Monday, May 19, 2014

Jimmy Wofford clinic at The Woodlands

Yesterday I got up at 4 AM, loaded my car with water, chairs, and my treasured copy of Training The Three Day Event Horse & Rider and headed to Tulsa to pick up my sleepy student. I then drove us two hours to Edmond, Oklahoma to The Woodlands Equestrian Center for cross-country day of the Jimmy Wofford clinic.

I was really excited for the chance to meet my equestrian idol and watch him teach; the clinic didn't disappoint. The Woodlands is a lovely facility with a great cross-country course full of ditches, banks, a water complex, and any kind of log-based jump you can imagine. The owners were kind and the clinic well-organized.

The morning began with a question and answer session that began focused on the previous day's topic: show jumping. It quickly moved into more general territory, with riders and auditors asking questions about topics ranging from the place of amateurs in the sport to using heart-rate monitors while conditioning. Jimmy Wofford patiently answered them all with practical advice and humor. After the Q&A, we moved to the cross-country course, which we moved around for the better part of two hours as the first group of riders (a Training/Preliminary level group) galloped and jumped.

Here's what I took away from the clinic:

  • It's important to have a schedule, but not to be a slave to the schedule. Wofford said he usually has horses in a 4-day rotation: dressage, show jumping, dressage, slow (300 meters/minute) canter work. If the horse comes out feeling unmotivated or sluggish, he walks them for 20 minutes, calls it a day, and resumes with whatever's on the schedule the next day.  
  • There's no reason to be training your Beginner Novice, Novice, or Training level horse with 550 meter per minute gallops. It will only serve to get you speed faults and potentially injure your horse.
  • Interval training will make your horse fit, but it will also make him lame. Going from zero to full-tilt repeatedly is not a good idea. Instead, go from moderate effort (like trotting or slow cantering) to almost maximum effort and back. Hill work is also integral in building a horse's fitness.
  • Walking is an underrated way to condition a horse. For the Prelim, Intermediate, and Advanced horse, Wofford recommended two hours a day of walking on a loose rein in addition to whatever work is planned. He described the walk as a (very) slow-motion gallop. 
  • The less you move over a jump, the better. Throwing your hands or body forward before a jump only unbalances the horse and makes his job harder. Stay forward and allow the horse to move your body. (I need this tattooed inside my eyelids.) Practice with a neck strap!
  • Don't say, "Oh to hell with it!" and let your horse charge at jumps. Keep him in a package right up to the base of the fence. The package is a rectangle, with your arms as the long sides, the bit as a short end, and your hands (and the space between them) as the other short end. The horse doesn't need to be (and shouldn't be) collected or on the bit, but he doesn't need to be allowed to sprawl out and get flat. 
  • Support the horse with your legs, not your seat.
  • You don't rise to the occasion; you sink to your level of training. 
The clinic was absolutely wonderful. Even my student, who probably thought Jimmy Wofford was just someone's curmudgeonly old uncle, was impressed with his sense of humor and wisdom. (She told me she was going to go home and make a schedule for her horse- after she took a nap.) 

I'd say it's the best $25 I've spent in a long time. Although, really, I would have paid $25 just so he'd sign my book.


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