Thursday, July 29, 2010

Jimmy Wofford at Eventful Acres: Sunday

Jimmy Wofford Clinic:  Day Three by Dr. Nahmi Jones

Last day of the clinic. Cross country! The fun stuff!! Time to play on the Hisken's beautiful property and sample Rod's creativity in fence building.

My videographer and now professional dog wrangler Carolyn was still hanging in there. Invaluable as a groom, networker and drinking buddy also, I shall forever be in her debt for allowing me to drag her along on my little summer vacation.

Of course since things had been going far too smoothly so far, I had to find a way to complicate things. I spent most of the morning worrying about my double reins...keep the snaffle rein? yes or no? Brian Sabo had suggested them the weekend before. They seemed to be working well and the emphasis so far had been on a softer feel with my hands so far but Jimmy was working on a hand slap technique for shortening reins after a drop. Geez, that was going to be complicated with four reins....

In the end I decided not to change anything but still had the choice on my mind. Several times I thought of asking Carolyn to remove my snaffle reins since Simon was more than high on Canadian goose impulsion. You know that kind of impulsion? The kind where you don't know which direction you're going to go next? Jimmy's generous description of our warm up? "Like a hog on ice".

What happened to my co-operative pony of the past two days? The professor had gotten the memo that it was cross country doubt. Perhaps after 18 months off from cross country jumping, the four XC fences we did last weekend with Brian may not have been enough to knock the rust off.  Perhaps I was just overthinking everything as usual.

Jimmy's sage advice had nothing to do with riding position today. " Are you riding this horse?"
"Yes" I answered meekly, unsure of where he was going with this line of questioning.
"If you're riding 
this horse then you're going to be ok"

Clearly Simon, now nicknamed the professor, had earned Jimmy's approval, although I'm pretty sure my abilities were still suspect.

"It's ok to be nervous, after all you do need to feel 
something while riding cross country. But try to organize your butterflies so they fly in formation"

After a few bad jokes and a couple of deep breaths, I was able to coax my butterflies all to fly in the same general direction and the rest of the day went pretty smoothly.

Most of what Jimmy was trying to teach on XC day will have to wait until I can practice at home: quiet galloping position without posting the canter, the transition from 2 point to light 3 point in front of fences, slipping and gathering the reins efficiently, proper position on up and down banks.

But perhaps learning to being still in my mind was the most important lesson. After all, as Jimmy pointed out, my horse knows me better than I know myself. Maybe I can control the agitated energy that gets in the way of finding my version of Nirvana, jumping out of stride at 520 mpm now that I've had a glimpse of how being an intelligent passenger leads to a happy horse.

Thank you Jimmy Wofford for your patience and generosity with this duffer. I was amazed by the individual attention I received at your clinic. Your attention to detail and useful insights are very much appreciated.

And a huge shout out to Rod and Karen Hisken for hosting this clinic at their beautiful facility. 

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jimmy Wofford at Eventful Acres: Saturday

Jimmy Wofford Clinic: Day Two by Dr. Nahmi Jones

Day 2 was showjumping, but deconstructed.

We watched the preliminary group go from the comfort of the stands, while we enjoyed yummy french toast and fresh fruit. Have I mentioned yet how fantastic the food was all weekend? Many thanks to Carol Von Brandt, the wonderful woman who slaved over the hot grill all weekend to bring us our gourmet meals.

The emphasis was the same as the day before in the gymnastics. Steady rhythm through the lines, don't build to the second fence, soft in the upper body so we don't influence the horse to have a rail either in front or behind.

Jimmy broke the show jumping down into small logical pieces and the gradually introduced more technical questions.

I started out the day with my usual bad habits, locking my hips and elbows over the first few fences. As we warmed up I was reminded to incorporate the lesson from the previous day. Softer reins, then softer leg so I didn't chase Simon out the front door. Simon remembered also, jumping up more lightly over the fences with a softer neck. Wow Jimmy! This stuff really works! He just laughed "Yeah, the professor is actually simple, now you just have to ride him that way!"

Our deconstructed show jump course was a series of simple lines that progressively became to more technical. We jumped a 5 stride oxer to oxer line, then one stride rails on 45 degree angles then on to squeezes.

Jimmy had me concentrate on softening my arms by straightening my elbows every other stride on the approach to fences. By the time we moved over to the corner, the logical progression from the angle/ squeeze questions, I was slowly unlocking my body and Simon and I jumped the corner easily and accurately on this first try.

Jimmy's final comments after our last line of the day, "See those little adjustments you made to make the oxer come out right? That's what we call riding."  I have the proof on video, I may have graduated from duffer to rider. That's a good feeling.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Jimmy Wofford at Eventful Acres: Friday

Jimmy Wofford Clinic at Eventful Acres:  Day 1

By Dr. Nahmi Jones

I usually think of gymnastics as simple, straight forward exercises. A couple of innocent standards set up as a chute. The instructor sneaks the rails up. The next thing you know, you are jumping a challenging question without realizing what's been built up.

