Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cross Country and the Learning Curve

As opposed to the last time I was here, the Cross Country day dawned beautiful, sunny, and breezy. We gathered at the start box (did I mention that David and Laura have made a really wonderful set of jumps, from pre-BN through Intermediate? Well, they have!), and we started out once again by showing Jimmy our galloping positions (only this time, he said "do not 'post' the canter, or you will not like what I will do!" guess is that we'd be sans stirrups, so I'm glad none of us did!). One woman was leaning quite a bit to the right, so Jimmy motioned her over and took away her right stirrup, leather and all, then asked her to jump three times over a small tire jump. She got the point. Apparently, this was something she'd been working on.

Several folks were nervous, and to one Jimmy shouted "You're so worried he's not going to be perfect that you're not letting him do his job! You're making it worse!"

He commented that riders needed to be "relaxed and through" in all three phases. If I could understand/achieve that, I think I'd be in nirvana!

He reminded to make sure they put their weight into the turn to help the horse balance.

We started out with a single jump, but soon were jumping a small, three jump combination. Jimmy was watching to see if we balanced the horse before the jump, and then kept that balance over the jump clear through to the landing.

"Before you do the exercise, run it through in your mind!"

When it was my group's turn, I once again got to be "lead off hitter". That's pretty exciting, but scary, too. I got one direction wrong in our opening canter (I trotted on the wrong side of a clump of trees), and he chided me for it when I returned. "Are you nervous? You're not allowed to be nervous! You be nervous when I tell you to!"

We jumped over all the jumps in the first field well, including a related difference (three short strides) roll top combo. I was feeling pretty good, and then he had us do a small then medium ditch, cantering over the small then the medium. We had a stutter step over the larger one because I looked down (ARRRGGGHH), but it was all right. One participant had real trouble over it, and I got to give her a lead until we did it perfectly. :)

We did some up/down banks, and I got a little unbalanced; I love what Kathleen Zins taught me to do ("scruntch" into the saddle, then follow), but Jimmy asked us to let our hips go forward. Ultimately, I think they were saying the same thing, but of course I started thinking about my hips, and everything else sort of got lost, which wasn't good. Still, we weren't bad...just not as good as I would have liked.

Then, however, I found that David had some new jumps--including a lovely, Greenwood-clone ditch and brush.

I wasn't quite expecting that, and I was caught off guard. That's the only fence that scares me. Kathleen and I worked out our issues at Greenwood, until we thought it was a blast...but I really didn't expect to see one like this UNTIL Greenwood.

My heart raced, and of course, I started thinking bad thoughts. It was right after a down hill approach, and then about four bending strides to a three plank smallish jump.

I was first to go.

I don't know exactly what happened (well, on the approach there was a big chunk of ground missing, so we had to alter our stride, and then my mind wasn't in the game so I'm sure I stopped my hips/took my leg off), but we stopped. It wasn't pretty, but I stayed on. I got to try it again (Jimmy said we all get three tries, then we go on, because we can't waste other peoples' time). I admit to one more faulty try, and then I took his advice from yesterday: I hit his lazy Irish ass. :)

It worked!

I tried to explain that we had a bad experience over a jump like that, and he brushed me off, saying I was in a "no whining zone". Jim said "Think about it: He got behind your leg yesterday, you whacked him, and he got better. He was being an idiot today, you whacked him, he got better. YOU do the math!"

Towards then end of the XC schooling, Paddy once again got ticked off with the stop/start business (he started doing little Irish bucks between the various water exercises). I knew he was fed up, but it's nice to know he can be a "model" for Jimmy Wofford when need be.

I learned that when things aren't going right, and I'm feeling frustrated, I need to change something. If changing one thing isn't working, I need to go through a list, and that list might well include giving Paddy a little "tap of encouragement". I remember watching WEG and Rolex, amazed that everyone seemed to be using their whips quite effectively, and I realized I don't know how/when to use it. I'm learning how to use spurs, but I need to include the whip into my arsenal of tools!

A couple other "gems" from the man himself:

"If you think you can't, you're right."

