Clinic Report: A Winter Tune-Up with Jackie Smith

Riders listening to Jackie's instruction getting ready to ride their course. Photo by Miranda Akins. Riders listening to Jackie's instruction getting ready to ride their course. Photo by Miranda Akins.

While it feels like most of the general population has migrated south for the winter, those up north are trucking through trying to stay warm and keep their skills up to par. Jackie Smith of Stonegate Farm, home of Winona and Stonegate Farm Horse Trials, has been running a winter lesson series with His Way Farm and Pure Gold Stables in Salem, Ohio, to help everyone keep up to par and get ready for the season.

Jackie traveled to the Instructors’ Certification Program (ICP) Symposium in Ocala this past week and had lots of new and insightful training advice to bring to the riders.

“You almost have to ride the 4-year-olds better than the four-star horses” Jackie repeated several times throughout the day, quoting ICP clinician Chris Burton. She explained to the riders at the beginning how important it was to give young horses a good start and to be adjustable.

For all levels of riders she had them warm up over lines of ground poles set at a comfortable five strides. Riders challenged themselves to get the line in distances from four strides to even nine strides, compressing and extending the canter to bring the horse back and forth and in tune to the riders’ aids.

When a horse tried to get strung out or lost its gait, Jackie hold the rider to “HALT, and mean it!” The goal was to get the horse’s balance back on the hind end to keep from running on the forehand. She even had a few riders gallop down the long sides of the arena then halt in the corner or bring the horse back down to a more collected canter.

Barbra Lyons and Willow. Photo by Miranda Akins.

Barbra Lyons and Willow. Photo by Miranda Akins.

Once the riders had successfully gotten all the designated strides in the lines, the first fence was set as a cross rail with a ground pole set nine feet out, leading to a small oxer to start. Riders trotted in and then cantered out, with the goal to stay balanced throughout the line and keep the same canter.

The riders did the exercise a few times and halted afterward if the horse ever got on the forehand or strung out afterwards. Once the horses were going well they did the same thing going the other direction.

Jackie then changed the lines so that they became an oxer to a vertical. “What do you think will change now that it is an oxer to a vertical?” Jackie asked the riders in each group. The riders replied that they would be jumping in a little bigger so they had to make sure they didn’t let their stride get too big going into the line. This is important to think about in course work and even in-and-outs at events. Riders went through the exercise and had to work a little harder to keep the stride consistent if their horse jumped in big.

Once they finished up the riders were given a small course to start. The course started with a bending line and a goal for the riders to ride straight to each fence. They then turned to a vertical, with another bending line to an oxer. They then came around and jumped another vertical with a bending line to a vertical with barrels underneath. The idea was to stay in the middle of all the fences and keep the rhythm throughout the course. Riders also halted during their course if their horse got too strong or unbalanced.

When the first course was finished successfully, they were given a new course, a diagonal fence to another diagonal fence, to a skinny, four strides to an oxer and then a roll back to another oxer. Jackie told riders to stay balanced and to make sure to ride their horses between their legs and hands to jump the skinny successfully. Riders who had a difficult time on the rollback were instructed to ride more with their outside aid and not rely on their inside hands.

Overall horses and riders finished very happy and with more homework to work on as the season comes closer. Although I can speak for everyone in the fact that we are begging for spring to come sooner! Thank you to Jackie for teaching such a wonderful clinic.