Riding with the 'O'Connor Cavalry'

Want to fine-tune your riding and have fun at the same time? Check out this participant's account of his experience at a summer Equestrian Camp with David and Karen O'Connor.

Amateur eventing enthusiast Elliott Oppenheim, who is both an attorney and a physician, wrote this account of his week with Olympians Karen and David O'Connor.

| ? Kathy Moore/Intellitek.

| ? Kathy Moore/Intellitek.

It was the first day of husband-and-wife Olympian David and Karen O'Connor's Eventing Camp. David looked us over--thirty-two raggle-taggle students, from Novice to Preliminary (nearing sixty, I was the oldest and the only male), gathered at Masterson Station State Park in Lexington, Kentucky--and said, "People often compete before they learn how to ride. This week, we will teach you how to ride."

| ? Kathy Moore/Intellitek.

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That sounded good to me. Competing back home in New Mexico, my nine-year-old Holsteiner gelding, Chubasco, had found so many holes in my riding that he'd developed a habit of dirty stops and nasty runouts. (I tended to tell people my horse had invented a new sport called "Elliott Tossing.")

After a clinician told me that our problem boiled down to the fact that Chubasco was in charge, I decided not to compete again until I'd restored our horse/rider relationship to its proper order. Then I saw an ad for the O'Connors' clinic. Yes, it was 1,400 miles away--but I could use my now-unnecessary competition budget to afford the ten-day round trip and the tuition.

David and Karen worked with all of us, every day--as did their well-trained assistants when we broke into groups to do specific exercises. They started building horse-and-rider unity with trainer Pat Parelli-style Horse-Man-Ship basics. In arena jumping sessions, Karen taught us to use our seats-not our hands--to lengthen and shorten our horses' strides. And we learned the O'Connors' three cross-country positions--galloping, preparing and jumping--and practiced them all day, every day.

By the fourth day, we were all doing the same jumping exercises. I was thrilled when Chubasco jumped unhesitatingly down a 4-foot bank, into water, over a hay bale, then out over a 3-foot vertical!

Back home in Santa Fe, I felt so confident and competent that I signed up at Beginner Novice for the Coconino Horse Trials in Flagstaff, Arizona. Our dressage was good, and we went clear cross-country and in stadium. Best of all, thanks to Karen and David, there wasn't a single Elliott Toss.

I was now in charge!

For more on riding clinics and vacations, check out the February 2004 issue of Practical Horseman.