OK I said I'd report on this, but don't have a lot of time. Here are some "notes." But first a disclaimer. This is not word-for-word from the Captain's mouth. It's my understanding of what he said, slanted by my own biases. The other 99-or-so people there would probably have 99 other takes on it.
Phillips taught three groups of 4-5 riders each: Training/Novice, Prelim, and Intermediate. The lessons were 1 1/2 hours each on the flat and over a few simple jumps. He had never taught any of the riders.
He used the first group to cover his views on the basics, mostly position. With the second and third group it was still the basics, but applied to horses and riders who were a bit more sophisticated. In fact, in answering questions he refused to get complicated. He brought everything back to the simplest terms which had been covered in the beginning. He did not teach through lecture. He would pull riders in, fix their position, and then have them do it correctly. He wanted them to feel the right way in the lesson so that their "muscle memory" could do the learning and they'd become"believers."
The first rider to be corrected was letting her shoulders come back when she sat at rising trot, and pumping with her upper body at canter. He shortened her stirrups and had her sit in correct balance, pointing out that as the
stirrup comes up, the knee comes forward, and therefore the shoulders must come forward to maintain balance over the stirrup.
He then talked about heels down. Again he stressed the improvement in balance as the rider sinks down with the heels, lowering the center of gravity, and therefore becoming safer. He described how the calf can stretch down and lift and squeeze the horse's barrel with every stride. Later in the day someone asked whether he agreed with the commonly taught practice of putting the foot further into the stirrup for cross country. He said no because you lose that ability to lower your center of gravity. The only benefit to putting the stirrup "home" is to rest your calf muscles, but there's no excuse for being unfit.
On hands and elbow angle he had a rider hang her arm down vertically from the shoulder and then put her hand on the rein without moving the elbow. He stressed the importance of soft elbows, quoting George Morris. Then he made the rider keep her thumbs up. He expressed his concern about American riders in the hunter ring with straight elbows and flat hands because they lose the line from elbow to bit, and therefore are pulling back on the horse with
their whole upper body.
On stirrup length he said that the shorter the stirrups, the lower the upper body must come to stay in balance, the lower the center of gravity, the safer and stronger they are. He pointed out how in the galloping position with short irons the elbows are almost touching the knees, which creates a position that works very well on a strong horse. Stirrups are too short if it leaves the rider with not enough leg to make the horse go forward.
A lot of riders would bring their shoulders back to do a downward transition or half halt, both on the flat and before a jump. We had some real pullers, including one horse that was practically a runaway. Phillips said he
wouldn't let this person jump until she got control. After moving her reins from the middle ring to the snaffle ring on her Pessoa bit he taught her to do half halts without letting her upper body slip behind the horse's motion. It worked and they proceeded to improve in the jumping throughout the lesson. It was all very simple. Stay in balance all the time.
He then showed with two whips, one representing the horse's back and the other the rider's back, how little the rider's upper body should move over a jump. THe rider's back stays at a pretty constant angle while the horse's
goes up, levels, and then descends. He said to imagine you have a "monkey in a rucksack" as you're trying to jump, and how difficult it would be if the monkey were hyperactive. A few riders who made big moves in the air were
labeled "hyperactive monkeys." He put the American crest release in the hyperactive monkey category, and told riders to stop punching their horses in the ears. The hands should follow the horse's bit, not reach for his ears. If elbows are relaxed and the rider stays still and in balance, the horse will do the jumping. Very simple.
When the jumps got a little bigger we saw some riders forgetting what they had just learned and going back to getting behind the motion before the fence and being hyperactive crest realease monkeys in the air. Phillips compared it to going from the bunny ski slope to the real mountain for the first time and using your defensive instincts rather than what you learned about skiing.
Power, balance, and rhythm were the themes for approaching the fences. One rider asked what to do if he doesn't see a spot. Phillips made him jump the jump a half dozen times, focusing on power, balance, and rhythm to prove to him that when he had these elements the spots rode well wherever they were. When someone totally barfed a jump he said that you should not get to the jump, realize that you have a bad distance and just say, "Sorry Phido I
screwed up, it's up to you now." You have to stay in charge and hold to the deep spot or kick on, both ways with your leg still on to maintain power and balance.
The difference between show jupming and cross country, he said, was 5-10 miles per hour. To deal with the speed increase you "give the horse a holiday" between fences, unlike in show jumping where the balance must be maintained. In other words, you let the horse shift his weight onto his forehand and gallop on while the rider stands up in the stirrups and leans on the neck at the breastplate just in front of the withers. Ten or so strides before the jump the rider's shoulders come back a couple of inches, the leg comes on, and the horse shifts some weight to it's hind end. He had the final group gallop around the arena and do a single jump this way.
Someone asked about sitting down in the saddle and bringing the shoulders back before a jump. Not necessary, he said. The power to drive and balance can come from the calves, and the rider should balance the horse without such a drastic shift. Back to the monkey in the rucksack.
It was amazing how everything boiled down to balance, and how Phillips would not allow himself to be dragged away from that simple principle. Someone asked about counting strides. Phillips said he didn't like to distract the rider with stuff like that. Someone complained that the riders backs were rounded. He said he rather liked the way they were riding, and that artificially straight backs were unnatural and unbalanced.
His teaching and lecturing style was extremely polite, even shy. There was no dogma in his teaching. He usually asked riders why they were doing something as they were before offering an alternative way. He said that he was a bit intimidated to be teaching in front of so many experts. He stumbled over his words a lot, being sort of torn between playing the role of lecturer and teacher at the same time. I found all of this to be entirely appropriate. I believe that good teaching, like good riding, is done through feel. The better your feel, the harder it can be to put it in words. Slick talk doesn't make you a good instructor. It was reassuring and refreshing to be at an instructor seminar where these truths were so clearly presented.
I look forward to doing one of these with Jimmy Wofford, and would recommend them to anyone teaching or considering teaching event riders. The people who need this the most, I believe, are instructors who have a background in the hunter/jumper world. The principles stressed by Phillips were often in contrast to the show ring styles taught in this country. The important difference as I see it comes down to riding with a kind of balance that can withstand the variations of terrain on a cross-country course. To teach event riders to ride like US equitation riders is to put them and their horses at risk on cross-country. This kind of instructor education can do a lot to make eventing safer in the long run.