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David O'Connor Clinic - Guest Post: Jael Lodge

So my friend Jael's horse (Bria) attended David O'Connor's clinic out in BC last week with her coach (D) piloting.  Jael's horse is of the green but super-talented variety, who - despite all evidence to the contrary - is pretty sure she's a chestnut mare.   And D's a quiet rider with a good sense of humour - very necessary to ride babies successfully!   They started in the Training group (horse can *jump* but has done exactly one starter-level event ever, so that was pretty impressive) and on day two got upgraded to prelim.  hahaha gotta love babies with talent.

For those who haven't seen David coach before, he places an emphasis on simple and correct.  And generally gets excellent results.   I thought you might like to see her notes from the clinic.   So shared with permission and HUGE thanks here they are :)


I missed the first group (E-PT) because we were getting Bria ready. And don't know anyone in that group so can't supply info!

Three additional groups:

(2) PT+ - T: Mixed group as expected at this level. OTTB who had talent and some basic schooling, Ammy learning to ride a move-up horse, kid on a packer, dressage horse mid career change who was seriously festive over small fences, and D with Bria.

(3) T+ - P: I only knew a couple of the horses here, but for the most part seemed like a very matched group of Solid T and P horses. Only exception was the one girl who looked like a solid rider, and a solid horse, but there were clearly some confidence/schooling issues.

(4) Advanced: Mixed group again - a couple of experienced horses with riders moving up (including an ex-Rolex horse with his new owner), a couple of solid campaigners coming up for retirement but whose owners wanted to do one last clinic with them, and a couple who are moving up the ranks. This group included two riders on the Canadian Developing Rider list that came out last week.

All groups started with the same exercise both days - Trot/Canter on a circle as a group. DOC used this to look at adjustability, rider position on the flat etc etc. This was a serious challenge of Miss Can't-Canter-Slowly’s schooling. But all of D’s hard work paid off – Bria looked every bit the green, but very civilized, willing, and properly schooled horse. This exercise gradually expanded to include jumps.

Comments across the board (in no particular order). And yes, reading it again it seems simple for the most part! Day 1 really instilled the concepts, Day 2 put it into practice over fences building up to a course. All the groups did essentially the same exercises (we were indoors), but over appropriate heights, and more importantly, the difficulty of the work between the fences increased significantly. The lower levels were looking for basic adjustability, the higher ones had to go back and forth between a gallop and a collected canter, on cue, while staying relaxed.

1. Favourite quote of the day: Adjustability at the canter is the ONLY thing that is tested in all three phases, and it's simply not practiced enough. Practice it.

2. The first step of the canter/gallop is the most important one. That first step dictates the quality (appropriate to level), which is better than trying to fix it.

3. Basics. Even the advanced group were hounded about the basics. No excuses are acceptable for sloppiness at any level.

4. Collection starts with the riders FEET and works its way up (I LOVED this one, and it was a great way to express something D has had me working on since I tend to grab, or forget to use my lower legs, or both). He had the advanced groups doing forward and backward, at the canter, without going to the reins at all. The visual he used on Day 2 was “use your stirrup pads to collect”.

5. For the pair headed to their first *** in Cali shortly he really had her focusing on the movement of her horse’s hips and had her match it, and then slow it down. He had a good point – because of the way the footfall occurs in the canter, it creates a “twisting” movement in the horse’s pelvis. This is the movement you want to match with your hips, and then slow it down. But it still had to start with the feet and refine the at the seat. He had an interesting suggesting of putting a saddled horse in a round pen (I don’t see why a lunge wouldn’t work though), have someone send it forward while getting above it to watch so you’re looking down at the motion. And watch the movement of the cantle. That is what you need to think about matching at all gaits. And he did say it’s unnerving when you look at it!<

6. Rein aids impact the hind. Ok, I have to admit I got lost here. With the advanced group especially he delved into the type of rein aids, when/why etc etc. But where I'm at, remembering the first part is probably all I need to think about! This is where he worked a bit with D - he made teeny, tiny adjustments and got immediate results. Good reminder just how sensitive a 1300lb moose can actually be. He had D adjusting her hand by a centimeter.

7. Building instinct is critical. You need to be able to analyse the results, but if you get too deep into analysis paralysis, you'll never get to the point of reaction. He had the two advanced groups calling out, on demand, mid-course, whether they needed to ask for more, collect, or leave everything alone.

8. To pull off the above, you have to have a relaxed state of mind. He had the riders in the second group counting strides, not to see a distance, but to settle into the rhythm in a thinking manner. AND, unlike counting to see your distance, he had riders counting both the take-off and landing steps. So simple, but you could really see the difference it made. I see a whole lot of counting in my future. >:-P

9. Sometimes you have to flip your thinking on its head. For example, the *** horse likes to barge the last two strides to every jump. Rider tries to slow him down, they fight, he barges anyways, they pull rails. DOC had her go at the horse’s preferred pace over the jump (no barge because he was already where he wanted to be). Then again, but collecting the stride the last two steps out. There was no fight that time. DOC credits it to setting up the horse in a comfortable place - the horse needs that pace to be confident. Clearly you can't jump like that all the time, so get them in their comfort zone, THEN change it through consistent schooling until the horse is confident at all the different paces (back to point (1)!!!).

10. To build on points (1) and (9), you need to build on your knowledge of your horse and their comfort zone, and adjust your ride accordingly. ie the ex-Rolex horse who is well known for being a challenging ride (hey, he ran Rolex, he gets a pass) was ridden very differently than the girl on the Jack-clone who had nowhere near Rolex horse’s scope, but has a super willing and happy attitude, and “enough” scope to get the job done.

11. Good XC should be under time (within reason, allowing for footing issues due to bad weather etc) and completely boring to watch, regardless of the level. If it’s really exciting for the spectators, you need to figure out why and make it boring.

12. Correct groundwork can be used to teach a horse both responsiveness to the rider/handler, and staying “on the job”, while also teaching them problem solving skills that they need XC. He had a horse working on a long line going in and out of weird spaces etc on request. Horse had to stay on the job as to where it was supposed to go, but had to figure out how to get itself there. In regards to the "method", he made it clear there is no magical method, there are no magical tools. He has his preferred tools (any old rope halter attached to a thick cord-type cowboy lead with a weight on the end, and a fairly stiff in-hand whip), but you use what works. Key is correctness and consistency. He also called out the fact that if you're not correct, you can get yourself in trouble very quickly. Heck, he pointed out that swinging the end of a long rope around like he does is a good way to accidentally hang yourself if you don't learn to manage it properly first!

I’m sure there’s a whole lot more, but I think my brain is capped at 12 points… ;-P


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