The Carolina International sponsored two winter clinics at the Carolina Horse Park to help riders improve their overall competition experience and results. Clinicians focused on improving dressage scores and preparing for and riding a show jumping course. Sarah Bookner rode in the Beginner Novice session with an off-the-track Thoroughbred named TJ and kindly shared her experience with us. Thanks for writing Sarah, and thanks for reading!
A chilly morning gave way to sunshine for the second of two new winter CIC clinics at the Carolina Horse Park. The day’s clinic featured the graciously donated time of eventing greats Marc Donovan, Bobby Costello, Lizzie Snow, Mark Weissbecker and Will Faudree with a set up focused on the dressage and stadium jumping portions of competition.
The clinic’s setup was very constructive for those who were taking their horses on the first outing of the season, like me. I have been recently allowed the privilege of riding two wonderful horses for the O’Reilly family in Southern Pines, including the day’s ride, a 10-year-old OTTB named TJ who is new to eventing. With just a handful of riders and horses and quiet activity in the warm-up rings, TJ and other newbies were allowed to relax and take in a new scene at ease.
The first part of the day was spent in the dressage warm up on your own or with your personal trainer, followed by a dressage test of your choosing and a critique by your designated professional. Will Faudree judged my test and decided to go through it step-by-step with me, with a couple others gathering to listen.
He spoke primarily on the desire to have a seamless ride, which is what he likes to see at the lower levels. Having active, uphill transitions and steadiness in the contact, he said, are important to a consistent and seamless ride. He also mentioned to be aware what the judge can see from where they’re sitting and use their “visual disadvantages to your advantage.” Despite a few rider accuracy errors, I was certainly pleased with my steed’s first completed dressage test.
The relaxed atmosphere of the clinic gave me plenty of time to watch other riders, including warm ups guided by Lizzie Snow and stadium jumping round critiques by Bobby Costello and course designer Marc Donovan. While we began to prepare for the Novice and Beginner Novice levels of the day, Marc Donovan went over some quick tips for planning your stadium round hours before you even step onto the show grounds.
The Carolina Horse Park has designed a unique smartphone app where you can view posted courses, ride times and various updates for your event; especially useful for out-of-towners hauling in for a show that may be delayed by weather or a horse with a trailer loading disability that only happens on days you really need to head out early.
Bobby Costello and Marc walked with us around the course; a course that seemed to be rather inviting and flowing. A bending line here, a relaxed related distance there and a forward one-stride to a quiet four-stride. No big tricks, no fancy artwork; just a course designed to build some confidence.
My fellow clinic goers seemed to be having just as good of a time as me, with the clinicians sharing jokes and jibs, including Bobby remarking on an obviously talented rider who was vocally nervous before entering the ring and managed to come out with a fantastic ride, “She’s like the girl in school who would always say how nervous they were before a test and come out having aced it. Don’t you hate that?” Jokes and shared Oreo cookies for lunch made it easy to forget you were in the company of some of the world’s best.
My turn came for the Beginner Novice warm up, and what I wouldn’t give to be like the rider before me. TJ and I have experienced quite a few growing pains, and like the story goes, of course they had to show up at the most inconvenient of times. Earlier the weekend before, TJ developed a habit of stopping before a fence, and when I finally got him over it, he managed to toss me off right before the next one. Luckily, Lizzie was very open to hearing about my current dilemma.
I noticed the small clinic crowd grow quiet as Lizzie begins to “strongly encourage” that I gallop up to the fences, not giving the horse the opportunity to think about stopping. Once we began to clear the small oxer, we zipped into the ring, only to, of course, not be able to get TJ over the first fence of the course. After a couple well-meaning attempts, Bobby waved me down. Devastated is an understatement.
Earlier in the day, I was attentive to the tidbits Bobby had given out, like avoiding “wing dinging” around the turns, using the arena space to save time or create a distance and riding with positive (being absolutely key), even if nervous, energy to the fences. I had sorely underestimated the determination my ride had to not go over even the smallest of fences. I’m absolutely sure, as Bobby pointed out, that I did look scared once I got to the fence for what happened on the backside, as my aching shoulders were still apprehensive from the previous morning’s unplanned emergency dirt landing.
Bobby put it best, that sometimes you just simply have to go to the drawing board and go back to the very basics, “I don’t care if it’s a pole inches off the ground, just get him over it.” Ignore the bruised tailbone and bruised ego. It might take some time to get the disappointed looks of Marc Donovan, Lizzie Snow and Bobby Costello out of my mind, but if anything, I am determined to be a better rider and a better horsewoman.
I walk away with some new plans and having heard some amazing advice and tips throughout the entire day. I am absolutely grateful for the experience and opportunity and for the clinicians who came and gave their time to us handful of eventing hopefuls.
Heck, I accomplished my main goal for the clinic – not getting bucked off – so there’s always that to cheers to. Go Eventing.