Wellington, Fla. — Jan 7, 2018 — The third and final day of the George H. Morris Horsemastership Clinic tested the guts and precision of its participants with its mock Nations Cup trial. Three-time Olympic medalist and top American athlete McLain Ward took the reins while Anne Kursinski, Beezie Madden, and Kent Farrington acted as the chef d’equipes for the three teams. Participants took once more to the Van Kampen Arena at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival to piece together their training from both Kursinski and Farrington in the days prior. The goal of the day was to present to the riders, many of whom hope to become future U.S. Equestrian Team athletes, a realistic look at what they might face in a real Nations Cup round and give them a chance to find their strengths and weaknesses.
In a modified Nations Cup format, the 12 riders were divided into three separate teams with four riders each, labeled either the blue, red, or white team. Kursinski and Farrington returned to the event with the addition of Madden to best try and prepare each group.
Conrad Homfeld, 1984 Olympic medalist and professional course designer, returned again as the course designer for the final event. “It’s meant to be something similar, with little subtleties in it, to what they really would see if it were an actual Nations Cup,” Homfeld explained.
With the jump height set at 1.30m, one liverpool obstacle, and a bending line featuring a water obstacle, the course proved to be challenging for many. Many of the riders were also unfamiliar with their mounts as multiple horses had been borrowed for the clinic and proved to be green which further tested rider skills.
The first round was divided into sections with one rider from each team and Ward delivered critique of each individual round directly following. Participants were given a chance to return to the schooling ring and make Ward’s comments the focus of their training before returning for the second round.
The water obstacle proved to be extremely difficult for the majority of participants and even eliminated almost half of the riders in the first round. Some of the horses were not familiar with the obstacle, but many riders were not affective enough to the fence.
“I’m not surprised you guys can’t get your horse over the liverpool the second time because you’re not doing anything to get it done,” Ward voiced his frustration as at least four of the riders were eliminated after unsuccessfully attempting the obstacle twice. He emphasized that they needed to have a more thought-out approach to the jump and instill the confidence in the horses that lacked it. Riders were also schooled on having a more solid position as Ward noted several lost their stirrups or became unseated when their horses balked.
Not all of the riders had an issue with the water jump and Ward praised those that were able to come through clean including McKayla Langmeier and Caitlyn Connors. Hannah Loly had a close call as the horse, which she had never ridden prior to the event, took the water jump with great confidence and lost a stride in the bending line causing them to get stuck in the plank fence. Loly was uninjured and remounted the horse with Ward praising the rest of the round and encouraging her to return for her second round with confidence. Ward offered advice to the participants moving forward to get over the fence. “That’s the first goal in show jumping and then we can work on making it better,” he stated.
Coming out of the first round, team red led by Farrington had the lead while teams blue and white had both accumulated two eliminations on top of several faults. There was a brief break in which participants returned to the schooling ring to tackle their issues while Ward cautioned each rider to stay sharp because “you never know what can happen.”
Teams returned in reverse order of their standing for the second round while the course was identical to the first, encouraging riders to perfect what elements had been an issue before. Several of the riders were able to work through their previous issues and came through clean but several maintained their issue with the water. At the end of both rounds it was Farrington’s team red that remained victorious with three of its four riders coming through double clear. Team red riders and their stable manager were awarded tickets to the show jumping portion of the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina for their success.
About half of the clinic participants stayed back in the arena as auditors and fellow participants exited to work one on one with Ward at the water fence. Ward began by setting up a small liverpool next to the water fence and encouraging the riders to figure-eight a small vertical and the liverpool. He emphasized sitting back in the saddle and encouraging the horse with the leg and seat aids. One of his biggest issues with earlier refusals was that several horses had run out to the side which he classified as an inexcusable rider error easily corrected with leg. Once their horses seemed confident in the liverpool, Ward had students return to the water fence which now had shrubs on the sides to discourage drive-bys. Ward and an assistant stood on either side and closed in on the horse as it passed them to encourage from behind. After only several minutes working this exercise each horse and rider that had been unable to complete the obstacle on course claimed victory over the fence.
“The students really struggled with the water jump today and it really wasn’t that hard of a water jump for a variety of reasons,” Ward summarized. “For some of them it was a lack of experience which will come with time; for others it was not having the tools on how to address it and that’s why we are doing these clinics. However it was a positive because what happened today with that water jump made them learn a lot more than if all of horses had just sailed over it. I think it was great we were able to work through it in a positive way and in a way that made sense. I tried to approach it in a way that was logical and was the easiest way for the horse and rider to succeed.”