Friday 17th May was a perfect day for an indoor activity and Victoria welcomed the Saddleworld sponsored rider Megan Jones to officiate at the opening of the Mustad Lowdens Saddleworld – Destination Equestrian, at 2 Willowmavin Road, Kilmore.
Left - Mustad Lowdens Saddleworld sponsored rider Amy Cleland jumps through the horse-show jump to open Destination Equestrian
Locals (and many from further afield) enthusiastically gathered to enjoy Megan Jones’ first Masterclass, which preceded the official opening.
The day began at 10AM. Respected local rider and coach Sue Tufnell introduced Megan (picturednright) and welcomed everyone to this fantastic facility. Sue recapped Megan’s many achievements including her Beijing Silver Medal in 2008 and reminded us that her wonderful “home bred” partner Kirby Park Irish Jester, had just recently retired and it would take very large horse shoes to take his place, both in the record books and the hearts of Australian horse lovers.
Megan started her Masterclass saying that she would base her lessons on dressage principals, as all equestrian disciplines are much the same in terms of balance and influence. Her first rider was local dressage enthusiast Ashley Pace who rode her talented mare Tequila Sunrise by Don Ramiro. Ashley was asked to tell a little about her horse and she said, “She is 9 years old, but has led a rather sheltered life and we are now working at Elementary level.”
It was easy to see that the attractive chestnut was inexperienced as she was quite noise sensitive and concerned about the movement coming from the spectator area.
Megan was very easy to follow as she explained very well what she was asking of each rider and also what she hoped to get from the horses. With Ashley, Megan was looking to see that Tequila Sunrise loosened in the poll, which would encourage her to be softer, straighter and more supple.
“Come on Ashley, change the flexion. See, she is lost without contact (this confirmed that the horse was not in self-carriage) you need to work on flexibility and her response to the aids. Canter on, that’s good, she seems better now!”
Left - Ashley Pace and Tequila Sunrise show a soft and swinging trot.
Ashley said, “She is a horse that finds canter easier.” Megan agreed and said that this was easy to see. Megan explained that Ashley should try to use the natural balance that the mare shows in the canter to make a more balanced transition to trot.
“Ashley, breathe down to the half halt. The pit of your stomach gets heavier to make the seat more effective…. Good!” Megan encouraged Ashley to show a bigger difference. “Use the whip to make the hind legs snap!”
“Ashley, use the shoulder-fore in the canter as a way to control the horse’s shoulders to help with straightness. She must feel straight at the base of the neck. The energy from the hind legs must travel up to her neck … and not get lost out through the shoulder. Use the canter to make the horse more responsive to the aids.”
Megan used the lateral work to sharpen the horse’s responses, which in turn allowed Ashley to straighten her mare. There was no asking for “fancy tricks” but a very pleasing improvement in the horse’s acceptance and frame. Tequila Sunrise has shortened her base of support (the key to collection) and Megan asked, “Ashley, how does that feel? She has to wait for you, Ashley, she must be on the aids.”
Megan asked the audience I they could see the change of shape and it was unanimously agreed that the 30 minutes with Megan Jones had made a great difference to the posture and balance of Tequila Sunrise and this made Mustad Lowdens Saddleworld sponsored rider, Ashley Pace very happy.
Megan then worked with two local young riders. Tanisha Stewart who is a member of the Kilmore Pony Club and she rode her brown stock horse mare. Tanisha shared the lesson with local jumping rider Joel Peace and his scopey grey gelding.
Megan asked the riders to start work so that she could assess their horses and plan the priorities for her lesson. She quickly said that she wanted to use the trot poles to encourage suppleness. She asked the two young riders to come to her and she explained that the rider position for the trot poles should be the same as dressage – a balanced 3-point seat. Dressage sees shoulder, knee, down to toe. For pole work it is shoulder, knee down to heel.
Left Tanisha Stewart who represented the Kilmore Pony Club.
She went on to explain that jumping requires a two point seat and this is when the seat is not in contact with the saddle and the rider gives the horse more freedom to move independently.
Megan took time to explain why … and then adjust the length of the reins, the feel of the contact and the objectives of contact and working the horses into a correct frame.