"Panic, and you produce bad jumping. I'll tell you when to panic, goddamn it!"

"Yeah, he was crappy. But you rode him."

I'm depending on the kindness of, friends from the finish this blog. I had to stop taking notes and leave so that I could be back by midnight (actually, 12:30), so I didn't get to watch the final group go.

Still, what a wonderful clinic! Thanks, David and Laura, and THANK YOU to James C. Wofford for sharing his experience, his wit, and his wisdom with us. Here's to a third coming!

Special thanks to Linda Earley for the fine photos!

Day 2 Talk/Q&A: It's all about the Balance

Once again, the day began with an hour long lecture/question and answer session, and at leas initially, folks hadn't had their starbucks again, save yours truly.

I asked several questions I'd been thinking about: Why use a figure 8 noseband? (other than the fact that SO MANY folks do it).....some people think it gives more control, but basically it's for a horse that opens his mouth both open and sideways. If your horse doesn't do that, you don't need it.

I also asked about the position of stud holes, given that my new farrier places them differently than my old one. At first, Jimmy said I should ask my vet, because he wasn't sure, but he also noted that he thought the "point" of the heel would be best.

One of the participants stepped up then and asked about studs (Jimmy called them something different....not clips, but something....). "When do you start using them?" I KNEW the response to this question, since I asked it last year: "When you get tired of slipping!" He went on to say that most Novice riders should know how/when to use them.

Tricia asked about wraps: standing wraps? When? How long?

Jimmy doesn't do standing wraps on a regular basis. If the horse is doing "extreme" work, he'll do it overnight, but he's talking 3 and 4 star work. His philosophy? Turn out, hacking, linament, and standing in the creek on his farm for hours at a time. :)

He talked about his program to get horses "fit" yesterday, but David asked today about prepping for a 1/2 star or other long formats. Jimmy nodded, saying that this preparation would need to be a bit more intense.

He said to follow the information in his book, but basically you'd need to add 30/40 minutes of hacking to it. You build your horse up to these levels BEFORE competing.

5 " @ 220 X 2 with 2" L
4 " @ 400 X 3 with 2" L

I loved this one: when someone asked how we can figure out what 350-400 mpm is, he said "350 is the speed at which you don't feel stupid for standing up in two point"...!

You should be able to slow canter twice the distance of your cross country. Given that cross country may be 10-15 minutes for the big guys, that's almost half an hour!

This schedule is for N and T.

For P, we'd do the same trot set (5" @ 220), but we'd do

6" @ 400 X 3 with 2" L

For I and A, we'd do

8" @ 400 X 3 with 2" L

Specifically for a Training Three Day Event (which several of us were shooting for), he suggested:

5" @ 220 X 3
4" @ 350-400
4" @ 350-400
4" @ 350-400

By easing up and then easing back, you help the horse become more elastic and responsive. Plus, you don't stress him too much. He gets used to listening to you.

You can also shorten your stirrups to help with YOUR fitness!

For a 1 star, he suggests:

6" @ 400-450
6" @ 400-500
6" @ 400-520

For a 2 star, you go up to 600.

Make sure you pull up before the horse comes "out of the bridle". Psychologically, the horse believes he could have done more, and that's what you want.

There are some horses who don't seem to be able to come out of the bridle--he described The Optimist, and talked about how he had a big, 6/10 of a mile very steep hill, and he would say "Ok, you knuckleheaded Irish sonofabitch, DO IT!". He always did.

Keep meticulous records of your program. And you should start NOW to prepare for the long format in spring. Horses are slower to peak than humans, but they stay fitter longer, too.

He talked to us a bit about our position over the jumps, and where our leg and body should be. Basically, like he said in his book, if you removed the horse, the rider should be able to stand.

He asked what the "two points" were in two point (two knees), and what the "three points" were in the three point seat (two seat bones and pubic bone). You can hold a three point without reins/stirrups. Harder to hold a two point.

