Thursday, November 4, 2010

Jimmy Wofford Clinic at 3 Day Ranch

Jimmy Wofford:  "Ride like you’re going to live forever"

Despite some bad weather on Saturday, it was a “double rainbows all the way” kind of weekend at 3 Day Ranch with Sherry, Nahmi and Brent at the Jimmy Wofford clinic.  (If you don’t get the reference, go hit You Tube and then come back to the blog.) It rained, then it was hot, then it was cold, then it got windy… and that was all just by 11:00 the first day!   Still, if you’ve never been to a Jimmy Wofford clinic before, I highly recommend going even if it’s just to audit.  From the very first morning, it was a completely game-changing experience. 

 Jimmy starts every day of his clinics with an hour of lecture beginning with, “Ok, who’s got the first question?” It’s an open forum, although both days once the group started on a particular topic most of the questions were all related to the same topic as we all hungered to learn more details about whatever he was discussing.  For instance, the first day was about training an event horse and rider, the fitness schedules that he’s been successful with for over thirty years, and the techniques he advises to keep our horses sound and sane at any level.  The most effective tool is the calendar, as he drew up an example of how he picks a “destination event” whether it’s Rolex or a Pony Club horse trial, and back times as far as ninety days, planning what the horse will do each day to be prepared for the show.  A lot of walking for the horse is a big part of that plan, and in the process he hates gadgets of any kind for riders but most especially iPods!  Even at the walk we should be communicating with our horses.
Boy being walked by new friend

After possibly too much red wine and a freezing cold, sleepless night in Nahmi’s usually cozy trailer loft, I was perfectly happy to skip the lecture and remain bundled in both hers and my sleeping bags for my first warm moments in what seemed like weeks.  (I’m a wimp about being cold, I admit it.)  But, as luck would have it, nature called and I had to get up anyway so I begrudgingly joined the lecture.  It turned out to be another amazing one, getting through even to my fuzzy brain the importance of rider position for the horse to be able to do his job.  Another fascinating point was the absolute necessity for the horse to be relaxed every time he’s ridden.  For upper level horses to achieve dressage movements, for instance, they must have a relaxed enough back to be able to move correctly.  Otherwise, it’s like trying to touch your toes when your back is too stiff – all you get is a sharp pain in your back and can’t achieve the motion.  Sure, there are times when a putting your heart into a good smack is required, but overall for any horse to be that relaxed, every ride needs to build their confidence and be a good experience. 

“You get the horse you ride”

Watching the riding portions of each day, I didn’t learn so much specific information (that was often given individually to each rider in a way that was often hard for us railbirds to hear) but learned A LOT about how we affect our horses.   For instance, in nearly every group, from Novice to Prelim/Int., there was at least one person whose horse looked hot and explosive as the rider battled to keep their heads lowered and in a relative frame.   Jimmy had those riders turn their reins around in their hands; that is instead of the rein coming up under your ring finger and back out between your thumb and forefinger, the rein came directly in and out between your thumb and forefinger.  In that position, the rider no longer had as much pulling power and guess what?  The horse’s stopped pulling.   The rider in the Novice class even said her horse has never been this soft before.  One rider in the Prelim class rode that way, came off over a fence, got back on and continued to ride that way, seeing marked improvement over the next fences.  My hat was off to her – if I’d have come off, I’d have been tempted to sneak my hands back to the way I was used to riding, but she gamely stuck with it and was rewarded for her efforts. 

That’s the big thing about riding in a Jimmy Wofford clinic; you really need to bring you’re A-game and be willing to do whatever he tells you.  One rider, for instance, stopped doing the exercise Jimmy set up for them to do and by the end of the weekend, they had the least improvement in their riding.  The man’s a legend, for Pete’s sake, why would you spend all that money to get his feedback and then ignore him?  Naturally, both Sherry and Nahmi definitely brought it to the clinic and had amazing rides.  I’m in particular awe of Sherry who rode without complaint with a smashed up knee that she could barely walk on between rides.  If it were me, I’d have put on some kind of bionic man/Mad Max knee brace contraption so that it was clear I was playing injured.  On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t have gotten much sympathy from Jimmy, who in his late 50’s is still an amazing force of nature.  Sherry is definitely tough as nails and is my new hero.  Nahmi rode spectacularly as well, going over some jumps that would have required a change of pants for me.  And she did it all in style on cross-country day, with butterflies flying in formation on her vest and saddle pad as her Halloween costume. 
Nahmi gave Mr. Wofford a bottle of Edradour scotch from the “Sapphire Girls” and it was pretty cool to get an e-mail the next day thanking her for the gift (did he not realize it was a bribe?:p) and reported that it was definitely being added to his list of favorite scotches.  The man is undeniably a real gentleman. 

Margie Molloy, owner of 3 Day Ranch, was a fantastic hostess for the weekend.  Breakfast and lunch were included with the clinic and I have to say, the lunches were amazing.  For Saturday night’s dinner, Margie was kind enough to loan us her grill and Brent BBQ’d some awesome steaks while Sherry manned the microwave veggies – ah, nothing like roughing it in a live in trailer!   Nahmi got to deal with her own soy-cutash – don’t ask. 

The facility was just gorgeous, perfectly ridable to most all the fences both days despite the rain.  The range of fences they have to offer on the course designed by David O’Connor is great, with small fences side by side with progressively larger ones asking the same question of horse and rider, allowing both to learn and build their confidence in relative safety.  It would be nicer if it weren’t so hard to get to, but it’s definitely worth making the effort once you’re there.