Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Ralph Hill Clinic #1

Ralph Hill, aka King of Rolex

I love Ralph. Here's a guy who was able to go to Rolex year after year, horse after horse, time and time again. He rarely won the big shows, hardly ever made the US Team, but you need to be some kind of horseman to just keep coming back year after year like that. I challenge you to find another rider who was able to PRODUCE that many Advanced level horses in their career.

As most of you know, Ralph had a very serious fall a few years ago, and it fundamentally changed his life. He found religion, and gave up the drinking, smoking, and the other bad habits that had kept him off of the US Team for much of his career. His quieter life style has, I believe, allowed him to really focus in on HOW he was able to produce so many elite horses. Its because he really "gets" horses: emotionally, physiologically, and intuitively.  I remember one lesson last year, his eye sight has gotten so that he couldn't even see the dressage letters across the short side of an arena, but from across the longside of the arena, he could see that I was holding my inside rein "half a pound" heavier then my outside because "your horse just told me." That's some voodoo magic, and I want more of it!

And that's why I thought it would be worth driving 5 hours to Minnesota this weekend to take a clinic with this Jedi Master.

The first day was a fairly simple grid exercise that Baby Z could do in her sleep... but Ralph really got after us to do better than "just do it" and actually have a balanced turn and a consistent rhythm through the trot poles. Baby Z was having none of that and threw a temper tantrum!! Ralph referred to her as a "typical female" and made us keep turning to the right until we had her. Then on the individual fences, Ralph challenged me to stop picking down to the fences and just let her GO! I keep thinking she's too green to go full tilt at these fences. Ralph turned that on its head and said she's too green NOT to!!

Day 2 dawned cold and wet, so unfortunately no cross country schooling for us. Everyone was very disappointed, but schooling on a wet day in April could have destroyed the footing for the whole year, and respecting the owners hosting the clinic is fundamentally important if you want to ever be invited back!

So instead we set up a mini cross country-esque course in the indoor, using roll tops, gates, brick walls, flower boxes... and TARPS!! I watched in horror as Ralph draped a tarp across the bottom of a hogs-back, making it into a coop-like tent. For a full explanation of her phobia of tarps, go here.

Between groups, I pulled Ralph aside and explained my horse's phobia of the tarps. He didn't get it at first-- he was like yeah yeah, we'll get her over it, so I kept talking. Telling him horror story after horror story of her NOT jumping tarps until he said, "Ok, we'll see what she says."

When we walked into the arena, Ralph was having the jump crew demolish the tarp-tent, and Zahra got about 20 feet away and stopped, snorting. Ralph had someone fetch him a grain bucket, and we coaxed her over to stand next to the tarp.

She was quite tense through warm up, giving everything, down to the last flower box, the hairy eye-ball. We had a small fight trying to get her over a pile of poles on the ground, so sure was she that it was a trick!! Once we actually got to jumping, I finally felt her relax. We jumped a small cross rail, then a small vertical, then over the poles which had been such a problem... then Ralph shouted "Now go to the Liverpool!!" I gritted my teeth and put my leg on in a death grip. Zahra surged forward. I was committed to getting to the other side of this tarp, but in the back of my mind I wondered if Zahra would still be under me by the time I got there! I had tunnel vision galloping down to that tarp-- all I saw was the other side. And then she leaped into the air, and we were there!! Safe and sound on the other side! She had jumped it, her first try!! I shrieked in delight, and slapped her neck.

Then Ralph sent us out of the "start box" to do our "course" of 4 jumps. A brick wall to a gate, liverpool, and then a nice ramped oxer to finish. I kept her in front of my leg, and Zahra surged over all the jumps, finishing cockier than ever.

Love that mare <3
Sophie, wanting to know what's the hold up?? We've got a 5 hour drive ahead of us!!

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