Members of the NorCal Hunter Jumper Association (NorCal) recently had the opportunity to attend a free clinic with nationally recognized hunter rider, trainer and judge, Scott Hofstetter. The NorCal-sponsored clinic was held Dec. 3-6 at Leone Equestrians Inc.
Riders were chosen by a lottery system to participate in the clinic for two of the four days. A total of 48 riders comprised three groups divided by fence height: 3’, 3’3” to 3’6” and over 3’6”. Many NorCal members that did not ride braved the chilly temperatures to audit the clinic.
Hofstetter is well known as a top hunter rider. He has been a leading rider at prestigious shows including Devon, Capital Challenge and the Washington International Horse Show. As an “R” judge, he has judged shows such as the USEF Equitation Medal Finals, the Pony Medal Finals, Devon, the Washington International Horse Show and the National Horse Show. He has also been part of the USHJA’s Trainer’s Symposium. He operates a full-care hunter/jumper training facility, Copley Place, in Ocala, FL.
Each day of the clinic began with exercises that were meant to relax the horses. Hofstetter told riders to keep their eyes up and choose focal points throughout the arena if their horses were nervous during the warm-up. This makes a rider stretch up instead of leaning forward, gets the rider’s mind off of what the horse is doing and helps them find their own space on the rail.
This focus on having a relaxed horse carried over into subsequent exercises. Riders were encouraged to concentrate on one thing at a time to maintain relaxation and rhythm. Lateral work, including haunches in and leg yields, was used to get the horses listening to the riders’ aids. Serpentines, both using the whole arena and later around three cones set on a corner of the arena, further emphasized the use of inside and outside aids. Transitions, counter canter, collection and extension were also utilized to get the horse moving off the riders’ legs.
Single trot and canter poles were incorporated into the flatwork to encourage the horses to stay relaxed as the session moved into the jumping phase. The jumping exercises were built up after the horses had a chance to go through the poles and additional jumps were added as the session progressed. “I loved that he geared his flatwork in all the groups towards relaxing the horses and riders and gently reminding them of a few key basics that were later built upon in the jumping portion,” remarked Vanessa Brown, a trainer and organizer of the event. One stride in-and-outs and bending lines reinforced the flatwork exercises. “I liked how he incorporated the flat into the jumping, i.e. doing a simple change especially if your horse anticipated a flying change,” said Lucie Wharton, who rode in the clinic.
Relaxation and smooth riding is important in both the hunter and equitation worlds and Hofstetter, a past winner of the ASPCA Maclay Finals, made sure to address the needs of both hunter and equitation riders. For many of the jumping exercises, he offered a hunter option, such as a long approach to an oxer, or an equitation option, such as an inside turn; riders could choose the option that best suited the type of riding that they wanted to work on. He also discussed the basics of a rider’s jumping position and emphasized the importance of the proper release over the fences both from a rider’s point of view and a judge’s. These concepts were tested in a gymnastic line that was ridden on its own and later incorporated into a course. “His gymnastics worked for all levels with minor adjustments. I plan on using his exercises with our clients,” said Connie Buckley, a trainer who attended the clinic.
An Effective Progression
The jumping exercises and flatwork benefitted both the riders and the horses. “The progression of exercises allowed the horses to gain confidence and jump in better style through the clinic while the riders were able to discover that sometimes less is more,” Brown remarked. Many riders felt that they learned a lot and their horses did too. “My horse really improved the second day and it was all still there when I got home,” observed Jamie Cheney, a clinic participant.
Riders practicing lateral work
Riders, trainers and auditors agreed that Hofstetter was an excellent clinician. He made every effort to address questions from both riders and auditors. “Scott was clear, concise and able to answer questions from a rider’s, trainer’s and judge’s viewpoint. I think we were very fortunate to have him give our NorCal clinic this year,” said Brown. Hofstetter addressed problems by asking riders to think about what they were doing and what else might be going on with their horses, such as potential tack issues or things going on outside the arena. “Scott was very kind and patient while helping to correct problems and he encouraged questions at the end of each session. His desire and ability to share his knowledge is what makes his clinic so helpful,”
NorCal thanks Rudy Leone for providing such a fantastic venue and Vanessa Brown and Tom Rattigan for all their work in organizing this event. NorCal members, keep an eye out for your NorCal banquet invitiation; the annual event will be held Sun., Jan. 17 at The InterContinental Hotel in San Francisco.
For more information about the banquet, NorCal, or to become a NorCal member for 2010, please visit www.norcalhunterjumpers.com.
Author Amy Young is an amateur hunter rider, member of the NorCal board of directors, a Sacramento Area Hunter Jumper Association (SAHJA) judge and a writer for www.examiner.com. She is a genetics laboratory manager at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.