February 2019 - The Gallop: The Gold Star Clinic
Written by by Kim F. Miller
Friday, 01 February 2019 05:42
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Learning to train, develop feel and build a broad knowledge base are focus of excellent educational event.

by Kim F. Miller

“To be great, you have to be able to ride horses of many different types and to solve problems.” And to love that aspect of the sport.

That was an underlying message from renowned international show jumper Katie Monahan Prudent, the lead clinician in the USHJA’s Emerging Jumper Rider Gold Star clinic. Now in its second year, the West Coast Gold Star took place Jan. 17-20 at HITS Coachella, concurrent with the first week of the hunter/jumper show circuit.

Well-known as a “non-coddler,” Katie strongly emphasized teaching participants to train their horses. That’s versus skipping that step and rising to the top competitive levels aboard one well-trained horse after another, getting rid of problematic horses along the way. The tougher the horse’s challenges, the more they can teach you, she stressed.

It’s important for the sport to develop riders who can train the horse and it’s the most rewarding path as a horsewoman. “This sport is so great if you do it for the right reasons,” she told 24 attendees during a Thursday evening talk titled The Importance of Training vs Competing.

Photo: Marketing4Equestrians

Katie no longer tackles every horse challenge from the saddle. She recounted a scary story of a few years ago when she went looking for an American rider who could help her with a horse that was refusing to jump water obstacles. “I walked around the show all day (in Florida) trying to find someone who could hop on and make it go.

And I couldn’t. I cried. I wanted to find an American who was strong and brave and the only way you get that way is by riding horses like that.”

The riding portions of the clinic began Thursday morning with participants schooling horses on their own and Katie observing and making an occasional comment. On Friday morning, she worked with groups of four on the flat and over poles. Responsiveness to the aids in lateral and longitudinal (forward and back) work were emphasized, under the guiding principal of “getting inside your horse’s head and figuring out how you can get him to do what you want.”

Photo: Kim F. Miller

Another throughline of the clinic was: “Whatever your horse is doing wrong: do the opposite.” Finding the fine lines between too little and too much – aid, pace, bend, collection, extension, etc. – is what develops “feel” in a rider, she noted. It’s critical and takes time to develop. Examples are catching that moment during an extended or collected gait just before the horse breaks gait, and counteracting it, and knowing the difference between “letting go and being out of control.”

“If you want your horse to go clean and fast (on course), you need to develop the feel for his balance, for whether he’s going to be deep to the base, or hang back in a line, and sense it before it happens.” Nuances between “making” or “allowing” a horse to go forward and the different aids for that on a hot versus lazy steed were more topics in the “developing feel” category.

Whatever the challenge or goal, emotion had no place in any phase or detail of training the horse, Katie insisted.

Pole courses with varied striding tests and tracks enabled the riders to apply flatwork over a simulated course, but without the risks involved in making a mistake at a jump.

Lindsay Sceats & Cujo

Top Take-Aways

Lindsay Sceats’s main take-away after Friday’s flat session was that she needs to work her horse, Cujo, a little harder and insist on better responses to her aids. The amateur rider is in the middle of a seven-year general surgery residency and realized that she’d gotten lax in her seven-year partnership with Cujo. “Katie said that it’s easy to practice what you’re good at,” Lindsay noted. “I’m going to work on him pushing his hindquarters over when I ask and getting more collection.” In her busy life, “It’s easy to just go have a pleasant ride, but I do want us to be competitive when we show, so I’m going to put him under a little more pressure.” Lindsay and Cujo ride at the Stanford Red Barn and compete in the high Amateur Jumper ranks.

Lindsay’s receipt of the Ronnie Mutch Equitation scholarship during her junior years included a lesson with Katie many years ago. She was thrilled to do so again with the Gold Star opportunity, especially with her own horse. “She has so much knowledge and is a great teacher.”

Sloan Elmassian

Fellow amateur Hannah Ellerbrock was equally excited. The student of Hap Hansen appreciated Katie’s quick recognition of “how kind my horse is to me and how she looked past that to focus on what I need to do to be better.” Hannah’s horse, Lagos, is a seasoned 17-year-old jumper.

Hannah was especially grateful about the emphasis on young horse development and breeding. “I loved how she stepped back on everything we were doing to explain how she would approach it with a young horse.” Examples included explaining that lateral work is physically difficult for horses and that Katie doesn’t introduce it until well into a horse’s 4-year-old year. By 8 or 9, the horse should be physically strong enough for collection and flexion work.

