In this series, the pros walk through their approach to riding questions, fences and combinations on cross-country. This Ride Between the Flags is given by Laine Ashker, who was the 2013 Adequan USEA Gold Cup Champion. She walks us through a Preliminary coffin combination, which was featured at the 2015 Nutrena USEA American Eventing Championships, presented by VTO Saddlery at the Texas Rose Horse Park. The cross-country course was designed by Captain Mark Phillips. Click here for all of our Ride Between the Flags series.
The above combination is a coffin question consisting of a hanging log to a ditch to a corner that was negotiated at this year’s AECs in Texas. Being that I did not physically see or walk this line, please bare with me as we talk about what goes through my head when walking a question such as this.
First things first: the proper speed and balance must be attained before presenting your horse to this combination. It should be noted however that determining your proper speed and balance is a necessity before any jump on your cross country course, not just combinations like these. Knowing the relatively flat terrain in which Texas Rose offers to its competitors and the fact that this combination was near the end of the preliminary course, the question The Captain is posing is one of straightness, obedience and accuracy. The horse and rider must demonstrate their ability to scale back from the gallop to an aggressive show jumping canter (400-450 mpm) to negotiate the hanging log and the ditch and corner behind it. The reason why I say “aggressive” show jumping speed as opposed to just a normal show jumping speed is because the size of the A element and the fact that there’s a ditch looming some two to three strides after a max effort. This requires the rider to be tall in his/her stature over the A element in anticipation that the horse may land shallowly when he sees the ditch on the other side of the hanging log. For a good visual for the proper position one should be able to take a snap shot over the A element, cut him/herself off the horse and he/she should still be standing when placed on the ground. Thank you Jimmy Wofford for teaching me this awesome anecdote as it’s obviously stayed with me for years and years.
Element C of this Preliminary Combination. USEA Photo.
Additionally, it looks as if the question should be ridden as a direct line (ie: no bend), which will require a straight horse. When walking a cross-country course my students always hear me remind them that a “forward horse is a straighter horse” and vice versa. The placement of the corner is very inviting being that the corner itself is pointed right but the competitors turn left immediately after. The correct technical way to tackle a corner would be to jump it on a line that is perpendicular to the one that bisects the middle of the corner.
In a nutshell if I were riding Flagmount’s Spartan, one of my preliminary horses, to this combo I would gallop across the field to save time in arriving to the combination. As I approach the combo, my position shifts from being in a gallop position where I am out of the saddle in an aerodynamic stance (two point) to a seated position where I am able to apply “half halts” to change my horse’s balance and speed on the approach (some horses also react well to using my voice so I may accompany a calm and steady “whoa” with my seated half halt). As we jump the first element I make sure to remain quiet in my position so as to help my horse create a round shape over the first element and so that I am in a good position on landing of the A to stay behind Spartan and encourage him to jump over the ditch and then widen my hands and press with the right leg and guide with the left rein over the corner. After that I would give him a pat, add a little cluck, check my Optimum Time watch, and kick onto the finish flags!
About Laine Ashker
Laine started riding when she was two and owned her first pony at age three in Shingle Springs, CA. Before she was out of grammar school, she became a member of US Pony Club where she achieved C1 rating and competing up to training level at area competitions. By age thirteen, Laine knew that she wanted to be a professional so the family moved to Virginia in order to be closer to the “Eventing Mecca.”
Her upper level partner, Anthony Patch, is an off the track Thoroughbred Laine purchased from Lauren and Paul Tjaden as a four year old, lightly raced project while in college. Fast forward twelve years, Laine and Al have become a formidable pair in the sport of eventing. Together they have competed at Rolex CCI4* four times. Laine takes pride in bringing up her horses herself, along with help from her mother, and longtime coach of fifteen years Buck Davidson. She has brought three horses to the four-star level, all that she started straight off of the racetrack. Laine pictured right on Anthony Patch. Shannon Brinkman Photo.
Click here to learn more about Laine.