Emily and Kacey at Boyd Martin’s Clinic – photo by Dylan Gravitt

 Boyd Martin gave a clinic in Texas. Emily Oakes rode her horse Kacey, and was kind enough  to send us a report.

Day 2 Boyd Martin Clinic – Our Umpteenth Comeback!

The next day, was cross country. I think we were all well beyond excited for this part of the clinic! I’d wake early again to feed Kacey, with no trailer problems this time.  You can’t lock yourself in your trailer, when it no longer has a lock to be locked!

My problem this morning would be putting studs in Kacey’s shoes. I struggled to get one hind shoe tapped and put the studs in, only to find that I couldn’t even get the tap in one tapped hole, on the other hind shoe.  No studs for us! No studs equal no belly guard. Things getting easier already.

We’d warm up on the first part of the cross country course, before our lesson. It was so dry, that very little grass was left on this part of the course, and we literally warmed up in a cloud of dust.

Boyd: “Now, anyone can win at novice and training, and still be an awful rider. But at the upper levels, it’s all about saving time and energy and being effective. If you do this, you can probably save at least a second at every fence. You want your reins about six inches longer for cross country than show jumping.

Holy Moly!!! Did he say six inches longer? My trainer back home would have a fit over this, I’m sure! I’ve always been taught that your reins are shorter for cross country.

Boyd: “And your stirrups at your ankle bone, maybe a hole shorter than show jumping, depending on the rider. When you gallop, you want to be up over your horses shoulder, just above the wither, maybe with a finger looped under your breast collar. Too many riders waste their horse’s energy by hitting the horse on the back with their bum when they gallop.  You alert the horse that something is coming up by sitting a few strides before the fence. Then you land and immediately stand back up off of his back and this is his cue to accelerate. You save time by not sitting on his back and hindering him with your bum as he gallops away.” (Again, insert dreamy Australian accent. Yup, still sounds important and sounds good, doesn’t it! )

Then, to our delight, Boyd, loafers, argyle socks, and helmet, climbed on Bravo to give us a demonstration! Bravo was none too pleased with Boyd’s bad rider demonstration, and was much happier when Boyd rode him in his Australian style. Demo complete, Sheryl climbed back on, and it was our turn to try it.

I think that most of us, myself included,  are taught a much more defensive galloping position for our own safet,y as we learn to gallop and navigate a horse cross country. We are much closer to our horse’s backs, with our “bums” barely out of the saddle and bend in our knee. Galloping on my strong horse in the position that Boyd was teaching us, felt insecure and of course, foreign to me.

So, I mentioned to him that this position did not seem like a very defensive one. “Why do you need to be defensive between fences when you’re just galloping?” He answered. Then he reflected that on our courses, we rarely have much time between fences to get up in galloping positions and let our horses go.

Whereas at Burghley, he had a whole minute of his course that included only two jumps. (I’m sure we all took a brief second to fantasize about Boyd and Neville at Burghley, and then another brief second to fantasize about ourselves at Burghley, before we jumped back into reality! Learn the position, first!) This position was to conserve our energy, as well as our horses’. It made perfect sense, and yet I still had images of myself popping over Kacey’s head if he tripped as I galloped around in this new position. I decided not to worry about it and to just hope for the best.

Next, we’d practice the position over a few novice logs, then a few training fences, and finally, a prelim ramp.  We were all getting the hang of it. Our first challenge would be to get started over a training level in and out, vertical to vertical, and loop back around to a prelim corner to corner combination. Boyd would tell us that when he schools, he likes to do his best to explain the scenarios to his horses so that when they come upon similar things on course, they are able to quickly assess them.

So, we’d take the training level combo, loop back around to the right to take the second element of the corner combination, and loop around again to take them both. Once again, the first three horse and rider combinations did the exercise quite well.  I believe Boyd even told Lacy and Prophet that they “Were legend!” As Sheryl would attempt the second corner for the first time, Bravo would be a little uncertain and take a good look at the corner, but jump it anyway. Boyd would ask her to do it again to build his confidence, and then add the first corner to put the combination together.

As Kacey and I began our exercise, I could tell that he was a little distracted by the amount of spectators that had gathered around to audit. We took the training level combination quite nicely, and as we looped around to jump the second corner, I could sense a bit of uncertainty. While I should have gotten my spur into him a few strides out, I did not.

I think on course, adrenaline would have carried him over, however, we were only schooling. Kacey took a good hard look at the corner upon the approach, while continuing forward, but stopped and chested the fence. This time Boyd had me discipline him with my crop. He needed to pay attention! I’d explain to Boyd that this is why I have a hard time knowing exactly how to ride him. Most of the time, he’s very bold on cross country, but occasionally he unexpectedly wimps out on me.

He’d ask me to come around with a longer approach, to give him more time to assess the situation. This was something I needed to remember on course. Sometimes, Kacey needs to take a little bit more time than the seasoned upper level horse to look at things. He’s still quite green due to his various injuries keeping him out of competition.

We approached it again, this time with a longer distance, and two strides out Boyd reminded me to get my spur into him. I also growled at him a bit, and he went over nicely. We kept our gallop and came around again to put the corner to corner combination together. Once again, I took a little longer approach so that he could assess what he was going to be asked to do, and he jumped both nicely and I praised him immensely. Note taken, lesson learned.

