in Port Perry, the 2002 James Wofford Clinic received such an overwhelming response that it was necessary to add an extra day in order to accommodate everyone. The following is one rider's account of the Young Rider Day, which took place on Friday June 1.
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7:30 a.m.: The thunderstorm which has been raging for the past eight hours is taking a coffee break, but the rain doggedly continues to fall as we pull into Dreamcrest Farm. Despite the dreary, grey half-light of
the morning, the farm is impressive to behold. Flanked by rolling hills and woodland it boasts two indoor arenas (which, judging by the weather, would come in handy), several outdoor sand rings, a large grass short-course field,
and several acres of inviting cross-country obstacles ranging in difficulty from Entry to Preliminary. Looking out over the rolling expanses of green turf to the cross-country fences visible in the distance, excitement and
anticipation flutter in my chest. If only the weather would cooperate.
All clinic participants assemble in the Emerald Mare restaurant located above the Dreamcrest barn/lounge complex. (Our bleary-eyed parents congregate around
the coffee table and commiserate on the tribulations of their roles as chauffeur/financier/groom). At 8:00 Jimmy arrives for the pre-clinic lecture/question-and answer session.
He begins with a detailed, scientific breakdown and
analysis of each of the five components in the sequence of a successful jump, beginning with the approach, followed by the takeoff, "air time," landing, and departure. Jimmy explains that, since horses have monocular
vision and thus can only see where their noses point, in order for a horse to see his jump, he must be allowed to raise his head and approach the obstacle with his nose perpendicular to the jump. This means that, although riders
should approach an obstacle on a contact, "packaging" the horse between rein and leg, they should not force the horse onto the bit, since in this position the horse cannot properly see and judge his fence. As for the
rider, Jimmy maintains that on approach, the rider's eyes should be focussed on the top of the fence, and not (as is often taught) on the horizon beyond.
Jimmy is emphatic when stressing the importance of riders remaining
consistent in their position between fences. He advises that riders choose either a two-point or three-point seat and stick with it, avoiding "posting" in the canter, as this is irritating to the horse, as well as hard on
his back. Another key to successful jumping is the maintenance of even, consistent rhythm, especially on the final approach to a fence. Sudden, erratic acceleration or deceleration directly in front of an obstacle is disconcerting
to both horse and rider and impedes a smooth, natural jump. Jimmy suggests that riders count out loud to help preserve the cadence of their horse's stride.
Happily, as Jimmy concludes his lecture and the Preliminary riders
prepare to tack up for their stadium lesson, the rain subsides, and the elusive sun toys with the notion of making an appearance.
Once assembled in the sand ring, Jimmy allows us to follow our own familiar warm-up routine,
loosening up ourselves and our horses as we see fit. Jimmy then has us work in trot over a small vertical. After watching our group jump back and forth several times, Jimmy notes that many of us are not making use of our outside
aids when negotiating our turns. To demonstrate the importance of the outside aids, Jimmy selects one unfortunate member from our group, takes the reins over the horse's head as if to lead the horse away, and then hands them back
to the rider so that both reins are held on the right side of the horse's body. Jimmy then instructs his "victim" to canter a 20-metre circle left. Try this at home some time. It quickly reveals who has schooled her horse
to move off of her outside aids and who hasn't. (Once he got the hang of it, our "demo" rider did an excellent job of performing the exercise.)
Essentially, a good turn involves the application of the outside rein
against the horse's neck, and the outside leg slightly behind the girth, to guide the horse's body around the turn. The inside rein acts as a leading rein, positioning the horse's head in the new direction. A bad turn commonly
results from pulling on the inside rein, without application of the outside aids.
Jimmy makes it clear that there is a right way and a wrong way to steady the horse on landing after a fence. He gives us an exercise in which we
are to jump into a combination (vertical, five strides to an oxer), land, and, remaining in a two-point, halt in a straight line well before the oxer. The goal of this exercise is to teach the rider to steady their horse using a
strong back and a low, bridged rein- not by throwing his weight back in the saddle and yanking on the horse's mouth.
Jimmy strongly believes in giving the horse and rider a task immediately upon landing after a fence, as it
keeps both horse and rider sharp and disciplined, and reminds them that their job is not finished just because the jumping effort is now behind them. Not once during the lesson does Jimmy conclude his explanation of how to ride a
particular exercise by saying "Finish by cantering aimlessly away from the fence and pull up when you feel like it." It is always "Upon landing, halt in a straight line," or, "Turn left/right," or,
"Canter a 20-metre circle, making transitions from working canter to medium canter," etc. This is especially effective when dealing with young horses, or horses who are easily bored or distracted.
The grand finale of
our stadium lesson consists of riding a skinny on a bending line to a corner (prepping us for the cross-country to come later). The lesson ends just in time- the sky has grown ominously dark, and thunder rumbles in the distance.
Miraculously, the cross-country portion of our clinic is graced by blue sky and glorious sunshine, despite the fact that the unfortunate Intermediate riders had gotten drenched in their stadium lesson a few hours earlier. During
this lesson, Jimmy again stresses the importance of free forward movement and even rhythm (albeit at a more forward pace then in the stadium ring). We begin by jumping several simple obstacles in our two-point out of a forward pace
to establish rhythm and confidence.
After this we successfully negotiate larger galloping fences, and perfect our coffin-riding techniques, before moving on to drop fences. After observing our group drop down a simple bank
Jimmy notes that, although most of us show good form over the actual drop, upon landing we are hopelessly slow and disorganized when gathering up our reins and preparing for the next obstacle. He therefore gives us a series of
exercises (such as turning left after the bank and cantering a few strides to a skinny) which force us to reorganize on landing as quickly and precisely as possible.
Due to the excellent preparation which the morning's stadium
lesson had provided, the cross-country portion of the clinic flows quite smoothly, with horses and riders enjoying a happy romp over Dreamcrest's inviting Short Course cross-country field and a refreshing splash in the water
complex. Sunshine, sweet air, blue sky, and springy green turf round out a day which couldn't have been better spent.