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My “McDonald” Clinic Adventure by Kathy Curtis

My “McDonald” Clinic Adventure by Kathy Curtis


I was lucky enough to be chosen as a rider for the VADA clinic “From Training to FEI: The Inside Perspective from FEI judge Jeanne McDonald” for judges, trainers, auditors and riders over the weekend of April 21 & 22, 2018.  The clinic was originally planned to be held at the Morven Park Equestrian Center Swiss American Indoor arena but that facility was out of consideration when some needed repairs ran longer to complete than expected.  So Alison Head and the entire Looking Glass Farm team welcomed us riders and the auditors/students to their farm, not too far from Morven Park.  They let us move in with our horses for those who wanted to stable over and other riders hauled in.  The weather was a bit cool but it was otherwise clear and nice.

The clinic was organized with riders at the lower levels beginning with training level at the start of the day up to Jenny Spain who was working on putting together the movements for a Grand Prix test.  The indoor arena at Looking Glass has fantastic footing and lots of mirrors.  I brought my 7 year- old Friesian gelding “Jimi” or Hynder fan Dijkmaniastate as one of the two second level horse and rider combinations.  There was a typical assortment of horses you would see at a horse show including various warmbloods, Thoroughbreds and other crosses.  For anyone who has ever ridden their horse in a clinic setting, it can be a bit intimidating.  For this clinic, the riders were all the “demo’s” to ride for the judges in the audience and for Jeanne to ask them what score they would give and why for what we as the riders just performed.  This was a bit of a feeling under a microscope from all of those judges as we all heard the scoring and their commentary immediately right after riding a movement.  No privacy of reading your test scores as at a show!

But Jeanne was simply great at turning the running commentary of what was a score of 5 to what we could do to make it a 7 or better for example, and why it was a 5.  Or conversely if something was ridden really well to the goal for that movement, then why that was the case.  Jeanne worked really hard to make the experience of learning for the next group of competition judges challenging and supportive, as well as for us riders and what we could do to make a certain outcome of a ridden movement better.

I thought Jimi might be a bit spooky as he can sometimes be but he settled right down and was simply great.  This was the first place I’d taken him off his home farm in almost a full year and he went right to work for me trying his best.  He has recently decided that challenging me at every turn to “just say no” when I ask for a trot or canter much less a halfway decent leg yield or shoulder in was the behavior of a juvenile and he did really well to be obedient despite my rusty pilot errors!

A few of the takeaway notes I made from Jeanne’s advice of training for both the judges and riders includes the following.  I know there were a lot more little pearls I missed while caring for Jimi, but here are a few comments that I’m she as judge wishes she could impart to riders who ride tests for her.

  • Value harmony over brilliance; do not expense harmony for brilliance.
  • In training, never go more than 20 meters without changing something, a circle, a bend, shoulder in, haunches in, don’t bore your poor horse to death! Doing something different keeps your horse interested and helps to keep him supple.
  • Pretend to “hiccup” to ride a half halt, don’t mostly use your hands.
  • When training for flying lead changes, don’t let the horse learn it is ok to trot between leads, this is very difficult to unlearn later. Better to canter to walk then pick up the new lead.  Bend to the new lead, walk, then pick up the new lead.  The transition to walk will turn into the “half halt” for the change.
  • In the rein back, never ever pull the horse with your hands. The halt before the rein back does not need to last 3 seconds.  Line up the rider’s stirrup or horse’s front leg at the letter then rein back.
  • If the horse stops the rein back after too few steps, it is often better to go forward than to try for a few more steps and get resistance.
  • Read your test comments! If you show in front of the same judge on the second day s/he remembers what was said the day before.  You should learn from the comments the judge made for the first test and apply the needed changes for the next ride.
  • When training piaffe go out in trot, never walk. The horse needs to think in a two beat rhythm, then let the horse rest.

The weekend sped by and all of a sudden, we finished our ride and it was time to take Jimi back home.  It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and I knew everyone would be out on the roads soon.  Sure enough, I heard on the radio when I was back safe at the farm that the 2 lane road I had to go through had an accident so while I know I missed more valuable instruction, at least I wasn’t stuck on the road with my horse waiting for traffic to clear.  I highly recommend riders and auditors attend an instructional clinic like this that is focused on helping new judges develop their ability to score tests.  With a sense of humor and an open mind, you can learn a lot and have a positive experience for you and your horse.