Friday, December 7, 2012

Leigh Fischer Clinic Report

Auditors watching from the comfort of the lounge
Well the first clinic held at the Van Scoy's "His Way Farm" was a huge success!!  The facility, the lessons, the food and the participants (horses & riders) were fabulous!  A big thank you to the Van Scoy family for making everyone feel welcome and sharing their lovely new facility.  They went above and beyond by supervising parking, dragging & watering the ring, being the doorman for the horses going in and out of the arena, helping to set the course and setting up the food & cleaning up after. To top it off a comfortable lounge to not only enjoy all the great food for the 'pot luck' lunches (where even use real dishes and silverware) but to watch and listen to the clinic.

 As nice as the facility, the food and the hospitality was; it was the instruction from Leigh that really made the clinic a success.  Although this was a jumping clinic, a large portion of the clinic was flat work as it pertained to jumping.  We worked on shortening and lengthening of the stride at all gaits which also included raised trotting poles and poles on a curve, or the 'wheel'.  All the time stressing rhythm, balance and straightness.  The pole work then moved to the first gymnastic which was a series of rails that  were 9' apart.  When we cantered the series of bounces working on the basic 3 (rhythm, balance & straightness) by being an 'active passenger'.  What she meant by that was to be in a position to better support the horse to be a problem solver and allowing the horse to think for himself rather than micromanaging. Sometimes it was simply a matter of bringing the shoulders back more, taking a little firmer feel of the reins or simply not abandoning ship when things started to go wrong.

After the horses cantered through the bounce rails we warmed up over a single fence and then went back to the gymnastic where we now trotted in and every other rail was now a small fence to make a series of one strides.

After the gymnastic we went on to another exercise on the centerline with rails to a vertical, one stride to an oxer, 4 strides to a vertical either straight or a bend to the right or left.  The "wheel' and raised rails were still a part of the exercise to do flat work between the jumping.

Everything was done in a relaxed fashion and if the horse made a mistake she would say "don't worry, come again the same way (if the rider hadn't made a mistake the first time) and let's see what he  learned".  The theme came through that if we do our job of presenting the horse to the exercise with the correct rhythm, balance & line with the rider in the correct position the horse will figure it out.  Care was taken to set the exercise up for the ability of the horse and rider so as to set the horse up for success.  If there was a problem the appropriate changes in the question was made, but more often than not, it was the rider who needed to modify their ride to make the job easier for the horse.  We often heard  "less is more" but we also heard "work it" to encourage the rider to do what she needed to to get the job done. We all were given homework to go home with.

During the lunch break Leigh gave a very informative Power Point presentation on the "Fundamentals of Course Design".  Leigh has participated in forums conducted by course design greats Richard Jeffry and Linda Allen.  She echos Richard's beliefs that event horses at various levels don't ride the same dressage tests or the same cross country tests so they should not be riding the same show jumping courses! The show jumping course should reflect what is being asked in the dressage and cross country tests.

Although none of the participants are aspiring course designers they all learned the basics of course design so they could better set exercises at home. She stressed that the first responsibility was to the horse and to the level of training of the horse.  Leigh reminded riders that there has to be a balance of jumping off of both leads and a balance of jumping lines and combinations with oxer to vertical or vertical to oxer so as to not be repeating the same question. She also reminded riders to include a breather fence and that no turns should be  tighter than the arch of a 20 meter circle. After the presentation Leigh pulled out the dry erase board to lay out a course for the clinic participants to ride the next day.  After the afternoon sessions we set up the course for the 2nd day.

Leigh with her first group of Gabbie, Molly, Kevin & Rachel
Sunday began again with flat work and a plan for warming up for riding the course.  Leigh stressed that you should arrive at the warm up early enough to have time for a relaxed  warm up where you can work at all 3 gaits with lengthening of the frame and stride.  She also had the riders do some of the warm up in the 2 point and reminded the riders that they are also athletes and that they should regularly ride in the 2 point and without stirrups to become a stronger better balanced rider so they not only won't interfere with the horse, but may also be able to assist the horse to perform his best.

Finally before jumping the first fence we rode the entire course without the jumps.  The purpose of this exercise was to practice the lines and the turns while maintaining the rhythm, balance and straightness.  Before we rode the 'jumpless' course we had to declare if we were going to do lead changes through the trot or flying changes.  Leigh stressed that you don't want to be asking for your first change of lead while on the course.

After the risers worked on a few warm up fences being sure to off of both reins, jumped verticals and oxers all with the 'basic 3' the riders rode their courses.  It was interesting to see how the courses rode differently simply be riding them in reverse.  Each level rode different courses based on the level of the horse.  It was interesting to see how a horse who did a 5 stride line in 4 strides actually required quite a bit of leg to do the line in 6 strides because that was what the horse needed to obtain the correct balance in the canter while another horse that needed to be a little steadier down a line achieved that by the rider simply holding his shoulders a little more, not the reins.  More often than not it was a tweak in the riders' position that made a big difference in the performance of the horse. 

But it wasn't just making physical changes, much of it was a matter of having more focus and riding a 'professional' round.   It was very difficult for some to ... how can I say this tactfully?  Oh heck no tactful way of saying it was difficult for some riders to keep their mouths shut.  Now don't get this wrong, Leigh thinks the voice is a very powerful aid when used to encourage the horse forward or to calm or reassure a horse, but non-stop chatter was distracting to the horse and took focus away from the rider.  Again another a-ha moment.

Everyone had a great time and all had homework to work on.  We hope to have Leigh back a couple more times throughout the winter months, weather permitting.

The video is Gabbie & Whitchit who were in the Training group doing their second course which was just the reverse of their first course.  This group was the only group to do the fence on the short side.  The other groups did courses that were more suited for their horses.

Again many thanks to the VanScoy family and to Leigh for a great clinic.

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