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MSE&DA Educational Forum with David O’Connor: Day 2 Highlights

Photo by Chelsea Smith.

On Dec. 2-3, Mid-South Eventing & Dressage Association welcomed David O’Connor to the bluegrass for two-day educational forum. The first day consisted of in-seat education — read highlights from that in Part 1 here. The second day was a demonstration at the beautiful Valley View Farm in Midway, Ky.

There were four demonstrations throughout the day that focused on the development of horse and rider through the Beginner Novice, Novice, Training and Preliminary levels.

Although the horses and riders ranged in experience, O’Connor had each group start out with the same exercise. On a circle he had two poles randomly placed and asked each rider to trot over them. After a few rounds, he asked them to canter the poles and then challenged the riders to change the speed of the horse to get in more or fewer strides. For example, he asked the riders to canter from the center of one pole to the other in four-strides, then from the inside of one pole to the inside of the other pole in three strides and the same for the outside in five strides.

O’Connor’s solution to the rider’s problems was simple. The answer was that you should either go faster or slower — that’s it.

The Beginner Novice and Novice groups both had green horses, so O’Connor focused on developing their rhythm and balance using basic jumping grid exercises.

When it comes to the lower levels, O’Connor reminded riders to think of the horse’s perspective. He spent a few minutes discussing the importance of natural horsemanship while he gave a demonstration on groundwork. He added that you don’t have to be a guinea pig when it comes to a green horse. For example, the first time you ask a green horse to jump a ditch, do it on the lunge line and let the horse figure itself out without putting yourself in harm’s way. Once the horse has gained confidence in jumping the ditch, then you can get it on and try it yourself.

In the Training group, the riders were local professionals Megan Moore and Allie Knowles with green horses. Since O’Connor had more experienced riders in this group, he focused more on the horses.

Photo by Chelsea Smith.

To assess the horses’ suitability for upper levels, he set up a grid to test their jump. To start out, O’Connor asked the rider to go down a line with a single square oxer. Each time they approached, he added a bounce pole in front of the fence. By the end, he had set six bounce poles approaching the fence. O’Connor then removed all of the bounce poles and set up the oxer where the front rail was much higher than the back rail. He asked each rider to go down the line several times while he raised the back rail or widened the oxer to test the horse’s limits. It was very fun and exciting to watch!

Throughout the weekend, O’Connor stated several times that riders need to work more in forward seat — even in dressage. Yes, hike up your stirrups in your dressage saddle and get comfortable. Rider position was the theme of the day. With each group he commented on rider position; he wanted to be sure that the rider’s shoulders are parallel to the horse’s shoulders and that the rider’s hips are parallel to the horse’s hips. O’Connor said that the rider’s job is to become part of the horse’s motion. After you’ve established that connection, you can then direct the motion

He also reminded everyone that roundness in dressage is NOT the same as roundness in jumping. He wants the horses traveling straight and square, not with necks bent and haunches to the outside.

MSE&DA Educational Forum with David O’Connor: Day 1 Highlights

Photo by Chelsea Smith.

Last weekend, Dec. 2-3, Mid-South Eventing & Dressage Association welcomed David O’Connor to the bluegrass for two-day educational forum. Day one consisted of in-seat education, with the morning session, “Eventing: The Big Picture Now & The Future,” followed by “Systematic Training of Event Horse & Rider” in the afternoon.

A few notes from day one of the forum:

Coaches and Trainers Determine the Future

In the Saturday morning session, O’Connor discussed risk management and the future of the sport. He stated that he believes the answer is in coaching, particularly for amateurs and enthusiasts who compete at the lower levels.

When it comes to learning, O’Connor explained that most riders are visual learners. Throughout the weekend he encouraged everyone in the room to pick a rider to imitate — one that shares their same body type.

“If you don’t have long legs, don’t imitate William Fox-Pitt,” he said. “Find someone your body type to imitate. Most riders are visual learners and learn from watching. Study your favorite rider (with your body type) to improve your riding.”

Looking to the future, O’Connor spoke to the addition of the Modified Level, stating that it is a great example of the improvement of communication between the riders and the governing bodies. He added that the voices of coaches and trainers need to be stronger to continue improvement of the sport.

Eventing in the Olympics

“Do YOU think Eventing needs to remain in the Olympics?”

To help the crowd make an educated decision, O’Connor noted that if the sport were to drop out of the Olympics, it would lose one million dollars of funding overnight.

