Monday, October 31, 2011

The Atkins Diet for Eventers

Moose and I had a wonderful time at BeaHive Ranch continuing our education with Peter Atkins. As I watched other riders adapting to Peter's unique riding theory it made me think of the first time I rode with him.

I rode into my first lesson with Peter in July 2010 as part of Come Again Farm’s first event camp.
Peter Atkins Teaching at Come Again Farm

He watched me ride around a bit and promptly lengthened my stirrups…for a jumping lesson. 

OK, I will admit it. At this point, I figured I had a cook on my hands. Nevertheless, I figured you could learn something from everyone, kept my mouth shut, just lengthened my stirrups and jumped.
Only to be told to “Stand Up”. Huh? What? Clearly, I misunderstood.

“Peter, I’ve been taught to fold my entire life over jumps. Are you saying this is wrong?”
To which he replied emphatically, “YES!”

I was now convinced I had a cook on my hands. But I’d paid my money so I might as well give it a go. It would at least be a fun story to tell. So I tried it. Huh,…that kind of worked for me…let’s do that again…hmm the light bulb was starting to go off.

Peter explained that a horse clears a jump with front end. In jumping in the manner that the American equitation system dictates, we are making the horse’s job more difficult. By standing up over the fence with our leg in front of the girth we are freeing the front of the horse while also cementing our position in the tack.

This was starting to make sense...And then there was this strange flushing sound....the sound of 25+ years of jumping lessons with the red coats of  show-jumping fame, advanced event riders and $100s in well thumbed classic American texts going down the crapper. Best damn day of my riding life.

More was to follow...much more. At the end of my first lesson my perspective on riding theory had been flipped upside down. Since that day I have attended every possible lesson with Peter. I am going to share a few of my favorite 'Peterisms' below...they may sound odd at first (trust me -so been there) but give it a chance. You will be changed for the better.

Peter on Riding

Of primary importance is balance and tempo.

Horse should always be ridden in balance. A balanced horse is happy horse as the horse is a prey animal -their worst fear being unbalanced, falling and thus unable to defend themselves.
Riding the horse round, always in a high quality working gait decreases the load on the joints as the horse uses it muscular strength to support itself. Horses always ridden in this manner stay sounder longer.

The control of balance and tempo is your job as a rider. My mantra as I school at home has become "Who's trot is this?" "Is this a quality canter?"

Peter on Jumping Position
Your stirrups will be lengthened (“ride long, stay on long”). Your leg will be moved forward with the toe out (“imagine hooking your spurs in front of the girth”). Finally, you stand up over the jump –you do not fold.
"Stand Up, Look Up, Kick Up" Note: leg should be in front of the girth #@$!

The effectiveness of this position is illustrated as Peter has riders jump horseless. It is almost impossible to jump the fence folded as the weight of your head and upper body disrupt your balance. The jump is easily cleared when one jumps upright.

This is hard!
A bit easier now!

“Stand Up, Look Up, Kick Up” is the oft repeated phrase.

Sound interesting? Well I'm stopping here-you'll need to ride with the man himself.

In a Peter Atkins clinic you will be treated to a complete education. From appropriate tack, bitting, and whipping technique no topic is left uncovered.

And yes -after my first lesson with Peter I headed to a tack store for a new bit, bridle, reins and spurs. Darn it all it just made so much sense. And darn it all if my little horse did not improve just with the new tack.

Trust me. Find a clinic near you or better yet organize one yourself.

If you are lucky enough to ride with Peter Atkins, a proponent of inquiry based learning, I am going to give you some questions to mull over beforehand. You might be surprised by the answers...but they will make you a better rider.

Q & A with Peter

"What does the horse need to be on the bit?"

"Why do jockeys ride with their stirrups so short?"

"Why do horses not like water"?

"How big a fence is this up-bank?"

And finally, a question you thought you might never hear in a riding lesson;

“How heavy is a bowling ball?”

Good luck to you...and a helpful hint. Guess if you must. NEVER say "I don't know."


  1. Glad to know there is someone out there that is just as obsessed with Peter as me ;)

  2. Ha! Just discovered your blog -great minds and all that! Thanks for the shout out :)

  3. Amy sent me here - thanks Amy! I really wish I had a jumping saddle so that I could go try this. Even better would be if he came to New Zealand to do some clinics ... he sounds revolutionary.

  4. So interesting. I haven't jumped since HS and clearly it was way different than what he is saying...but he is def the authority. Can't wait to hear more about the last questions!!

  5. I rode with Peter this past summer and I LOVED HIM! I did say "I don't know" once and he hit me with my crop! LOL! I never did it again though! :-)