Earlier this year the United States Hunter Jumper Association, Inc. announced the 2009 USHJA Emerging Athletes Program, a unique series that offers an unprecedented opportunity for young riders at various levels to learn from some of our nation’s top show jumpers. They received an overwhelmingly fabulous response from all levels of riders. Almost three hundred applicants, many of whom have not competed in ‘A’ horse shows or have a high level horse, will be selected – twenty-four from each zone – to participate in their zone’s 2-day clinic – eight riders at 3’, eight riders at 3’6” and eight riders at 4’. The applications received to date were well prepared and showed a very hard working, dedicated group of young athletes.
Watch Olympic medalist Melanie Taylor work with riders who show talent on horses with limited abilities, young horses, difficult horses, as well as pony jumper rider participants. Additionally, participants will do all their own work from horse care to course setting, learning about the skills of riding well from the ground up.
This exceptional format makes the EAP a wonderful audit to riders and trainers who find themselves in similar situations every day – it is a chance to truly relate to the clinicians and partakers. As an auditor, one will have complete access to the techniques used to identify talented young riders competing at the grassroots level of competition in our sport, nurture budding talent regardless of the means, and support the emerging athletes that embody the future of Hunter/Jumper sports.
Forty-eight riders from Training Level 1 will then be selected to join in one of four regional clinics. The next twelve chosen from the regional clinics qualify for a week-long intensive session, culminating in a Nations Cup type competition. Finally, the top two from this session will be invited to train for 30-days with an experienced trainer.
As Committee Co-Chairman Melanie Smith states, “This is a program for emerging athletes that is only the start of something very big and important to the future of the next generation of our sport. USHJA and the members of the Emerging Athletes Committee are committed to making this program one that will provide a stepladder for young talent to reach their goals of riding on a team representing the United States someday.”
The USHJA Trainers Symposium was held on September 10-11, 2007 at the Oaks Blenheim Facility in San Juan Capistrano, CA. It was a rare opportunity to participate in practical training sessions and round table discussion with three top professionals: Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall and Louise Serio.
I was able to spend a little time with these remarkable professionals and get some solid feedback on their thoughts about this Symposium.
Tammy: What did you think of the format of the Trainers Symposium?
Melanie: This is my first time doing this and I was impressed by the format and the turnout. With 3-4 riders as demonstrators, I think the spectators were able to see different situations within a small group. I liked the openness
of the spectators–they asked a lot of good questions and their input was quite valuable.
Louise: I enjoyed doing it a great deal. I thought everything and everyone was very well prepared and well organized.
Tammy: Would you like to see anything different in future TS?
Geoff: I think the concept is great. I personally would like to see a longer session (three days). I would also like to see very specific groups of three. I think it would be a great idea to take the same groups of horses and riders and have them do a session with each professional. This would give the future trainers and coaches an opportunity to see cross training. I think nowadays we are too specialized, meaning that a trainer is either a hunter trainer, an equitation trainer, or a jumper trainer. A good trainer/coach is a good horseman who can do all.
Tammy: What do you think about TS as a pre-requisite for future trainer certification requirements? Melanie: I think it is a great idea. Becoming better educated in the sport is imperative to the growth and success of show jumping. Geoff: I agree. The importance of consistency and continuity that is expressed within this setting is extremely educational. The communication between the spectators, demonstrators, and clinicians was great. The information that you get from Training sessions, and Judges’ clinics works like a funnel and if you can continue
feeding good material through that funnel, we will have more educated professionals and riders. Louise: I think everyone can attend. As a clinician or an auditor there is so much valuable information to learn.
Tammy: Was there a reason you chose the exercises you did? Melanie: I do the same exercises at home. I believe in consistency both for horse and rider. This will always encourage confidence and trust. I spent years with George Morris and Gordon Wright who always said the same thing: “Keep it simple.” Louise: I think I surprised people with setting bounces and gymnastic exercises for the hunter groups. All horses and riders can benefit from these types of exercises. I spend a lot of time with my hunters cantering small jumps in a circle. It helps with balance, rhythm, timing, etc. A hunter, just like any other horse, needs to do more than straight lines.
Tammy: Is there an area that you’d like to see Trainers/Coaches and riders improve on? Geoff: I think one of our biggest downfalls is that we are teaching people to show and not necessarily ride. We show too much! It is the responsibility of the professional to have a plan and decide how much each rider and horse should show. Doing less will promote a happier and more successful horse and rider. Melanie: I think that there is a lack of true horsemanship. We as a whole don’t realize how important every moment (not just on the horse’s back) truly is. Every little thing helps to develop a connection and a bond
with a horse. My generation grew up with horses–they were our buddies–we did everything with them. I agree with Geoff. I think we put too much emphasis on horse shows and end up missing out on the true enjoyment of the horse. Louise: I cannot agree more, we should show less! Practice more at home and give our horses a better life.
Tammy: Is there anything specific that you think our Trainers and Coaches excel in? Louise: I think this country has really good teachers. I’ve seen teachers take riders with a medium amount of talent and teach them to be excellent riders. I think the teaching system continues to get better with opportunities like the Trainers Symposium.
Tammy: Any recommendations for current and future Trainers/Coaches? Melanie: I think we need to focus on producing great riders. This should be our goal. We need to work on our mental game. We need to encourage people and horses to think on their own. It all starts with the mind and if we have a mental edge we will be far more successful.
Thanks again to Melanie Smith, Geoff Teall and Louise Serio for taking the time to speak with us. Look for an article on the USHJA Trainers Symposium in the upcoming issue of In Stride.