Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Need For Speed

by c.j. bahr

Robert Kellerhouse & Ian Stark
January marks the annual fundraiser for Galway Downs, located in Temecula, California.  Galway is the site of four recognized horse trials, two International events, and the only Southern California location to host a CCI3 event, drawing riders from all over North America.

Conceived and organized by Robert Kellerhouse, this weekend clinic consists of two days of cross country schooling, stabling and a Saturday night dinner.  All clinicians donate their services and all proceeds go to the maintenance and running of Galway Downs.  Clinicians consist of West Coast Trainers and usually a "headliner" such as Scottish Olympian, Ian Stark (also course designer for Galway).

2013 marked the 15th annual running of the fundraiser and also a new headliner - British Olympian and Rolex Grand Slam winner, Pippa Funnell.

Pippa Funnell
Pippa was scheduled for five groups ranging from Training Level to Advance, and had professionals such as:  Pam Fisher, Barb Crabo, Hawley Bennett as well as amateurs riding.  Saturday started with stadium jumping and concluded on Sunday with cross country.

If there was one theme to pull away from from this information over-loaded weekend, it was:

Speed is NEVER the answer.

The stadium exercises set the tone of the weekend.  Pippa had the riders working on straightness, balance, and responsiveness to aids.  First up was the "puzzle" poles, which consisted of ground poles scattered and set at different and non-related distances.  The riders first walked then trotted their mounts over the poles, using only their upper body and legs, never the reins (yet keeping contact, but not steering by them).  The goal was for the horses to figure out their own footwork.  It was eye opening to see how many horses, even Advanced Level ones, just wanted to run through the exercise.

The exercise increased in complexity with offset, unrelated distance "brick" boxes (about one foot high), set in a line that the horses and riders had to jump over in trot.  Many horses had trouble being rated back to trot between the boxes.

Susan Friend & Cali jumping "over" the oxer they had trotted "thru"
Perhaps my favorite exercise for the day which worked on straightness were three horse width oxers that the rider negotiated.  They passed between the length of the oxers between the standards at first, but then Pippa added boxes (about 2.6 high), between the "outgoing" standards to be jumped at trot.  Again, speed wasn't allowed, and after each jump, the horses were asked to return to trot.

By the end of the day, all riders had their horses straight, obedient and willing as they negotiated a serpentine course that consisted of the offset brick boxes, figure "S" over the oxers, then "thru" the oxers, or "parallels" as Pippa would say.

Hawley Bennett and Gin & Juice
Sunday brought beautiful weather and cross country day.  Again, the day was about the horse and rider learning that speed was never the solution.  It was about keeping impulsion by "adding leg, but not length of stride", and responsiveness.

Sandra Donnelly & Belshaggar
with "allowing" hands as Pippa watches
With the added pace of cross country, new problems were discovered, particularly on the enthusiastic horses.  Many riders, while trying to "contain" their horses, were locking in their contact.  

Pippa was all about the "allowing" hand, which retained rein contact, but didn't throw them away.  It was amazing when riders started to allow instead of hold, letting their horses use their heads and necks, to watch the trust and partnership develop.  By the end of the day, each group of riders and horses saw great improvement.

Myself giving a "lift" to Pippa across the pond

Pippa joked on the way back to the barn that next year, "I'll find all the riders with massive time faults."  We laughed along, but knew the truth, the riders all learned important lessons that will carry them successfully to their competitions.

Here's to Pippa's return next year!