We use a two point for
  • jumping
  • galloping
  • to keep weight off the horse's back
  • at the top of the posting trot
Most riders put too much weight on the horses forehand. If we load the forehand, we hinder the horse's balance, and therefore we're likely to have a bad, unbalanced jump (and likely rails). Similarly, if we sit too soon, we're likely to unbalance the horse's hind end, and we'll have rails.

When sitting, we should have a 90 degree angle in our knee for SJ. When we're in two point, it's 110 degrees.

He described how this position will change when we add uphill/downhill terrain. If we remain forward downhill, we're likely to topple. We need to be poised above the saddle, sitting but not down, and reins slipping going downhill.

He likes for riders to gallop in two point, come back to three point before fences (that will be a signal to your horse that something is coming that he needs to be "under himself" for). Jimmy doesn't believe in "zones"....except, perhaps, for the "no whining zone"!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stadium Exercises: Listening to our Horses

As usual, Jimmy asked each rider for his/her name and one sentence about the horse. Ironically, no one (including me) could limit their introduction to their horse to a sentence. :)

The first thing each person had to do was to adjust their stirrup length, making sure as they let their legs hang the stirrup bar hit them at or slightly above the ankle bone. The ball of the foot should rest on the tread. With weight on the outside branch, each rider was told to stretch their calves.

Then they were ready to go.

He had each participant post at the trot over a 2 foot vertical, remind folks to "keep posting" and not to stop. "Don't try to guess when he'll take it! When we do that, we usually guess wrong!" Boy, if I could but remember ONE THING.....

Several of the riders were hunters, and Jimmy made sure they were looking at the right place: "Look at the jump, not the sky! Right through his ears. When it disappears, THEN look up."

One rider was threatened that if she didn't start using her right leg, she'd be stirrupless. "Hey! I saw your right ankle come to life just now! Maybe we can do this sport after all!"

Riders were encouraged to have "soft arms". He told one rider who was concentrating on that "That was the best jump of your life!"

"Make sure your horse can ALWAYS use his head and neck! Give more in the air!"

One rider who had a "fresh" horse, and Jimmy told her to grip with her knees so that she didn't confuse him by using her lower leg.

Once again, Jimmy had us count before the jumps--AND after the jumps (with "Land! One! Two! Three!....). He said riders that can't do that type of counting aren't ready for related distances.

For a rider whose horse wasn't adjustable: "It's called dressage!"

MORE than one rider heard "wait with your upper body"

We had a series of jumps in a circle of sorts, with two jumps in a row for a straight line, or a bending line. Jimmy had us do circles after one pair before we did the next set. "This helps to balance your horse. If you need multiple circles, TAKE THEM. Make sure your horse is balanced before you attempt the second line!" By doing circles, your horse lands knowing he'll have to rebalance, and he's likely to do it on his own.

I noticed a lot of the riders who were tense make their horses tense. DUH. I wish I could tatto "RELAX" on my psyche!

"Don't distract your horse before the jump!"

"Soften your fingers--then open the door!"

"Don't pull as much on landing...the horse needs to be soft after a jump"

To one rider, Jimmy noted: "You want so badly to be a good rider you don't allow your horse to be a good horse!"

(That's another tatoo I need!)

"You aren't lazy enough! You are working too hard! You need to be lazier to rider this horse well!" (this was to a tense, eager rider on a tense, eager horse)

Make sure your shoulder is above your knee!

This one I loved:

"Don't look on the ground! All that money is mine!"

Several riders heard "You can't jump without your horse!" It's nice to know I'm not the only one who jumps ahead. I heard that one a lot.

He told one rider to make her "reins shorter, and her arms longer"

"Land in your ankles!" Jimmy was BIG on making sure the horse was comfortable. Helping the horse be balanced was one of his major efforts.

Another favorite line: "Just because you had a knock down doesn't mean you can Forrest Gump your way to the next fence!"

When a rider tried to explain WHY she "Forrest Gumped" Jimmy said "Am I wearing my 'I give a shit' shirt?"