After the corner exercise, we would venture over to a hill with a log on top, two successive drop jumps on the side, and a chevron down the hill and to the right. Boyd would tell us to “set our reins” before allowing our horses to come up the hill.  The point of this, was to prevent us from fidgeting without reins as we landed from the log and descended down the hill.  We’d simply ride everything with a longer rein. So, up the hill, over the log, down the hill, ninety degree turn to the chevron and back around the and up the side of the hill and back down over the two drops.  Surprisingly, it rode quite well for all of us and the concept of setting your reins was an easy one to grasp.

After the hill, we’d all follow the path down to the coffin combination.  For the coffin, you find yourself on a long gallop, have to veer off the path and go over a roll top, and two strides slightly downhill to the ditch.  Boyd would explain that he’d like us all to get a deep distance to the roll top to give our horses a chance to see what was ahead of them, and then show jumping canter through and over the ditch.  Brave, pretty, and steady would go and do well.  Then it would be spooky Bravo and equally as spooky, Kacey’s turn.  By this time, they were both rolling and thinking they were tough stuff. Bravo and Sheryl would come through and be given the title of “legend!” And Kacey would follow suit naturally getting a deep spot to the roll top because of his spooky desire to assess every situation before proceeding cautiously.  I was tickled.  I could feel that he was enjoying being back out on course for the first time in months, and that he was bit by bit becoming bolder.

Out next challenge would be the sunken road, roll top, two strides down into the road, two strides through, and jump out.  Once again Boyd would ask us to get a deep spot to the roll top so that the horses could see what was ahead. Boyd said: “This should be easy for you, Emily, because your horse is naturally spooky and likes to take a good look at things. He’ll land from the roll top and probably do two strides, and a chip in down, and do the same over the road.

When our turn came, Kacey would turn the burners on, I decided to relax and let him do it since he seemed to naturally take things the way we wanted him to here.  He’d gallop boldly to and over the roll top, get two even strides to the bank, drop down, get two even strides over the road, and hop up and once again fire up the burners .  As we came up the bank, I’d giggle and say, “Um, Boyd! He didn’t do what you thought he’d do!” This is typical Kacey. He ventures back and forth between overly cautious and Billy Bad Ass-ish often within seconds on the same course.

Boyd: “Yeah, Emily, that is not what I thought he’d do at all.  He got brave on us! Come again.”

Ha ha!!! Off we’d go to do it again and this time, I would tell Kacey how it should be ridden so that we got the deep spot to the roll top even though I rather enjoyed the bold ride that we had just given it.

After the sunken road, we’d go on to do a preliminary bounce on the course, and finish with the water. Once again, Boyd told us to take the water step by step so as not to create a problem or a fear of water. He’d have us walk them in a time or two to assess the depth before we began our exercise. Then he’d point to the very big, maybe five feet or so, drop into the water and tell us that he never schools things like that.

Video – Spooky Kacey gets all bold on us through the sunken road combination at the Boyd Martin clinic.

Boyd makes sure to have positive experiences while schooling, and only does the big stuff while on course when you have adrenaline on your side. Makes sense!  He’d also point out to us that jumps out of the water rarely ride well because the horses have a very difficult time assessing the distance from the top of the water to the top of the jump out. Once again, Bravo and Kacey would be the spooky ones, not wanting to go in the water. We’d do various combinations in and out of the water and including a small roll top in the water. Kacey would not be perfect. However, this was great!

If you were going to have problems with your greeny, it might as well be where Boyd Martin can help you! Boyd felt that Kacey’s difficulty with taking a drop into the water, then two bending strides and to the left over a roll top had to do with his inexperience and the fact that I’m riding him in a gag bit, which makes steering a little difficult. We’d finish with the water and call it a day.

After the clinic, I asked Boyd if he could recommend any other bits for a big horse that pulls like Kacey. He admitted to not knowing much about bits, and said that he only rides his horses in three bits on cross country, and only his best horse goes in a gag. Neville, anyone? He recommended I try a full cheek with a copper twist. I thanked him immensely and went off to cool and care for my horse. As I untacked and braced Kacey, I took time to reflect on what I had learned and felt eager to get home and show my trainer my new skills, and implement them as needed into my training.

Update after the clinic *** I am happy to report that Kacey and I have since attended our first horse trial since his injury last April. I thought it best to drop him down to training level, just to make sure his body was going to hold up to the stress again. Kacey jumped both courses like a champ,  in our new full cheek, copper twist, I might add!

It seems to give me just a bit more control and reminds me that I have to give and be quite so that Kacey doesn’t get offended! He was one of four horses to go double clear on cross country, and one of four horses to go double clear in show jumping. He was bold, eager, and happy the whole weekend and we finished the open training division in third place. I am incredibly proud of the progress that we have made.

This week, we’ll begin conditioning again and move back up to prelim at our next show in November! Yes, good times!  Boyd will be coming back in November for another clinic here in Area V. While I am eager to ride with him again, I think I’m going to give it some time first. Besides, I’m eager to see what happens in our next clinic with Legend, Jimmy Wofford in December!

Emily