Carolina International Clinic Recap: Jumping

It seems like it’s been a long time coming, but the moment is finally here to discuss how our first Training course went.

But before I get ahead of myself, let’s talk about the warmup. Lizzie Snow handled warmup, and I was glad for it. I won’t lie when I say I was fairly shaking in my boots with trepidation the whole week leading up to this, and visions of destroying my horse’s confidence by landing him in the middle of a meter-high fence plagued my every other thought. So the first thing I did when I got to Lizzie was tell her- I’m anxious about this, this is our first try at this level, and please don’t let me die (OK, so I didn’t say that last bit). Thankfully Lizzie exudes a kind of quiet confidence, and kept us going and talking us through each and every fence.


One thing we talked about before warmup was the approach we would be using that day. Instead of riding the cross rail, then the vertical, then the oxer as I normally do, she wanted each rider to start over to oxer. It could start at a small height and grow to the competition height, but jumping the oxer would help horses start thinking forward, and help the riders not focus on the spot. Also, an ascending oxer would help horses with their shape over the fence, but ending with a square oxer as you will typically see in the ring was key. We would finish over the vertical before going in the arena to reinstate balance, and that was it. A lot of what she also focused on with me was getting the forward canter (Foster feeling quite on the sluggish side, as per usual) and not losing energy through the turns. We also revisited the vertical a couple extra times because I started pumping to it, and Lizzie wanted me to have a quiet upper body and get a balanced ride to it before going in the arena.

Training warmup vertical

After that, we caught our breath for a hot second before starting our course. At this point in time I think we were both a little tired, but I was not going to quit now, and did my best to keep the forward pace through the course. Where I got into trouble was the second one-stride combination coming out of the corner. We lost impulsion at the last stride, making it over the vertical but not forward enough to jump the second element. Totally understandable refusal, and after standing about like a deer in headlights thinking the clinicians would talk to me about it (they didn’t – whoops), I picked up my canter and re-approached.


Following the course, Bobby Costello talked to us about how it went. He thought that Foster was acting a bit like a deadhead (which he maybe was that day) and that I needed to give him a lot of extra support in the energy department. The big observation he made was regarding my elbows. While in my mind I am following his mouth, every time my elbows come back I am actually taking a little of his forward canter away. In Bobby’s words, even if it’s only 1% that I’m taking away, over the span of the course that adds up and eventually saps my forward energy. Instead, I need to think about pushing my elbows towards the fence. He praised Foster for being game going through the one stride on the second go, and decided we wouldn’t revisit that particular element. Instead, we went back through fences 1-6, which included the oxer-to-vertical one stride, focusing on pushing my elbows to the fences.


Although he took out the last fence, the second course was a much better ride. It felt much less sticky, even though Foster ignored my ask for a simple change up to fence 3. Bobby’s advice on this was that we need to get the lead immediately after the fence (2, in this case) and if we can’t get it, canter on. Foster will absolutely be visiting simple change bootcamp soon, because that nonsense doesn’t sit well with me. I also realized that I am not helping with my tendency to lean left, essentially blocking him from picking up that lead after fences. Responsibility on both ends, I guess.


Before we left, Marc also chimed in, saying that it would ride smoother if I remembered that bending lines are like combinations, and not to ride them as completely separate fences. This particularly applied to the ride from fence 1 to 2.

For myself, I think increased fitness would have made this task a lot easier for both of us. Looking back I really did squeeze in just a few jump schools to get ready for the event (my calendar says 3-4 jumping days since November) and that probably wasn’t enough to get us in jumping shape. Foster and I both came off the first course winded, and after the second course we definitely earned our couple days off. But improving our cardiac fitness (and my calf strength, ha) should make getting the forward canter easier, and leave him with enough leftover energy to be more responsive to my cues.

And so we end our recap of the clinic, with a bevy of information to ponder while the winter storm keeps us locked away. All in all, I found the clinic to be a massive success in that we didn’t die, I didn’t wet my pants, and we have a lot of homework that will prepare us for success our next time out. Huzzah!

Carolina International Clinic Recap: Course Walk

Obviously the course walk doesn’t leave me with cool action shots or video, but I’m telling you, that doesn’t make it any less interesting. The discussion we had really made me recognize how much detail goes into planning stadium courses, and left both J and I with a newfound appreciation for showjumping in general.