For the Jimmy Wofford clinic at Eventful Acres last weekend things were a little different. Rod Hisken's huge jumping arena was full of freshly painted white rails and standards, laid out everywhere like an albino logging disaster.

As I rode in I thought: Uh oh Simon, you and I are going to have to do a lot of thinking today. There's nothing simple about what Jimmy has in store for us today.

I knew that at least Simon would get the benefit of the doubt from the 3xOlympian from his comments at our early morning lecture/ introduction. Jimmy's amazing enthusiasm for our sport and our equine partners was summed up in his response to a question about selecting a young event prospect. "I'm automatically going to like it if its a horse". 

Jimmy's message for day one, in fact the message for the whole weekend was to teach us to be intelligent passengers.

The goal of his gymnastic exercises was to allow the horse to jump in a way that simulated his natural balanced jumping style unencumbered by the rider.

Through the wide and low oxer/ bounce line Simon had to reach out to stretch and compress his body horizontally. Though the double bounce/ hogsback line he got to reach up vertically to stretch through his bascule.

I was encouraged to ride with a longer rein. Did I lose Simon out the front door this way? You betcha. Jimmy's solution to keep a steady rhythm, to take my lower leg off to prevent driving.

I struggled to keep my position over fences by stabilizing my body with only my upper leg and without using my hands as a crutch. I was thrilled to find Simon responding to my efforts to find the happy balance between a lighter hand and a lighter leg, by jumping with more freedom through his neck and back in a happy relaxed rhythm.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Jimmy Wofford Clinic: Thursday

By Dr. Nahmi Jones

Carolyn and I made the right hand turn onto Yuba Ranch Road. I was careful to check the speedometer and rear view mirrors to be respectful of the neighbors. No Dust! After 8+ hours of being in the truck, we were almost there!

Carolyn had been a total trooper, going along with my crazy plan of getting up at 2 am to make the long drive up to Oregon House.

But what was this? Mere yards from the driveway to the Hisken's playground for eventer, a maintenance truck parked on the one lane bridge!! Really?? Tree trimming?? Captain Jack Sparrow on Carolyn's new garmin did not warn us of this final obstacle. Argh mateys!

Bleary eyed and too tired to argue, I followed the directions of the guy in a hard hat confidently smiling and beckoning me onto the bridge along side his tree munching truck....keep coming...that's right...a little to the left...Simon, think skinny thoughts!

Just millimeters from the ditch, certain death or at the very least an embarrassing tow truck call, we made it, fenders intact. Hard hat dude grinned and gave us the thumbs up signal and we pulled past.

Whew, we made it! What a relief to see Rod jumping off his tractor to give us a welcoming hug and to take over driving the last few feet and park the trailer.

Simon unloaded calmly and immediately settled into his stall. "Is there hay? Then I'm cool" Rather than being upset about being alone, I think he enjoyed being the center of attention all weekend.

We pitched Carolyn's tent and stretched out for some well earned rest. I was too tired to be nervous about riding for the first time with Jimmy Wofford in the three day clinic at beautiful Eventful Acres.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cottonwood Derby by Nahmi Jones

Tales of the Cottonwood Clinic starting Friday 7/2/10 by our own Dr. Jones....

Hmmm, its almost 11p. I'd followed the clearly marked signs from the freeway off ramp to the Event Derby. But now the road has deadended. I hadn't passed a stabling chart, let alone anything that looks stabling. Turned off the engine. Pitch black. Started to rethink the idea of coming up the night before by my lonesome. tick. tick. tick.

Relieved to see Erin Bridges drive up just then to help me find the barn, the light switch, the stabling chart and Simon's stall.

The Cottonwood Ranch late night welcoming committee set the tone, I knew I was in for a relaxed weekend in a supportive atmosphere.

Simon and I were ready to go early the next morning with the Training group in the jump clinic taught by Brain Sabo. I was hoping to be able to demonstrate our progress since our last lesson with Brian a month ago.

Brian's simple, elegant definition of the half halt is taking a horse's power from extension to compression. In the case of horses like Simon, who solve their problems with extension, the answer to too much extension is a small control circle on the counter bend to engage the outside hind. Eventually, the counterbend translates to a clearer half halt.

Both height in the show jump arena and terrain on the XC field pushed beyond my comfort zone. I was able to see how my excitement/anxiety translated into increased extension and loss of balance as the questions got harder. Being able to focus on our new line of communication: counterbend=halfhalt, led to better balance thru compressing and maintaining our power and improved our jumping technique.

My clinic experience was confidence building and loads of fun. Brian maintained his patience, enthusiasm and humor throughout the whole day. He still had one-liners left at the end of the day for Sherry in the baby beginner group, equating Poznan's first attempt at an up bank to a high school kid coming home from his first party.

Thanks to Wendy Wergeles and everyone at Cottonwood.