Working with Joel, Megan smiled when she said that he had a typical “boy” showjumping position as his hands were too close to his body which reduced his ability to influence the horse without pulling. She patiently demonstrated how much influence she would be able to assert with just the movement of her fingers, when supported by a secure position and good balance.
Right- Joel Peace and his grey showjumper
Megan paid particular attention to the length of the stirrups and position of the saddle on the horse’s back. She immediately picked that Tanisha had her saddle too far forward and she asked her to dismount, explaining that it would be easily confirmed by the sweat marks under the saddle blanket.
Sure enough, the sweat patches over the horse’s shoulder blade showed that Tanisha’s saddle was too far forward and impeding the freedom of the horse’s shoulder. Worse still, the incorrect placement of the saddle put Tanisha in a “chair” seat and this means she was behind the horse’s centre of gravity making it difficult to establish an independent seat and not interfere with the horse’s mouth. While today’s correction was not perfect, it was a big improvement and the horse seemed to appreciate the saddle adjustment.
Megan had a lovely turn of phrase when she encouraged Tanisha to establish a more secure contact to the outside rein. “Ask your horse to “”smile” with the outside rein.” This is much nicer way to explain that an outside rein, balancing contact is necessary to frame the horse and keep it together. At this point the slightly built stockhorse began to swing in the trot and stretch over the trot poles.
Megan said to Tanisha, “She looks like she is not really carrying you, you must try to get her back up and her rib cage out, this is often the case with finely built horses. Go into a light “hovering” seat … no rising, just hover, reins shorter and more weight down to your heels.” The brown mare responded to the series of small adjustments and started to show the benefit of a greater degree of harmony between horse and rider. This was facilitated by Megan’s re-positioning of the saddle and a more balanced rider position.
Megan suggested that Tanisha’s saddle could need to be refitted professionally and said that she would not recommend the use of pads as they put too much bulk between horse and rider. No doubt, the Mustad Lowdens Saddleworld saddle-fitting expert will be called in.
Joel was having some problems with his horse running out. It did not seem to be all about the size of the jump but more a case of the rangy grey feeling that he had a number of options in terms of evasion. “Hold the reins half way along your horse’s neck Joel. See the “black hole” where your hand used to be, now feel that your stomach is there!”
Right - Joel masters the impressive horse-show jump.
“Joel, shorten your reins, your lower arms must feel like they are floating on water and the horse must travel on your line. His neck must feel like it is “splinted” between the reins … and taking even contact into both hands. “
Joel was having some trouble with his horse becoming hot and inattentive. Megan reassured him that when the rider does not get left behind, the horse wouldn’t get hot. It is when the horse and rider get out of synch, that the horse reacts getting hot and worried.
Megan Jones was fastidious about the rider position and correct use of the reins. She said to Joel, “Your half halt must work NOW – immediately, and this is especially important when you are jumping. Your arms must be independent if they are to be effective.”
The session with Tanisha and Joel came to an end and Megan was very happy with the riders and how they had adjusted to riding with shorter reins and a better balance of their upper body.
It was interesting to reflect that all aspects of Megan’s teaching were built around correct basics as the foundation of success in all disciplines.
Carl O'Dwyer and Dan O'Dwyer with Megan Jones as she prepare to cut the ribbon
It was now time for the official opening of Destination Equestrian and General Manager Dan O’Dwyer welcomed visitors, the Saddleworld team and he thanked Megan Jones and her husband James Deacon (pictured right) for coming to Melbourne from their home in Hahndorf South Australia, to officiate.
Dan was very excited to see the long time dream of the O’Dwyer family, along with the years of planning, become a reality. The indoor arena now provides the opportunity for education, entertainment, horse care, saddlery fittings, demonstrations and competition.
Destination Equestrian goes many steps further than just an indoor arena for hire, the concept has addressed a need to meet growing equestrian demands by providing a facility for more than static saddle fitting and product appraisals. Riders and trainers can now involve their horses when fitting and choosing the right equipment.
The Saddleworld Team: Dan O'Dwyer, Simon Mamouney, Megan Jones,
David Sharp and Stephen Dale - a milestone day.
Megan Jones declared the facility open when she cut the commemorative printed ribbon on the horseshoe shaped showjump. This was a very appropriate setting and in keeping to the heritage of the precinct – Destination Equestrian.