Group selfie after the knowledge drop

Group selfie after the knowledge drop

Speaking of J, I really must give credit where credit is due and thank her for getting up at the butt crack of dawn to come with me to the clinic! Not only do all these photos/videos exist because of her, but she is probably the main reason why I didn’t pee in my jods before our showjumping time. Big big thanks from me!

J teaches Foster about selfies

J teaches Foster about selfies

Anyways, back to the clinic. We started at the course map itself, and Marc Donovan (course designer) talked us through all the details that go into this small piece of paper. According to Marc, most designers now make the course sheet to scale for the arena, and he takes care to measure every arena he works with. Decorative signs or bushes placed about the arena are also included, as well as a dotted line path that shows exactly how the course was wheeled off.

The Training course

The Training course

We learned about the parameters designers typically give themselves, such as changes in direction (a good course has 3) and ideally having an equal number of jumps off of each lead. Marc discussed his particular tendencies in his designs, which are often twisty-turny and on the ‘long’ side, requiring a definite forward ride. As you can see above, the day’s course was no exception.

L to R: Lizzie, Marc, and Bobby at fence 6

L to R: Lizzie, Marc, and Bobby at fence 6

We then proceeded to walk the course, with Lizzie Snow and Bobby Costello coming along to ask questions or add their thoughts about how to jump a particular fence. Without going into every detail discussed, here’s the bulleted version (also thanks to J! These notes are a testament to her clever multitasking skills during the walk):

  • ‘Hold’ your shoulders to verticals
  • Anything more than 7 strides is no longer ‘related’ and you shouldn’t worry about counting strides
  • You can go backwards through the start flags, and through the finish flags whenever, without penalization
  • It generally takes a horse 2-3 strides to turn, so when you walk a bending line, walk 2 strides straight and then begin turning in the third stride
  • Mental Technique: Split the course into sections so that you can focus on a smaller section and reevaluate as you go along
  • Ride each fence individually, even in the combinations. Focus on the first fence first.
  • Continue riding through all the turns, focus on turn and then the combination
  • The more you square off a turn, the slower and ​more ‘snug’ you will get to the fence
Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

Bobby Costello shows us how to use both hands and outside aids to make a turn to 9

  • Oxer/vertical combination typically rides longer than a vertical/oxer combination
  • In an oxer, the first rail is the responsibility of the rider, the back rail is the responsibility of the horse
  • Ride the front rail of the oxer, not the back rail (your eye gets too long)
  • When adjusting distances between fences for time/positioning, canter should stay the same throughout but the track you take should change (so swing out wider in a bending line to go slower instead of slowing down the canter)
  • Take shorter lines for more impulsion and momentum (make tighter turns is where this really applies)
  • In combinations, land and in the following stride, make the adjustment, not 3 or 4 strides after landing

As you can see, we were imparted with an absolute wealth of knowledge. I’m not overstating when I say that this will completely change how I walk courses in the future. I also realized (even though I may have suspected before) that in showjumping, it’s not just about the fences, and every step must be considered just as in dressage. You can be sure I will be studying these notes and trying to replicate these thoughts in our future stadium rounds.

I hope you all have a great weekend, and I will be putting together a jumping video for next week! Stay warm!

Carolina International Clinic Recap: Dressage

Wow. Let me just say that again- WOW. I feel so much wiser having attended the clinic at the Carolina Horse Park yesterday, and can’t wait to write it all down!

Even though the clinic format was 1) course walk, 2) dressage, 3) jumping, I feel it’s worthwhile discussing dressage first. We warmed up on our own, and while it was cold and a bit windy it remained sunny and the footing quite nice. Foster felt in fairly good form, though a bit short in his neck, so I decided to post the trot to keep his back soft. We did a few transitions, and a couple lengthenings in both trot and canter before heading into the arena.


I thought we put down a fairly good test, minus a couple bobbles. During our canter lengthening, the horse in the adjacent ring spooked, causing Foster to spook in turn. Luckily I was able to get him back to save the next movement, the downward transition at X, but that still unsteadied me slightly. His upward canter departs need revisiting a bit, he almost broke in the medium walk, and he has picked up the fun new habit of rooting in our free walk (advice here anyone?) which brought our normal 7-8 down to a 5.


