Area VI is home to many wonderful things, but when it comes to this past weekend, I’m focusing on two in particular: perfect “winter” weather and Hawley Bennett-Awad.
I apologize to basically the entire rest of the country, but Area VI does include Hawaii, so clearly we are have some serious weather karma. Dragonfire Farm opened its gates for its two-day February clinic, and with the fog burning off by early morning, I was definitely glad I was wearing IceFil and tights!
On Saturday, Hawley took the time to teach one of Dragonfire’s youngest academy riders, Felicity. Not only did Felicity conquer riding in the dressage court for the first time, she worked on her two point and then had a little selfie session with the approachable Olympian. As her mom, renowned equine nutritionist, Clair said, “I don’t think there are many international riders who can switch as effortlessly from teaching four-star riders to teaching up-downs, but Hawley Bennett is one of them.”
One of the many things that Hawley brings to her clinics is a willingness to work with not only the horses and riders that are competing at rated shows, but also with the greenies. Meghan Slusher, owner of Wilton Rain DF, was thrilled to have “Charlie” be part of this experience.
“Hawley pushes the young horses and riders to the perfect point without overloading either of the two. She has a keen sense for knowing when a young horse has learned its lesson for the day,” Meghan said. “Without even being on the horse, she senses when the horse is making a mistake because it is tired instead of attributing a mistake to a lack of cooperation.”
Nancy Dein, owner of her homebred 4-year-old Tropic Star, echoed this sentiment, saying she loves watching Hawley because “she takes such time to show them how to jump the questions,” which gives these youngsters such confidence.
Confidence is key for Hawley’s clinics. Even if you are having an off day (and we’ve all had them!), Hawley is a wonderful combination of coach and cheerleader. She listens to the riders about where they are and how their horse feels, and while she encourages you to challenge yourself, you never worry that she will push either of you too far.
There’s nothing quite like hearing Hawley clap for you at the end of a nice line, saying, “That’s it! You’ve got it!” Smiles and laughter aren’t out of place at her clinics, and this time, everyone escaped without having to do pushups, cartwheels or bareback ditches on Tucker the pony!
Even though there’s fun, there’s also a lot of learning. With Twin Rivers coming up next weekend, Hawley’s course had liverpools, tarps and plastic-barreled skinnies that made even the most seasoned horse take a second look. From a line of five one-strides with poles to corners and skinnies, the focus was on footwork, forwardness, confidence and, of course, riding your line.
The one-strides asked the horse to rock back and stay in rhythm before the course turned to the corner. This allowed both horse and rider to be prepared for the jump, instead of falling prey to the instinct to let the horse drift and lose power coming to the fence.
One of the many things I have found fulfilling about working with Hawley is her understanding of the basics of horse and human behavior. She isn’t afraid to point out holes to work on, but she gives you the tools to fill the gaps. Hawley constantly reminds you to ride your rhythm, ride your line and ride the horse you have. She stresses fairness and positive reinforcement. Her enthusiasm is contagious, and every one really seems to step up their game.
Many of the riders participated in the clinic Dragonfire offered in January with Hawley. Not only do they get to take advantage of a large arena with great footing, but Hawley also never fails to point out the positive, leaving both horse and rider with a better sense of teamwork, harmony and homework.
Hawley is also one to notice the work what you’ve done in between clinics — something that I know definitely encourages me to do my homework! Dana Todd brought her horse Jax, who met Hawley at last year’s clinic, and it was awesome to see the changes and growth in their partnership.
I know I can’t wait until Hawley’s next clinic — and I know lots of other people (and ponies!) who agree.