Shannon Lilley: Day 1 at the California Training Sessions

Eventing Nation’s good friend Shannon Lilley has kindly agreed to bring us her thoughts and observations from the US training sessions in California.  Monday and these next few days are David’s official training session debut and it’s no surprise that things are a bit different at this winter’s sessions to say the least.  The theme from the convention continues–The times they are a changin’.  Thank you so much for writing this Shannon, we are all incredibly thankful to get to join in on the Cali sessions.


From Shannon:

You could call it a breath of fresh air or a whirlwind tour or both when 8 very large trailers arrived to Red Fox Farm Sunday night, each with one maybe two horses in them, to experience our new team coach David O’Connor’s training session.  These days will be packed with both lectures and riding.

The very first part of the day started off with a lecture by the coach to discuss theory and technique.  It was a very articulate lecture not unlike the lectures at the annual meeting.  What was most incredible was the lack of knowledge of the Eventing 25 group. I could not decide if the group was intimidated to speak up and answer the questions like what are the levels of the training scale or what is the training scale, or if they really did not know the answers. Either way Coach pointed out that it was not the students’ fault for the lack of knowledge, but rather a flaw in the system as the education has not been passed down effectively.  O’Connor stressed in the lecture that these riders are the best young talent in the country; they need to take them self seriously and act that way.  He said, “You won’t answer this today, but ask yourself why are You here?”  In all other professional sports, the athletes are students of the game, they watch a ton of film and spend countless hours in the classroom whereas we don’t.  That is about to become the case with US eventing.  Coach wants to spend more time lecturing theory because that is a huge component to making a winning program.  All the riders were instructed to bring notebooks and take notes for the rest of the week.  If you want to be the best, you have to start acting like the best, which goes back to that question: “why are you here?”

When the schedule first came out, I was skeptical that the Eventing 25 riders were riding dressage in groups of three.  However, I was pleasantly impressed by the way Coach handled it.  Coach told an anecdote about the summer Olympics in London where, for ring familiarization, each country only gets 20 min.  The Germans used their time together as a drill team.  The performance was meticulous, as only the Germans do, and then they went on to smoke everyone in the dressage.  They did it that way to get into the other countries heads as a tactic but also because they could. O’Connor told the group that he would be teaching group lessons and the members of the group would ride as a drill team.  No one is allowed to pass, circle, or cut across.  They all lengthen to the same speed and shorten to the same speed.  Obviously each horse and rider has a different ability to lengthen and shorten potentially causing a problem if the horse in front can trot in place and the other two can’t, causing a collision.  The exercise proved to be difficult but made the riders pay attention to more detail than they otherwise would; creating a tremendous level of responsibility.

After the two morning drill team sessions, we were greeted with a fantastic lunch provided by DeAnne Howe who outdid herself with fajitas for all.  After the fantastic meal, Coach gave a horse management lecture in bandaging and grooming.  The group was receptive and asked more questions.  Each rider had to wrap a polo wrap and standing wrap for O’Connor’s approval.  It was like Pony Club from which many rider do not benefit these days.

The afternoon sessions were occupied by the high performance riders Kristi Nunnick, Jolie Wentworth and Bea di Grazia.  O’Connor gave fantastic lessons where he spoke to those watching to help the audience understand what he is seeing as well as what he does to fix it.  After a while, Coach gets on the horse to demonstrate his points.  Each horse he rode it took him about 5-7 minutes to familiarize, dissect the problem, and find a way to improve it.  Once he was satisfied, he had the rider get on to aplly what she/he saw and feel the difference in the horse.  It was incredible how apparent the change was even when the rider got back on.

There are three more days to come of this hugely educational experience.  Flying Tail Farms is hosting this training session and there are a lot of people to thank for the effort put in but none more that Dayna Lynd-Pugh who put in an incredible amount of work to welcome everyone and make the facility look worthy of such a great event.  The other touch that really made the Eventing 25 riders feel special is the loot that they got.  Smartpak, the incredibly generous company they are, donated ear bonnets, jackets and hats whereas Toklat donated saddle pads for each rider.

Thus far the training session has a different feel than any other I have been a part of and I am really excited for tomorrow.  We invite anyone who would like to come watch.  Auditing the riding is free and we encourage you all to make your way to watch.  Contact me on Facebook or splilley43 at, if you would like more information.


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