EN Today: Nicola Wilson clinic report

Reading clinic reports is the next best thing to auditing them in person, and you don't even have to change out of your pajamas! Check out this one, submitted by Maggie Deatrick.

A few weekends ago, British team rider Nicola Wilson gave a clinic in Virginia.  Loyal EN reader Maggie Deatrick was in attendance, and kindly sent us a write-up.  Perhaps a bit less-known in the USA, it sounds like Nicola was a fantastic teacher with an engaging personality.  Many thanks to Maggie for writing, and thank you for reading.  Don't forget, Maggie (and all other February reader authors!) is in the running for this month's Omega Alpha prize package awarded to the best reader submission.  Have something to share?  Send it to [email protected]! -Visionaire

From Maggie:

While my former compatriots enjoyed sunny temps down at Rocking Horse this past weekend at the first show of the year, I decided to distract myself by auditing a Nicola Wilson clinic at the lovely Locochee Farm here in Middleburg, VA. With snowfall the night before, and snowflakes tenaciously falling throughout the day, it made for some cold but enlightening auditing.

This is the first time Nicola has offered clinics in the United States. With a personality that is bubbly and engaging, she was able to hold our attention despite our frozen toes and shivering bodies.

I arrived at Locochee in the morning to find the N-T group hard at work. After chatting for a few minutes with Alastair (and advising him to find a Super Bowl party to join next Sunday for a thoroughly American experience), I tuned into Nicola's instruction on the flat.

The flat work consisted largely on allowing the horse to go into the outside rein from the inside leg, making sure that the bend isn't coming from the inside rein. Nicola would speak to each rider for about thirty seconds, then move onto the next rider, praising the good parts of their riding while adding constructive criticism to further improve. The riders primarily rode at large around the ring, then added a few steps of leg yield on each side.

After about twenty minutes of warming up with flatwork, the riders began working through a series of poles. They began by trotting straight through a series of four trot poles, then continued in a straight line to another series of four trot poles. Nicola then had the riders leg yield off the rail and then from the centerline to the second set of poles, bypassing the first set of poles. The horses reversed direction and trotted the first set of poles, then leg yielded afterwards either direction, skipping the second set of poles.

We adjusted the poles for canterwork. Nicola began by having the riders simply ride through both sets in a straight line, maintaining their canter stride between the two sets. The exercise continued to build as she asked riders to make a circle before the first set, and then added a circle between both sets. Continuously, she told the riders “Outside rein, outside leg!” while they circled. The exercise seemed easy but turned out to be deceptively hard, as many horses were used to bulging out through their shoulders.

To end the first day, Nicola replaced one set of canter poles with a small X or vertical with a canter pole on either side. To begin with, the riders cantered the set of four canter poles, then rode in three strides to the jumping portion of the exercise. If the horse rushed or experienced tension, Nicola had the rider circle between the elements. Finally, Nicola had the riders jump the vertical first, then three canter strides to the canter poles. Many horses lengthened their strides after the vertical, and tripped up through the poles. Nicola had each rider work the exercise until the horse was soft and obedient.

That night, the owner of Locochee held a small tasting party to let everyone mingle with the British couple. The highlight of the night was the tale Nicola gave us of her Olympic experience, as well as a bit of background about herself. Since I had little prior knowledge of Nicola's past, I found myself extremely entertained by her endearing personality.

The second day wasn't much warmer, but with the sun hanging about, it certainly felt warmer. I was only able to watch the Prelim and Training groups in the morning, but the lessons contained similar themes. Although only six jumps were set up in the indoor, Nicola managed to create courses that were challenging in a consistent manner. Generally, the courses started with an outside five or six stride line, followed by a bending five to seven stride line, and some combination thereof. There were two bending lines that mirrored each other, so one could ride a bending line bending either way from both directions.

The bending lines were often cut, or bowed out too far to make a consistent striding. Nicola emphasized having a quality canter well before the first fence, as well as looking at the fence extremely early. Everything else would come on its own, she stated. In addition, she emphasized half halting by bring the angle of the upper body up rather than using the hands, particularly on sensitive horses.

Overall the takeaways were:

  • Don't let your horse resist against your inside leg. Engagement and bend should come from the inside leg to outside rein, with outside leg helping to keep them from falling out through turns.
  • Make sure your horse maintains even, consistent strides between obstacles.
  • Turn with your outside leg and hand!
  • Half halt with your upper body while jumping, not with your hands.
  • Look at the jump early, and maintain a quality canter.