As people were making their way back into their seats to watch Group 2 at the end of the break, George had already returned to his trusty golf cart and promptly began to give instructions to the riders as they entered the International ring.
Group 2 consisted of the remaining five riders for the clinic:
• Zazou Hoffman
• Theodore Boris
• Reed Kessler
• Chase Boggio
• Victoria Birdsall
He had the riders begin with posting trot to walk transitions, repeating his earlier assertions about softness in the elbow and hand. He specified that half-halts, when used correctly, are very valuable when schooling. The ideal half-halt is only 2-3 seconds in duration, otherwise it loses the effectiveness; the rider must give immediately afterwards and then repeat as necessary. After repeating the upward and downward transitions in each direction, the riders went into a forward-seat canter. George corrected riders on their position, noting Theo and Chase were particularly stiff in the elbow, which prevents proper flexion. He pointed out that riders need to be aware that bending and flexion are two different training tools, but both will encourage suppleness.
The next exercise was using a quarter turn for a change of direction at the trot. He had the riders sit the trot while executing the turn to collect the horses, then once straight (in the new direction) he had the riders ask for a forward canter and resume a forward seat position. George noticed that some horses had a tendency to bulge at the shoulder once in the turn, which prompted him to address the audience on the use of direct and indirect rein to prevent that error. He felt that riders need to be able to properly use all types of rein aids, including the aforementioned pulley rein from Group 1.
Once mastering the quarter turn, the group proceeded onto the cavaletti exercise from the first session. He pointed out how Zazou’s horse was able to stretch through the body and neck over the trot cavaletti quite nicely, and exemplified the goal of the exercise. Several of the horses struggled with the trot portion of the exercise, cantering through the trot poles or jumping several of them at a time. George noted that it was essential for the rider to be able to adjust his or her method to suit the particular horse.
He decided to get on Theodore’s dark bay horse, who was having some problems with resisting the hand, tossing his head and getting heavy on the forehand when Theodore tried to increase the contact. George called the well-known Frank Madden down from the audience to assist him with a leg up. As he rode Theodore’s horse around the huge ring, he was swift to correct him using his spur when the horse showed some reluctance to travel away from where the rest of the horses were standing.
He had only been mounted for a minute or so when he realized he had forgotten his helmet, and promptly rode back to the golf cart to retrieve it and put it on. While he acknowledged the requirement for riding with the proper safety equipment, he also gave a dry chuckle when he said he has received enough “hate mail” about being photographed riding without a helmet that he could fill a whole book; which got a great laugh from all of us.
Once again mounted on Theodore’s horse, he worked on taking the contact and improving the horse’s obedience to the hand. George was met with resistance in the way of scooting off when he applied the leg and a grouchy attitude and head tossing. He worked with the horse using haunches in, which he noted was an excellent exercise for suppling however was sometimes difficult for the horse to perform. He shorted and lengthened the horse’s stride at the canter, counter-bending and then shoulder-in (in each direction). He also focused on shrinking a circle at a canter, until it was almost a volte (6 meter circle). The goal was to compress the horse from the back to the front, while loosening and elongating the neck to create true suppleness. While George was quick to reinforce his leg aid if the horse did not respond immediately, he was also very soft through the hand and would immediately reward with a gentle pat or stroke on the neck when the horse complied. After he was satisfied with the horse, he trotted him around on a longer rein, allowing the horse to stretch down and out. The horse gave a relaxed snort, which George mimicked a few times, making us all laugh. He said it was important to hear this noise, because it meant the horse was truly at ease. Before he dismounted, he patted the horse a few more times, and said riding is about a partnership between horse and rider. Sometimes riders have a habit of taking without the give that makes the balance equal.
Once on the ground, he strongly emphasized using flatwork to improve a horse’s jump. He felt there were too many gadgets out there that riders relied on, and while he acknowledged their use in certain situations, it was the core principles of balance and impulsion that cannot be replaced by gimmicks. George recommended riders take one or two dressage lessons a month to improve on their flatwork, since he felt the best flatwork was based on classical French training. Another strongly emphasized training method was no-stirrup work, as he felt no matter how advanced or well of a rider a person was, it could always improve their balance and feel.
To demonstrate how this could benefit every rider, he had the group do the same bank exercise, except with no stirrups! Each rider went, one-by-one with no stirrups over the vertical and up/down the bank. The exercise was amazing to watch, as each young rider went through the gymnastic without a single problem. Their lower legs appeared to be cemented on with glue, leaving the audience suitably impressed.
Apparently we were not the only ones who shared this sentiment, because during the next exercise with the twisting course, George off-handedly remarked “This isn’t teaching…this is entertaining, because they are so good!” All five riders exemplified the principals that George had been talking about. Soft hands over fences, solid lower legs, keeping the pace and rhythm but making adjustments as required, they had true finesse (just like the first group).
Moving onto the last obstacle, the group took turns at the water jump. Chase rode his lovely grey horse in a forward pace to the water, which resulting in a beautiful, clear jump. The riders were so good that George remarked more than once, “Let’s see that again, just to prove that it wasn’t luck!”
He was adamant about riders being the problem when it comes to water jumps, not the horses. George mentioned the reason many horses don’t clear the tape on the landing is because the riders drop their hands and body too early in the air, resulting in a premature landing. If you ride the water with impulsion and from the back to front, the result should be a clear jump. (See the video, he felt strongly about water jumps.)
After all the riders had completed the exercise, George addressed the audience. He talked about the five key factors that will make a rider successful:
2. Emotional makeup for competition
3. Equine management
4. Horse selection
He felt those five points were accurately placed in order of important; specifically noting that talent was last on the list. For emotional makeup, he was referring to the ability to keep it together under pressure of rigorous training and demanding competition. He noted that the most difficult point on the list was equine management, and that to keep a horse physically and mentally at its peak was extremely difficult. His words of wisdom regarding horse selection came from a family member; that it costs the exact same to keep a mediocre horse as it does a great one! Finally, he said that talent can just as easily be replaced by a solid work ethic.
He thanked the crowd for being a great audience, as well as Connie for doing such a great job of organizing the session. Everybody clapped, and we are all looking forward to tomorrow!
Group 2 :: Photos