Saturday, November 6, 2010

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!

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