A Memorial Day Tradition: Boyd and Silva Martin at Fitch’s Corner

EN reader Eliza Goldberg audited the annual Memorial Day clinic with Boyd and Silva Martin at Fitch's Corner in Millbrook, New York, this past weekend and kindly sent in a report with beautiful photos. Remember to send your clinic reports to [email protected]! Many thanks to Eliza for writing, and thanks for reading.

Boyd and Knox Martin. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Boyd and Nox Martin. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Fitch’s Corner, owned by Fernanda Kellogg and Kirk Henckels, hosted its eighth annual Memorial Day clinic with Boyd and Silva Martin this past weekend. As Boyd’s only clinic before the Olympic Games in Rio this summer, it was an extremely important and special weekend.

The clinic is strategically placed over the long weekend to provide a two-day jumping format and a one-day format with Boyd with levels from Beginner Novice to Preliminary. Silva is also in high demand, providing private sessions for pure dressage riders as well as eventers.
Fitch’s Corners sets up temporary stabling for the clinic to attract riders from long distances, and this year participants came from Maine and the Canadian border, as well as the greater Hudson Valley area. Additionally, this is the only time any type of schooling is available at the farm before the Fitch’s Corner Horse Trials on July 23 and 24.
Sarah Tompkins and Braeden demonstrate the warmup exercise on show jumping day. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Sarah Tompkins and Braeden demonstrate the warmup exercise on show jumping day. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Day 1: Show Jumping with Boyd

The clinic started with show jumping on the first day, with levels ranging from Novice to Preliminary. Boyd began each show jump lesson with a four jump bounce on a half circle as a warmup. It helped prepare the horses for a show jump lesson both mentally and physically by encouraging them to think about foot placement and careful form.

This exercise also required the riders to be balanced and in sync with the horses in order to execute it properly, otherwise the horse would jump out of the circle before the exercise was complete.

After the riders jumped the warmup bounce, each rider did a figure-eight over a single vertical fence. Given the amount of space each rider had to complete the exercise, Boyd encouraged jumping the jump as straight as possible and changing directions after the jump, as opposed to jumping on an angle.

Soon all the pieces came together in a course, and riders were asked to jump a line of four jumps downhill as well as uphill, in addition to incorporating the bounce and more single verticals and oxers, focusing on approach and striding.

Maddy Foley and Kipper. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Maddy Foley and Kipper. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Day 2: Cross Country with Boyd

The second day was cross country, and Boyd began each lesson with a talk about galloping position, emphasizing “not letting your bum touch the saddle,” and keeping reins on the longer side in order to not interfere with the horse. Additionally, he had each rider plant their hands on the horse’s neck, so if the horse fought with the rider’s hands, they would be fighting with their own bodyweight.

Next, the riders would jump a single fence out of stride to practice for simple galloping fences often found on competition cross country courses.

Josephine Duggan and Kildare’s Buster Keaton. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Josephine Duggan and Kildare’s Buster Keaton. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

After the warm up jump, for the upper levels, Boyd would have the riders jump a rolltop five strides to a skinny, which made a forward jump in and an attacking ride necessary in order to complete the ride effectively. After the skinny the riders would turn around and get four strides bending over the same roll top and another identical one, requiring quiet, smooth communication.

Next the riders would change directions and jump a big green table to an attacking three stride straight line through the same rolltops. This exercise tested the adjustability of the horses, and the smoother the rider could balance and prepare the horse with minimal interference, the easier the exercise rode.

Throughout each lesson, riders jumped coffins, jumps uphill, jumps downhill, up and down banks, and jumps in and around the water complex.

John Roach and Royal View. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

John Roach and Royal View. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Memorial Day Clinic

The one-day clinic was similar to the cross country day of the two-day clinic, but the levels went from Beginner Novice to Training. The day started out rainy, but then developed into a sunny day, less warm than the previous two.

Boyd taught each lesson similarly to the Sunday cross country day. For every group warmup up cross country, he had riders stare forward at a telephone pole to aid the riders in achieving jumping straight.

He emphasized decelerating to downhill jumps and accelerating to uphill jumps, which was especially important for the lower level groups, so they could develop thinking that way in order to understand how to safely and effectively ride uphill and downhill fences by the time they reach the upper levels.

Marcia Kulak on one of her young horses. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

U.S. selector Marcia Kulak on one of her young horses. Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

For coffin jumps, Boyd described the “coffin canter,” slowing down and encouraging the horse onto their hind ends to allow them to slow down and read the question before jumping.

Boyd had riders jump the ditch before doing the entire coffin combination as a sort of “cheat” to make sure the horses were comfortable before attempting to do the more difficult combination.

Since the field had lots of room for galloping, Boyd encouraged each rider to ride like they would in a competition, since there are very few times when a rider can emulate a cross country run in a way that is truly similar to the way it is in competition.

Boyd emphasized the importance of keeping both hands on the reins when using a crop when possible, because removing hands takes away the ease of steering.

Headsets on and ready to go! Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

Headsets on and ready to go! Photo by Eliza Goldberg.

A Memorial Day Tradition

Silva flew up to Millbrook Saturday night with baby Nox and taught dressage lessons on Sunday and Monday. Each rider wore a headset to ensure that the communication between the riders and Silva was as strong as possible.

Monday afternoon Olympic show jumping champion Peter Wylde stopped by from his nearby farm and joined everyone for lunch. Additionally, top three-day event rider and U.S. selector Marcia Kulak participated in a Monday lesson with Boyd atop one of her green horses.

Overall the weekend was extremely educational and fun, just as it is every year. Fernanda said it has become the Memorial Weekend tradition at Fitch’s Corner to ride with Silva and Boyd.

“Boyd and Silva, who are accomplished competitors, are also very effective instructors. They organize their instruction to advance the rider’s skills and to bring home the ribbons at the end of the day.  This clinic provides the master classes in preparation of the summer competition season,” Fernanda said.

“My personal pleasure, in addition to opening up the property, is to provide wonderful buffets under the trees in the gardens around Fitch’s main house and to enjoy some camaraderie between the sessions. The Millbrook community comes to Fitch’s to learn from the the best in the sport, to have great meals and a good bit of fun.”