During my ride, Paddy got tired of the "stop, start, stop, start" business of waiting our turn, and he got further and further behind my leg. I was getting frustrated, kicking and probably flapping my legs, but to no avail. Finally, underpowered, he crashed over an oxer and I popped off. I wasn't hurt, and got back on, but I was frustrated: "what do I do? He's behind my leg!" Jimmy said "I'm going to turn my back. When I do, hit that lazy Irish sonofabitch so I don't see you!"

So I popped him once with the crop....and we were suddenly "powered" again. The rest of the time, I was the "Model" (we were, in Jimmy's words, "on fire"). Sigh. Wish my I could hear my "wake up" calls before they hit me over the head.

To another woman who didn't want to hit her horse, Jimmy said "Ever housebroken a puppy? You rub his nose in it. Then it's over. You don't carry a grudge. That's what this is like."

Some other gems:

"I'm laughing at you, I'm not laughing with you!"

"Don't flap your arms; use your spurs!"

"Experience is what you get right after you needed it!" (DEFINITELY true in my case)

I need to learn that when I get frustrated, something needs to change.

Later in the evening, several of the participants went to the Red Earth Feed and Tack Store. What a cool place! Everyone came home with more than they really needed. Later that evening, we gathered what food we had and brought it to Laura and David's house, where we had a magnificent "pot luck" dinner. Good food, good conversation, and yes, some good wine. But an early enough evening so that we were ready for the 8:00 talk the next morning!

Day 1 Talk/ Q&A: Who Had Their Starbucks?

As usual, I had my very strong starbucks coffee before I fed, cleaned the stall, and hightailed it to the 8:00 am lecture with Jimmy Wofford.

Once again, he started the “lecture” by asking for questions. Though a huge crowd had gathered in the large living room of David and Laura’s home, to the point of people spilling into the kitchen, no one seemed to have a question. “What’s wrong?” Jimmy chided us. “No one had their starbucks?”

I couldn’t let that pass, and of course, I’d come prepared with several questions, so I started out with one that Sally Buffington asked me to ask: “What do you mean when you say in your book “Jump little but often?”

Jimmy started right in: you’ll wear/break your horses down if you jump all the time at the height you’re competing at. But you CAN jump frequently at a lower level. So jump often, but jump 3-12 inches lower than you are competing. You might have one jump that’s close to height. And before a competition, you can raise the jumps so your horse knows what’s coming. But you’ll save your horse a lot of wear and tear if you practice jumping frequently, but at a lower level than you compete at.

He quoted Bill Steinkraus, from Reflections on Riding and Jumping: “Horses should be exposed to fences by kind rather than degree”. It’s important to expose horses to all the types of fences they’ll see (verticals, oxers, Swedish oxers, liverpools, etc.), as well as XC jumps, but NOT necessarily at the height they will be doing in competition.

I then asked “How do you learn the right pace/speed/balance to jump various jumps?” I described how I often felt I was going well, and a coach would tell me I needed MORE impulsion, speed, bounce, etc. Or sometimes I went TOO fast, but at the wrong balance.

I have to say, I loved Jim’s answer: “That’s what you get with experience. Just think of the fun you’ll have figuring it out!”


He recounted an experience he had with Bert DeNemathy, who was watching a rider land from a jump and clucked. The rider didn’t “hear” the cluck, and he had a bad fence. The point was that Bert was so experienced that he could tell from the landing the rider didn’t have the right speed/impulsion, and he was trying to help him fix it before they got to the fence.

A rider asked about warming a “hot” horse up, and Jimmy said that we eventers don’t jump as much as H/J folks, so there’s nothing wrong with trotting the horse around, then trotting over a cross rail—in other words, warming the horse up over jumps.

Jimmy was asked about the relationship of dressage to jumping, and he said that some riders, like Becky Holder and Michael Jung (the WEG winner) cross train every day—they might do 30 min. of dressage, then hack out, popping over a couple jumps. The thing is, these riders are professionals; they can jump in their dressage saddle and be very safe, very comfortable. Amateurs, however, get confused if you ask them to do dressage in a forward seat, or to jump in a dressage saddle, so he likes to keep the practice separate. It WILL bleed over, but it’s good to work on them separately. It helps the amateurs to focus, and most amateurs NEED focus.

