Pat Burgess – A show jumping coach ahead of her time

Pat Burgess - a coach ahead of her time

Pat put the horse’s wellbeing at the forefront of her coaching and has a natural ability to inspire confidence and a sense of fun in horse and rider

By Amanda Barton (along with notes from Pat Burgess)

I have had a few reminders lately of the wonderful Pat Burgess and her fantastic pony party show jumping sessions. Sadly, the first reminder was a meeting a friend of hers who said that Pat is not well at the moment, she must be into her 90s by now.

Then a much happier memory at the National Development Programme for Coaching Excellence a couple of weeks ago where one of the other coaches on the programme chose to reflect on Pat as her mentor based on sessions they had done decades ago. And then again, listening to Lucinda Green at a demo at Kingston Maurward I realised that she was using lots of ‘Pat expressions’ as Pat has coached Lucinda while she was competing at top level. It was refreshing to hear so much of Pat again and this reminded me to dig out my Pat notes and turn them into a blog before they get lost to time.

What impressed me so much about Pat was that 20 or 30 years ago it was not all that common to be hearing messages about horse welfare from trainers and neither were instructors always kind and supportive to their students. The reason that Pat was considered a mentor by so many people is that she put the horse’s wellbeing at the forefront and she had a natural ability inspire confidence and a sense of fun in horse and rider. In the notes below you will see how she talks about intention, imagination, breathing, sympathy, focus and feel. In fact, looking at her key points “RIBS WITH LOVE FROM PAT” I am sure that any problem in jumping training could be resolved by improving these highlighted areas.  In many ways she was many decades ahead of her time in terms of coaching and communication.


Pat started by asking us to warm our horses up. She doesn’t want us to fix them in any kind of outline or get worried about where their head is. The idea is to relax our horses and keep breathing ourselves – breathing out in rhythm with the trot, allowing our horse to get rid of any tension, and encouraging them to respect our intentions. A great trick is to breathe in calm and breathe out a smile to your horse – this helps to release tension in the rider’s head and neck.

Then the riders start to work on a large circle, trotting over seven poles placed approx. 1.5m (41/2ft) apart. Pat places more poles on top of these – called guiding poles – and these are designed to guide the horse over the poles without the rider using the hand, because Pat wants the horse to carry himself, to stretch and release any tension.

The idea of working on a circle is to encourage the horse to activate his hocks and help get him focused. She really encourages riders to let the horse stretch by giving with their hands and also to look where they are going, not down over the poles.

Pat teaches riders to sit up before the jump in contrast to the forward seat. She argues that her reason for discouraging riders from using the forward seat is that they are unstable can find it hard to feel the horse’s movement as well as they could before the jump.

Her reasons for sitting up before the jump are:


To avoid falling off. If the horse refuses and we are in a forward seat it is more likely that we could fall. If you are sitting up until lift off then you simply don’t go forward if there is no lift off!


The horse and rider need to be balanced and have their centre of gravity as close together as possible. Unless a rider is a really good, experienced jump rider, they can more often obtain this good balance by sitting up before the jump.


We may need to make some adjustments to the horse’s impulsion as we sort out our approach to the jump and need to use a leg aid. Pat argues that we are in a much better position to do this if we are sitting up.


Pat asks us to imagine that we have two electricity sockets on the seat of your saddle and your seat bones are electrical plugs. Plug your seat bones into the sockets lightly so that you have a connection. There is no force, just a connection through which you can feel what the horse is doing underneath you and you can feel the horse. This also gives you stability.



Most traditional teachers would teach us to keep a contact with the horse’s mouth in the air. Pat does not agree with this at all. She says that a rider using the contact to stay in balance in the air is a terrible thing for the horse so riders must learn to be 100% secure in the legs to that 100% freedom can be given with the hands.

Pat feels really strongly that from the horse’s point of view he would much rather have the extra freedom to jump so that he can use himself over the jump than a restricting contact which makes it impossible for him to stretch in the air. She always says, “If you’re going to ask your horse to jump, then please allow him to jump.”


He needs to stretch his neck muscles to release his shoulder for his knees to come up
He needs to stretch his neck out and down for his hind legs to come up high over the jump
He needs to use his head and neck as a balancing pole in the air
He needs to use his head and neck as a concussion-absorbing mechanism as he lands on his front legs.
He needs to bascule over the jump

You need 100% security in the leg, 60% of this comes from gravity, i.e. the rider’s own weight through the stirrups and heels and 40% is grip through the top half of the calf muscles. You don’t want to grip with your thigh and knee or you will pivot on the knee causing the lower leg to come back and for the rider to loose their balance onto the horse’s neck. The weight needs to go through the calf, leg and out through the heels. The lower leg must not move a centimetre after lift-off.


