Building Confidence with William Fox-Pitt

Photo by Lisa Madren.

Most people wouldn’t use a clinic with an Olympian as a confidence builder. These clinics have a reputation of being high-pressure situations that may push you out of your comfort zone. So, the winner of our contest for an entry to a clinic with William Fox-Pitt in Ocala, Sarah Clark, surprised me when she said her goal going into the clinic was to continue to build her confidence.

As an amateur rider from Tennessee, Sarah recently returned to eventing after taking an extended break while she had her kids and her schedule became generally full with all the mundane routine that goes along with becoming an adult. But, after the death of her father, she knew it was time to get to doing what she loved. “I got married, had a kid and have tried to keep horses in my life, but it’s just been very inconsistent. So I had more of a longer period away from riding, but when my dad got sick, I knew that I just needed to have riding more consistently in my life to kind of help me cope with everything.”

So, she went back to riding with her friend and trainer, Lauren Romanelli. “I feel like I have a lot of knowledge there but because I’m a little older and took some time away, it’s just convincing my body to remember how to do these things.”

Photo by Lisa Madren.

Like many riders who return to riding as they get older, Sarah has been working through some mental blocks, as well as physical ones. Unfortunately, human beings develop this annoying sense of self-preservation as they get older that makes riding particularly hard.

“I think the older that we get, the harder it is and that’s why I’m really determined to not have any more extended breaks in my riding because I just realized each time I tried to come back it’s a little bit harder on me physically, and mentally,” Sarah said. “It’s full of new challenges that you never dreamed of. When I was riding in my teens and 20’s, nothing scared me. Nothing was intimidating. I was just determined to do whatever I needed to do. And now it’s like overthinking everything and trying to get past the mental blocks of riding, which there are so many.”

Luckily, Lauren had the perfect horse to challenge Sarah and help her find her confidence. Star Quality, barn name “Ava,” is a young Percheron, Morgan, Thoroughbred cross who Sarah has quickly fallen in love with. “She’s just great. She’s got a really wonderful work ethic. And she’s very brave and even though she’s young, she’s been a really great confidence builder for me.”

Photo by Lisa Madren.

Sarah and Ava have been competing in Beginner Novice, but have plans to move up to Novice this show season. To play it safe, Sarah chose to join the Beginner Novice group at the William Fox-Pitt clinic, to play it safe and build her confidence.

“You never know what they’re going to throw at you in a clinic and I thought, let’s make sure we’re really comfortable at the height just in case the exercises get tricky or big,” Sarah said. “The exercises were interesting and challenging, but the height of everything I felt like was very doable.”

Sarah’s favorite aspect of the clinic was how they were able to tackle questions that are normally reserved for a higher level, but at a Beginner Novice height. For example, on cross country day at Barnstable they were able to tackle a combination that involved a wall-one stride-up bank line before hopping down off the bank then heading one stride to another fence.

“We got to do a combination feel of up and down off of that bank, where we could hop down off the bank and then have one stride to another fence, which is something that I don’t feel like you really see at Beginner Novice. It was just really fun to see a combination like that,” said Sarah.

William Fox-Pitt was definitely all about combinations at this clinic. At the water jump, Sarah said they tackled jumping a roll top down into the water before jumping onto a jetty with another roll top on stop and landing back into the water.

Photo by Lisa Madren.

“I would think you would usually see this with larger jumps set for higher levels, but they had it set up where you know the jumps were appropriate for Beginner Novice, but we could feel the complexity of really riding through a whole little course just with the bank complex or the water complex. So I thought that was really, really cool.”

Fox-Pitt also emphasized the importance of trotting fences, something Sarah said she quickly realized she needed to take more seriously. “It was challenging in some ways, but Ava was very bored just trotting over the jumps. As I was coming around, he was pointing out to me that my reins were too long. I just wasn’t taking advantage of this to be like a real schooling opportunity,” Sarah said. “I was just kind of treating it more like, ‘Oh, here’s this exercise or warm up thing that we have to do,’ instead of really testing the connection that I have with my horse.”

Making sure she’s really plugged in and riding at all times is something Sarah has also been working on at home. “When I ride I tend to be a little too forgiving or I give in. But William Fox-Pitt emphasized, ‘don’t give in, do it until you get it right.’”

“He was very matter of fact, you know? He was saying exactly what he meant. He wasn’t sugarcoating anything, that’s for sure. But he was also complimentary at the same time,” Sarah said. “He was definitely encouraging and told us when we were doing things well, too. It was a good mix of being realistic, but also being encouraging.”

Photo by Lisa Madren.

While Sarah entered the contest and came to Ocala for the riding opportunity, she wound up in love with the entire experience, in and out of the ring. “The whole experience was incredible because it wasn’t just the two days of riding, but they had a barn dinner put together by Rhonda Sexton, who was the organizer of the clinic. They gave away a ton of door prizes. They had raffles going on and were giving away prizes from William and from other sponsors, like Seminole. It was a lot of fun to get to mingle and be with everyone and have more of an informal gathering.”

Like many who come to Ocala, Sarah was in awe of the beautiful surroundings. “I’ve just been amazed both times that I’ve been down there about how pretty it is, because there’s Spanish moss hanging off all the trees, but then there’s palm trees mixed in. It’s just beautiful.”

“I would definitely like to just express my gratitude for this opportunity. It was definitely something that I would not have been able to do otherwise,” Sarah said. “So just a huge thanks to Eventing Nation for doing this. I hope this is something that you all will be able to do again in the future and give this opportunity to some other other riders because it was really incredible. I felt so lucky.”


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