Clarke Johnstone Clinic Report: This Kiwi Likes Tacos and Texas

We love living (and learning!) vicariously through clinic reports. We are excited to share this one from Area V Adult Rider Coordinator Greta Hallgren, who competes at the Prelim level with her OTTB Elianna. Have a clinic report to share? Email it to [email protected].

Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

Elite international eventer, showjumper and 2016 Olympian Clarke Johnstone didn’t know what was in store for him when he agreed to fly all the way from his home in Waikato, New Zealand, to Burleson, Texas, to conduct the winter Area V Adult Rider clinic last month at Tempus

I had no expectations,” Clarke said after his first day with his new students. “I came over not knowing much about Texas or what kind of riders and horses I would encounter, but I was pleased with what I found.”

While enjoying his first crispy taco ever, Clarke expanded on his experiences by describing how his students differ from their Area V counterparts, “Everyone here has been very analytical so far. Back home, we don’t tend to analyze every single detail the same way.”

The details started with individual dressage lessons on the first day. The main point Clarke made to all riders was that every movement needed to be performed with forward impulsion. “I bet you get ‘needs impulsion,’ on your dressage tests often,” Clarke was overheard saying to one student. The student later confirmed he was right.

Hannah Smitherman on Sir Lamb Chop in an individual dressage session. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

The second day plans were revised due to a questionable weather forecast. Instead of show jumping, groups from Beginner Novice to Preliminary headed out to do cross country under sunny skies.

Clarke challenged every group to push themselves and almost every rider reported accomplishing something new. “This was the first time I have ever jumped a skinny on this horse,” one rider reported. “I’m so proud of her!”

One Beginner Novice rider described her experience this way: “The biggest takeaway for me is that I realize now that I am not only a better rider than maybe I thought, but I’m capable of more than I realized.”

Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

Show jumping day, the last day, started with stride adjustability exercises and quickly progressed to a fun gymnastic designed to get the horses thinking.

“I use this gymnastic at home a lot,” Clarke, also a grand prix show jumper, noted. “I really like it because it makes horses think about where they land and where the need to take off. It also helps them jump in a nice form.”

The gymnastic Clarke used consisted of a placing pole to a bounce made of a higher crossrail first, with a very low vertical second. After everyone got that down, he then added a much higher, very airy vertical, five strides away. True to his plan, the horses tended towards going down the line in five even steps and jumping the last fence beautifully.

“Pulling is not your friend,” he also advised several riders throughout the day as they progressed to jumping courses. “You’ve got to set them up in the turn and then move confidently towards the fence.”

Greta Hallgren on Elianna in the Prelim show jumping session. Photo by Ailsa Jean Photography.

In addition to challenging riders to push themselves, Clarke also encouraged a riding position that allowed for shorter reins with hands more forward. “I feel this position allows you to make small adjustments and maintain a connection that results in improved communication with your horse.”

To prove his point, check out these videos of his gorgeous four-star cross country and show jumping rides at the Australian International Three-Day Event last November which he led from start to finish.

Outside of his teaching duties, rumor has it that some highlights of Clarke’s Texas adventure included the handling of his first firearm as well as a trip to the culturally iconic Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. But sometimes what exactly happens in Texas, simply stays in Texas.

Ultimately, Area V Adult Riders were honored to have hosted Clarke’s first clinic in the U.S. A group has already planned a trip to the 2018 World Equestrian Games next fall where they plan to cheer on their new Kiwi friend in addition to the U.S. team.

One clinician summed it up best: “Clarke was very generous to take time out of his incredibly busy competition schedule to come halfway across the world to Texas to teach adult amateurs. I bet he’ll be back though. We know how he likes his tacos.”