The USEF Horsemastership Clinic Training Session has been a clinic that I have wanted to attend for a long time but for some reason or another it never worked out for me to go. When I saw that USEF had reinstated the clinic for 2021 I was super excited and wasted no time in submitting my application. That kicked off the dreaded waiting.
Only about a week and a half later, I had just finished riding and saw that I had been accepted! I was so excited, but my thoughts quickly shifted to logistics: “Could I borrow a horse in time?” “Would I have to ship a horse from our winter base in Arizona to Florida?’ “How do I get all my tack and supplies to Florida?” were all questions that flooded my mind.
I immediately reached out to as many people as I could think of in Florida. Stacia Madden, with whom I had spent a week through the Ride the Future mentorship program, was the first to call back as the clinic was quickly approaching. She had spoken with the founder of Ride the Future, Daniel Bluman, and he thought he had a horse that might work, I just needed to ride him first and make sure it was a good fit!
We arrived to Palm Beach on Tuesday afternoon lugging a duffel bag and 17-gallon box full of all my tack, equipment and supplies for the week. On Wednesday morning we headed out to Daniel’s farm to ride Coco Baloy, known in the barn as “Coco.” He is a very sweet horse who had just been imported from South America and still wasn’t quite sure what to make of us crazy Americans!
I took him for a little ride and started to get used to him before popping him over two small jumps. He felt amazing and I got along with him well, so Daniel agreed to let me ride him in the clinic over the weekend.
I learned far too much to list everything, or even half of it, so I have condensed the experience to one main lesson from each clinician.
Focus on the flatwork — Anne Kursinski
Beginning with the flatwork demonstration from Anne Kursinski, we focused on the flatwork. Watching Anne flat her horse showed us what it is supposed to look like. Her horse was supple, in front of her leg and waiting for her next exercise.
It was great to be able to ride right afterwards so the image was fresh in my mind, which helped me push for better quality on the flat. It also served as a great way to get to know Coco more, see what he was comfortable with and what was difficult for him. He really tried hard in the flat session and was ready for every shoulder-in, half-pass and circle.
The basics are always important — Beezie Madden
Working on the basics was the focus of gymnastics with Beezie Madden on day two of the clinic. The focus on the fundamentals was something we began when we helped build the course, well before we started riding. It was awesome to see their process of setting the course, whether it be gymnastics, poles or a full course.
When we started riding, Beezie wanted to get us ready for course day by getting the horses to go forward, come back and turn. The session started out with three cavaletti in a straight line at 45′ and we would alternate between combinations of 3, 4 and 5 strides.
The exercise for turning was a serpentine of four verticals set so we could do 4, 5 and 6 strides depending on the amount of bend we used. We finished up with a five stride to a combination, an eight of nine from the water to a short four, and a short 6 double oxer line. Although some of the exercises were more complex, they were not difficult if the horses were in front of the leg, supple in the turns and soft in coming back. Coco was super and rose to the occasion, even though he got a little strong at times!
Adjust to the horse you have — McLain Ward
McLain really watched each individual horse/rider combination and worked with each of us on what we needed to improve on most. For some it was a position change, others a change in their approach to riding the course.
For me, it was to always be adjusting to the horse I have. Over the course of the session, Coco learned and changed the way he was going and I needed to adapt the way I rode him for him to jump best.
In the schooling ring he was a little hot and quick. McLain had me slow him down and try to get him to relax and jump up. By the time we did the first course, Coco had become accustomed to the more relaxed pace and we started adding in the lines, so I needed to adjust and add more leg. I did the course a few more times, and with each jump I was able to understand him better and customize my ride to his style. By the end of the session Coco was jumping clear, relaxed and smooth rounds!
Horse care is different in Florida — Colleen Reed
As someone who takes care of their own horses every day, at home and at shows, I feel very comfortable and knowledgeable in the barn. I clean my own stalls, groom, clip, bathe and do studs, so I was feeling very comfortable going into the clinic knowing I would be asked to do all these things in taking care of my horse.
I had also worked with Colleen many times before but all on the West Coast, where I know the climate and the horses well. It was great for me to learn the new environment and how the horses react to it under Colleen’s guidance. A few of the big changes for me are how the fine “beach sand” gets on the horse’s legs and bellies. Combined with the humidity, it causes huge irritations in only a few hours. Luckily, I nor anyone in the clinic had any issues, but bathing right after riding was very important.
The horse’s feet also change a lot in the Florida climate. Where on the West Coast we can get the horses shod every 5-7 weeks, the growth in the humidity is much faster and they have to be done every 3-4 weeks.
The USEF Horsemastership Clinic was an incredible experience and I learned so much in the ring and in the barn. I am so excited to take what I have learned to the horses I have at home to improve their performance as well as my riding. As always, a huge thank you goes out to everyone involved in making this experience possible. Without Daniel Bluman, Stacia Madden, Kate Shoemaker, USEF, and, of course, my family, none of it would have happened, and I am incredibly grateful to all of them.
Author Rachel Long is a top young jumping rider. She is based in Idaho and Tucson and competes around the country with her family’s Long Farms.