Hawley Bennett-Awad dropped in for a wild time at Dragonfire Farm in Wilton, Calif., last weekend. Stretching over two days, the exercises and insights Hawley brought to the clinic were very valuable and educational for all levels. In order to be successful with the questions presented, you had to ride accurately and maintain your horse’s adjustability. One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Hawley’s clinics is that she holds even the Beginner Novice and Intro level groups to the same expectations as the Advanced groups. I rode in a BN/N group with Stephanie Nicora, Earl McFall and Taylor McFall.
One of the core exercises on the first day centered around accuracy and adjustability. Three jumps were set on a circle. If you imagine the circle as a clock, the fences were set at an easy five-strides apart, positioned around the clock face at 3, 6 and 9. In the morning group with Jennifer McFall and Caroline Dein, Hawley spoke for a moment about this exercise as a test of accuracy and the importance of holding the line.
First, the exercise was ridden five strides to five strides, then riders were asked to adjust and fit six strides in the same space without swinging wider on the track. Even though the fences were small, the exercise was a challenge for groups of all levels. I found this exercise extra challenging aboard my mare, who tends to be a bit hot and forward but is also willing to shrink her stride in to nothingness and bounce in place if I ride too much from my hand.
After this initial exercise, Hawley built on it by having riders tackle the circle exercise in five, go out across a four-stride line on the diagonal, return down the long side of the arena through a triple composed of large oxers with Christmas trees for fill and back to the circle exercise, this time fitting in six strides. With the triple on a slight downhill, it was easy for the horses to get a bit strung out, and the challenge was ultimately to get them back and bouncing to fit the six in. Other variations of the course were explored as well.
All of the riders that participated really brought their A-game to the first day of the clinic. Being in one of the later groups, it was very educational to watch the other groups work through the same exercise and courses a few times before I was tasked with the same. There are some fantastic pictures from the first day on Dragonfire Farm’s Facebook page that are well worth checking out. (Also, sidenote — that sweet stone wall? I painted that!) If you prefer moving pictures, check out the video recap below. Day two’s exercises and arena layout coming up soon!