January 4, 2012—With George still under the weather, 2011 Pan American Games team gold medalist Kent Farrington stepped in to work with the 12 riders in the 2012 George Morris Horsemastership Training Session on flatwork and gymnastics. It was a great follow-up to Beezie Madden's "Basics with Beezie" demonstration yesterday in that Kent emphasized using lateral work on the flat as well as gymnastics to improve rideability over fences. In addition, his goal seemed to be to get the riders to start thinking about training their horses rather than just riding nice courses as they've been doing in the equitation classes that qualified them to ride in the clinic.
Kent began both sessions by having the riders work several feet from the rail to make sure their horses were straight and to not allow them to "hide on the rail." He worked the riders through a trot warm-up, having them get the horses going forward at the rising trot, then bringing them back to a collected sitting trot. When they were sitting the trot, he told the riders, "Don't be afraid to sit on the horse's back. He needs to accept your seat the way he accepts your leg." This was another parallel to Beezie's demo yesterday where she worked on getting her horse to accept her leg by adding it rather than removing it when her horse fought it. He had them do the same at the canter, reminding the riders while they lengthened stride: "Lightening the seat does not mean dropping your body forward. Stay centered in the saddle. Don't drop your shoulders." Kent said he likes to work horses in a more open stride at the canter--something Beezie also mentioned yesterday.
"Discipline" was the word du jour. Kent used the word often in a couple contexts: the riders being disciplined enough to wait for distances to the jumps and also being disciplined enough to be consistent in training and in improving themselves. As the riders began working over gymnastics, Kent was very particular about how the riders approached each exercise. He reminded several riders who got in too long, "Don't commit to the first distance you see. Wait for it. Be disciplined and wait for the distance." One quote I liked was, "Go wide and add a stride," meaning to take their time and wait for the distance. The jumps were set fairly short, which made the way the riders got to each fence very important. Several horses had a difficult time with this—making a bid for the jumps at the last minute and getting in long. For other riders, this encouraged them to not make big moves to the jumps.
Kent required patience from the riders, but he was just as patient with them. As each rider went, he encouraged them to take an individualized approach to the pattern. If a horse didn't get to a guide rail just right, he encouraged the riders to take the opportunity to come again and train the horse. For the horses who got strong, he told the riders it was OK to make a transition and/or circle before the next obstacle. By the end, each rider was getting the hang of it and figuring out what his or her horse needed at any point. Kent took whatever time was needed to get horses and riders working as teams. When someone was having trouble with one part of the gymnastic exercise, he had them go back to something easier, such as cantering over two poles on the ground, before tackling the more difficult exercise again. Once again this dovetailed nicely to what Beezie discussed yesterday—the importance of setting horses up for success.