O’Connor believes that the Olympics do not have to be our “norm”; instead, he views it as a showcase. He also argued that changing the name of the level from a four star to a five star makes the levels easier to for the public and the media to understand because it is already used in dressage and show jumping. All equestrian Olympic sports will now use the five star to recognize their highest level.

Photo by Chelsea Smith.

From the Horse’s Perspective

To prepare the attendees for the riding portion of the educational forum on Sunday, O’Connor reviewed the basics of the sport, starting with the Training Scale. The theme of the weekend was that all training should be done with the horse’s perspective in mind: “It is NOT the horse’s job to speak our language, it is our job to speak theirs.”

O’Connor stressed that learning equestrian sports should be treated no differently than if you were to learn a high school sport such as basketball, golf or baseball. The techniques and theories should be learned in the same way, but many times aren’t.

“How do you hold a golf club? How do you swing a golf club? It’s the same in riding. Practice until it becomes instinct. If you have time to think about it, you’re too late.”

As O’Connor continued to review fundamentals and theory, he was quick to remind everyone that to improve, you must understand the Training Scale and the mechanics of the horse’s movement. “Do you know why you need to know the Training Scale as a coach and as a rider? It’s what you’re getting judged on!”

During his discussion, O’Connor reviewed the importance of rider position, the horse’s frame, the purpose of the half halt and how to incorporate lateral work. Using the passage as an example, O’Connor taught a basic lesson on position.

“If you think about passage, it’s an extended cadence, but the horses are still traveling forward. If you were going to go rising trot, doing passage, what would you have to change? Airtime. You need to go higher and slower. This is how I teach people half-halts. Your seat dictates the tempo. Your seat dictates the length of stride. Your leg is the energy into that. This is my first lesson for almost everybody. This is the ‘Oh my God’ lesson.”

Stay tuned for Part 2, covering the riding portion of the forum: “All the Levels – Demonstration & Discussion of Required Skill Sets.” 

Support Is a Two-Way Street: 5 Tips For Keeping Sponsors Happy

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Smith/Smith Equine Media, LLC.

In the competitive (and expensive!) world of eventing, everyone either has a sponsor or wants a sponsor.

But when you think of a ‘sponsor,’ what comes to mind? Is it free product? It is a financial donation? Is it a tax writeoff? Is it all of these things?

Sponsorship comes in a few different forms:

An in-kind sponsor is a sponsor who donates a product in exchange for something, typically advertisement. Most of these sponsors will receive an ad in a program, on a banner, or on social media or a website in exchange for their donation. Often times, the more products a sponsor provides, the more benefits they receive from the sponsored rider, organization, horse show, etc.

A financial sponsor is a sponsor who donates money in exchange for particular benefits like advertisement or opportunity. Like an in-kind sponsor, most will receive an ad in a program, on a banner, or on social media or a website in exchange for the donation. In the case of a special event or horse show, a financial sponsor would be provided with premium seating, free drinks, or access to a VIP area, for example.

When I talk about sponsorships, I like to emphasize that sponsorships are a two-way street. For example: Yes, you may be receiving a $500 pair of designer boots at no cost; however, you still need to earn them by upholding your end of the agreement.

In most sponsorship relationships, there is a written contract between the “sponsor” and the “sponsored” that breaks down what each will provide in exchange for services. For riders, this may be a monthly or quarterly requirement to promote the sponsor on social media and/or wearing the sponsor’s logo at a competition. For horse shows, this might mean a banner at a specific location, a website ad, and a VIP bracelet. No matter the agreement, it is very important to make SURE you are fulfilling these requirements.

Photo courtesy of Chelsea Smith/Smith Equine Media, LLC.

If you are a sponsored rider or hope to be one someday, here are my top tips for a successful sponsorship:

1. Schedule your agreement requirements.

I highly recommend writing your requirements on a calendar dedicated to sponsorship management. This helps you stay organized and reminds you to complete certain tasks on time, which help keep your sponsor happy.

2. Share important dates with your sponsor.

When you create your upcoming events schedule, send it to your sponsor! Let them know where you will be and when. You can also share it on social media and tag them in the post for them to share, too.

3. Provide your sponsor with photos.

Sponsors love seeing pictures of you wearing their logo, feeding their supplement, using their product, etc. And, if you are required to submit high-resolution photos to your sponsor as part of your agreement, please make sure you do so, even if that means purchasing them from a show photographer.

4. Thank your sponsor regularly.

Call me old fashioned, but nothing takes the place of a handwritten thank you note. Thank them often—especially after you receive new product.

