by Pam Whitfield
(This article first appeared in The Equine Journal.)
The American National Riding Commission may be the riding world’s best-kept secret. For 63 years, the organization has promoted a standardized method of educating riders in hunter seat equitation. “It’s a systematic approach to riding, training and teaching that is appropriate for horses as well as riders at various stages of learning,” explains executive secretary SusanY. Deal.
The ANRC is based on forward riding, specifically the American hunter seat. “Through this, one learns a system of riding based on the American hunter riding principles,” says Paul Cronin, director of riding at Sweet Briar College and a big ‘R’ judge for more than twenty years. His most famous pupil, three-time Olympian Lendon Gray uses the forward riding system as her base for riding, teaching and schooling, as do many of this country’s top riders.
“The Right Way of Riding”
Scot Evans, nationally known big “R’ judge and clinician, feels that the ANRC system creates a more unified rider who is also more aware of what the horse is doing underneath him. “This stands for the right way of riding,” he says. “More and more people who are exposed to this are finding that it does make a difference.”
The ANRC’s educational system has caught on in prep schools, colleges, summer camps, and other riding programs across the country. The system is particularly successful in situations where safe and effective horsemanship is emphasized, and horses are often schooled and trained within a lesson program. Although its methods are used in every corner of the hunter industry, many equine professionals have never heard of the ANRC. “It makes so much sense and yet it just doesn’t get out there and get recognized,” says Dacia Funkhouser, a top amateur-owner rider from Romney, IN. “It really is the horse world’s best kept secret.”
Today’s ANRC originated in the teachings of the late Captain Vladimir Littauer, a Russian horseman who established a prominent riding school in the United States in the 1930’s. His progressive methodology has influenced countless riders and trainers, including Jane Dillon, George Morris and Bernie Traurig.
The ANRC seeks to promote the highest quality of educated riding and related services through a variety of programs, including clinics and forums, rating centers, an apprentice judging program, and its annual National Intercollegiate Riding Championship. The ANRC is affiliated with the United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) and the US Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA).
The ANRC system emphasizes position, control and schooling. Stabilization and non-interference form the foundation of any ride. “At any level our goal is self-carriage,” says dressage rider Lendon Gray. “The most important thing you can learn to do is nothing. The emphasis I learned from forward riding is just being a part of the horse.”
“When new riders come to me I say, ‘Prove to me that you can ride on a loose rein,’ she adds. “I tell them I don’t care how the horse goes as long as it’s safe. I say, ‘See what he does without you.'”
At Funkhouser’s Foxton Farm, the A-circuit rider also teaches her horses to go forward willingly, with an even rhythm. “As a judge, I like to see a horse that can go around on his own,” she says. “Most horses aren’t stabilized. That’s why everyone loves the school horse.”
Evans also stresses the value of forward riding. “The one thing I think is very important about this program is the word forward,” he explains. “We’ve forgotten that everything comes from a forward rhythm. The point that people don’t grasp in my opinion, coming out of the horse show world, is the forward ride.”
“Sometimes the show world becomes so calculated,” he continues. “Everything is ridden out of X number of strides and is counted. But the cross-country course must be ridden off your eye and out of rhythm.” An outside course is part of the ANRC at every level of schooling and teaching; riders learn to rely on their eye and feel for distances as well as to regulate pace over open ground.
Teaching the forward rhythm develops both horse and rider, making more versatile athletes. “The forward riding system, adopted by the ANRC, outlines an efficient method for developing young hunters,” states Shelby French, head of the equestrian program at St. Andrews College and a past chair of the ANRC. “It also develops an equine athlete who has been exposed to uneven terrain, natural obstacles, hacking out in a group, and jumping in company. Horses educated in such a way can adapt to a variety of jobs over the course of their careers.”
Teaching and Schooling
Like Littauer’s teachings, the ANRC focuses on bringing both horse and rider up through the levels cooperatively. Littauer broke his riding system down into three stages, elementary, intermediate and advanced, with specific aids, exercises and goals for horse and rider at each stage [see sidebar]. At every level he stressed four fundamentals: unity of horse and rider, security of the rider, non-abuse of the horse, and efficient use of the aids. Equine professionals embrace this system “because it works. Personally, I’ve built a successful private business, as well as a nationally recognized college equestrian program utilizing Littauer’s system as outlined in the ANRC’s rating structure,” says French, a big ‘R’ judge.
