basis of all jumping success.
You can do nothing without a good foundation on the flat. This is true regardless of the discipline you call home, and Anne Kursinski is no stranger to this concept. “For every lesson, we spend the first 30 minutes flatting,” Caroline explained. “We work on lateral work and making sure the horse is on your aids before moving on to the jumping.”
It seems simple, but many riders overlook the basics of flatwork in favor of the “fun stuff”. But all of this is related — a horse well-trained and on the aids on the flat will be more rideable over jumps.
Specifically, Caroline says Anne has her work her horses on exercises such as turns on the haunches and forehand as well as shoulder-in, complete with lengthening and collecting within each gait. All of these, she says, are to encourage elasticity in the horse.
“In our dressage work, we have a tendency to be more controlling and proper,” Caroline continued. “Most of the time, Anne will tell me to be more elastic with my body and she uses these exercises to accomplish this.”
2. It’s not about the number of jumps, but rather about the quality of them.
Another prominent feature of Anne’s teaching is not to overdo it in warm-up. For those of us competing as amateurs, the warm-up can be an even more intimidating zone full of nervous mistakes and green moments. It can be tempting to jump endless jumps in an attempt to school the nerves out of yourself, but it may be more beneficial to take Anne’s advice: less is more.
In warm-up, Anne has encouraged Caroline to jump less jumps and focus more on the quality of each one. After all, a three-day event horse is often dealing with added fatigue after running cross-country the day before, so the number of jumps left in the tank may not be as high as you think.
“We jump a few oxers and a couple of verticals before we go in,” Caroline said. “But she doesn’t want us jumping a lot. They’re tired on day three. They don’t need to spend all that extra energy, and this helps me focus on making each jump count.”
3. Be ready and willing to adapt your style
An eventer is often ruefully known as a “jack of all trades” type of rider. Adjustability and adaptability, then, are surely two of the most important traits an event rider should possess. Caroline prides herself on her adaptability — and this comes in handy when riding with Anne. She uses the example of riding to the base of a show jump versus taking a table out of an open galloping stride on cross-country.
“Our eye is about three feet ‘gappier’ than a show jumper's because we’re used to galloping big tables out of stride,” Caroline explained. “Whereas with jumpers, you ride to the base to have a good shape.”
Caroline says one of Anne’s greatest strengths is being able to see what the rider should change in order to make the horse better, not the other way around. “You should be adjusting your ride for your horse, not forcing your horse to adjust to you,” she said. “One thing I love about Anne is that she’s just so nice to the horses. There are no tricks, it’s all very basic and she explains everything to the horse so it’s up to you as the rider to adjust and be elastic.”
A big proponent for fitness outside of the saddle, Caroline says her time spent in the gym helps her adapt her riding style as Anne sees fit. This, she says, is something all riders should work on. “We’re athletes,” she said. “And I think you need to be able to adjust and be willing to try different things to make yourself better.”
One of these “different things” Caroline’s added to her toolbox is the driving rein. Anne had Caroline jump many show jumping rounds in competition with driving reins last season — and they made a difference.
“The driving reins help me not take so much in the turns,” Caroline said. “It was a bit nerve-wracking, but it does work and allows me to push them to the base more and not ‘gap’ them with my hand.”
The hard work paid off — Caroline’s collected more than a healthy handful of clear show jumping rounds this season. But there’s always room for improvement, she reminds us, and it’s all about having the right coach in your corner.
“I’m really thankful that Anne took me under her wing,” Caroline said. “She’s been a huge asset to my riding. I wasn’t nervous for show jumping at Aachen at all, and my clear rounds are all due to her.”
Feature photo by Shelby Allen.
Written by Sally Spickard
Sally Spickard caught the horse bug at a young age and can still remember her first trip to the Kentucky Three-Day Event, which subsequently afflicted her with the eventing bug. Sally spends her days in San Diego, California and thoroughly enjoys her career telling the stories of our sport and assisting clients with their digital marketing needs.