Learn­ing from Leg­ends

Practical Horseman - - My Life - By Cait­lyn Con­nors

As Ge­orge Mor­ris once said, “It’s not rid­ing, it’s horse­man­ship.” This sen­ti­ment was on dis­play through­out the 2018 Ge­orge H. Mor­ris Horse­mas­ter­ship Train­ing Ses­sion, an in­ten­sive three-day pro­gram for young rid­ers that I at­tended this Jan­uary. Through­out the week we learned all as­pects of horse care, from proper groom­ing and blan­ket­ing to tak­ing a horse’s tem­per­a­ture and pulse. These skills are the build­ing blocks of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween horse and rider that make one suc­cess­ful in the ring.

In ad­di­tion to our mounted ses­sions, we had classes on veterinary care, sport psy­chol­ogy and sev­eral other top­ics de­signed to make us the best horsepeo­ple we could be. For ex­am­ple, Janus Mar­quis, the U.S. show jump­ing team’s equine phys­io­ther­a­pist, taught us how im­por­tant it is to un­der­stand the anatomy of your horse when tak­ing care of him and talk­ing to your vet­eri­nar­ian.

Start­ing each day at 5:15 a.m., I was greeted by my 8-year-old Bel­gian Warm­blood, Ex­press Blue GP Du Bois Madame (a.k.a. “Blue”), as I walked into the barn. This quiet mo­ment with him ev­ery morn­ing helped me calm my nerves and fo­cus on what was to come. This year’s in­struc­tors were some of the best rid­ers in the world: Anne Kursin­ski, Kent Far­ring­ton, McLain Ward and Beezie Mad­den. Suf­fice it to say, I had a cou­ple fan-girl mo­ments while be­ing taught by rid­ers I had idol­ized since I was a lit­tle girl. Luck­ily, the first ses­sion was on the flat with Anne. As a for­mer stu­dent of hers, I felt like I knew what to ex­pect. She em­pha­sized the con­nec­tion with the horse’s mouth. In or­der to main­tain a di­rect line from it through to the el­bows, she short­ened each rider’s reins by ty­ing a knot in them. This en­sured that our hands main­tained even pres­sure on the horse’s mouth. At one point, she also took away ev­ery­one’s stir­rups to strengthen our seats. Both of these ex­er­cises at­tuned you to the horse, re-em­pha­siz­ing how you are a part­ner, not a pas­sive par­tic­i­pant.

The next ses­sion was with the world’s cur­rent No.1 show jumper, Kent Far­ring­ton, which was si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­hil­a­rat­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing. Even as I put Anne’s tech­niques to use, I en­tered the ring with but­ter­flies in my stom­ach. Kent’s laid-back at­ti­tude im­me­di­ately put ev­ery­one at ease. The amount of in­for­ma­tion he im­parted to us al­most put me on over­load. He uses a va­ri­ety of gym­nas­tic ex­er­cises to work on ride­abil­ity. Af­ter each course, he made us turn into the arena fence to keep our horses en­gaged and pre­vent them from an­tic­i­pat­ing the turn. He also em­pha­sized how bring­ing horses back to these ba­sics helps hone and im­prove them in the show ring.

By the fi­nal day I was no longer ner­vous—just in time for the Na­tions Cup-style jump­ing rounds, in which we were di­vided into teams, each with a top rider as a chef d’équipe, or coach. This was the mo­ment when all the lessons came to­gether. As sec­ond to go, with lit­tle op­por­tu­nity to watch how the course rode, I was de­ter­mined to set a good tone for my team. My chef d’équipe, Beezie, guided me through a great warm-up on Blue, so I felt pre­pared when I en­tered the ring. Even so, I was ner­vous look­ing at the jumps as I walked in. There were sev­eral large walls, hedges and a water jump that I was un­sure how Blue would re­act to. Since he is par­tially blind, he can be very spooky at times. Thank­fully, all the skills we’d worked on through­out the clinic helped us pro­duce a clear round. With pos­i­tive feed­back from McLain Ward, I felt like I was on cloud nine.

As the fi­nal day came to a close, I was ex­hausted. This ex­pe­ri­ence had been a whirl­wind with many long days and lots of hard work. The over­ar­ch­ing theme had been the con­nec­tion with the horse both on the ground and in rid­ing. My re­la­tion­ship with Blue had strength­ened through­out the week. Be­ing able to give him all of my at­ten­tion and work on fun­da­men­tal skills al­lowed us to get more in sync and learn to an­tic­i­pate each other’s moves. The clinic had taught me not only valu­able rid­ing skills, but also valu­able skills for be­ing a horse­woman. I am ex­tremely grate­ful for the spon­sors and clin­i­cians who ded­i­cated the time and re­sources for this clinic, help­ing to ad­vance the next gen­er­a­tion of rid­ers.

Be­ing able to give him all of my at­ten­tion and work on fun­da­men­tal skills al­lowed us to get more in sync and learn to an­tic­i­pate each other’s moves.

Cait­lyn Con­nors and Ex­press GP Du Bois Madame dur­ing the mock Na­tions Cup

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