Monday, April 29, 2013

Jim Wofford at the Midwest Horse Fair

Midwest Horse Fair. Not the first place you'd go looking for quality eventing instruction, but this year was certainly an exception! The great Jim Wofford was on hand, and I was fortunate enough to be one of his guinea pigs! We had one mounted demonstration, and one lecture each day, and Jim did an excellent job of balancing the needs of the riders looking for precious nuggets of knowledge, and the spectating western pleasure public, many of whom didn't know eventing was a sport, or even that "Oldenburg" was a breed!

On day one, we focused on position. "Sit right to jump right" was the theme, and luckily for us, we all had a pretty solid position, but Jim still took the time to explain the perfect placement of the foot, and why the leg is where it is, and what is a two-point, for the sake of the audience. The jumps were very straight forward, to the point where they almost weren't a part of the equation, but it gave the horses a chance to adjust to the tense atmosphere. In lecture later, he continued with the position theme, but now incorporated dressage and cross country position into the conversation as well. Major take away: you WILL ride without stirrups. I've been too chicken shit up til now to drop my stirrups with the green bean, but I guess she's trained enough??

Describing correct upper body angle
Image (c) ShortHorse Studios
Day two's ride was lengthening and shortening, and the gymnastics were a bit more interesting, one set at the 'correct' distance, one set two feet short, one set two feet long. Generally, the horses who excelled at the short distance struggled at the long distance, and vice verse.  One horse was able to bounce the shortened one stride, while another horse was able to chip in a third stride in the elongated three stride! Because Z had been bum-rushing the correct distance, Jim predicted she would struggle in the short, but she was more willing to listen to me on the new exercise and came in quietly, making it look easy. Then, he told me "not even to breathe too hard" in between the longer strides, just let her go a bit, and she made that look easy too! Really nice to have a horse who can adjust after the Sgiltinator's famous trick of always-adding-a-stride-even-at-4'-but-still-not-touching-a-rail!!
Image (c) ShortHorse Studios

The afternoon discussion focused on conditioning, and I decided after that talk it was time to update my conditioning regimen, since everyone seems to use shorter intervals than I do!! Jim's interval system ((3)4 minute trots + (3)3 minute canters) is the way I learned originally, but somewhere along the way I learned to do longer trot sets, 15 minutes for young horses, 20 minutes for up to training level, 30 minutes for prelim/intermediate, and 40 minutes for advanced (followed by short canter intervals). Maybe a holdover from the long format days?

The third day was a gymnastic to prepare the horse for jumping a course. It was a one stride, followed by a choice. Three stride bending line to the left, two stride bending line to the right, or four strides to an oxer straight in front. By switching up which way you turn, the idea is to teach the horse to wait for your instruction. Once that's been mastered, the three individual jumps + the one stride can then be used to create a little course.
Image (c) ShortHorse Studios

The last lecture was "Trends in the Sport." This talk was pretty depressing. It was primarily about two things: drugs and professionals. The drugs was mainly about the hunter ring, but I'm sure there are some guilty eventers as well, basically winning "by the needle" instead of through good horsemanship. The professionalism discussion had to do with the fact that (and yes, Jimmy was this blunt): "if you didn't decide when you were 18 to go be a professional rider, you're not going to go to the Olympics. If you're 35, college educated, working 9-5, with kids, its not going to happen."  Well, I'm 26, no kids, but would still really like to pass through the finish flags at Rolex some day.... so I guess I'll keep working!
The Gang

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