Monday, June 2, 2008

Day Four: The Test

Today was, for all intents and purposes, a test of what the participants had learned throughout the clinic. I know it had to be intimidating for the riders, but it did equate to a "show" or test situation, so it was good training all around.

David set up a stadium jumping course, and after the riders had warmed up on their own, he invited them to walk the course on their own while the audience members held their horses. Since he'd been pushing "thinking for yourself" througout the clinic, he didn't help them as they walked the course. Afterwards, he asked them questions (like "how many strides between elements" and "how will you make the turn to X line?" all of which they had to answer thinking about THEIR OWN horses), but he didn't give them answers--he made them figure things out for themselves, and when they answered, he asked: "are you sure? Why?"

After that, he helped them warm up with a few specific fences and some advice on how to take them more successfully. Then it was time for the test.

He instructed the participants to enter the ring as they would a FEI jumping day, noting that it was required to salute the judge (which he was serving as). Some of the riders did this awkwardly, and he made them go back and do it again. He quizzed them about how long they had from when the bell/buzzer sounded until they had to jump (45 seconds). It was obvious that the riders were tense, but determined to do their best.

Most riders were able to do the course fine, either clean or with a rail or two. Afterwards, he asked the riders what they thought, and he expected them to be able to discuss what went well (and WHY), as well as what went wrong (and WHY). He asked how many strides people got between efforts, and was obviously disappointed if riders couldn't remember. Some riders had to do lines or even the whole course again (and for a few of the advanced riders, he set the course up another level and asked them to do a maxed out course). Even I could see how the riders were riding better.

Some things I learned:

*Every time you add a stride, you add 2 seconds.

*Basic sports psychology: "I'm sitting on the best jumper in the house." BELIEVE it.

*When you enter the ring, in your mind go over every fence in order.

*USE the corners to balance, but DON'T lose that forward energy: Turn the FORWARD into UP. Go so far as to help the horse's head come up so that he can see the fence. Balance isn't just going slower.

*If your horse is spooky, walk him by the fence/line that is problematic (parallel). Make him go straight, and where YOU want to go.

Because of the 10 hour drive to Lubbock, we had to leave before the clinic was over....but all in all, this clinic was a phenomenal learning opportunity for the participants AND for the audience. I would encourage everyone to participate or audit in an O'Connor clinic in the future. I hope to participate in the future.

Some final notes: Thanks again to Tracy and Bobby Hewlett for hosting this clinic, and especially for allowing us to audit at no cost. They have a wonderful facility, and they embody the generous nature that I've come to see as a part of this sport.

And special thanks to David O'Connor, who came and put on a fantastic clinic despite the personal tragedy of losing two beloved family members, Teddy and Tigger Too, before the clinic. His honesty, his straightforward observations, his wealth of knowledge, and his obvious love for the horses and the sport of eventing were made crystal clear. Bravo, and best wishes to you and Karen.

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