William Fox-Pitt Visits Texas, Part Three: Back to Basics for Show Jumping

Every year for the past 17 years (with the exception of “the year of the COVID”), around the end of April, I go to visit my brother…because family is important. I also fence judge cross country at Land Rover, née Rolex. The situation works well: I see family, I drink bourbon, and I get to watch the most talented athletes in the world, both equine and human, navigate MY fence. Normally, I watch both days of dressage and the stadium jumping, too; it’s like my own personal clinic.

So you know that I was over the moon when I found that immediately after LRK3DE William Fox-Pitt was coming to the incredible RockGate Equestrian Center in Texas to offer a three-day clinic: a day of semi-private dressage lessons, a day of cross country schooling, and a day of stadium jumping. I opted to audit all three days, and what follows are my notes put into consumable form. This is the third of three parts in this series – to read part one, click here and to read part two, click here.

William teaches at RockGate Equestrian in Texas. Photo courtesy of Rhonda Sexton.

Day 3 – Stadium Jumping: Rhythm, Straightness, and Connection

The final day of the William Fox-Pitt clinic at RockGate Equestrian Center in Texas focused on stadium jumping. The stadium jumps were moved into the magnificent arena due to the impending weather, so riders had the challenging task of navigating a lot of jumps in an enclosed area. William maintained that the height of the jumps was irrelevant (though I do think he challenged each group with the size of the fences); most horses can jump 1.30 meters easily. But we need to ride it. What the riders needed to work on was rhythm, straightness, and connection. He wouldn’t let any of the riders walk the course, because he didn’t want the training to be about strides. Yes, getting strides will be Plan A — but you have to be able to ride Plan B and Plan C, too.

As the riders in each group warmed up, he asked them to show him some different trots/canters, and said that he should be able to see a difference as they made transitions within a gait. Too often we simply walk-trot-canter without practicing the transitions within the gait.

They all started by trotting an X (cross bar), and it was clear that many of the horses were keen. Some wanted to take off after, and many riders wanted to cut corners rather than ride straight. It was eye-opening for the observers. If the simplest of fences caused issues, what would a complicated series do? William: “You have to make yourself ride the lines.”

Like cross country, once they’d all trotted (and some cantered) the cross bar, he set up a series of courses for them to tackle, each one with a lot of bending lines.

Some of the riders who were easy and confident cross country seemed to have issues in the contained space. “You need to control the shoulder,” William admonished. “Bend then go straight.”

When riders cut corners, he put down dressage letters, poles, and even stood himself at times so that riders would have to make a balanced circle/turn. He’s brave, given what happened to Boyd Martin when he tried that in Texas!

A few of the riders were lacking in confidence, and, as in cross country, he pushed them to ride through their issues. “YOU have balance and control. You need to trust yourself. Your horse has to feel like YOU ARE ON IT. If you’re iffy, he will be, too. You are the rider. Figure out what your horse needs. And do that.”

Photo courtesy of Rhonda Sexton.

More wisdom from WFP:

“The rail was your fault because you tried to go long. The good news is that he got to remember he has four legs.”

“Get your body moving! I want to see all the parts wobble!”

“Stop looking down at the horse all the time.”

“Soft arm! I don’t want to see biceps. I want jelly.”

“It wasn’t pretty, but you made it happen. You weren’t a passenger.”

“Breathing helps.”

And finally:

“Grab the neck strap and get on with it.”

Good advice for us all.