Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Woff

(As an aside: Izzy and I had a wonderful ride today. She did one spook/rear thing that I rode her through and she was really, really good after that. Win in the dressage saddle!!)

Jimmy Wofford Clinic 3/6/10-3/7/10 @ Tulip Springs Farm

Let me just say that I was SOOO psyched to go to this clinic. Jimmy Wofford is to eventing what George Morris is to showjumping. (I read both their columns in Practical Horseman, and since the columns are next to each other, I imagine they're friends.) We came in Friday night and stayed at a hotel, then were off bright and early the next morning to find the farm. That ended up being a bit of a project... we somehow had the wrong address, but we'd left in plenty of time and ended up in the right place.

The clinic kicked off with a one-hour lecture. As a former college student and soon-to-be grad student, let me just say how refreshing it was to listen to a lecture I was actually interested in. I scribbled down notes because I wanted to remember, not because I wanted to know them for a test.

Jimmy looks exactly like he does in Practical Horseman. He's not one of those "take-a-photo-when-I-was-pretty-and-now-I'm-old" types. He's just very down to earth and very intelligent. We could have been friends, if I wasn't so intimidated by who he was and if he actually lived you know, on this side of the country. He doesn't really like to give long lectures; he had us ask questions and he inserted mini-lectures as he saw fit. On day one, we covered several interesting topics.

--Punishment for refusing a jump
According to Jimmy, it is a rider's responsibility to make sure a horse is educated about a jump before the rider ever punishes the horse for not jumping. If the horse does understand, it is important to punish "briefly, sharply, and savagely, but never sustained". However, if the horse is not educated about a certain style of jump, then instead of punishing, break it down. Take the most basic elements of the jump and slowly build it up. He also mentioned that this sort of thing is time confusing because it's so individual, so he probably wouldn't be doing any of it in the clinic. (Fortunately, it wasn't necessary.)

--See change as progress
Jimmy pointed out that too many people have a specific issue with a horse, say refusing for example. They work and work at it, and then the horse rushes the jump. Instead of being frustrated about this, Jimmy pointed out that this is progress. It isn't exactly waht you wanted, but it's a step in the right direction.

--Riding Position
There is no correct riding position in eventing, particularly the jumping phases. There is just what is happening right now and where you need to be to be most effective.

Although he laid out a very specific conditioning regime in his book and went over it with us, Jimmy stressed that he really doesn't want lower-level horses to be too fit. It's a bad thing if they're stronger and hotter than their riders. Oh, and he defines training level as "lower". Just so you know. He did recommend a rotation schedule for training purposes, though. It looks like this, broken down by days.
1) Dressage
2) Showjumping
3) Dressage
4) Canter/conditioning
5) repeat above cycle
He warned us to be careful of a day off, because this schedule will get the horse very fit and then they'll get "fizzy". (Fizzy Izzy as a show name, anyone?) 40-45 minutes of dressage is plenty. Don't attempt something you can't deal with in that amount of time or you'll just be frustrating your horse.

Interval training gets horses really fit, but it has the potential to break them down if it's not very carefully maintained. be aware that as you condition, your horse and his issues will change. Remember, change is progress.

He let us in on an eventing secret. There is a way to win every single event you attend. It's simple, really. Just win the dressage, have no faults on cross country, and go clean show jumping. Why is that so hard?

--Bitting and gadgets
Horses run away in three ways.
1) They invert. To deal with this, use a bit with a curb chain to bring the head down.
2) They pull. Think thick corrugated surface like a waterford. Don't use thin bits! They will cut the horse's mouth, and that kind of cut never really heals. Can you spell bit issue?
3) They pull down. This is what gag bits are designed for. They lift the horse's head. Always ride with a snaffle rein so you have something to go back to.

All things considered though, gadgets like the bits above just mask problems. Try to ride without them in lessons and clinics so you can improve your horse. Obviously though, you have to live through the short term to make it to the long term. Stay safe, but always try to be training your horse so you don't need the gadget.