The system also works well in lesson facilities, especially those that include a full range of students, from once-a-week community riders to those who show regularly. “Our horses have to be able to go at several levels, or we would go broke,” says Carol Gwin, manager of Walnut Spring Farm in Blacksburg, VA. “It’s nice to have school horses that can do at least two of the three levels. They’re all very stable at the jumps as well as on the flat. I would definitely say that the forward riding system works.”
The ANRC system’s user-friendliness may be its greatest asset. Mimi Wroten, an instructor at Sweet Briar College in Virginia, utilized the ANRC system at a summer camp program in New Jersey. “It helped my counselors to know what to ask of the kids, and helped in grouping them,” she says. “Although the instructors didn’t have a background in the system, they could see it, understand it and follow it.”
The forward riding system not only makes for safer lessons and more focused, systematic schooling sessions, it also promotes usability and contentment in a school horse string. “I’ve been able to take horses that other people couldn’t ride and use them in lessons,” says Gwin. “They’re happy to go on the elementary level of control [off-contact, tapping leg] and are very quiet.” Wroten agrees. “You get more consistency in horse use; it helps horses in the long run, both physically and mentally.”
A number of summer camps not only use the ANRC’s system in teaching riders, they also lease horses that are trained in the system. “When the horses are trained in the system, they are more under control and instructors can do more with the kids,” explains Deal, who directs the riding program at Eagle’s Nest Camp (NC).
The ANRC’s rider rating system assesses both an individual’s riding ability and knowledge of riding theory. “Rating centers can help someone prepare themselves at home” and work their way up through the levels of the forward riding system, says Cronin. Rating centers, usually held in conjunction with instructional clinics, allow riders, trainers and instructors to test themselves against a nationally-based standard for educated riding.
The five levels are introductory, novice, intermediate, number 2 and number 1. Intermediate is comparable to a solid adult-amateur rider on the circuit; this is also the level of riding demanded by the ANRC Intercollegiate Championships.
Each level includes a practical test comprised of a dressage sportif (program ride) and a jumping course. At the higher levels, an outside jumping course, a field riding test, a schooling test on an unfamiliar horse, a written test and a lunging test are also required.
At every level riders are asked to evaluate their own performance—to critique each ride and articulate their knowledge of both theory and practice. The learning experience aspect of the rating center is emphasized. “It helps riders to understand the hunters and what the hunter judge is looking for,” explains Cronin. “The program ride and jumping course ask for the same balance of the horse and the same quality of movement that a judge looks for in a class.”
“It’s also good for setting personal goals,” he continues. “Attending a rating center gives you the chance to get an evaluation of your riding. It serves as a benchmark for progress.”
Dacia Funkhouser got her first taste of the forward riding system at an ANRC clinic and rating center hosted by St. Andrews College; she claims it changed her training of horses and riders. “The ANRC really changed my riding. I came back from that clinic and found it took the frustration out of my teaching as well.”
She rode Interlude to the 1996 world champion amateur-owner championship using the ANRC system. “The system gives me a guideline of what to do. Anytime I have a problem, I go back to elementary level, the basics, and figure out what is going on, where the confusion is coming from. That’s where things are usually getting screwed up,” she says.
ANRC-trained instructors and riders also use the system to school green horses or mentally and physically stabilize reclaimed ones. Rating centers, as well as ANRC “equitrials,” allow one to “assess the horse’s level of schooling and see what has been taught well,” says Deal.
Equitrials, the newest component of the ANRC’s educational-competitive approach, are designed “to promote effective riding and schooling. Riders receive awards as well as individual evaluations of their performance,” explains Deal.
An equitrial consists of either two or three phases, depending on the host site: a program ride, a stadium equitation course, and optionally a hunter trial equitation course. Equitrials are offered at the introductory, schooling and intermediate levels; riders may fulfill a part of the requirements for a rating center at an equitrial.
