Cross Coun­try With Jim Wof­ford

Thought-pro­vok­ing que•tion• leave Jim con­tem­plat­ing the fu­ture of event­ing.

Practical Horseman - - Special Dressage Issue -

Jim con­tem­plates what we ask of our horses and the fu­ture of event­ing.

Ques­tions lead to an­swers, but an­swers al­ways lead to more ques­tions. For ex­am­ple, last month I men­tioned that course de­sign­ers plan their cour­ses based on a 12-foot stride. That’s the cor­rect an­swer, and I was sat­is­fied with it—un­til I heard from the “yeah­buts.” You know: “Yeah, but Jim … is that true in ev­ery sit­u­a­tion?” Of course, my an­swer to that has to be, “Well … er … ahh, no, not re­ally.”

Your horse’s stride can be af­fected by foot­ing, ter­rain, size of the arena, fa­tigue, your tech­nique (good or bad) and a host of other fac­tors. De­sign­ers take all these into ac­count when plan­ning their cour­ses. For ex­am­ple, a show-jump­ing course de­signer might not in­clude a big oxer-to-oxer com­bi­na­tion late in a long course; a tired horse could get “hung up” on the back Clas­si­cal equi­tation is when we don’t ask our horses to do any­thing they don’t do at lib­erty. The next time you turn out a horse, stick around to watch the show. Chances are you will see ev­ery rec­og­nized dres­sage move­ment along with a few prodi­gious leaps and some moves that would leave the world’s most ex­pe­ri­enced cut­tinghorse trainer sit­ting on air. Horses can do any­thing with their bod­ies that they want to do, es­pe­cially when they do not have hu­mans sit­ting on their backs and pulling on the reins. Imag­ine how well your “av­er­age” horse would move if you had an in­de­pen­dent po­si­tion. rail of the sec­ond oxer. Cross-coun­try course de­sign­ers might al­low for fa­tigue in build­ing their last few ob­sta­cles—for ex­am­ple, by con­struct­ing the last com­bi­na­tion out of brush rather than solid el­e­ments. A fa­tigued horse can blun­der badly at such a fence, yet land safely on the other side.

An­other fac­tor in stride length is, of course, your horse. His abil­ity to con­trol and change his stride is won­der­ful. Olympic gold medal­ist David O’Con­nor says a horse can do any­thing with his body he wants to do. The next time you turn a fresh, en­thu­si­as­tic young horse out in a pad­dock, stick around and watch the show. You are about to see the foun­da­tion of clas­si­cal train­ing on dis­play. You might see pas­sage, pi­affe, ex­tended trot and can­ter, fly­ing changes, pirou­ettes and—if he is feel­ing re­ally good—lev­ades and capri­oles.

Hey, Speak­ing of Clas­si­cal Train­ing …

My def­i­ni­tion of “clas­si­cal” is that we do not ask our horse to do any­thing that he does not do in na­ture. What would “non-clas­si­cal” look like? For ex­am­ple, a horse can nat­u­rally bite at a fly on his chest dur­ing an ex­tended trot move­ment—but he will then open the an­gle of his throat again, plac­ing his nose at, or just in front of, the ver­ti­cal. Forc­ing him to con­sis­tently hold his chin on his chest is un­nat­u­ral, and thus “rol­lkur” is non-clas­si­cal and phys­i­cally dam­ag­ing to the horse.

An­other non-clas­si­cal pet peeve of mine: tight nose­bands. The re­laxed horse is mo­bile in his jaw. Tight nose­bands of what­ever va­ri­ety pre­vent this mo­bil­ity and place your horse in an un­nat­u­ral state. Horses in an un­nat­u­ral state are tense, thus once the nose­band re­stricts the mo­bil­ity of the horse’s jaw, the rider is cre­at­ing ten­sion in the horse. The mir­ror of a hu­man’s soul is in his or her eyes, but the mir­ror of a horse’s soul is in his mouth.

When I say this at clin­ics and lec­tures, I quite of­ten get a “yeah­but” that some-

one’s horse “goes bet­ter” in a crank or tight flash nose­band. As an al­ter­nate view of their uni­verse, I al­ways of­fer my ver­sion of the placebo ef­fect. Es­pe­cially with younger or less-skilled rid­ers, I can al­most guar­an­tee that if I change their snaf­fle from a loose ring to a flat ring, or vice versa, and tell the rider “he will go bet­ter in this bit,” chances are he will go bet­ter. But it is not re­ally about the bit, it is about the rider’s at­ti­tude to­ward the bit. If the rider re­laxes, think­ing her horse is go­ing to go well, the horse will sense this—and go bet­ter.

‘Elite,’ Fine—But Not ‘Al­most Im­pos­si­ble’

A lit­tle ob­ser­va­tion sug­gests that David is right: What your horse does is pretty amaz­ing, but just be­cause your horse can do some­thing does not mean that our sport should ask him to do it.

Thoughts like this go through my mind ev­ery spring as I drive through the lovely horse farms that sur­round the Ken­tucky Horse Park. The Land Rover Ken­tucky Three-Day Event is al­ways the best event of the year, and there is a great deal go­ing on out­side the arena as well as in the com­pe­ti­tion. All the event­ing sil­ver­backs in at­ten­dance study the re­sults from each phase, iden­tify trends and ar­gue about where the sport should go from here.

One dis­cus­sion topic that is start­ing to sur­face is the ever-in­creas­ing tech­ni­cal skill that elite event­ing re­quires. The lower num­ber of en­tries at both Ken­tucky and Bad­minton this spring prob­a­bly height­ens this con­cern. I share the mis­giv­ings about overly tech­ni­cal re­quire­ments (and I will re­turn to this in a minute), but I think this spring’s lower num­bers were an anom­aly. I am con­fi­dent that we will see a resur­gence in the en­tries at Ken­tucky, and it is hard to be­lieve that Eng­land would be cursed with an­other in­cred­i­bly wet spring; most of the prepara­tory com­pe­ti­tions be­fore Bad­minton 2018 were

Based at Fox Covert Farm, in Up­perville, Vir­ginia, Jim Wof­ford com­peted in three Olympics and two World Cham­pi­onships and won the U.S. Na­tional Cham­pi­onship five times. He is also a highly re­spected coach. For more on Jim, go to www. jim­wof­ford.

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