Jana Lyle: Spring Training with Jim Graham

Jana Lyle is an eventer from Area IV who recently spent some time training with Jim Graham at his farm in Florence, Al. She kindly sent us a report from her experience with Jim. Do you have a clinic report or other story to share? Send it to us at [email protected] Thank you, Jana, for writing, and thank you for reading.

Jana Lyle and Tupelo schooling cross country with Jim. Photo by Chris Gavin. Jana Lyle and Tupelo schooling cross country with Jim. Photo by Chris Gavin.

From Jana:

Living in the Midwest, my season begins in May and ends in October. I spend almost every moment from November through April planning and counting down to that first event of the season, but it always sneaks up on me as I wait for the weather to clear and the ground to dry. All of my conditioning and training opportunities pass by due to the nasty weather, and I inevitably end up at that May event completely un-prepared. This year, in an attempt to be more proactive, I asked my friend Jill Wagenknecht if I could join her on her annual spring training trip to spend four days riding with Jim Graham at his lovely Meadow Run Farm in Florence, Alabama.

We wanted to be on the road by 6:30 am, so I started out the trip by sleeping in my trailer at the barn in order to save time driving and hooking up in the morning, and was still up at 3:30 in order to pick Jill and her mare up by 6:00. It was worth it; we made good time and arrived at Meadow Run by early afternoon. We were able to take a few hours to let our horses settle in and stretch their legs a little before our dressage lesson that evening.

Tupelo and Eowyn enjoy some downtime at Meadow Run Farm. Photo by Jana Lyle.

Tupelo and Eowyn enjoy some downtime at Meadow Run Farm. Photo by Jana Lyle.

Even though Jill is light-years ahead of me in dressage, we choose to ride together so we could watch and learn from each other. Jim asked what I wanted to work on. I’ve been struggling to learn to sit the trot so he started by giving me exercises to try to get my seat to relax: reaching one arm up, then back between my shoulder blades while leaning back, intermittently closing my eyes, and sitting 5-10 steps then posting once. He encouraged both of us to ride with a more active seat, and this gave me something to work on and think about so the sitting started to come a little more naturally and my horse’s gaits immediately improved as a result.

I struggled the most in our jumping lesson on Friday (video evidence below), but that’s the day I learned the most. In warm up, Jim wanted to see us adjust our horses’ strides so we could quickly put them on a 9’, 12’ or 15’ stride, using collection and frequent halts and half-halts when our horses became heavy on the forehand.

The jump ring at Meadow Run Farm. Photo by Jana Lyle.

The jump ring at Meadow Run Farm. Photo by Jana Lyle.

We started with a low oxer, and Jim explained today wasn’t about riding to a distance. Unfortunately, it took more than an explanation for me to get it. I could establish a balanced canter through the corner and approach but as soon as I saw my distance I would completely abandon the canter, which allowed my horse to pop his right shoulder out and fall on his forehand. To try to break the habit and show me what he was looking for, Jim instructed me to look somewhere besides the fence on the approach to avoid seeing a distance.

My horse had become so responsive to the half-halts that, by the time we added other jumps to the line, he came back to me so quickly it took me by surprise. This was huge for us as he typically lands and pulls. We were thrilled to see all the ground work paid off when both our horses came out on Saturday where we had finished the day before so we were able to add a lot more to our course work. The weather and the footing were perfect for a cross-country school on Sunday morning. I had glimpses of the balanced canter I had in the ring but was struggling to maintain and add speed to it – lots to work on!

While I feel like my horse is more fit earlier this year, we haven’t really jumped all winter so I was thrilled with him. He really didn’t put a foot wrong all weekend, allowing me to make the most of our time with Jim. It was such a great experience, and I love Jim’s teaching style. He worked as hard as I did to get the best out of us, and I hope I’ll have another opportunity to ride with him soon!

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