Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lucinda Clinic: Why Not More Professionals? by Ashley Leith

I just finished a two day cross country clinic at Fair Hill with Lucinda Green, and my biggest question of the week was why are there not more professionals taking advantage of this wonderful opportunity? I have ridden with Lucinda on and off since I was sixteen. These days I try to see her once a year. I will take a young horse or a client's young horse and participate in one of her Stateside clinics. If the timing works out perfectly, the clinic will be a week or two before a big show, because no matter how well I am riding, Lucinda's clinic is always a good wake up call. The exercises that she has her riders play over are skinny, awkward, sometimes spooky, and have no set striding. It is the perfect foil for the increased pressure of perfection in dressage, show jumping, and even cross country in our sport. Lucinda focuses on what she terms engine, line, and balance. These elements are the most basic building blocks in any correct riding. What Lucinda tries to do is foster these building blocks in the rider and then build on our horses' natural instinct to use their footwork and athleticism. Lucinda, rather than trying to create the perfect jump time and time again, tries to create awkward jumps so that riders and horses can learn instinct and survival skills. No one can be perfect every time.

Lucinda has a very loyal following for her clinics, the one I just participated in is usually full six months before the actual clinic date. Her training approach has been very influential in my own riding and her exercises are a breath of fresh air in this country. Gone are the days of learning to ride cross country by actually, well, riding across the country. Even in my own program I now go to Florida for the bulk of the winter and miss a good part of balancing on the slippery, muddy hills in the Northeast. I also miss fox hunting season, which is cross country riding raw. Lucinda has figured out a formula to specifically recreate cross country riding techniques in an arena. Even with quality dressage and show jumping riding more important now than ever before, good cross country riding is still the meat of the sport. Lucinda, one of the best cross country riders that the sport has ever seen, still has her finger on that pulse.

Lucinda's clinics are not the only ones I've attended. Over the years I have done clinics with Jimmy Wofford, Stephen Bradley, Ann Krusinski, Joe Fargis, George Morris as well as other top riders in different disciplines, including Natural Horsemanship. With few exceptions, very rarely is there another professional in my group. One notable exception was the George Morris clinic at Morven Park two years ago. To the benefit of everyone riding, Leslie Law also rode in the clinic on a young horse.

I see clinics as useful for many reasons. First, they are a great way to stay fresh by practice training techniques that I don't use on a daily basis, and in some cases I learn a new approach to an old concept. Second, they are a great experience for a young horse. My training level and preliminary level horses are looking for mileage, mileage, mileage, and a clinic is a great way for them to be in a pressure situation without being in a pressure situation. They perform a little bit, then they get to stand quietly and relax. Every single young horse I've taken to a clinic has been more mature by the end of two days. Clinics are also a great place for riders, even very good riders, to practice under pressure. The first year that I rode in an Ann Krusinski clinic, I did not want to be the leader in the exercises. Two years later, I led almost the entire clinic in my group. My thought process had gone from "I want to watch someone else so that I make sure I do the exercise right" to "I want to see if I can do this exercise right without seeing it done first." Having professionals in a clinic group also benefits the other riders. We do learn through watching, and being the group leader sets a great example for those savvy enough to pay attention. These days, clinics also help my teaching repertoire. As an ICP certified instructor, I have become more interested in watching different instructors teach. Often in a clinic I will watch how a master horseman communicates different concepts or works a struggling rider through an exercise.

Again, then, I ask why there are not more professionals riding in clinics? If Leslie Law can take the time to participate, where is everyone else?

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