Jumping Clinic with David O'Connor
Cedar Valley, ON, Canada
by Amber Heintzberger
The lecture began with a word for the coaches: "In teaching, people learn on a vertical curve and then plateaus. The plateau is when they need to take what they have discovered and get it into their own words or feeling. If we don't get our students to feel something, we're not doing our jobs as coaches. We have to set up the moments and let them get the feeling, then be able to reproduce it any time - we are not out on course with them, so they need to be able to do it themselves."
On to jumping, O'Connor said, "Jumping is about communication between horse and rider and the quality of the canter. The horse needs to create a shape over the jumps; we often use a rail on the landing side to help create that shape. The horse not only has to remember how to use its feet but also its hind end."
O'Connor discussed rider position, including the galloping position for cruising cross-country, the balancing position for approaching a fence, the jumping position, and how to follow the horse's motion down a drop fence. He noted that the rider should basically stay out of the saddle on cross-country, though the seat will naturally get deeper a couple of strides from a jump.
To help this O'Connor gets his students to count the last eight strides to a fence - off a curve or a straight line - so that they can develop a steady rhythm. He wants them to sound "boring" when they count, not get panicked and count faster and faster as the horse picks up the pace. This lesson was brought home to riders in the mounted sessions, which began with basic work over trot poles and then progressed to a related line in which riders put everything from five to nine strides in, regulating the speed and making their horses more adjustable.
"Riders will have a hard time with counting because of nerves and fear," he said. "If a rider is nervous and an instructor asks them to keep their eye up, at that point the rider has no idea that they even have eyes. They have to start recognizing what is happening underneath them before they can start to think about what their body is doing. When this happens the horse gets quieter and the rider begins to recognize things like where their eye is looking or what their hands are doing."
As riders become comfortable with the exercise with various numbers of strides, he said that he will have people call out a number and the rider has to put that many strides in the line. This way the exercise becomes instinctive - but this is only after it is mastered at a basic level.
Riders jumped in three groups: two groups of three more experienced horses and a final group with two young horses. O'Connor felt that one of the young horses needed more confidence and after riding it himself decided to do some work on the line. This was an unexpected glimpse into the "natural horsemanship" that the O'Connors use as a tool for schooling their own horses and he explained that they usually have all of their young horses start jumping on the line so that they are comfortable before they do the same exercise with a rider on their backs. They even introduce them to cross-country jumps like ditches and banks on the line. The method proved effective with the young horse today and at the end of the session the rider was able to ride quietly around a course of fences, the horse showing more confidence after the session.
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