While working her veteran jumping partner, Hannah socked away Katie’s young horse gems to apply a year from now when she starts a current 2-year-old (by Corporal, out of Numero Uno mare). She had tried unsuccessfully to breed Lagos for three years before buying the youngster. She was enthralled by the clinic’s Thursday talk on pedigree as it relates to conformation, performance and horse management, including the fact that more Thoroughbred blood is returning to sporthorse lines. “When I was trying to breed Lagos, I didn’t have a mentor because not very many people do that out here,” Hannah shared. “I learned so much.”

Breeding, conformation and young horse development received special focus in unmounted sessions throughout the Gold Star weekend. The pre-purchase exam, hoof health and marketing the equestrian athlete were additional session subjects.

Restoring A Lost Art

“We need to get young riders developing their own horses,” said USEF Youth Chef D’equipe DiAnn Langer, who was delighted to have that subject added to this year’s Gold Star curriculum. “Developing young horses is a lost skill. In the 60s and 70s, everyone made their own horses, but that group of riders is phasing out now and we haven’t taught it.”

Grace Belmont, a member of the top placing team in the final day’s competition. Photo: Marketing4Equestrians

The high cost of developing young horses is a long-standing challenge for American breeders and the lack of horsemen who can help is part of the problem, explained DiAnn, who runs a large breeding program in South Carolina. “At the moment, we can’t find a rider who wants to do young horses. It’s a big issue and I’m hoping we can start changing that. I see it as building up a bench of players, like they do in baseball, so that we always have someone coming up the ranks.”

As interest in young horses and breeding go hand-in-hand, DiAnn was happy to have several participants bring their horse’s pedigree to a presentation by Jean-Yves Tola, founder of the Young Horse Show series and executive director of the Studbook Selle Francais North America, and his breeding expert associate Jos Sevriens. The classroom focus on how bloodlines carry athletic, conformation and temperament traits and the basics of matching a mare and stallion continued later in the barn. Gold Star riders worked in small groups to evaluate five horses based on a long checklist of physical characteristics, with USET vet Geoff Vernon, DVM, on hand to points things out and discuss how those traits corresponded to performance and soundness.

Even for those who don’t plan to breed their own horse, delving into the topic is an asset when shopping for horses. “You need to know what you are looking at,” DiAnn explained. “We talk about perfection, but in the real world it doesn’t exist. That’s where the management ties in.”

Geoff Vernon, DVM

“It’s all about tying together all the elements as you climb up the pathway,” she continued. “Let’s get all the facts and see how they are interconnected. That way you have a bigger scope of possibilities than the person who is single-focused.”

That tied into an earlier discussion about careers in equestrian sports. In a show of hands, roughly 80 percent of the 24 attendants were interested in making a career with horses. Noting that they made “a very nice living,” had a family and a very good life, Katie and DiAnn strongly encouraged them to pursue it. Not everybody will go onto to be a Grand Prix rider, but there are “niches for everybody,” DiAnn said, especially as a young horse rider.

Hannah Ellerbrock

DiAnn’s chef role regularly puts her among contemporaries and at events involved in other Olympic sports. “All sports, all around the world, are growing,” creating more career opportunities within each. She strongly urged even those most passionate aspiring equine professionals to earn a college degree.

The USHJA hopes to keep pace with that growth and the Gold Star clinic received high praise for delineating a pathway to the top and educating those on it. That includes parents, many of whom attended the clinic’s classroom sessions and watched the lessons.

Northern California parent Constance Broz recalls throwing her hands helplessly in the air during a kitchen table conversation two years ago. It was clear her then 12 year old daughter, Elisa, had the drive to go far in the sport, but there was no clear path as to how to do it. Frustrating for a parent poised to make a considerable investment, yet unsure how to best help their child. The upside was that it caused her to become very proactive in learning every thing she could and, as an active horsewoman herself, she had a headstart in that.

Photo: Kim F. Miller

Still, “It was such a relief to see ‘Show Jumping Athlete Pathway’ on a pamphlet and presentation at the USHJA’s Zone Jumper Championships at HITS Sunshine Series last November. To top off that discovery, Elisa medaled at the Championships, earning a spot in one of the pathway’s major waypoints: the Gold Star Clinic. Elisa wound up finishing fourth with DiAnn Langer’s Team #3 on the Gold Star’s final day team competition.

“I feel like we have a roadmap and mentors now,” said Constance, exactly describing the Gold Star mission.

For more information about the Gold Star program and other USHJA programs, visit www.ushja.org.     

The Gallop welcomes news, tips and photos. Contact Kim F. Miller at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 949-644-2165