Five Lessons with Sandy Ferrell: Progress Not Perfection

Middleburg, Va. – Nov. 10, 2020 – Top hunter rider and trainer Sandy Ferrell traveled to Middleburg, Virginia Saturday, November 10, to conduct a clinic as a part of the Rutledge Farm Sessions clinic series. Ferrell worked with riders of all levels, emphasizing the importance of straightness, body control and communicating with your horse. Checkout the five key takeaways from Saturday’s clinic!

1. Flatwork First: While Ferrell did not drill riders on the flat, she did stress the importance of flatwork for successful jumping. She pointed out that if the average round takes three minutes, only 30 seconds is actually jumping. The rest of the two minutes and thirty seconds is flatwork and what is happening between the jumps. When riders become too focused on the jump they forget the importance of everything that happens before and after the jump.

Lindsey Welsh participated in the clinic and even noted that when she stopped focusing on her distance, per Ferrell’s instructions, and just focused on what was happening between the jumps, the jumps themselves were better. Welsh explained,” I think that’s a really cool approach, because sometimes we forget to think about anything but distances or if the jump is beautiful and round. It was refreshing to say, ‘I don’t care if my horse jumps terribly, I don’t care if my horse chips, I just want to focus on being straight,’ and by default a lot of the jumps ended up being beautiful!”

2. Make Your Horse Listen – ALWAYS! Effective flatwork stems from making sure your horse listens to your aids, every time you ask them for something, no matter what you ask. Ferrell noted most horses live a happy life for 23 hours a day, so for the one hour they are ridden, riders should not feel bad about making them work and listen. In an effort to ensure the horses are listening, Ferrell created an exercise that emphasized perfecting the last jump, which brings us to the third lesson.

3. The last jump should always be the slowest and the softest. The focal point of each group featured a course that ended with a vertical fence followed by four strides to a cavalleti. Ferrell asked riders to bring their horse back after the vertical and trot the cavalletti. To successfully execute the test, riders not only had to be firm in what they were asking of their horses, but also mentally prepare for the final cavalletti at the beginning of their course. Riders needed to jump each fence on course tactfully, thinking ahead to the final obstacle in order to constantly ensure their horses were soft and quiet instead of building to the last fence.

Sophia Deel

4. A strong core makes all the difference: In order to successfully execute the third lesson, Ferrell also highlighted the importance of body control. It is understood that a rider uses many different muscles throughout their body – legs, hands and of course their core. In order to bring their horses to a trot after the final vertical, riders had to make sure they were engaging their core and not just using the muscles in their hands and arms. Ferrell incorporated a new tactic to address this challenge. At the beginning of each clinic group, riders were given a crop to hold with both hands at each end for the entirety of their ride. This forced riders to keep their arms apart so that they could not collapse their core and lose their strength over fences.

Cindy Readyhough holding the crop

5. Be an athlete in and out of the ring: Another key element to a strong core is breathing. Many riders tend to hold their breath when they are on course, so Ferrell encouraged each rider to talk to their horses or make subtle noises in order to continue breathing throughout the course. Ferrell also emphasized the fact that riders have a responsibility to be strong and have good cardio fitness.

Ferrell noted, “A lot of people get out of breath when they are riding, mostly because they stop breathing, but if they are more cardio fit then they would be able to recover from that much faster. There is strengthening and maintaining, but we’ve got to have cardio. If we want our horses to perform at peak performance, they are fit, they are athletes, but we don’t always demand the same out of ourselves. It should be a team effort, and when you are stronger you can have better body control.”

Amanda Tesvich-Brown

Throughout the clinic, Ferrell challenged riders with difficult exercises, such as bending lines and rollbacks not often seen in the hunter ring. She continued to stress progress over perfection, aiming to use the exercises to push riders outside of their comfort zone. Each rider walked away with an experience that benefitted themselves and their horses and provided each rider with new tools to utilize while training at home and when they go to the show ring.

“Teaching clinics is fun, and for me they are always about progression,” Ferrell explained. “It doesn’t mean you got it perfect at the end of the session, it is important that we got your brain working differently and you had the connection to your horse working differently. It’s about getting the riders out of their comfort zone without doing anything crazy.”

Footage from Ferrell’s Rutledge Farm Session will soon be available on the USEF network. Rutledge Farm is proud to bring on-demand access to all of the Rutledge Farm Sessions thanks to USEF Network. Using the code ‘Rutledge 19’, all 2019-2020 clinics can be accessed from the comfort of your home for free!

For more information about the Rutledge Farm Sessions, click here.

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