A perfect jump is a perfect half circle. It has never been done. Instead, focus on this: approach, jump, land, and depart, all at the same speed. The underlying theme is balance. A balanced horse will jump well. Rhythm allows us to hear the balance of the horse, which is why it's so critical. If The Woff and George Morris stand side by side and watch a jump in which the horse canters up, jumps, lands and departs at the same speed, Jimmy assures us he will say, "Good!" and Mr. Morris will say, "No. No. No, Jimmy. Her hairnet was wrong."

Adjustability in a horse presupposes that the rider has good timing. Timing takes years and years and lots of gymnastics to develop. Focus on rhythm instead. Timing is important, but not yet. Basically, if your horse needs to be that accurate to a small jump, you have the wrong horse. And, if you've been admiring the pony hunters lately, remember this: to get your horse to jump like a pony, you need to ride like a child. That is, forward, not pulling, and going with them.

That was the lecture from day one. I'll get day two next time.

In the mean time, here are a couple pictures from the showjumping, which was day one.

I so want this horse. He's a 16.3 1/2 Selle Argentine (Selle Fancais/ Argentine thoroughbred) who is an amazing athlete. GORGEOUS!!

Here is my one picture of Jimmy and the beginner novice riders. After the first few rounds of show jumping, I realized that I know none of these people and I'm not a great photographer. I'd be better served just by listening than by taking pictures.

Some important notes from showjumping:
Look at the top rail of a vertical, the front rail of an oxer, the back rail of a triple bar and the center rail of a hogsback when approaching to see what the horse sees. When the rail disappears, it's time to jump.
Count your rhythm up to the fence to feel. Count afterward to maintain. Several riders froze on the last stride and didn't count. Jimmy pointed out that when they quit counting, they quit doing anything. Instead, they needed to force themselves to ride the last stride just like they'd ridden the others. This is extremely important because of the technical demands of modern courses. They're basically one huge related distance.

And that's pretty much day one. It was fun to watch. (I so, so want to ride next year. Here's hoping we'll be ready and have $$)


  1. That's exactly how I feel about taking notes! I could learn about horses all day and not get sick of it. It sounds like he has lots of good things to say about eventing. He would sure give Bailey and I plenty of work (psh, rhythm to a fence? We're still working on it.) I didn't realize that you're from the northwest though! My barn is making the long drive over to Tulip Springs in April for a few days of our barn's annual XC camp. So it's way cool that you're there now. I can't wait to hear about day 2! (PS - thanks for stopping by my blog)

  2. I loved this post. I learned a lot even tho I am the H/J princess and eventing scares the daylights out of me!

    You are so lucky and it seems you took great advantage of it!

  3. Wow! This sounds awesome! Thanks for the great post!

  4. ROFL @ his description of him and the Great GM watching the same fence. That's one of my fave things about The Woff -- he has a wicked sense of humor!
    Keep the notes coming, girl. I always learn so much from reading Woff's monthly PH column, and this felt much the same. Thanks!
    Hopefully, I will someday attend one of his clinics, either riding or auditing. Riding would be a dream come true (as well as terrifying)!

  5. Lol i agree with Frizzle, died laughing at the GM comparison. GREAT tips. Ahhh eventing clinics can be so helpful. Thanks for all the great tips!! I really liked the one ones on deconstructing fences and building them up. Good advice for those of us with (potential) young horses!

    I also agree about the gag bit. Rode my trainer's mare in one and i LOVED it. Puts pressure when you need it, but not harsh. It defeinitely forces you to ride with your seat and legs!!

  6. Not eventing anymore, nor jumping. However, all the feelings I once felt over fences are there in the descriptions. When it's right, it feels wonderful!!

  7. Thanks for the review! I love that you are so intent on learning and taking in all that he has to offer. He is truly an eventing great!


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