Monday 26 October 2015

Jec Ballou Clinic Notes

Wow, what a busy weekend! I think it's safe to say I'll be staying home next year - the place was jam packed and auditing was made super difficult by people's need to chatter the whole way through. Love that there were a ton of clueless people that felt it necessary to critique not only the riders, but some of the clinicians themselves! Nobody talks bad about Jim Wofford on my watch! (Just kidding...sorta) Horse people. They kind of suck sometimes.

Still, for a mere $40 weekend pass there was much to be just had to choose your clinicians (and seat) wisely! I did manage to catch almost all the eventing, and a recap is coming soon. For now, here's some notes on the Jec Ballou (author of Equine Fitness and 101 Dressage Exercises - both great books IMO) session I managed to watch.

The Topic: 5 Rules To A Looser Horse

The Purpose: As horses get fitter, muscle development can actually cause them to be less flexible. (Strength can equal tightness) It's important to develop and stretch all muscles - too often we focus on only the topline.

Rule 1: Intervals. 
Can be as minimal as 2 seconds "on" and less than or equal to that amount "off". Like humans, exercising using intervals creates better fitness, and also lowers the risk of "overdoing it" and struggling/using the incorrect muscles/posture to compensate - where the horse feels the need to cheat and look for an easier way out.
Case in point: Circles. Awesome exercise, great for stretching outside of horse, but people overdo it. Do one or two circles as correctly as possible, then reward by going forward on a straight line.  
Alternate exercise shown: quarter turns on forehand and haunches followed by walking out on straight line. Gets horse to either lift shoulders or hindquarters,("on" interval) rewards with walking out ("off" interval)

Rule 2: Let the exercises work for you.
Don't fight with your horse, that will only create tension. Instead, pick an exercise to do the work for you.  Noted here: rider fitness just as important as horses fitness - rider needs to be fit enough to work through the exercise.
Sample exercise: A diamond pattern. Can walk, trot or canter. Focus on small, accurate turns, then allow forward and straight to next turn. the small, precise turns work as mini intervals and don't give the horse as much time to brace/suck back as a full turn. If horse is fighting/struggling with the turns, don't pick a fight, keep riding straight ie aim 'through' the fence, let the arena fence help turn you. 
There was a visible difference in all the horses with this, particularly in canter. There's really very little opportunity for them to get "stuck" and it seemed particularly good for the one horse who wanted to go behind the bit. There was also a more spooky mare who seemed to like the predictability of it and relaxed very noticably.
Another exercise: circle of death. Poles regulate pace, help stop bracing on circle by interrupting stride.

Rule 3: Learn to love the canter.
Canter stretches and contracts body with each stride, and is great for tension in the lower back, hamstrings, and scapula. It doesn't matter if canter is not your horses best gait, your horse will still benefit. Canter as soon as possible in training, don't wait until you have a perfect trot or a balanced transition. Only cantering is going to build up the fitness and balance for a better canter.

Rule 4: Modify your position based in what the horse needs.
A technically correct dressage position is not always helping your horse be supple and relaxed. Examples : getting up in two point to encourage horses to lift/ use their backs, riding with hands lower and wider on younger horses to help be more clear.

Rule 5: Modify your horse's position.
Change your horse's  posture - don't ask your horse to be in any one "frame" for more than a few minutes at a time. Encourage them to stretch, come up a little, move out, collect, etc. changing their posture frequently helps prevent tension, bracing, and soreness.

Thoughts: The clinician was very calm and quiet, assertive, but generally very positive. Nothing groundbreaking here, but I liked her and it was very helpful to see the suggested exercises demonstrated, particularly with the hotter horses - there was a rodeo going on in the adjacent arena with cattle being herded, bronc riders, and much random shouting and air horns, so you can imagine how uptight some of the horses were at the start. Neat to see them all visibly loose and relaxed and enjoying life only a few minutes into the session. There were a couple of horses who showed big improvement in their general way of going too. One in particular started out pretty fancy, but his gaits got even more impressive as the hour went on. I know in theory we should all be schooling and warming up/warming down using these concepts, but at least in my experience it's pretty rare to see an entire session focusing on it. Super helpful and I'm glad I took the time to watch.
I Didn't escape the shopping/trade show unscathed either - Bridget models her new blanket. Not the treats she was hoping for, but you can't win them all, B.



  1. Thanks for sharing I love Jec Ballou!

    1. No problem! Love her books, so I was a bit apprehensive the clinics wouldn't live up to my expectations. I shouldn't have worried!

  2. You guys had some fabulous clinicians! I also find that The Mane Event has more than it's share of ringside critics. It can actually be really awful to be riding in a clinic in that atmosphere (I rode with Jay Hayes years ago and it was an unmitigated disaster, due to him and some awful audience members)

    1. Oh no, I'm sorry that happened to you. I wish I had just told them to shut's so rude to talk, and even ruder to critique. As an audience member I was so beyond horrified and annoyed by it I don't think I'll go back. I imagine the majority of the people watching your clinic ride felt the same way!

  3. I love Jec as well! Sounds like a fun event!

    1. It really was fun - I wish I was able to watch all the clinics and really hear/take notes - so many really great riders and trainers to learn from all in one place!

  4. i love the point about 'let the exercise work for you' - far too often i get so dead set on doing a thing this one particular way, even when neither of us seem to be able to get it right... will have to remember that!

    1. I think that was my favorite too, because I tend to get stuck micromanaging and looking for a perfect something rather than just setting up an exercise to help, letting the horse make a mistake and learn for themselves.