He described a typical training process he uses for Novice, Training, and low Prelim:

Day 1) Dressage

Day 2) SJ

Day 3) Dressage

Day 4) Canter

Day 5) Day 1

He calls it a four day rotation. For Prelim and above, he does this:

Day 1) Dressage and hack

Day 2) SJ and hack

Day 3) Dressage and hack

Day 4) Canter/Gallop

Day 5) Long hack

Day 6) Day 1

This, of course, is the five day rotation. The hack is a marching walk on the buckle. He used to do trot sets, but replaced them with the hack because of hard ground. Where he lives, in VA, there are only about 60 days a year where the ground is good to trot; otherwise, he feels the horse gets more out of walking. Why? Both the gallop and the walk are four beat gaits….so the muscles the horse uses to walk are the same he uses to gallop. Makes sense! For one stars, he walks 1 hour; two stars = 1.5 hours; three and four stars = 2 hours.

As for guidelines? “Your horse will tell you”.

“we must probe anaerobic conditioning.”

Two ways to do this: Speed (galloping), and inclines. He prefers the latter, because speed, esp. unsupervised speed, breaks horses down. But you need one if you don’t have the other….so us poor flatlanders are SOL, and we need to gallop!

Someone asked about heart monitors, etc. Jimmy said he didn’t use them because they used to be so klunky…but nowadays he’s sure they are helpful and easy to use.

Ellen asked about trotting on pavement, which is something I’ve heard others talk about. Jimmy was wary; he said it CAN be good, but the owner needs to be careful. He quoted a farrier who said “A horse’s foot needs judicious abuse to improve”. There you go.

Another participant asked about “rider” coaches vs. “horse” coaches. Jimmy said if one’s not working, perhaps you need to look into the other!

Someone asked about a horse who won’t listen to her leg, and Jimmy suggested a lose cavesson and rubber “hot dog” bit. If the horse is leaning on them, most people think they need more bit—but often the horse needs LESS bit. Don’t use tack because someone else does; use it because your horse needs it. Just as “the eyes are the mirror of the soul” for humans, Walter Zettl said that “the horse’s mouth is the mirror of his soul”.

“What do you do with a horse that jigs?”

1. Cut feed/increase roughage

2. Walk/halt

3. Leg yield

4. Shoulder in

The horse needs to be trained to accept the leg, and these exercises will help.

I asked about the video “If Horses Could Speak” and wondered how eventers should work to make sure the horse uses his back correctly. Jimmy said that most of the problems we see come from tension. As the horse engages more, the back is stressed more. If there is tension, the horse cannot engage.

He asked “did you ever hear an instructor say, ‘did you feel him grow in front?’” Of course horses do NOT grow in front…what they do is engage from behind. The feeling of “growing” in front is a reflection of what’s going on behind. But to do this, the horse MUST be relaxed. That doesn’t mean use gadgets!

The horse’s abs and gluts need to be fit for the back to engage, too: hillwork, cavelletis, and gymnastics will all help.

Also—upper level riders appear to be leaning back, but they really aren’t—they are upright, but the horse’s hind end is engaged, thus lower. However, when you see a second level rider leaning back, it’s not the same thing.

“Tie your head to your knees, then have someone stand on your shoulders”. That’s akin to using gadgets and asking a horse to do something. Tension is BAD.

Jimmy quoted from the 1921 Army Manual of Equitation:

“Any system of equitation which disturbs the tranquility of the horse is flawed.”

Rock on!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Getting There

As some of you know, I have a new truck. It’s a Dodge Dually 3500, and it’s my first dually. I’m THRILLED with how it pulls my trailer (first time out, I had to keep checking to see if the trailer was still there!). I needed a larger truck because of my new and improved trailer with a tiny slide out (which is WONDERFUL); my Ford F250 was simply overloaded.


I got pretty darn good at maintaining (and changing!) truck tires with my Ford, so I assumed the Dodge would be a piece of cake.


