This past winter we somehow convinced California-native Bobby Meyerhoff to come to the Michigan tundra for a winter clinic. After rave reviews, we knew the Michigan eventing community had to have him back for a clinic this summer, this time minus the snow!
Bobby returned to Michigan for a two-day clinic held on July 8 and 9 at Honey Run Equestrian Easement in Ann Arbor. The weather was perfect, the facility was picturesque, and all of the riders were ready to learn. The riders were split up into groups of two to four riders based on their levels, starting at Baby and going up through Training.
Day one started with show jumping exercises. Each group started with a small grid involving a crossrail and oxer with one stride in between. This gave Bobby a chance to analyze and correct each rider’s position.
Thanks to the March clinic, Bobby was familiar with most of the riders and their horses. Even when meeting rider and horse combinations for the first time, Bobby’s keen eye was quick to pick up on any issues and their root causes. When Bobby would analyze and correct positions, more often than not, he did so in the subtlest ways. Just a small change to a rider’s hand or leg position or pressure almost instantly resulted in improved horse performance.
After going through the grid a few times, Bobby had the riders apply these subtle changes over parts of a show jumping course, eventually having the riders complete the show jumping course at the end of the lesson. These questions included a related distance line, a four-stride bending line, and single fences which presented their own challenge based upon their placement on the grassy, undulating terrain.
Along with the obvious challenges of the course work, some surprising additional challenges manifested during day one. Halfway through the Training group’s lesson, Jennifer Lewandowski’s horse, Todd, pulled off his front shoe after landing from an oxer. One might think, “Early end to her weekend. Story of everyone’s life with horses, right?” Not when Bobby Meyerhoff is your clinician!
Rather than allowing her weekend to be over, Bobby gathered some farrier tools from resourceful auditors and riders and had Brian Ballard, Emily’s fiancé, run to the local Tractor Supply to purchase horseshoe nails. When returning from the store, Brian exclaimed, “Why were there so many different types of nails? I just got the ones that said ‘Regular!’” (Gotta love those “horse fiancés.”)
In no time, Bobby tacked the shoe back on right then and there! Jennifer and Todd were up and running (and jumping) in no time. Talk about service!
Day two focused on cross country. Bobby continued to emphasize the importance of rider position, but also spoke about the significance of the rhythm and balance of the canter.
Bending a dressage whip to demonstrate the change in the horse’s shape and physicality when adjusting from galloping in between fences to re-balancing upon approaching a fence, Bobby explained how to allow the horse to gallop in between fences in a way that feels natural to them until about 10 to 15 strides away from your fence.
At that point, the rider should work to bring the horse’s front end up and put more weight on the horse’s hind end. These instructions were put into practice at the start of each group’s lesson. Bobby advised that a rider could tell if they had done too much or not enough by how well the warm-up fence rode.
If a horse chipped in or was heavy getting off the ground over the warm-up fence, the rider hadn’t done enough to bring the horse off its front end, whereas when the horse jumped hollow, the rider had done too much. It was obvious when a rider had done just the right amount of re-balancing as the horse would easily jump the fence out of stride.
When moving to more challenging questions like banks and ditches, Bobby explained, and at times demonstrated, quiet, patient training when introducing horses to new or troublesome questions. He stressed not allowing yourself to “turn up the volume” when you run into a difficult situation. Bobby advised, “You must train yourself to stay patient and not react to the horse trying to elevate.”
Bobby also spoke about the “mental game” and how important it is in riding and training horses, stating, “You need to believe in your mind you can do it.” At each level, Bobby provided many helpful ways of introducing or approaching questions to help alleviate a horse’s fear. For horses with ditch issues, he advised and demonstrated how prior to riding over the ditch you can ease the horse’s fear by walking the horse around the ditch both directions, allowing them to stretch their head and neck inward to get a good look until they begin to relax.
For horses learning how to jump up and down banks, Bobby advised and demonstrated how to just walk up and down a small, Beginner Novice sized bank just so the horse can learn where he is supposed to put his feet. Bobby advised that when you rush this process over any type of question, once you begin to move up issues present themselves and too often it results in injury because the horse never learned at the beginning just where he is supposed to put his feet.
Perhaps the best way to sum up what was undoubtedly a successful clinic and phenomenal learning experience came from clinic participant Val Johnson: “Many clinicians have one or two main things they teach. Bobby has the biggest toolbox I have ever seen and he is so good at tailoring the program to the needs of the participants!” Bobby’s excellent teaching style resulted in each rider leaving with many new tools to add to their own toolboxes.
In addition, clinic participants also received buckets full of gifts from many generous sponsors, including Auburn Labs (APF pro sport), Sparta Chevrolet & Trailer Sales, Choice of Champions, Hands On Gloves, GP Collection custom show coats, Absorbine, Family Farm and Home, and Cosequin.
At the end of each of the group lessons, when Bobby would ask if anyone had questions, the common response was, “When are you coming back?” Lucky for us Michiganders, Bobby will be back in a couple of weeks. You can be sure we are counting down the days!
A special thank you is in order to the perpetually supportive significant others who helped in so many different ways to make this weekend possible! Emily’s fiancé, Brian, spent two sun-filled days helping in every way, whether that be setting up tents, carrying water buckets, holding antsy horses, or transporting Bobby in the 4-wheeler.
Jonathan Long, rider Michelle Weeks’ beau, agreed to be the clinic photographer, taking hundreds of beautiful pictures over the course of the two days, always with a positive attitude, despite the heat, bugs, dust and allergens.