Monday, February 18, 2013

Clinic with Ralph Hill

***This blog post covers the clinic with Ralph Hill hosted by Renovatio Farm owned by Trayce and Eric Dierks. The clinic took place on January 26-27th, 2013, with 16 riders participating and many others auditing. Moxie employee, Katharine Knauz rode in the Training/Preliminary group with her personal horse, Tristan. This is her take on the clinic.***

Clinic with Ralph Hill

Ralph Hill is a legend to those in the eventing community. He has competed in the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, our nation’s top level of competition with a difficulty level higher than the Olympics, since its inception in 1978 dubbing him the name “Mr. Rolex.” He was renowned as the type of rider to go by the seat of his breeches and commonly rode the horses that would terrify most professionals. He could make any horse shine. In 2007, Ralph had a devastating fall that left him in a coma. According to Ralph, even once he woke up from his coma, the doctors had no real hopes for his recovery. However, Ralph’s tough-as-nails approach to life helped him pull through and is able to walk and at the clinic he boasted about how he had been able to dance at a friend’s wedding for the first time since 2007.

I was very excited and nervous for this clinic. My horse and I have competed through Training Level Eventing, but with the winter being the off-season, we were somewhat out of practice.  Add to this the abysmal rainy weather the entire week before the clinic, making both arenas and trails unusable for practice, and you have a stressed out rider. I was not so much worried that my horse would under-perform, than myself being rusty. However, Tristan surprised me. He is a Connemara and Trakehner cross, which means that in addition to his extreme athletic ability he can be as stubborn as a mule and as hot headed as anything. Some days he is perfect, and we change his name to “Super Pony,” while others he can be almost unrideable. For this clinic he decided to give me a mix of the two temperaments; he really flashed his athleticism, but still gave me the pony trickery to boot.

Ralph gave me several tools for approaching Tristan’s avoidance issues. For starters, when I begin to pick up the contact, Tristan has a tendency to flip his head around to get away from my hands. To correct this, I usually play with my hands or add more pressure until he gives in. Ralph had a different approach. When Tristan would flip his head, Ralph had me raise both of my hands to follow Tristan’s mouth. This way, I would not be breaking the straight line from his mouth to my elbow and get him to accept my contact without adding any extra pressure. Tristan was peeved that his trick no longer worked.

Since my horse is so intelligent and inventive, he went from avoiding the contact to rushing through my rhythm. Usually to correct this I would half halt until he slowed down to match me, but on high excitement days like this clinic, that correction was not enough. Instead of constantly having to half halt and break up the rhythm between us, Ralph guided me to post from front to back, instead of up and down. This gave me more control over my core, making my abdominal muscles constantly in half halt, and slowed Tristan’s rhythm almost immediately.

Now that I had Tristan’s avoidance techniques under control, we could move on. Ralph’s system of riding is to set the horse up for success and then let the horse do his own job. We started out with ground poles, ridden at the trot and canter. All we did as riders was set the horses up and then let them figure out where to place their feet. At the canter, several of us had difficulty maintaining the same lead over the poles. Ralph helped us fix this by having us turn in the direction of the canter over the poles. After several more attempts, we could all maintain the same lead over the poles.

Using Ralph’s lessons, jumping was a breeze. All I would do around the course was set Tristan up for success, and then get out of his way and let him do his job. Believe me when I say, we jumped much higher than I had anticipated for this clinic. However, we never felt unsafe and Tristan rose to the occasion beautifully. (I even questioned myself on possibly moving up to the Preliminary level for the next show season.)

It even worked the second day over cross country fences.

Time and time again, Ralph’s wisdom of listening to the horse and staying out of the horse’s way worked. Walking away from this clinic, I aspire to one day hear what horses say half as well as Ralph can. He sincerely helped Tristan and I communicate in a way we haven’t communicated before. I am very excited to think of this year’s show season and all the opportunities ahead of us!