Friday, June 3, 2011

David O'Connor Clinic- Showjumping Exercises

*Sorry for incoherency or editing mistakes. Very long post! Took me forever to write.

Day 2 dawned bright and early because I had the great fortune of being in the first group. This made my weekend much better because it was still cool outside when my group rode! 

Day 2 focused on the basics, and in hindsight, it set us up perfectly for the next two days. We didn't do complicated exercises or jump great heights, but that was actually great. First of all, it boosted my confidence and allowed me to think about David's principles during the lesson instead of worrying about jump height or difficulty. Second, it was a nice breather for Tiamo because he ended the session barely sweating and full of energy. He worked extremely hard and did a lot of jumping the next two days so this was a needed "break". 

We started the lesson trotting and cantering over two poles. David explained that everything that happened over the two poles was exactly what happens on course in stadium or cross country, but a mistake over the poles does not have the same consequences as making the same mistake at a 4ft vertical or solid cross country jump. From the beginning, David wanted us thinking and learning for ourselves. He said he sees too many trainers talking in too much detail about everything, and their students never really learn to ride through problems on their own. I think I fall into this trap. I wait for people to tell me to do something instead of reacting; my brain is often too slow to respond or even doesn't recognize my mistakes.

So this is how he breaks things down:

There are 4 things the rider is responsible for and can control (in this order): direction, speed, rhythm, and balance. We mainly focused on speed and direction, but rhythm was a topic that popped up as well, especially for me. 

He wanted us to think in a 2-step process- 1)What? 2)How? 

The answers to the What? were in relation to speed and direction. Speed up or slow down? Turn wider or cut in? 

Riders need to think What? before going into the How? 

I fell into the trap and illustrated the need for this teaching tool (i.e. thinking What? first) when Tiamo cantered over the first pole but trotted out. He asked me what happened, and I replied that I needed more leg. This is one of David's biggest pet peeves! "More leg for what? Bigger stride, more collection? More leg for what? Your legs can do a lot of things! Everyone always replies more leg, or I needed to half halt. Two most common answers. But then nothing ever changes when they say that's what they are going to do". He wanted us to think simpler in terms of speed and direction. So as I came around the next time he asked what I was going to do. "Speed up!" I said. Ti broke to trot. The next time around he stood in my path, and I had to go around him. Ti kept cantering. "So what did you really need to change?". And I realized I had needed to change direction. 

So this opened up his next point about 3 situations in riding:

1. Rider does not recognize problem
2. Rider recognizes problem
3. Rider recognizes problem, tries to fix it, and horse doesn't respond

There are two scenarios in #2. Sometimes the rider recognizes the problem but doesn't do anything about it, or the rider recognizes the problem and fixes it.

#3 is a training issue with the horse.

And I say recognize "problem", but it also relates to knowing how to replicate a good ride. You have to recognize how you got that good ride to replicate it!

Next, we moved on to warming up over a vertical on a circle. We did that well a few times, and David had me shorten my stirrups one hole. We transitioned into jumping the vertical and then a forward/"competition length" 5 strides to another vertical. David wanted us knowing and reacting to what was going to happen as we were a couple of strides from the first vertical. "What is the point of knowing the distances?" he asked. To know how to adjust. (And depending on the distance, you can obviously do a different number of strides. He said people can really start getting different numbers on distances longer than 4 or 5 stride). If you come into the jump and realize you're going to be short, then you either need to land and really press on or hold for the extra stride. The decision should be made before the first jump, not a stride or two into the line.

So David would call out "What are you going to do?" as we came up to the first. and we had to reply speed up, slow down, or stay the same. 

David's groups kind of got the short end of the stick when it came to Saturday. We were in the covered arena which apparently Karen hates; she always teaches in the outdoor arena. However, sometime before our lesson, a worker had left the sprinkler system on too long in the covered arena, flooding it. He had messed up some other times as well and was fired on the spot. The arena was still very deep and slippery in most areas though. 

After the 5-stride exercise, David decided we were going to crash Karen's group. This situation was so funny, and I was literally just laughing out loud at the insanity of 10 riders sharing an average sized arena, all jumping. Karen yelling and threatening. David quietly communicating with his hand signals that he explained he uses with all his riders at events. He said he never uses his voice unless the rider is next to him. 

We did a forward 5 stride to a 2 stride. This was pretty uneventful. Tiamo was good, not much to say about it.

We moved onto a 4-stride. David told me to count upward 8 strides from the jump. He said it's not so much a rhythm exercise as it is a mind exercise. The rider can recognize their "pushing" mistake when their voice goes up "5, 6, 7, 8! ) I've been told to count before, but David was unique in the fact that he told me to start counting farther out and not end on numbers like 4 before the fence. He said there is more of a sense of urgency when ending on 4, and I needed to stay relaxed and waiting in the last strides.

Next, David told us about the "jumping into the circle" exercise. It's simple but really helpful. "Jumping into the circle" entailed David drawing a circle on the middle of the landing side of the jump. It basically helps the rider stay straight and plan their line better, especially on a bending like we were doing. And it was surprising to realize that you probably aren't jumping as straight and centered as you thought. Everyone jumped off to the left or right of the circle at least a couple of times. 

We used the "jumping into the circle" while riding a 7? (can't remember) bending line, and it helped us go straight and then turn (and be straighter) to the second jump.

And that was it! Simple but fun and very important building blocks for the 3rd and 4th days.


  1. David seems like he has a good head for teaching... He lets you try to find the solution by yourself but still guides the process! Keep it up! I'd like to know what else happens with you and Tiamo!

  2. Woah, major excitement that someone reads my long, long rambles! I rarely even spice things up with photos or video. I feel more motivated to finish writing about Day 3 and 4 now, ha.

    Anyway, thanks! David is fabulous, and I would love to train with him again.

  3. haha...yeah i just usually click away on people who comment on other peoples blogs i read...then hopefully i find something else cool to read :) and yeah finish it :)