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Posted on Feb 22, 2019 in Articles, Competing, Training

A Masterclass With The Eventing Legend Andrew Nicholson At The Scottish National Equestrian Centre

A Masterclass With The Eventing Legend Andrew Nicholson At The Scottish National Equestrian Centre

All images are subject to Copyright and all Rights are Reserved @Dave Cameron Photography


Well there really is no need to introduce this eventing legend is there?! With numerous wins at the 5 star level (what was originally called the 4 star level) Badminton and Burghley along with numerous accomplsihments on the New Zealand Team Andrew is known for his cross country riding and his stickability not to mention his time keeping out on the courses. In this Masterclass Andrew concentrated on exercises that he likes to do at home at this time of year and how they can help both horse and rider when out on the cross country courses.  Ultimately he gaves us real insight into how and why he really is the master.


It focussed on core strength exercises which can help with the finesse across the country giving the rider a smoother ride and saving seconds.


In andrews own words :

‘ It might not be cross country riding but the idea is to get them to use their core strength with the finesse thats needed to go fast cross country. Its all about smoothness to save the seconds It’s not a case of pulling and kicking and ‘yahooing’, Its smooth but strong ‘

The evening was split into two sessions.

The first session had the following riders and horses as the demo riders:

Douglas Crawford on Shadow Lad an 8yo young intermediate horse

Louisa Milne Home on Future Plans an 8yo young intermediate horse

Isabella MacKenzie on Omard Ala a 9yo Intermediate (***star horse in the new levels)

Whilst the riders warmed up Andrew commented

“you could seem to think that cross country and showjumping aren’t similar. When you watch them galloping round the cross country warm up they look like totally different riders than what they were in the showjumping warmup. They seem to just be gunning it at the practice fence letting their horses fix its own little distance and sort everything out for itself, and some of these are even riders at a reasonable level. Whereas to me cross country is exactly the same as showjumping just going faster. Its all about balance and rhythm

Exercise 1

This exercise consisted of 4 upright jumps on each quarter of a circle at about 70 /80cm with just a singular pole on each jump no ground lines as per the image  (please excuse the drawing!):


This exercise requires to focus on rhythm . Andrew stated that dressage encourages us as riders to shut the canter down but its easier to jump if the canter is taking you somewhere. You could see that this exercise made the riders and horses concentrate and that they had to keep the rhythm to keep this exercise feeling smooth. Andrew encouraged the riders not to take a pull but rather to keep the canter more forward and just to sit tall if you are going to be deep. He likes to use single poles with no groundling as easy to build or rebuild if necessary along with the fact that there is not much to get tangled in.  After the horse has done this he raises two opposite ones up to 1m.

‘ centre to centre of all four jumps. You are not allowed to pull back. You keep the contact. You keep the leg there and you keep the rhythm. You keep going until its smooth and you are riding the rhythm. It might sound easy but it’s quite hard work start with a canter you can sit on and thats going somewhere. Look early to each fence’

exercise 2


The second exercise required three upright jumps using a plank and fillers are used as the middle jump set about 4m from the side of the arena and then an upright in the middle set at 90 dgree angle to the arena wall as per diagram. built up after . This was another exercise that didn’t need to be made too big and doesn’t require lots of fences and poles.

You start on the circle jumping one of the end fences away from the arena fence then turn the other way and jump one of the end fences towards the arena fence again on a circle.

“ you have got these planks to the fillers along here, the idea is that you want to be able to finish up by being able to jump the plank away from the wall to the upright to the plank towards the wall then do it back the other way, there is no set distance for any of it. Its up to you to ride the canter , the rhythm and just keep a nice connection. The reason you keep the connection is to make the turns smoother.


Then you go from the plank to the fillers to the plank in a serpentine type figure but going inside the over.

‘ just keep going don’t stop, keep the rhythm , don’t go miles away, stay on a nice little loop and don’t jump across the fences come  quite straight and pop over it, know which way you are going to turn on landing before you jump it. If you angle it you will find you have a job to get to the middle one, and then to the last one. The idea is riding the connection. Don’t be too worried about where the horses head is as long as its in front of you ! Just keep the canter. ‘

You then ride plank to the upright fence then back to the other plank

‘ You are not sitting there doing nothing, you have to be quite switched on.’

Andrew was super calm and relaxed in his teaching yet showed his good sense of humour …

There was a very comical moment when one of the riders horses spooked at the fillers in the middle  and  it did in fairness look like it had been presented at them to jump :

‘ rider  – I wasn’t trying to jump it the first time, I was just trying to go round it the first time obviously wasn’t very clear

Andrew – I tell that to jump judges when they give me 20 they don’t listen either! ‘

in relation to this exercise :

 ‘ its mind over matter! You don’t mind and he (the horse) doesn’t matter. just keep going.

You need to keep the rhythm though the bends and keep the suppleness. Squeeze the horse up to the upright once you have started that last part.  Be subtle when squeezing a horse up to the fence and don’t go backwards in the corners.

‘you learn how to breath and ride. Its something else which is simple , not a lot of fences needed and you don’t need to make them big. Its a basic little exercise but also very good for their fitness, because its just that steady cantering quietly quietly popping and turning popping and turning its not like you are jumping big fences and putting a lot of strain on their bodies you are putting the strain on their minds to try and make them more athletic’

Andrew stated that the reason you use planks is to teach them that they have front and back legs and its up to them to pick them up and put them down. Also that repetitiveness starts to register . When jumping the fences into the side of the arena the horse will shut the canter down early.