En route to Edmond Oklahoma and the Woodlands Equestrian center, I noticed that horrifyingly consistent “bump, bump, bump” which usually means a bad (or underinflated) tire. So I stopped for gas and prepared to check the pressure and fill the tire….except that for some reason, they put the stem on the INSIDE of the dually tire…which means, short of taking the damn tire off, I couldn’t check the pressure, let alone fill it. Believe me, I tried. For about 30 minutes.

Finally, I saw a man at a pump with a truck just like mine, and I asked him about it. “Well,” he said, “you can get an extender, but I ended up pulling the stem out of my tire with it. Your best bet is to go to a tire store and have them fix it.”


The good news is that no light was coming on telling me my tire pressure was low. And it only started bumping over 65 mph. So I simply drove 60 the whole way, adding about 45 minutes to my trip.

The good news is that when I arrived, David and Laura were very kind, and I was able to find a really nice stall and to park the trailer nearly level , next to my San Angelo friends from the KOC clinic, Trish New and her daughters Tori and Elli, and their trainer Ellen Doughtey from Willow Draw. What great people eventers are!

Tori and I went for a walk with our horses in the dimming light, enjoying the cool air and changing colors of the trees and the skyline. I had planned a quiet evening home, but I was convinced to go to eat with the News, and we ended up at Old Chicago Pizza where we had a lovely dinner and I sampled my first Smithicks beer (an Irish beer, of course, suggested by Ellen who was a bartender in Ireland for a time!).

It was COLD tonight! I tested the heater in the trailer (it works! Yea!), and brought out the down comforter. We need to make sure to get a good night’s sleep for tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Second Coming!

God....aka, Jimmy once again coming within 500 miles of me! That means that this Friday I'll be hightailing it up to Edmond, OK to once more sit at the feet of the master. I'm sooooooo thrilled!

Of course, it's a crappy time of the semester, and a certain university committee is kicking my butt, so I COULD be in better shape both mentally and physically....but it's


So I will pull out the best I can do, and perhaps a bit more, and let my horse show THE MAN how much he (both "he"s) have taught me!

Here's a quote from JW to show what I'm talking about:

"Adopt a classical position, resist all fads and gadgets, and ride the horse quietly and softly between the two straight lines of the stirrup leather and the elbow to the horse's mouth," he explains in the book Training the Three Day Event Horse and Rider. "It's simple. It's just not easy."


More as I can post. Until then, dear readers, pleasant dreams!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Day Two: Slip-Slidin' Away Cross Country

Did I mention that it thunderstormed ALL NIGHT Saturday night? And that the trailer rocked all night, and that Lucy (one of Jennifer’s cute dogs) paced and worried all night? Well, it did, she did, and we weren’t perhaps quite as rested as we might have been in other circumstances. But Jimmy Wofford does NOT accept whining/excuses, so on we went.

Neither Jennifer nor I had ever ridden cross country in the rain before…remember, we’re from Lubbock, where it’s sunny, arid, and flat. I had warmed up at Coconino in a light drizzle sheltered by the tall trees last fall, but the rain stopped and the sun came out before my ride.

The sun did nothing of the sort this Easter Sunday.

Nonetheless, I walked all over the XC course with Jennifer, and she with me. Given our 7.5 hour drive home, however, neither of us braved the final group, and I’m sad about that; I learn so much when watching other groups go.

The cross country lesson definitely built on the stadium jumping, and I was able to “see” the results given that we had more room to achieve—or muck up—the consistent pace before and after our fences.

He started us out by asking us to stay in galloping position at a trot down a hill, post at the foot, then canter up in galloping position. Once again, he emphasized that our stirrup leathers MUST be perpendicular to the ground, and that meant that if the ground went downhill, our stirrup leather needed to “follow” it to be perpendicular; same thing for going uphill.

Jim noted that he hated to see riders “post the canter”…and I’m afraid I’ve been doing that! I need to make sure that my “following” seat comes more from my legs and less from my waist. Something more to work on at home!

He started us out with a tiny log on the ground, trotting over it then turning around and cantering over it. Like the rails before, he wanted to make sure that we were balanced and consistent and NOT making the horse unbalanced by shifting our positions.

