Clinic Report: Buck Davidson Comes to Ontario

EN's Canadian correspondent Denya Massey has compiled a fantastic report for us from Buck Davidson's two-day clinic at Pippa and Jay Hambly's Glenarden Farms in southern Ontario. Buck is in Canada to compete Wundermaske in the Horseware Indoor Eventing Challenge at The Royal, which kicks off tonight, so stay tuned for much more action from Canada this weekend.

Holly Jacks-Smither rides in Buck's clinic. Photo by Ian Woodley. Holly Jacks-Smither rides in Buck's clinic. Photo by Ian Woodley.

November here can be wicked, but in a truly kindly fashion, Ontario saved some of its most beautiful fall weather for Buck Davidson’s two-day clinic at the Hamblys’ Glenarden Farms, near Fergus, in southern Ontario on Nov. 4 and 5. Pippa and Jay Hambly have been ardent supporters of eventing, and Jay Hambly is an FEI “I” course designer who in 2016 will design the Advanced course at Fresno County Horse Park.

With groups of five, the two days included indoor work on gymnastics and technical aspects of jumping, and the second day was held outside on the expansive jumping area well populated with a wide range of jumps, and a lovely water complex, including an island.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the clinic on day one, but had comments from the riders yesterday that it focused on the technical aspects of managing a course, using your leg in the turns, and engaging the horse through the sharper and more difficult turns to keep them collected and energetic.

Day 1 of Buck's clinic. Photo by Ian Woodley.

Day 1 of Buck’s clinic. Photo by Ian Woodley.

Both days the constant refrain was using the outside rein to create a balanced turn and to remember that the steering comes from the back end. Siobhain O’Connor said Buck specifically talked about teaching the horses to be quick with their feet by riding forward.

“The first day was using difficult turns to teach your horse to slow down from your leg and come underneath themselves, not just fall through the out side shoulder,” Siobhain said. “The exercises forced you to put your leg on and guide them through the turns. If you pulled back or took your leg off, then you would lose all energy through the turn. True to Buck, his courses challenged the riders to be quick thinking and effective riders. His courses open the rider’s mind to new possibilities in their skills they didn’t knew they had.”

Lots of activity at the clinic. Photo by Denya Massey.

Lots of activity at the clinic. Photo by Denya Massey.

The cross country session on day two was on a huge field, of which Buck took fill advantage, sending horses to the far reaches over a wide variety of fences. Most fences were modest in size, working on mechanics and techniques. The message that resonated with all the horses, regardless of type or experience, was balance. It was in every sentence, and using the exercise of moving forward and then collecting every four strides at a canter/gallop in warm up and throughout the session. And: “Don’t let them hang on you!”

Buck insisted the four strides were counted from the moment you asked — “Not once you think you have it” — because, as he pointed out, the four strides come very quickly. This relates back to Siobhain’s comment that he wants the hind feet to be quick. Buck said that the more experienced horses could reach a bigger stride sooner and hold their balance longer than a less experienced horse, and the tempo will change but the rhythm should stay the same.

Once that warm up was done, the riders were sent over two single poles with a ground line, set to four or five strides. Each rider went through at four strides, looped around for five strides, and then for four strides again. When done smoothly, it looked easy, but for the five strides, Buck often called out, “Make him land close to the fence.”

Two comments stood out: If you are in a position to stop, you are in a position to jump, and don’t pull back. And after jumping, “I do not want to see your seat hit the saddle,” so riders were made to practice standing in the irons for four or five strides after the fence — to make sure the horse was moving up under you, going forward.

Buck Davidson demonstrates standing after a fence. Photo by Denya Massey.

Buck Davidson demonstrates standing after a fence. Photo by Denya Massey.

For the stronger horses, Buck was adamant that when you want a change, do something different, or how do they know they aren’t doing what you want? They gallop on, so you pull, but they keep galloping because you keep pulling. Buck got on a strong OTTB, whose owner, Feren, said it was his first cross country clinic, galloping around a new place.

In a matter of minutes, Buck had him galloping easily, and riding him with one hand, both of them looking quite relaxed. When she got back on, Feren tried what Buck had done, saying it took some faith, but she was really delighted with the results. She learned control does not come from your hands; be OK with giving away the reins; ride with your seat; and steer with your outside leg and reins, as the steering comes from behind. Real time, real results!

Photo by Denya Massey

Buck demonstrates how to calm a strong horse. Photo by Denya Massey.

One of the horses had a refusal and was seriously not going to jump a spooky fence. Buck had the rider come around at a small canter, stop the horse before the fence, then repeat in the same direction, then change direction and repeat twice. The stand is quiet, still, calm. This exercise means the rider is calling the shots. Then they came around for the fifth time and asked for the jump. It worked! I think even the mare was surprised!

Another key point: When you go into water, you must move your hips forward as you hold their head up — they can’t judge how deep the water is, and they need you for balance. This relates back to keeping them going uphill. With ditches — sit up!

Sue Cornwall rides through the water complex. Photo by Denya Massey.

Sue Cornwall rides through the water complex. Photo by Denya Massey.

Far away from us, Buck was riding a horse that was going nicely by then, and suddenly — a lot like Bambi on ice — horse and Buck slid around; the horse managed to stay up, but no hope, even for Buck, and he was pitched off. The horse kindly stopped, Buck popped up, climbed back on, and cantered on back to the group — big smile, laughing, and said — with such grace and with generosity to the horse — that it was his fault for putting the horse in a place where he might be at risk of not being able to keep his footing. I think all of us wanted to hug him for being so generous, positive and still sharing his impressive bank of knowledge.

No wonder everyone wants him to come back!

Take aways: Balance. Speed. Keep their heads up. Balance. Get out of the saddle after a fence. Outside leg and rein. Balance. Be calm. Go Forward. Balance.

From Sue Cornwall, a rider in the clinic:

Buck is such a positive clinician! His constructive criticism was always helpful and supportive. He always took the time to explain why something went wrong and how it could be fixed/prevented. The theme of the two days was to ride from the seat and legs and not solely from the hands.

The first day he had a jumping course set up with grid work in the middle, with jumps set up on angles at each end of the arena. He put us all through a series of jumping and turning exercises that required us to ride from the inside leg to an outside supporting and balancing, half halt, rein, while using the inside rein for direction only.

After jumping the angled jumps, he had us turn immediately left or right on landing. As well as having to use the above mentioned aids, this exercise really taught the value of the rider leaning to the left or right over the fence from the hips, so that it was clear to the horse which direction it was to go.

Day two was outside on the cross country course. Again the theme was to have the horse in front of the leg. He had us working on lengthening and shortening our strides by the use of our seat and legs while half halting with the outside rein. He stressed the importance of not constantly pulling on the horses mouth, thereby creating a “nagging” situation, but to give and release as soon as the horse slows down, thus creating a positive situation.

He also had us stand straight up in our stirrups and out of the saddle while landing after some of the fences. This exercise helped to keep us in the perfect rider position with shoulders back, prevented behinds from hitting the saddle upon landing, and taught us how to keep our horses in front of us after the fence by allowing the horse to gallop away from the fence freely without rider interference.

It was an amazing two days chalked full of many “AH HA” moments for me! This was a check mark on my bucket list. Next on my list is to do ANOTHER clinic with Buck Davidson!