Ten Lessons from Top Professionals at the Gold Star Clinic

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During the 4-day Gold Star Clinic, I had the opportunity to learn from some of the best in our sport including Katie Prudent, DiAnn Langer, Kirsten Coe, Will Simpson, Dr. Geoff Vernon, and many more. Throughout the week, these incredibly accomplished people taught the group of 24 riders a sliver of their craft. The mounted sessions were lead by the amazing Katie; Kirsten and Will each led two teams on the final Nations Cup format day; and Dr. Vernon gave an incredible workshop on day-to-day soundness. We also got to work with Bill Ligget, a high performance farrier, Brenda Mueller from Marketing 4 Equestrians, and Jean-Yous Tola on young horse pedigree and conformation. Each professional had amazing insight, so I boiled it down into these top ten lessons.

10. Make It The Horse’s Idea

All the riders and clinicians pushed us to work with the horse and make the exercise their idea. “They are much too big to be forced into what we want them to do,” Katie said. Will also urged us to find a way to make what you are working on the horse’s idea. “You need to find a way into their brains,” he added. He explained that as riders we need to be able to work with the horse, and in the end we will have much happier riders and horses using this method.

9. Know Your Normal

Dr. Vernon stressed to the riders the importance of knowing their horses in and out of the saddle. He encouraged us to go over the horse’s legs and back at least once a week, especially after big competitions. By using this system, we were not only learning our horses better, but also recognizing normal. “Without knowing what normal is,” he highlighted, “you won’t know what abnormal is.” He recognized the importance of catching slight abnormalities before they became major problems.

8. You Can’t Rush Anything

In our sport, we’re often in a hurry. We’re in a rush to get young horses in the ring, in a rush for riders to progress at a certain rate, and a rush to get to the top of the sport. All of the experts at the Gold Star implored us to take our time. Dr. Vernon said, “There will always be another show to go to. Make sure you and your horses are ready, don’t push it.” When Will was asked a question about showing young horses he replied, “There’s no hurry, take it slow and the horse will tell you when it’s ready to go.” There were similar questions about riders as well. Katie shared that in the US there is an emphasis on a rider’s junior years, but when a rider ages out its not the end of their career, only the beginning.

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7. Treat Every Horse as an Individual

In the pedigree and conformation discussion with Jean, we discussed how some horses develop quickly while others are considered “late bloomers.” In the mounted sessions, Katie showed us different ways to work around the same issue with different horses. In the gymnastics session, some of our horses had very large steps and the riders had trouble collecting, meanwhile others had the opposite problem. This was a great reminder that horses aren’t “one size fits all.” As riders, we need to recognize a horse’s strengths and weaknesses and work around and with them.

6. Work Hard and Don’t Limit Yourself

This was an idea that came up in nearly every session during the week. When discussing Training versus Competing, one of the athletes asked about balancing family life with an equestrian career. Both DiAnn and Katie had the same response: don’t limit yourself. They gave many examples of top riders, including themselves, who have done it. When asked about his Olympic experience and his advice to young riders, Will replied with a very simple answer: “Put the work in.” He said even when he didn’t have the horse to jump the top level, he was “riding circles in the sand” and “perfecting his craft.”

5. Forward, Forward, Forward!

In Kirsten’s flatwork demonstration, she placed a lot of emphasis on moving forward. She said that moving forward after a difficult movement or exercise is the most rewarding thing you can do for the horse. She always begins work by allowing the horse to stretch out and relax into a bigger step. During the flat session, Katie encouraged those with spooky horses to move them forward and relax into the aids. She added that once the horse had accepted the aids, he would be ready to work productively.

4. It Takes 5 Characteristics to be Great

The five terms that George Morris pressed upon USEF Youth Chef d’Equip, DiAnn Langer, are ambition, emotion, management, selection and talent. Katie had the same list of features, although emotion was found in the fourth spot. We need to have the ambition to continue in the sport and reach for a new level of riding and horsemanship every day. DiAnn placed a huge emphasis on being able to control emotions. “You aren’t going to win every time. You will fall off some days and have double clear rounds the next. Being able to control your emotions in every situation is crucial.” Without management, our horses are nothing. We need to be able to manage their schedules, fitness, and training in order to be successful. Selection comes when picking horses. As riders we need to have the ability to pick horses that will not only be successful in the sport, but also be trainable and sound. The final term on the list is talent. If a rider has the other four characteristics, natural riding talent is less important.

3. Train What Went Wrong

In all the mounted sessions, Katie reiterated the importance of training what went wrong. If a rider had a horse that was a bit hot, they were instructed to halt after a line. If the horse was lazy, the rider was to gallop around the ring. Katie also emphasized this in her training methods. “If I have a horse that always has the same problem at the shows, we go home and work on it.” In today’s world of constant competing, the training aspect is often lost, impacting our showing and success.

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2. Create a Team With Your Horse

When asked what to do with hot horses, Kirsten replied with a simple, “Don’t create robots. Create a team with your horse.” As the rider of a hot horse, it was a great reminder to always work on making the team stronger, rather than submitting to an unconscious routine. Kirsten added that it was important to change things up in and out of the ring. If a horse had a long, hard week, it was a good idea to take a long walk or trail ride. If she had a horse with a particular habit she would train the opposite of it. In the end, every time she gets in the saddle, her number one priority is to strengthen the team of horse and rider.

1. Ask Why

At every stage of the clinic the athletes were encouraged to ask why. Understanding the answer to this question is central to the equestrian journey. It clarifies the purpose of exercises, competition, training, and horse care; it helps us to set goals and be able to measure progress toward those goals, large or small; it keeps us focused on the joy of the process; it gives depth and meaning to being a true horseman.

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