I had planned to hit the ground running early in 2021, given that it feels like you’re on borrowed time these days when it comes to horse shows and show preparation. After a fairly successful end to 2020, I was oddly motivated to get started early this year.
No better way to kick off the season than to host a clinic and be reminded of all the things you have already let slide in your training. First call was to none other than recently crowned 2020 USEF National Champion Boyd Martin.
Having only ridden with Boyd once before, I was left super impressed by his seamless integration of the Aussie mongrel ‘stay between the flags’ fighting spirit ‘get it done’ mentality and the smoothness, discipline and finesse expected of one married to a Grand Prix dressage rider.
It’s clear that Phillip Dutton has been a huge influence in Boyd’s training, having ridden with Phillip myself many times. But Boyd’s emphasis on relaxation through compression and extension will likely leave a lasting impact on clinic participants. Boyd’s teaching style is like Phillip Dutton and Chris Burton rolled into one…. And you can’t really get much better than that!
The first day was flatwork with an emphasis on warm-up for showjumping, then moving on to the showjump exercises. Again, focusing on relaxation of the horse, acceptance of bend and stretch and being able to lengthen and compress the strides seamlessly.
Whilst you may be saying ‘yeah yeah, heard all this before,’ you’d be correct. That’s what makes these guys great. It should be no surprise to anyone that this sport is not rocket science, there’s no secret formula. It’s about repetition, practice and time in the saddle focusing on discipline and obedience in a fun, quiet non-confrontational way.
This was highlighted on day two, cross-country. I’ve long been a believer that you can effectively train for cross country by setting up exercises in the arena to replicate the questions on course. I’m based at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, where the clinic took place. As the home to 4* level event competition, the facility has a full course through CCI4*L. Yet still, the questions Boyd set up on Sunday were deemed ‘gnarly enough’ by all involved.
The best part of this is the look on the faces of the Novice group being asked to complete the very same exercises the horses preparing to go Advanced were doing.
Start early, start small. Make it fun, but most importantly, give riders the knowledge to make good choices. Understand the demands of course designers early, teach that to horse and rider alike. Offset oxers on a two-stride line, double corners bending into a skinny brush, turning skinnies, adjusting stride length to a bounce/one stride, gallop fences to compressed distances.
These are all things we can easily set up in our arenas using various materials. There’s nothing more inspiring than seeing the same group of young Novice riders emerge with huge grins as they learned they could answer those tough questions, they do possess the knowledge and skills to face new challenges whilst being egged on by Boyd cheering “You’re a legend… keep going champ!”
So, the next question to Boyd…. When are you coming back mate?!
Author Rebecca Braitling is an international eventing competitor representing her native Australia and head trainer of Arnell Sporthorses, which is based at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles.