Ralph Hill Clinic Report: Who Showed Up to the Dance?

Ralph Hill demonstrates what Onyx SHOULD look like in the trot. Photo by Jackie Metelak Ralph Hill demonstrates what Onyx SHOULD look like in the trot. Photo by Jackie Metelak

Well, after riding in Ralph Hill‘s clinic at Woodloch Stable, I can confidently say that I feel better about my unexpected dismount during cross-country at Roebke’s Run Horse Trials last weekend; not only did Onyx and I revisit some sticky situations and create strategies for future events, but we also jumped higher and better than we have this summer.

I had the privilege of riding with Ralph several times over the last year; though he is based in the Ocala area, Ralph frequently ventures north to teach and coach at various farms and horse trials in the area.

Woodloch Stable, the barn where I work and ride, has been lucky enough to have hosted Ralph on several occasions to instruct everything from dressage to jumping on our new cross-country course.

Today, Ralph focused on gymnastics in order to get the horses moving forward off the riders’ legs and using their bodies more effectively. I was riding with Harvey Sherman and his gelding Jack, whose challenges complemented Onyx’s and mine for a well-rounded clinic.

During the warm-up, Harvey and Jack worked more on relaxing and softening into the bit, whereas I found myself having to push Onyx up more with my leg and encouraging positive energy. In Ralph’s words, Onyx has “a bit of a case of the slows,” so getting him in front of my leg and stretching out was a challenge at first. Once we found our rhythm, Onyx and I started moving much lighter and smoother, which made the next exercises all the more rewarding.

This is a pretty big trot for the stumpy pony. Photo by Jackie Metelak

This is a pretty big trot for the stumpy pony. Photo by Jackie Metelak

Ralph had a couple of simple gymnastics set up, which Harvey and I rode at the trot and canter. Once we had a couple of satisfactory lines, he created a small course that involved the gymnastics and various jumps including a hogsback, rolltop, and a gate oxer.

We each had a couple of hiccups involving knocked rails and rider brain farts, but things started to flow better, leading to one of Ralph’s many trademark exclamations, “Hot dang!” His quick feedback and instruction on working through challenges such as awkward distances and stopping before fences helped Harvey and I gain confidence and transfer that positivity to our horses.

Here's my "Oh Crap" face of the day. Photo by Jackie Metelak

Here’s my “Oh Crap” face of the day. Photo by Jackie Metelak

Regarding my fall from Onyx at Roebke’s Run, Ralph created a new game plan for our next show. Because Onyx is pretty low-key and not nearly as enthusiastic about cross-country as I am, Ralph knew that it would be important to keep his energy up before we got into the start box.

Ralph designed a mock start box situation in which Onyx and I jumped a Swedish oxer gymnastic in the arena, then immediately trotted like a big boy to a start box area during the countdown without letting him slow down to chill. We then burst (okay, cantered slowly) out of the mock start box toward a “weird jump” (in Ralph’s words), simulating the transition from warm-up to showtime on cross-country.

Fortunately, the practice getting the pony in front of my leg paid off; Onyx and I popped over a painted wall without stopping or running out, and we ended our ride on a positive note. I felt very proud and confident, albeit exhausted!

Thanks to Ralph’s ability to read horses and find strategies to help his students confront and overcome their challenges, I feel like Onyx and I are once more on the same page and communicating better than before. Thanks for your help, Ralph! And thank you to Ingvill Ramberg and Woodloch Stable for hosting this clinic. Go Ralph Hill. Go Eventing.

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