5. Communicate with your sponsor.

If you want to make the most of your sponsorship, talk with your sponsor regularly. They love product feedback and enjoy hearing updates on how you and your horse are doing. They especially love it if you tell them these things and then post a review on social media!

Chelsea Smith is the owner of Smith Equine Media LLC, a provider of website design, social media administration, and marketing services to a string of high end clientele such as Double Dan Horsemanship, Meghan O’Donoghue Eventing, Indiana Eventing Association and Midsouth Eventing and Dressage Association.

Clinic Report: Dressage and Jumping with Clayton Fredericks

Caroline Madden and Kilpatrick Orlanda. Photo by Chelsea Smith.

The Australian Equine Performance Center in Midway, Kentucky, home of Double Dan Horsemanship USA (you might’ve seen Dan James at Rolex), recently hosted its first ever eventing clinic with Clayton Fredericks.

The farm is absolutely gorgeous and is well setup for clinics and haul-ins. As soon as you arrive on the grounds, you realize you’re outnumbered by Aussies — and in this case, extremely talented Aussies!

The three-day clinic started with dressage and after the first lesson you could start to see a trend. Clayton really focused in on the horse’s submission to the bridle and opening the throat. He reminded each rider that the horse could only track up to the point of its nose, so the further out the nose, the bigger the stride.

Caroline Madden and Kilpatrick Orlanda. Photo by Chelsea Smith.

Clayton worked with each rider on a similar exercise: On a circle, turn your body to the inside to engage the hind end. And, oh, DON’T LEAN (easier said than done!). Once this has been established, use your fingertips, wrists or elbows to flex the horse to the inside and to the inside.

To help riders with this concept, Clayton asked them to keep their horse’s neck straight and to imagine the horse’s head as a clock. He then asked them to very gently move the head to the inside at 11:55 and then to the outside at 12:05. This helped soften the horse’s jaw and opened their throat, which, in turn helped them to become round and to accept the contact.

Caroline Madden and Kilpatrick Orlanda. Photo by Chelsea Smith.

When a rider struggled with a horse to accept the contact and as a result the horse would throw its head up or pull down, Clayton would quickly ask them to follow the horse’s heads with their hands. He feels very strongly that pulling the horse’s head down does more harm than good, so instead take a feel with your fingers and flex the horse’s head to one side and then the other again. He preached “forward-thinking hands” to each rider throughout the day.

Clayton says the number one secret to riding is keeping the horse between your leg and hand. So, there you have it!

Photo by Chelsea Smith.

Day Two

To begin the second day, Clayton had each rider canter over four individual raised ground poles set at random distances around the arena. He asked each rider to pay special attention to the balance and rhythm of the horse as they approached each pole.

As riders began the exercise, he emphasized the importance of keeping three-fourths of the horse behind you. After watching each rider try and fail to do the exercise perfectly, he brought everyone in to go over what he calls the ‘strong’ position to help them keep more of the horse in front of their leg.

Caroline Madden on Kilpatrick Orlanda. Photo by Chelsea Smith.

To achieve the strong position, Clayton asked each rider to halt their horse, drop their stirrups and lift their legs up (while keeping them off the horse) until their knees were in line with their hips. After everyone took turns wobbling around, Clayton asked him or her to sit back until their shoulders were behind their hips. This position is what Clayton considers the best for when you need to balance your horse as it allows you to use the strongest parts of your body to control theirs. He also reminded riders that they don’t need to keep their legs on ALL the time — they should be used only when necessary.

After returning to a ‘regular’ seated position, Clayton took turns grabbing each horse’s reins and tried to pull the rider out of the tack. At first, almost every single rider fell forward until they realized that the key to staying in position was to go back to the ‘strong’ position they had just learned.

Megan Moore on Mooney Maguire. Photo by Chelsea Smith.

Day Three

Instead of doing cross country on the third day of the clinic, Clayton changed the schedule to another day of stadium jumping to allow each rider the opportunity to solidify the new techniques he had taught the two previous days.

Each horse and rider navigated two grids, keeping in mind that they should use flexion of the poll to keep their horse’s attention prior to approaching the fence, and then they should remember to get in the strong position while leaving their legs relaxed.

Exercise #1

The last exercise of the clinic was largely focused on straightness. Clayton setup a skinny with a two poles on each side providing the horse and rider with an angled line to follow. Once they felt comfortable making a figure-8 pattern while jumping each angle, he added in four more fences and asked riders to serpentine down the line, being sure to focus on the straightness of each jump.

Exercise #2

Many thanks to Chelsea Smith of Smith Equine Media, LLC for sharing! Have a clinic report? Send it our way to [email protected]