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November 2011: Weekend with Wofford

with 3 comments

By Katherine Walcott, Illustration by Jean Abernethy

“It’s simple. It’s just not easy.”
James C. Wofford, Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider [Doubleday 1995]

You gotta respect an instructor who can start a sentence with, “When I was teaching [Olympic Silver Medalist] Kim Severson……” At the end of October, I spent two days at Foxwood Farm auditing a clinic by Jimmy Wofford.

Wofford’s Words of Wisdom
(As interpreted by me. Mr. Wofford should be held harmless from however I chose to butcher his ideas.)

Horse and rider need to jump the same jump at the same time.

It’s not against the law to be green.

When reapproaching a jump after a problem, don’t ride faster, ride stronger.

To steer around a stadium course, point your chin at the jump.

Flat jumping comes from increasing speed.

Perfect doesn’t happen. Aim for really good.

The difference between bad riding and good riding? I can‘t see good riding.

The horse hears the aids he wants to hear. Quick horses ignore your hand and overreact to a touch of leg.
Sedate souls, vice versa. Therefore, you may have to unbalance your aids to balance your horse.

Punish immediately and reward immediately. Make a fuss over him. Pat him a lot. Tell him he’s wonderful. He’ll start to believe you.

The brief guide to jumping: Canter in a rhythm. If they jump, you kiss ‘em. If they don’t, you kick ‘em.

Clinic Theory
I believe in undershooting when entering a clinic. If I rode at X level, I’d sign up for the X-minus-one group.
I’d want to be at a level where I was rock-bottom certain. That way, when the clinician told me to jump a funky gymnastic line at least I wouldn’t be worried about the height of the fences. This weekend, for example, one young lady kept sticking her tongue out when jumping. Wofford warned her and then made her jump with her glove stuffed in her mouth.

How was life over in my little angst-ridden corner of the universe? I first proposed this clinic back in March (blog posted in June). So I’ve had half a year to adjust to the idea that I wasn’t riding in it. Come the day, I knew I wouldn’t enjoy watching without riding but if I stayed home, I’d sulk. Mostly, at least publicly, I did okay. However, each of the clinic days I did disappear for a quick snivel. Both occasions were after lunch, so blood sugar may have been involved. I subdued my disgruntlement by taking notes as if the clinic were an event to be covered. Occasionally I was pulled out of writer mode by an attendee’s horse misbehaving. At that point, I’d have an anxiety attack in sympathy by imagining the Technicolor fits Rodney would have thrown. That’s the point. I did NOT ride because I was NOT ready. If I ever DO ride in this or any other clinic, it will be when I AM ready. But try telling that to my stomach.

In keeping with my promise of looking on the bright side:
1) I was way more relaxed than had I been riding. Annoyed, frustrated, and depressed, yes. But more relaxed.
2) I was spared the sight of my oversized giraffe in the Beginner Novice group with the pony brigade.
Blog frequency – monthly.
Links to past WordPress & USEA columns, plus weekly commentary, on Facebook at Rodney aka Perpetual Motion. Note, I occasionally forget to switch identities before posting there, so please select “Everyone (Most Recent)” under the photo strip to see all entries.


Written by Virtual Brush Box

November 18, 2011 at 9:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

September 2011: My Two Horses

with 10 comments

By Katherine Walcott, Illustration by Jean Abernethy

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone [Scholastic 1998]

They are the best of horses. They are the worst of horses. I don’t know which is which.

Each morning, the mare and I don our Red Hats and go for a stroll around the pasture. Mathilda is my husband’s 27-year-old Quarter Horse cross. Over the last 20 years, she’s had a brief career as a driving horse, a briefer career as an event horse, and long, successful career as a grass converter. She even tried backyard dressage with me. Despite her lack of overall talent, she was better at dressage than I was. She has the mind for it. Our story made USDF Connection as “Square Horses and Round Holes” [November 2008]. Now retired and arthritic, Mathilda benefits from regular walks to loosen her joints, plus it’s good for both sets of bones.

We are not building towards anything. Best case scenario is that she lives for another 10 years and we go for another 3,000+ walks. Far from resenting the chore, I look forward to the time to amble and ponder. I talk to myself. I swat flies. I rewrite troublesome text. Mathilda trundles along behind, snorting, stretching, and occasionally hocking bits of chewed carrot against the backs of my legs. Our only goal is to make it four times around. On days when one or the other of us isn’t up for it, we end early and try again the next day.

On the other hand, I had hoped to ride Rodney in the AEC this month. As I write this, horses are pulling into Chattahoochee Hills. Instead of dwelling, I grit my teeth and focus on our gains:

  • Rodney stands quietly ground-tied during grooming. Since he adores being fussed over, this was easy. He is getting the message that whichever side I am working on, the feet on that side stay firmly on the ground.
  • Rodney drops his head below my eye level to have a bridle or halter put on or taken off. He’s better about remembering during the off than the on.
  • Rodney accepts funny objects. When I rolled our blue exercise ball into the field, he put up his ears and trotted towards it. When I led him up to the ball, he put his nose on it and thought, Big, squishy, rubber thing. So? I kicked it around the field. I rolled it gently against his legs. I rolled it underneath his belly. I finally terminated the exercise as it was having so little impact.
  • Rodney is starting to jump sedately. In his former life, they claim he jumped 5’2″. I do not doubt it. Nor do I doubt that he would fly over anything at which I pointed him. However, he will not walk quietly over a crossrail. I am working on convincing him to use only the amount of energy required for the task at hand. There are times when you want afterburners: a mini-prix jumpoff, a Preliminary cross-country, a Second-level extended trot across the diagonal. Until then, he needs to learn to ration his energy.

In sum, I think Mathilda is a waste of time and space (don’t worry, the feeling is mutual), yet I have a lovely time with her each day. Rodney is everything I was looking for in a horse, yet everything about working with him makes me crazy.
Blog frequency – monthly.
Links to past WordPress & USEA columns, plus weekly commentary, on Facebook at Rodney aka Perpetual Motion. Note, I occasionally forget to switch identities before posting there, so please select “Everyone (Most Recent)” under the photo strip to see all entries.

Written by Virtual Brush Box

October 8, 2011 at 9:43 pm