by Pam Whitfield
(First Published in The Chronicle of the Horse, May 20, 1994)
ANRC strives to meet the needs of the hunter industry with a systematic approach to developing good riders, mounts and instructors.
The ANRC is devoted to a solid foundation of schooling in the forward riding system. The methods are applicable at any stage of training, for producing an independent, correct position, developing lateral and longitudinal agility, even reclaiming an ex-race horse for a hunter.
“When you see some of the stars of the show ring, what you are seeing in their top performances in a representation of the ingredients of forward schooling,” said James Cantwell, American Horse Shows Association R-rated judge and longtime proponent of the ANRC. “It gives the appearance of ‘doing nothing, very well’ – that means the horse is stabilized through the education of mind and body.”
The forward seat is widely used in the show rings and hunt fields of America. It is not to be confused with a perched position: it allows the rider to it securely over the horse’s center of balance and move in unity with a forward, yet connected, stride. The rider moves in rhythm with the horse on the flat, over uneven terrain and while jumping.
“Riding outside was what made riding run,” Shelby French, ANRC chairperson and director of St. Andrews College’s equestrian program in Laurinburg, N.C. “The industry recognizes that we’ve lost something in the hunters. They were designed to gallop, go over uneven terrain, deal with trappy fences. The resurgence of the outside courses and the handy hunter division is a perfect example.”
“The average rider still wants to be taught for the show ring rather than cross-country riding or foxhunting,” said Jon Conyers, director of riding at Wesleyan College, Macon, Ga. “But this most recent rend makes the ANRC program even more viable and valuable because that’s what we’ve been teaching all along.”
A History of Horsemanship
The ANRC’s program of instruction is based on safe, efficient, sensitive training and riding of hunters, jumpers, and pleasure mounts.
The ANRC has been instrumental in defining and promoting standards of educated riding since its inception in 1936. In the 1930s and 40s, the forward seat was in its infancy, but quickly growing under the careful guidance of such ground breaking instructors as Gordon Wright, Clayton Bailey and Capt. Vladimir Littauer. With the support of these progressive horsemen, the Nation Riding Committee, formed largely of women’s educators from equestrian oriented colleges, met in 1947 to organize standards for educating and rating riders.
“The need was apparent to us… that teaching of riding, both aim and method, sadly needed standardizing and some guiding hand. To this end, plans for rating what we chose to call ‘basic riding’ were drawn up,” said Harriet Howell Roger, ANRC committee chairman.
No small task, this organizing of riding standards, but the committee’s early efforts gave birth to the Affiliated National Riding Commission (which for years was associated with American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAPHERD)). Today ANRC is an independent organization, American National Riding Commission, Inc. The organization is governed by a board of directors, made up of instructors, college riding program directors and other horse professionals. Its policies and guidelines are found on the website: www.anrc.org. The ANRC certifies qualified judges to hold clinics and judge rating centers. Judges work through a tri-level rating system: apprentice, recorded, and finally national judge’s rating. The ANRC supplies qualified judges to any riding program, stable or college that wants to host a clinic or rating center. The commission also hosts instructor seminars and judges forums.
Lack of funding is one reason the ANRC has not been promoted as much as the directors would like. “One of the best things to ever happen to us was receiving a $5000 grant from The Chronicle of the Horse in 1987,” said French. That grant enabled us to operate in the black; it helped underwrite the Intercollegiate Championships and reprint our handbook, Riding Standards. That money has supported a lot more education and growth than anyone thought.”
Rating for Knowledge
Rating tests candidates on riding skill, practical application of riding theory, oral evaluation of their performance and a written theory test. The rider and mount demonstrate competence and understanding at one of five progressive levels: qualifying level, 4 level, 3 level, 2 level and 1 level.
The qualifying ride demonstrates the elementary and low intermediate levels of control, using loose reins and light contact to work at the basic gaits. The 3 level is comparable to a children’s hunter or adult amateur ride, capable of good flatwork on contact and cantering a three-foot course with lead changes. The 1 level includes test similar to an AHSA Medal or ASPCA Maclay level of equitation, and transfers these skills to the outside course.