The last and final exercise he did with the first group of riders was a course to see if the first two exercises was working.

Exercise 3


There was an  oxer which on a direct line of 5 strides to a skinny  but also on and angled lines of 4 strides to a corner fence this was the main feature of the course.  The idea is to time yourself the first time then ride it a second time and go smoother to see how much quicker it is , even if you save 0.5 sec each fence that will save a lot of time over a course. Andrew stated he would rather see a run out on the corner than this level of horse jumping the middle of the fence :there was a jump stand placed in the middle of the corner so that the horses had to jump the correct line over the corners.  There was a water tray placed between two fences on no set distance to make the horse and riders think and the riders need to be able to adjust the horse accordingly to get to the next fence.


A couple of top tips andrew said was :

Coming in tighter can end end up with the horse not travelling , so make a smoother turn to the fences

More rhythm = quicker and you can jump safely

We need to discipline ourselves as riders more.


The second session!

The second part of the evening saw the following riders put through their paces :

Douglas Edward on Oxmountain Cruise currently at 4* level  (the old 3*level)

Wills Oakden on Cooley Ramiro currently at 4* (the old 3* level)

Alison West on Balblairs Ambassador currently at 3* (the old 2*level)



These riders were put through one exercise then went on to jump a course. The exercise they were put through first worked almost like a figure of eight the riders could just keep working through the exercise it included upright to bounces to upright and oxer to bounces to oxer yet could be rode over to bounces to upright if you wanted to. See the diagram below .

‘The bounce stays small its is to simulate undulating ground and all we want it to do is to break the rhythm. As we make the other ones big the distance will start to alter so you have to work at it’

In regards to the three stride distance Andrew commented

‘ you don’t have to fix it in one stride you can do a little bit on each of the three strides’


This was then followed by a course of fences. A mixture fences were dotted all around the arena including another bounce using plank and skinnies and corner fences. The riders had to jump for 51/2 minutes. The simple fences were put up and some fences were left very small.

Andrew stated

‘ you go for five and a half minutes and you have to keep jumping, its not jump four and go a lap of the arena. The idea is you start with the simple exercise you have already done and then you venture out on to may be three difficult ones then change to simple ones then back to more difficult ones. You need to keep in a rhythm jumping the jumps you are not going to wear the horse out , five and a half minutes of gently cantering is not hard work is it. The reason of the little jumps is to give them a little breather and freshen them up a little bit. If you feel after about two minutes of the other stuff you feel they are starting to get a bit casual then come to the bounces. You don’t come in pulling their heads off just keep forward to it. On the corner fences it’s up to you to keep on the end and not to jump the wide bit, you have to be disciplined to ride the correct line ‘

This is something Andrew sets up in his arenas at this time of year :

‘ I put this amount of jumps up in the arena. One day when i was jumping I timed myself because one of my grooms said to me that I had jumped for a very long time, so by the tenth horse I timed myself , It was a five year old and when I had finished I had been going for seven and a half minutes. It was jumping better at the end than it was at the start. I got my working pupils to do it and after 2 minutes they were going round the outside of the arena like they couldn’t find a jump to jump! I realised this must be more testing on your mind than what you think. It was easy for me as I do regularly and I have a lot of horses and it is a quick way of jumping them.’


I was also very interested to hear why one bounce used single planks

‘ to keep the horses awareness that they have front legs and back legs, its not being cruel it is more gentle than a cross country fence. Even in an Intermediate you go for longer than 51/2minutes, so all you are doing is preparing them for competitions in a much slower rhythm but it is the same idea’

To watch this being ridden was super interesting the riders seemed to find this hard work and did seem to have issues up till about three minutes, then the horses appeared to settle and start jumping better and the riders certainly had to concentrate, yet them seemed to improve in themselves as well as the time went on and ride much more productively.

‘Although you think it’s tiring and they are going to start being casual, see how they all finished jumping reasonable. You feel like you have given them a good work out ,you have given yourself a good work out all in an arena!’

Top tips given :

  • If the horse runs out of a fence just carry on and go to another fence and then come back to it. Don’t make an issue of it.
  • Open the hands to skinny fences and close the legs to create a funnel
  • Don’t get mad on speed just keep the rhythm
  • Need a good canter so you have power to sit on

At Home you are practicing so play with going to the fences without pulling keeping the contact and the rhythm and just sitting tall see how close you can get to the fences, It is amazing how a stride will appear!

The evening overall was a huge success and everyone certainly had lots of new information to take away with them and he definitely gave everyone food for thought! One of the main things that really came through was how grounded Andrew was and how calm and relaxed he is teaching which i think made everyone feel at ease, Andrew is very down to earth and says exactly what he thinks , all this along with a good sense of humour certainly demonstrated why he is the master. If you get a chance to go and see him doing a demo or lessons then he is certainly one you don’t want to miss!

Check out what he had to say about how his preparations for Badminton 2019 are going by clicking here…..


Huge thank you to Dave Cameron for capturing some lovely images throughout the evening


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