Of course, PC was a bit wonky about it all: cold, rain, mud the color of blood (which freaked us both out!), and he decided to “look” at the first three or four fences, including the tiny log. NOTE TO SELF: He’s going to do that. I need to recognize it and sit quietly, waiting for him to get over himself and get into the groove. If I flop and make a big deal about it, I’m simply feeding into his “wonkiness”. If I’m quiet, it will feed into making him quiet. If we pump with our elbows, upper body, the horse thinks we’re going to hit him in the mouth, and he’ll continue to be upset; if we’re quiet, the horse will settle.

He showed us a single bridge for galloping, and showed us how to wrap rubber reins around two of our fingers to keep them from slipping once our gloves have gotten totally soaked in the rain (so we could reign with our reins in the rain)…!

We soon put several fences together, and we practiced galloping position, sitting up/getting into three point, then jumping in rhythm. I was amazed at how smoothly horses jumped (even when they got close to the jump or took off long) when they were in rhythm! I know what PC and I have to do in the next couple horse trials. And yet again I’m saddened that we don’t have a hunt close by; I can see the benefit of doing that on a regular basis.

Going up and down hills, a lot of the riders (uh, including me) were in balance, but then we “let down” when we were done. We MUST find balance when we’re done! Hips over knees!

Riders also need to be careful that they don’t sit so tall—even back—that they don’t lean forward enough, then plop back too early (I think George Morris calls sitting down on the horse’s back before he lands the “cardinal sin” of riding). I fear I have been doing that in my attempt NOT to lean too far forward when jumping. I guess the latter is better than the former!

Jennifer needed to “let go” before and during the fence. She (and many others!) was concerned about the footing, and wanted to make sure they “controlled” the horse before the fence…but by doing that, the rhythm was lost, and the horse was MORE likely to slip/have a bad jump. He encouraged her to grab mane before the jump, then hold on until several strides out. I think it’s good for ALL of us do to that—after all, doesn’t William Fox-Pitt ride with a neck strap on some horses, even at the highest levels? I think it’s a great “recall” of how to balance WITH the horse, and I’m going to do it more. I’d started feeling proud of myself that I didn’t “need” to, but I think I’ve started to “separate” from my horse, and I want to be with him, to help him balance….and if grabbing mane helps, I’m THERE.

I think learning to event is like learning music, or even grammar: Some people do really well learning the mechanics: the notes, the parts of speech, and so forth. Others learn better by ear/immersion. Jimmy seems to teach the latter way—sort of a Suzuki method for eventing—but he continues to talk about the mechanics WHILE teaching us the “feel”. That way, when we’re ready, we can understand the mechanics, and “name” them—but only after we’ve felt them. When I learned to play piano, I wasn’t very good at the notes…but I could figure out the notes because I knew what the song was. So I’d memorize it by playing by ear first, then impress the instructor. That only worked, however, when I knew the song!

I do think that Jim’s approach won’t work for everyone, but it certainly resonates with me, in part because that’s how I learn. It’s like the theory/practice split as well; I “hear” theory, and it makes sense after I see how it works with practice—but at least initially, the practice comes first. Only after the practice is comfortable can I see the theory—and then, eventually, I can read the theory, contextualize it in my “feel” of practice, and apply it before I feel it. But I had to be comfortable in my practice first.

My History and Theory of College Composition students struggled with these concepts in their blogs, too, last fall. They couldn’t understand why we had to deal with all the theory and history as context for their teaching; they wanted to know what to do on Monday in their classes! I think I need to give them a better mix next time. For I really do believe that some of them need the comfort of the practice before they can understand theory. Feel before understanding.

One of the things I LOVE about this man (besides the fact that he can ride/write/teach) is that he reads, he remembers what he reads, and he can cite vital insights of others at opportune times. It's like clinic-ing with 20 people rather than just one. Talk about more bang for your buck!

Thanks again to David and Laura, Woodland Equestrian, and especially to James C. Wofford. I hope I have the opportunity to ride with you all again in the future.