Lots of riders have been taught that the toes should be straight or turned in. Pat teaches that this position does not help our security and the usual dressage leg needs to be turned inside out when we are jumping. The stirrup should be on the ball of the foot with the foot to the inside of the stirrup with the toe turned at ‘five to one’ and weight firmly in the heel. The essential thing is to keep the foot under the knee so that the weight of the rider through the stirrup counterbalances the top half of the body allowing the hands to give the necessary freedom for the horse to jump. The rider’s head should be up so they can to see where they are going and to allow the muscles of the spine to contract and stop the body flopping forward which would upset the balance of the horse in the air.


Pat gets us to practice our position while we are stationary a lot so that it is ingrained in our subconscious for when we need it. She uses the following scenario a lot, “imagine that you are sitting in a chair at home, feet on the floor, watching the TV beyond your horse’s ears and halfway up the horse’s neck is a box of chocolates or a cool gin and tonic. Then someone walks into the room and they want your chair and your chocolate so you need to keep your chair with your seat and push against the floor with your feet, fold from the hip and grab the chocolate.” You can practice this at home with a real chair.


In every session Pat talks about her RIBS WITH LOVE FROM PAT which is an anagram for all her secrets for perfect jumping.

R is for……..
RHYTHM – no hooking and looking, chasing and placing. . . keep the horse’s rhythm.
RELEASE the reins to allow the horse to stretch. Do not throw the reins away, but softly run your knuckles along the crest.
RIDE every stride throughout the round, riding correctly around turns – keep your inside leg lightly on the girth and ride to the outside hand.
RESPECT your horse by treating him with kindness and appreciation.

I is for…….
IMPULSION – use your legs lightly if you need to until lift-off.
INTENTION – have a strong intention of where you’re going.
IMAGINATION – imagine what you want to do. Imagine you and your horse doing the course together, picturing every jump (your horse will see the picture) and seeing yourself doing it perfectly.
INDEPENDENT – your hand must remain independent of your seat.

B is for …….
BALANCE – sit up to balance your horse on approach. To stop yourself leaning forward and upsetting the horse’s balance, back your Body off the jump, but don’t go behind the vertical.
BELIEVE in yourself and you’ll believe in the end result.
BEAM at the jump. Imagine a beam of energy coming from your mind to the jump – ride the beam.
BREATHE – don’t hold your breath. Keep remembering TO breathe out.

S is for …….
SIT UP – sit still, sit light. 
STRETCHED ARMS to free your horse’s head and neck.
STEERING – steer straight to your jump.
SECURITY in the air – 100 per cent in the legs, made out of 60 per cent gravity and 40 per cent grip.
STRIDE – strong, round, medium-length stride so that if your horse comes in wrong, he can shorten or lengthen to get himself out of trouble.
SPEED – right speed for the course or your particular horse. Some need to jump faster, some need to be controlled.
SYMPATHY – soft, sympathetic hands.

With is for …….
WAIT – for your jump. Wait with your body, don’t move.
WILLPOWER – to do all this – don’t go feeble on yourself!
THINK FAST – don’t ponder on the mess of the last jump. Don’t think backwards

LOVE – all creation is one on a wavelength of love. Really love your horse, become one with him on every level.

From is for …….
FOCUS your intention on the jump, not in the wild blue yonder. Do not look beyond the jump, you must have your attention on the job.
FOLD from your hip, not your waist. If you fold from your waist, the pelvic girdle will be vertical and you’ll get left behind and hurt your horse.
FEEL through your seat bones what is your horse is telling you. He might be saying he has gone for the big take-off, he’s saying come with me or he’s telling you he doesn’t like the look of it in which case ride me and plug into your seat bones. If you’re in the forward seat and he puts the brakes on, you will be thrown forward and be unable to recover so sit up and ride him over the jump.
FORWARD keep riding your horse forward
FREEDOM – give your horse the freedom to jump
FRONT – keep your horse in front of you
OBEDIENT – make sure your horse accelerates and brakes when you ask him to.
ORGANISED – allow yourself plenty of time when you go to a show

Pat is for …….
POSITIVE ATTITUDE – have this at all times
PAY ATTENTION – pay attention to your horse’s needs




 Pat starts off with 7 trotting poles 1.5m/41/2 feet apart positioned on a gentle curve. She uses guide poles so that the rider needs to do a minimum or steering and can let the horse stretch his neck over the poles

Next a small jump is put up in the centre of the grid, there are trot poles before and after the jump and guides to help the horse find the centre of the jump.

Next the grid has three jumps with one non jumping stride between them and with placing poles on the ground in between. The jumps stay really small for now so that Pat can focus on teaching jumping position and the horses and riders build confidence.

Now the first two jumps are a bounce and there is one stride before the third jump.

Now we have 5 bounces, still low but this still encourages the horses to use their hindquarters and gives the riders that feel as well as teaching the rider about timing!

Now Pat has straightened out the grid and built up the height with an inviting double, one canter stride between the first and second jumps
Because of the way Pat sets up the horse and rider confidence builds