Do We Ever Stop Learning? With Sophie Warren

Do We Ever Stop Learning? With Sophie Warren

Do we ever stop learning?
My new theory on why I used to miss at ditches…

Isn’t it just a wonderful thing that we NEVER stop learning in life if we are open to it? Those of us in the equestrian world tend to be particularly good at this mindset because you just never stop learning new things when it comes to horses! Each horse teaches you something new, the field of equitation science is growing rapidly and the information being disseminated almost as rapidly, the sport keeps evolving to keep up with the demands of the public regarding ethics, welfare and social license to operate and every little experience we have adds to our knowledge and ideas for the next experience or challenge we meet.

I’ve been riding longer than I want to admit (although sometimes I think aging myself isn’t a bad thing as it gives me a little bit more of an excuse for the back pain each morning!!!) and I constantly have “lightbulb moments”. I just love it. I love finding new answers, I love asking questions, I LOVE being asked questions – especially those questions that make me say “I need to go and do some more research, I’ll get back to you”.

I’ve done in excess of 250 XC rounds at 1* level or above and every time I come through the finish flags I can think of something I could have done better. I quite often also congratulate myself on something new that I feel did well and I am a firm believer we should take those moments to self-congratulate where applicable. Earlier this season I thought to myself “I rarely have a “miss” out on cross country, but when I do it is often at a palisade ditch or ditch brush, what’s going on?”. I thought about it for a while. My good horse Hazid isn’t the bravest at these fences but he generally jumps them. Had I become frightened of them and therefore wasn’t riding them “well”? And if so what exactly did it mean: not riding them “well”? Was it something else about them that I or my horses weren’t seeing correctly?

I set up an experiment in the arena with some verticals with large ground lines – ie. a ground line that was well in front of the fence, a little like the front rail of a ditch with the vertical upright being the “brush” or “palisade” part of my imaginary XC fence. I jumped them a few times and a thought came to me. When I jump an oxer with a ditch under the fence I don’t have this problem. It’s when the ditch is in front of the fence. 

Now, “problem” might be too strong a word. It wasn’t like I wasn’t succeeding at jumping them at shows, but I like to leave no stone unturned in my preparation and I didn’t want to find that in a few more awkward jumps of this type of fence either myself or my horses started to take a disliking to them!


After a handful more jumps in my arena at home I realised that my eyes were flickering from the top rail, to the ground rail (front rail of my “ditch”) and back on my approach to the fence. Sometimes our ditches at 3-4* level are 100cm+, that’s a big difference for your eye when trying to predict the stride the horse will leave the ground on. So I challenged myself to stare only at the top rail, and let my horse work the rest out. Ta da!!! The fences started coming up better!

I’ve now tested this at a few shows and the only time a fence like this hasn’t come up well since was when I noticed my eyes revert to the old habit and flick from the top of the brush to the ditch once on the approach. Something so simple, and so obvious, and I’m sure a million coaches have taught it to a million riders, and I’m sure there is a coach in my history that said it to me but it just didn’t stick at that time. I’m even sure I’ve taught my riders exactly this but never quite programmed it into my own riding!

Don’t forget – keep learning, keep seeking understanding, keep discussing and spreading the knowledge you do find and always keep asking questions!

“Rejoice in what you learn, and spray it!”

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Ally Doumany
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