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Matt Ryan and Gillian Rolton Clinic by Walter Berger

A while ago I had the opportunity to attend a Matt Ryan and Gillian Rolton Clinic / Demo Courtesy of Equimec. This was held at the Werribee Indoor arena.

Matt’s style varied from Gillian’s in that he never stopped talking. He was constantly explaining why he was asking riders to do things, the effects that had on the horse, the effects of position, aids, impulsion, etc.. Gillian did a lot less explaining in that regard. I hung around Matt’s end of the arena.

I watched the end of the clinic where both Gillian and Matt had 5 riders each. Matt had the more Novice riders, with one young girl being as green as the Arab she was riding. The trot work was just finishing followed by canter work on both reins with Matt focusing on individual riders for short periods of time, accompanied by constant talk.

The progression from that was to two trot poles. One grey thoroughbred had a lot less problems with the poles than its hesitant rider. The young girl seemed hesitant (Matt saying ride him forward), the Arab wasn’t hesitant, he just didn’t want to but tripped over the poles eventually. Next time round things were a lot smoother.

The second trot pole was then replaced  with crossed poles. Same story with the Grey horse and rider. No problem over the first pole for the Arab, but the crossed poles took two attempts to walk over (only a foot high). Second time round the Arab actually jumped it, with the approach being accompanied by Matt saying ‘KICK HIM ON’. This brought a round of applause from the audience and a great, big smile from the girl. A couple more laps and a raising of the jump and the lesson was over.

The next part of the program was the demo. There were three horses to be ridden with varying levels of education.

The first horse was 6 months of the racetrack and therefore relatively green. Gillian rode it through a simple warm up changing reins, paces etc.. Matt was playing commentator, trying to explain and anticipate what Gillian was doing. She finished up with some shoulder in work, which he did very nicely. Meanwhile the owner was standing in the middle of the arena with a big smirk on his face, having his horse worked by one of the top riders in Australia.

The next horse (same owner, lucky sod) was up to Preliminary standard and Matt rode it. Gillian's comment was ‘It will be a bit easier to keep him quiet without the microphone’. She was wrong. Similar warm up routine with Matt getting used to the horse, flexing him, getting him working from behind. All the time he was explaining how the horse felt and what he was doing to correct things. Occasionally Gillian made a suggestion on position or something the horse was doing that Matt hadn’t noticed. That’s why even top riders get coaching, because they can’t see or feel everything.

From there it progressed to jumping. The horse jumped very nicely, not hitting a single pole. The grid consisted of a jump, stride, jump, 6 strides and another jump. Matt varied the 6 strides from 5 to 9. All the time you could just see his hands and legs working without moving much. That’s enough to make you jealous.

The last horse to be ridden by Gillian had competed in the Melbourne one star. Again a warm up which was accompanied by Matts explanations and more advanced movements from the horse such as shoulder-in, shoulder-out side-passes.

Then the jumping again. Jumping was apparently this horses weak point. Gillian mentioned that the stride between the 2 first jumps was a bit short and that the horse would probably hit the rail the first time. He did. The second time he didn’t. Matt asked Gillian to ride the horse a little deeper into the third jump so that he wouldn’t jump so flat, that is work harder. He drew a line across the front of the jump with his heel for the take of. With a bit more leg on the horse for the 6 strides Gillian made it look easy.

That concluded the session apart from the compulsory autograph signing. I managed to avoid that and had a look at the horses outside and ponder the possibilities of riding like these two Olympians.


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