By Zazou Hoffman
One of the benefits of participating in a clinic is that you learn new exercises that help you and your horse. You also realize that there is no “one“ correct way. Horses and riders will respond differently to different training methods.
In 2005, shortly after I started in the Children’s Jumpers, I learned of the organization West Coast Active Riders. At the time, Grand Prix rider Gabriella Salick was the president. She arranged for many outreach programs. Among them was an essay contest for a free space in the Leslie Burr Howard clinic. Leslie Burr Howard is a two-time Olympian, has competed in numerous World Cups and also won the Maclay medal. An amazing teacher, Leslie tailors her training methods to the individual horse and rider. I was fortunate enough to win the contest because Leslie liked why I wanted to participate – “What sparked my interest in Zazou is her attention not only to riding and competing, but her interest in preparation and strategy.”
The Clinic Format
The first day of the clinic was flat work. We worked on shortening the horse’s stride over cavelletti. Leslie got on all 18 horses so that she could individualize her comments. The second day we continued to work on adjustability over low jumps, bending and slicing. The third day we worked over a course of twelve fences. The clinic concluded in a competition over a jump-off course. The main theme of the clinic was the need to be able to lengthen and shorten the frame of your horse. Leslie emphasized that whether you are a soft rider or a strong rider, you need to be able to do the opposite while riding a course. She quoted U.S. Olympic Team Chef d’Equipe George Morris “Your strength is your weakness”. Mr. Morris reiterated this in the Horsemastership Sessions. What he means by this is that you must practice what is least comfortable to you.
The Stride Game
In my mind it all hinges on adjustability of horse and rider. When I am at home with my friends and in lessons with my trainer, Meredith Bullock, we play “The Stride Game”. You begin by setting a pole in an open area and establishing the number of canter strides you want to put in before you go over the pole. Each rider calls and counts the number of strides as they canter to the pole. Every time you miscalculate you have to drop out. We practice off of both leads. We learn about lengthening or shortening accurately, preparing ourselves for those tough jumper or equitation courses, especially for lines that are set short or long or on the half-stride.
It’s interesting to note that each horse is an individual and what works for one may not work for another. There are lots of clinics being offered and they can be expensive. Do your homework – make sure that you choose the one that will most benefit you and your horse. If you can’t attend as a rider, ask if you can audit as a non-rider, or as a volunteer to help set jumps. It’s a great way to learn. Some of my favorite clinicians are: Joe Fargis, Kathy Kusner, Richard Spooner, Archie Cox and George Morris (pass on this if you are a super sensitive person, can’t tolerate criticism, or tend to cry easily).
Zazou Hoffman is a 16-year-old from Santa Monica, CA. As a 13-year-old, having only shown locally, she decided to apply for the Ronnie Mutch Working Student Scholarship. She won, which led to working with respected East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Through hard work and commitment, by Jan. ’07 Zazou was one of seven elite riders chosen to work with Olympic Chef d’Equipe George Morris in Wellington, FL. She has competed in the Medal Finals for the past three years. She counts her win at the Maclay Regional, her 4th in “the Medal” at Harrisburg, her 5th in the USET Talent Search East at Gladstone, and her 3rd in the WCE amongst her notable accomplishments.