The rating tests at each level include: a written theory tesst, program ride in the cressage arena, hunter course and hunter exercises in the outside field, which may include jumps and riding in a group. In the rating center, the rider evaluates strengths and weaknesses, then receives feeback from the judges on the performance.
“The ratings operate under the theory that for instructors to teach something, they must first understand and be able to demonstrate it,” said Cantwell.
“This is an opportunity to participate in the sport when you’re being tested against a standard (as opposed to competing against other entries),” said French.
The ANRC, with its emphasis on educating riders and giving instructors a systematic approach to teaching, is ripe for growth because “people are more interested in learning and developing their skills. Colleges with equitation programs have always been involved in this, but it’s time for us to step forward and wave our flag,” said French.
Nationally Known and Practiced
The ANRC annual Intercollegiate Riding Championships showcase the forward riding system and pay tribute to the ideal of the “sporting horse”. The competition consists of three phases: a dressage sportif, hunter trials course and stadiu/equitation course.
“From a judge’s perspective, the ANRC National Intercollegiate Championships provide a dimension of education and experience comparable to an Olympic Games participation,” said Michael Page, North Salem, N.Y., three-time judge of the competition.
The ANRC’s greatest drawing card is that its systematic approach can be implemented anywhere riding is taught: lesson programs, summer camps, even professional show barns.
“All our instructors go through the program so they have the same basics and theory,” said Nancy Welch, an instructor at McNair’s Country Acres, Raleigh, N.C. “It standardizes teaching for us and makes it easy for one instructor to fill in for another.
Peggy McElveen, former assistant director of Camp Seafarer (Arapahoe, N.C.), based the camp’s equitation program on the ANRC. Her curriculum broke down riding into 12 levels, or ranks for campers to earn, with certain skills and theory to be demonstrated at each level.
“From the first time the children sit in the saddle, they learn voice commands, check-releasse reins, tapping leg,” she explained.
“This is the safest possible method for teaching a child if the horse is schooled,” she continued. “But when people say it’s only a method for teaching beginners, they are missing the whole point. It’s a progressive system, a series of building blocks, and they shouldn’t stop after accomplishing the first block.”
Pushing the Program Forward
“I’m baffed as to why we have no really credible licensing program for instructors in this county,” said Frank Madden, Colts Neck, N.J. “It’s very frustrating in this day and age to be a real professional in this sport and have to compete with fly-by-night riding teachers, who just drive to the shows and meet students in the schooling area for an odd lesson.”
Madden, who has been invited to serve as a director at large on the ANRC executive committee, stressed the orgaization’s potential for developing quality instructors and trainers.
“It could be used as a nucleus, but first the ANRC must become strongly affiliated with highly-visible, key people in the industry to give it the clout it need to make an impact,” Madden said.
“Professionals are waary of coming into the system,” said Dacia Funkhouser, R-rated judge and ANRC No. 2-rated rder. “They’re afraid it might show them something they don’t know. They don’t want to put themselves in a vulnerable position.”
The basic concepts of the ANRC apply to all good riding, but the system’s progressive nature is sure to catch on with riders who want to help themselves and their horses in their sport.
“The system preserves, as much as possible, the physical and mental stability of the animal,” said Jill Randles, a former ANRC chairman and former riding instructor at Sweet Briar College (Va.). “The schooling methods prepare a horse to have a long life of service and utilize his natural way of going. As long as the horse has that solid foundation you can go almost anywhere you want to with him.”
Funkhouser, Romney, Ind., agreed that the ANRC system keeps school horses sane due to its emphasis on consistency and non-abuse. “I see a difference in our school string; they are more tolerant and fresher day to day, so it’s more ecomonical for both horse and rider.”
Since her Foxton Farm houses show horses, a community program and Purdue University’s riding teams, she teaches all ages and levels. “Horses that have come up through the sytem are always more saleable and competitive, and that is important for a professional like myself,” she said.