Not too long ago I had the opportunity to audit a 3 day McLain Ward clinic that was held just north of Toronto, Canada. Now for those that are not familiar with who McLain Ward is; he is one of the most decorated show jumpers today and makes a 1.60m Olympic round look like a winning equitation final. He is so good it is drool worthy; and I'm not exaggerating. So, needless to say when the opportunity presented itself I wasted no time RSVPing.
The clinic consisted of three groups of riders over three days; with what was taught each day building onto the next. Each group consisted of 8 riders and went from 1.10m - 1.60m experience. Day 1 consisted of flatwork with cavalettis incorporated throughout. Day 2 was gymnastics and Day 3 was a course set to mimic a modified GP track. Truth be told, there really wasn't anything shown that I hadn't seen or have done already; but McLain's way of teaching and explaining why he trains the way he does made the three days like one giant equestrian light bulb going off in my head.
If I wanted to be in the running for longest blog post in the world, I would outline each day, however I decided to spare everyone my original War & Peace length post and will highlight my favourite teachings that I took away. Some are big and some are small, but they all made a huge impact and I can genuinely say that adding them into my training has yielded noticeable improvements.
1. DO EVERYTHING YOU DO WITH DISCIPLINE - McLain started the day by assessing everyones turnout; both horse and rider. He stressed how important it is to be disciplined in keeping yourself and your horses looking presentable, for both of your sakes. He then went on to tell how he has transferred that to his life outside of the ring and stated how it helps keep his mind calm, and will leave lasting impressions on those who cross your path.
2. YOUR TORSO IS DEAD WEIGHT, SO NEVER COMPROMISE YOUR POSITION - There was not much following this statement other than it was repeated over the three days; ALOT. By the end of the three days, the upper body control in all the riders was extremely noticeable; as was the ride-ability of their horses.
3. BE PATIENT; THE JUMP IS COMING TO YOU, YOU'RE NOT GOING TO THE JUMP - This was one of the major light bulb moments for me. It may sound silly and easy enough but so many riders (myself included) are guilty of chasing the distance. It is truly remarkable how much more consistent my rides have become since practicing letting the fence come to you. You can still be fast and clean while being patient on course.
4. GYMNASTICS, GYMNASTICS, GYMNASTICS - McLain told us that at his home farm of Castle Hill and at Double H there is always one ring dedicated solely to gymnastics. He also said how he rarely schools his top horses over the height of jumps that they compete at; instead he uses his various gymnastics exercises to hone their skills that they use while on course. His exercises were not complicated and consisted of a set of 3 "X's" set as bounces, a grid set as a 1-1-2 and was raised as the horses went through it each time. There was a single vertical and a single oxer set at each end of the ring and were jumped tracking each direction coming off of each gymnastic.
5. DON'T MAKE A MISTAKE YOU HAVE TO FIX, FIX THE MISTAKE BEFORE YOU MAKE IT - A rider will know when they are in a situation on course that they need to fix, if this is a situation that continually arises then take the time out of the show ring to fix it before it shows up. That way your focus is on a positive outcome, not getting you and your horse out of an undesirable situation every time you compete. I took this advice very to heart; as I have had a rough summer with my young jumper in the show ring. A few small changes and we came home with a 5th place ribbon our second show of the season. Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective of the same information to get a result.
6. DEFENSIVE INSTEAD OF AGGRESSIVE, AGGRESSIVE ONLY WHEN NEEDED - McLain explained that this is a very fine line. You can be defensive while still being soft in the tack and getting the result that you want. If you are continually aggressive when it is not warranted, you will create a hardened horse; which will eventually become useless. Harsh, but true.
7. SMALL THINGS JUMP CLEAR ROUNDS - I cannot stress enough, how much this resonated with me. When McLain says the small things, he literally means, the tiniest of details. He used the following examples: how much you move your hands, the change in the position of your leg, the spur you decide to put on, a change in bit, your approach to a jump. McLain stressed that every single one of these examples are small details that you are in complete control of and will ultimately help decide the outcome of your round. He also was quick to tell us that fixating on these small things and losing site of other aspects of your sport are equally damaging and that you have to teach yourself the desired balance.
In its entirety, the three days spent at this clinic were some of the most educational I have ever experienced. I left each day knowing that the next time I sat on any horse, I would be a better rider.
Next stop on my list of clinics: Old Salem Farm with Scott Brash in October.
Natalie - @natalie.ws