After the test, Will Faudree, our ring judge, walked us through his thoughts. He was quick to ding us on the bobbles, and noted that he really expected these lower level tests to appear seemless, rather than as punctuated movements. There was also lots of advice on how to be a better test rider- for instance, by preparing and executing the transitions on the long sides of the arena (the walk at H and last trot at K) a little early, since to the judge’s eye they appear late if done exactly at the letter. Also he pointed out that by starting my centerline well outside of the actual arena, it gave him longer to watch any waviness of Foster’s hind end, and suggested starting the centerline closer to the arena so as not to give a bad impression too early. Will then went through each movement of the test and his thoughts as to why he scored the movement as he did, which was of course vastly helpful in understanding the score sheet.

Collective Marks: Gaits - 7.5, Impulsion - 7.5, Submission - 6.5, Rider - 7

Collective Marks: Gaits – 7.5, Impulsion – 7.5, Submission – 6.5, Rider – 7

This test would have earned me a 66.4%, or 33.6 in an actual event. I definitely walked away knowing that we have homework to do to bring those 5’s up, and I’ll be damned if we’re going to start getting anything less than 7’s on our free walk. However, this is an encouraging start, plus we accomplished our first goal for 2015!

  • Get a 7 on a lengthening

They still need help, but apparently 7’s are within our reach!

Warm-up lengthening

Warm-up lengthening

All in all we walked away with our head held high, and I can’t wait to put all the wonderful feedback to good use!

Tomorrow- the course walk!



Moving Up

When I was younger, the decision to move up was solely based on whether or not I could get around a course at that level. Our dressage was crap wasn’t pretty, our skills not confirmed, but I could get around a Training level cross country course without any faults, and that was the measure of success we held to.

Merry at the Ark Horse Trials

Merry at the Ark Horse Trials

Upon my return to the realm of competition as an adult amateur, I decided I was fed up with the days of just ‘getting around’, and redefined success as a competitor. To me, success is putting in a dressage test I can be proud of, jumping around a show-jumping course in a non-scary and tactful way, and giving my horse a confident ride over cross country. That is not to say that mistakes cannot be made, but that at the end of the day I am not embarrassed of the way I rode my horse and that he is better for the experience.

Cross country is supposed to be fun! Photo by High Times Photography

Cross country is supposed to be fun!
Photo by High Times Photography

Since I bought Foster as a just-turned 4 year old, I have had the reins for his entire career. No one else makes decisions about what he does or when he moves up, though certainly I try to be open minded to advice when knowledgable advice is given. Our first event was at the maiden level (video below), and we trotted almost the entire course, and racked up time faults galore, but I could have cared less. We campaigned at the Beginner Novice level for over a year and a half, as we struggled to find confidence and rhythm on a cross country course. When he cantered around a Beginner Novice track with ears pricked the whole way, and came in over 30 seconds under time, I knew we were ready to move up.

And now as I consider moving him up again, I pause. Foster has now completed 3 Novice level events, and proved he can rock around a harder Novice course and still come in with confidence and spunk. He has schooled Training height fences, and training combinations. His dressage is rocking along, and with some tweaks to my warmup, I hope to break into the 20s soon.

Training Jump, yay!


I know that part of me wants to move up to Training so badly, because I’ve always sort of put it on a pedestal. I hated that I didn’t get to compete more at Training with Merry, and in my mind it is the first real test of a non-green horse. Training level demands bravery, fitness, and finesse in a way that Novice only occasionally hints at. And I am more than eager to prove my horse can answer those demands.

There are still elements of Training that he hasn’t mastered. He hasn’t seen corners, or chevrons. He hasn’t got confirmed lengthenings (granted, two separate trainers have commented that he may never have great lengthenings). So do I trust that when asked, Foster will answer the new fence-type questions?

I’ve been hoping and planning to move up to Training in the spring, but I feel at war with myself, trying to judge if he is ready versus trying to judge whether it’s my ambition just saying he’s ready. But if all goes well, we will conquer lengthenings this winter, and I will find a facility to expose him to more training cross country questions. The latter is tough, because I can’t think of any schooling facilities have corners and chevrons available to practice over. We’ll just have to do our best to prepare, and I will have to trust Foster to continue to be confident in his abilities and my riding. And if it doesn’t go well, we’ll come back to Novice without regret. Because at the end of the day, success is still about him, and not me.

How do you measure success? When do you decide to move up?