Intercollegiate Riding Championships
Scot Evans of Hunterdon County, NJ, only judged the ANRC National Championships once, but he found it unforgettable. “I know quite a few ‘A’ judges who have judged the Nationals and all of them said it was by far one of the most exciting competitions they’ve ever judged,” he says. “Several said that because of it’s being so well-rounded, the competition really showed a rider’s all round capabilities.”
The annual competition will be hosted by Sweet Briar College in the year 2000. Judged solely on equitation, the event consists of three parts: a program ride on contact using the AHSA 1-19 tests, an outdoor jumping course of 3′ to 3’6″ in height, and a 3’6″ hunter seat equitation course in the ring. Competition is typically close, with the final placings decided only after the third phase.
“The riders are asked to demonstrate diversified riding skills,”,explains Michael Page, Olympic Three-Day team member and two-time ANRC Nationals judge. “The quality is there. My only regret is that there are a limited number of people taking advantage of this opportunity.”
Sweet Briar freshman and 1999 winning team member Cheyenne Sylvester terms it her first true team experience. “Riding itself has always been an exceedingly individual activity for me, but at the ANRC Nationals, it was just as important that my teammates have successful rounds as it was for me to do well personally,” she says.
“One thing we’ve learned in US show jumping is that the team aspect of competition is very important,” echoes Evans. “We don’t have enough team competitions in this country; we need to encourage riding for a team. It’s a completely different experience.”
Evans encourages interest in the ANRC when he gives clinics and lectures across the country. “I talk it up,” he says. “It’s something that every college should investigate as an alternative and additional way to get team competitions together. It’s a way for the college rider to have an outlet other than a horse show.”
Both individual and team riders from any accredited college or university can enter. Three riders make up a team. Riders normally provide their own mounts, although in 1998 the team championship was won by St. Lawrence University (NY) on horses borrowed from another college. The event is designed to create even competition, and to reward good position, control and schooling. “It wasn’t the fanciest horses that were winning, but the most consistent and versatile horses,” says Patte Zumbrun of Goucher College (MD), who hosted the 1998 championships.
A Lifetime of Learning
The ANRC programs combine competition and education in a balanced way that promotes the development of riders who enjoy and appreciate their equine partner and their sport – often for a lifetime. “The people who do the ANRC have a real interest and a real following. They go out and go a great job using it in the horse industry,” states Page.
The ANRC has something to offer every level of rider and horse. “Both amateurs and professionals can learn a system of schooling; the ANRC presents a system that goes beyond the equitation seat, that deals with movement, control and schooling the horse,” says Cronin. “Not every horse is the same, and both professionals and amateurs need to have a system they can use to solve problems.”
“If you are interested in working in the hunter-jumper industry as a professional trainer or teacher, you should explore what the ANRC has to offer you, your horses, your clients, and your business,” urges French. “I have seen the system work its ‘magic’ numerous times. Don’t forget that a system always provides you with a foundation to fall back on when you need help to unravel the challenges presented by each horse and each student you encounter.”
Sidebar: Littauer’s Three Levels
Capt. Vladimir Littauer was not only a consummate horseman but a prolific writer, authoring numerous books on riding, schooling and jumping. He developed his methodology partially in response to the US Calvery’s need to train safe and effective riders, quickly. Later he modified his system to suit the growing recreational and competitive riding industry, where his theories are still taught today.
Littauer developed three levels for teaching the rider and schooling the horse, with specific goals for horse and rider at each level.
Used by a beginning rider to develop position. The rider uses loose reins (off-contact) in a check-release fashion, tapping legs, and a liberal voice. Rides in two-point and grabs mane over small jumps.The horse should be stabilized (maintain an even pace on his own). This level produces a horse that nearly anyone can ride. Comparable to a recreational or beginning rider.
Here the rider creates impulse and connects the horse’s movement. Rider uses contact with following hands, squeezing legs in rhythm, and voice as a schooling aid. Uses crest-release while jumping. The horse accepts contact, moves forward freely with impulse and responds to rider. Cooperation of horse and rider emphasized. Comparable to a solid adult amateur rider at recognized shows.
Rider uses all five rein aids and all three leg aids with precision. Voice is a schooling aid. An automatic release is used over fences. Goal is to obtain the highest level of performance the horse is capable of doing. Horse moves with impulse, connection and athleticism in all gaits.Comparable to a top equitation/medals rider or professional.