Middleburg, Va. – Aug. 7, 2018 – Riders gathered Tuesday at Rutledge Farm in Middleburg, Virginia, for the opportunity to learn from Olympic gold medalist Will Simpson. Aleco Bravo-Greenberg hosted Simpson at the historic facility in 2017 and through the Rutledge Farm Sessions, the clinic has become an annual event. For the first day of the clinic, Simpson focused on flatwork and gymnastics with three groups of riders.
The 3’6” riders kicked off the day and began with simple flatwork. Simpson watched as they worked their horses through the walk trot and canter, asking them to focus on shortening, lengthening and turning in both directions. He noted this helps determine a horse’s rideability and that show jumping really consists of these four basic principles. He then moved on to the first of three gymnastic exercises.
Exercise 1: Single Pole Figure Eight
A simple exercise, this gymnastic exercise helps riders work on their rhythm and their eye without exhausting or frustrating their horse. The goal is to make sure that the horse is crossing the pole with his inside leg first. Riders begin with their horse at the walk, look at the pole, over steer and release, and then fine-tune the approach. This can mean going farther down the pole or taking a more direct approach to ensure that the horse’s stride allows him to cross the pole with the inside leg first.
Once this exercise has been mastered at the walk, riders will move next to the trot. Advanced riders can then do the exercise at the canter. At the canter, riders should change the exercise so that the horse purposefully leaves long and swaps leads in the air, with the aim of getting the horse to jump up higher every time. This helps the horse transition to the next exercise.
Exercise 2: Four 1-Stride Verticals
The second exercise includes a series of four verticals set 18’ apart with a rail between each fence set 9’ away. It is the rider’s job to stay straight, but the horse should figure out the rhythm with the goal of the horse learning to keep a forward motion that is up and down rather than flat. Simpson encouraged the riders to come in with a pace that allows them to be a little short to the first fence. The jumps were a little “in the way” which meant the horses knew they had to be careful, and this encourages them to rock back. As you progress you can go up a couple holes with each of the fences.
Exercise 3: Bounce – One Stride – Two Stride
The final exercise continues to work on making the horse more careful. It is set to trot in with a pole to a cross rail, a bounce to a vertical and then one stride to the first oxer followed by two strides to the final oxer. The bounce is 11’, the one stride is 18’ and the two stride is 30’. Simpson admitted that he has never been too keen on two strides, but he admitted that if you do not school this combination enough, it will begin to look like a long one stride to the horse. This exercise allows the rider to school both.
During the second group a few of the riders had the front rail of the first oxer down, but Simpson commented that he prefers to see something like this when schooling because it means that the rider is using their leg. The horse learns something from riding with leg and less hand. He wanted the riders to come in slow and increase at the oxers.
Simpson said, “We almost all ride with more hand than leg, so this is an opportunity to feel what it’s like to ride with more leg. After the front rail they learn and jump bigger and higher. You can have subtle contact without holding the horse back.”
On Wednesday, riders will return to Rutledge Farm for the second and final day of the clinic, which will be focused on jumping over a course. The riders and horses will take what they learned from Tuesday’s gymnastics and translate it into ways to help them successfully navigate a jumping track in the show ring.
For more information about Rutledge Farm and the Rutledge Farm Sessions, please visit www.rutledgefarm.com/clinics.