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Melissa Marshall

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Expert Day with David O’Connor

Afternoon cross-country sessions with David O’Connor. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez. Afternoon cross-country sessions with David O’Connor. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez.

Intimidated by the thought of taking a jumping clinic taught by a famous international competitor or, say, Olympic medalist? Don’t be!

U.S. Chef d’Equipe of Eventing David O’Connor is a world famous eventer and Olympic gold medalist. He’s also a fantastic clinician — calm, precise in his analysis and direction, and generous in sharing his extensive expertise with lower level riders. Recently a lucky group of riders and auditors experienced his instruction first hand at Waredaca’s one-day David O’Connor Jumping clinic on August 4, 2015.

Located in Laytonsville, MD., Waredaca hosts a series of Expert Days throughout the year with top riders. Each Expert Day is a wonderful opportunity to get quality instruction from top riders, and this David O’Connor Jump Clinic was no exception.

Two groups of clinic riders varying in level from Novice to Prelim received “Double Instruction” from David, with show jumping in the morning and cross-country in the afternoon. During the Novice group, David even hopped on and schooled one horse himself!

David speaks to the first group before they started jumping. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez.

David speaks to the first group before they started jumping. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez.

In between the two sessions, Event Clinics Inc sponsored a Q&A lunch forum discussion with David. Riders and auditors had the opportunity to hear David’s thoughts on upcoming U.S. Eventing Team competitions, and how the selection process works. He explained that many people often don’t realize a rider has to apply to be considered for team selection, and occasionally top riders decline to do so.

“I’m always looking for that rider who rides by instinct … it is vital that the rider NOTICES what is happening so they can make judgments calls. Even our USEF High Performance riders take apart and analyze what they do,” he said.

In his clinics, David’s goal is to ensure riders, regardless of level, can analyze for themselves why something went well — or didn’t. David emphasized the four “rider responsibilities”: Direction, Speed, Quality of Rhythm/Balance and Timing. Once these become second nature, a rider can begin to ride by instinct, and react smoothly to whatever situation occurs.

Direction: “Staying on the line has to be your life. The top riders plan exactly where they are going, and instinctively make small adjustments on the way.”

Speed: “If the jump did not go well, analyze whether you were going too slowly or too fast, and why.”

Quality of Rhythm/Balance: “Have it appropriate- the balance for a Novice horse will be different than the balance for an Intermediate horse, even if the same top rider is riding both horses.”

Timing: “Canter adjustability is the most important thing an eventer can have, and it is the exercise most eventers practice the least.”

Auditors showed up throughout the day to attend Waredaca’s Expert Day with David O'Connor. Photo by  Sarah Gonzalez.

Auditors showed up throughout the day to attend Waredaca’s Expert Day with David O’Connor. Photo by
Sarah Gonzalez.

As the first group began show jumping, David insisted clinic riders have a plan for how they would ride a jump or series of jumps. He noted many event riders make too much “noise” when they ride, by constantly changing their position or using too much leg. “I’m a huge believer in staying still,” he declared.

After each rider completed a show jumping exercise, David asked them to self evaluate as whether they had kept a straight line and if not, were they off to the left or right; how many strides between jumps, or whether they had stayed on the bending track. Riders quickly figured out they needed to plan ahead, analyze and correct their rides in accordance with David’s four riding fundamentals.

“You handle your responsibilities … the jump is the horse’s responsibility,“ he said to one rider.

3 David speaking to riders and auditors during the afternoon XC session. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez.

3 David speaking to riders and auditors during the afternoon XC session. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez.

The afternoon session was held on Waredaca’s cross country course. There, David had riders do a series of jumps from simple galloping fences, to hills, banks, and water. As both groups worked through the exercises, David asked riders to demonstrate they could react quickly to what they felt, not wait for a directive.

As riders worked over various jumps, David re-initerated the importance of rider responsibilities and “stillness.” David pointed out how top riders with tall upper bodies, such as William Fox Pitt, keep their upper bodies very still, as the tall height/weight movement dramatically influences the horse’s balance more than for a rider with a shorter upper torso.

After they successfully navigated bank jumps, both rider groups ended with grins at the water complex.

Both groups finished with the water complex and smiles. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez.

Both groups finished with the water complex and smiles. Photo by Sarah Gonzalez.

Gretchen Butts of Waredaca noted, “David grew up at Waredaca during his teenage years and has never forgotten his roots in the sport, nor the people who were supportive of him during that formative time in his life. She added, “David’s absolute and very genuine commitment to our clinic participants and auditors left everyone wanting to know when the next David O’Connor Waredaca Expert Day would occur!”

Are you interested in taking an eventing clinic with a top international rider? David talked briefly about his expectations for riders at any clinic. He emphasized the need for eventers, regardless of the level they rode at, to have core basics. He explained, “As riders, you should be able to send the horse forward, bring the horse back, and turn. Go, come back, go, stop and steer. Those are the basics you need to have. So make sure you have them!”

Want to see more? To see video clips from the Waredaca Expert Day with David O’Connor, click here.