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Best of JN: Artie Meets Jimmy Wofford

JN’s RRP Blogger Amanda got the chance to ride with the legendary Jimmy Wofford. In today’s blog, she takes more of an introspective approach and discusses the importance of bettering ourselves before trying to better our mounts.

I’ll forewarn you; the above tag line is somewhat misleading. I promise to write a post in the future about all of the magical and very helpful suggestions Jimmy has made about Artie’s training, but the real content of this blog will actually be what Jimmy has said about me.

We like to make Jimmy pose for photos. Photo by Crystal Sorrenti

As an instructor, I obviously feel very strongly about our riding education, for all levels of riders from amateur to professional. I will also be the first to admit that I had many years when being able to afford food trumped being able to afford a lesson. While I did pretty good at not starving to death, I did not do so good taking care of my riding education, and my horse(s) “suffered” for it.  Lots of people have a lot of different reasons for taking lessons infrequently or even taking lessons not at all. Maybe you were trying to feed yourself, or Fluffy needed that designer bridle, or you couldn’t find the right instructor, etc. Regardless of the reason, this happens all too often in our sport.

This story actually begins last year at this time, when I had been invited to a lesson with Jimmy for the first time. Up until that point, I had been taking the occasional lesson with Stephen Bradley, and before that, well we don’t need to look back THAT far. In April last year, I loaded up my ’18 Makeover grad, Aunt Glee, “Faith,” a student/photographer, a clean saddle pad, and my nerves, and headed to a local farm to have my very first lesson with Jimmy. I’ve had many lessons with him since, but this first one sticks out in my mind for three reasons.

1. I GOT TO MEET AND RIDE WITH JIMMY WOFFORD.

2. I got to jump my very athletic horse over a challenging and fun course.

3. I was really embarrassed by the critiques my riding was earning me.

Let’s elaborate on that last one. I’ve been riding a very long time and have had some amazing coaches, as well as have read every Wofford, Morris, and Steinkraus book ever written. There are just some corrections such as, “do not throw your body up the horse’s neck,” that you do not want to hear because you do in fact know better. That lesson left me feeling disappointed in where I was as a rider. It did also light a fire under my butt because I knew I could and would do better.

The first Jimmy lesson. Photo by Crystal Sorrenti

After that day I went to work, more than usual. On every horse I had at my disposal, I focused on my riding, even removing my stirrups, and went to every lesson I got invited to. I rode my green horses but made riding my more school-master types a priority. It was glaringly obvious that all the years on my squirrely green beans had allowed me to develop some bad habits. I needed to be able to get on several days a week and just focus on the basics of position. I needed to practice what I preach with my students and make my position my biggest priority. Until our position can remain neutral (correct), we can never hope to positively affect our horse and their balance. Balance is one of the BIGGEST things these horses coming off the track need to learn. Our position can positively or negatively affect them… the choice is ours.

Fast forward to a year after my first lesson with Jimmy. Not only did Artie go for the green bean group, but I took my school mastery type horse that I’m competing this season for the big kids’ group. Regardless of the feedback I got, this winter, I finally started feeling like the competent rider I always knew I was. I didn’t feel like a suffocating eel out of the water in my dressage saddle. The meter jumps no longer made me question whether or not the horse was in front of my leg because I knew it was. How I was finally feeling in the saddle was plenty of validation, but at the end of the first group, Jimmy was giving me my homework and added how much progress he was seeing in my riding. It’s important to remember for the many of us that make a living restarting or starting these OTTBs that many times, the biggest way you can help them is by helping yourself.

Photo by Crystal Sorrenti

Artie has an incredibly mature brain for such a young guy, but I’d also argue that a lot of what has made him so easy is the work that I’ve put into riding correctly. And because most willing horses are the easiest to ruin, it’s my responsibility to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

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