James C Wofford











Jimmy Wofford On-Line Cross Country Clinic
 In this episode Jimmy looks at David O'Connor  at the Head of the Lake at the Rolex CCI*** 1999. We encourage readers to submit photos of themselves, friends, or students to be put under the microscope. Preference will be given to series of three to five photos showing a horse and rider before, during and after a jump, regardless whether or not the jump(s) was negotiated successfully! Securing permission from photographers to use photos is the responsibility of the individual submitting the photos.

David O'Connor on Rattle & Hum
Video Clip: David through the Head of the Lake on Rattle & Hum, Rolex Kentucky CCI*** 1999.

wf619a.GIF (26891 bytes)After you have looked at the video clip several times, come back to the still photos, and I will tell you how David O'Connor makes the Head of the Lake at Rolex '99 look so easy. The first thing that struck me about this sequence was the balance in the turn between A and B. If David put on a top-hat and tails, and let his stirrups down 8 holes, he would be finishing his Medium-to-Working Canter transition, and starting his turn onto the short side of the arena. Notice that the horse is bent in the direction of motion, and David's eyes are already on the top of the next obstacle.

wf619b.GIF (32780 bytes)This is the most important phase of the jump…the take-off. We can be a little too close or too far away if we keep the horse in balance at this instant .But how do we do that?

Well, in theory, the perfect "bascule" is a 1/2 circle, which takes off the height of the fence away from the fence, reaches the high point of the arc above the highest point of the fence, and lands the height of the fence behind the fence. If we are going to be perfect, that means that the first part of our arc is going straight "up", and not "at" the fence. Now all those comments from your coach about "wait for the horse - don't jump ahead of your horse" and so on are starting to make sense, aren't they?

Rattle & Hum is getting ready to jump, but it hasn't jumped yet, so David is still seated. Look at the straight line from his elbow to the horse's mouth and the strong leg, placed exactly at the girth.(Compare my comments with Bill Steinkraus's excellent article in PRACTICAL HORSEMAN.) The most important thing David has done is to maintain contact with the reins as Rattle & Hum has drawn his head and neck back. You can see that David has brought his elbow all the way back. His upper arm is vertical at this point.( I don't use the expression much, but this is the "automatic release" that some coaches talk about. I want the contact to stay the same throughout the exercise, so I don't talk about a release.) We can tell from the bending of his hocks that Rattle & Hum is going to engage and jump well.

wf619c.GIF (28875 bytes)Sure enough! David found a take-off spot that arrived a little bit too close to the log and turned it into a good arc by keeping the horse in balance at the point of take-off. Although Rattle & Hum has complete freedom of his head and neck , he is still on a nice following contact. David has a classical position in his lower leg, with the stirrup leather forming a vertical line to the ground. I would prefer to see the reins a little longer at this point, and the rider a little more upright, in case the horse pecks on landing.

wf619d.GIF (23611 bytes)Modern course designers like Mike Etherington-Smith are no longer content to build big obstacles. These days, there will be several big obstacles in a row, and, just to keep things interesting, they will be on a related distance. This means that the rider has to decide whether to add a stride or leave out a stride. In order to save time, David has obviously decided to go forward . That should not surprise us, as most top-level riders choose that option, if at all possible. What is important here is how soon David has reacted to the required change in the length of the horse's stride. One stride after the log, and Rattle & Hum is already moving up to the next fence. It is not enough to walk the course and make perfect plans…you have got to make it happen. Part of the horse's willingness to explode into action here is the strong leg aid being applied. But more important are the soft hands being used. My adage about this is "kick to go, pull to whoa, but don't kick-and-pull". There is no doubt in anybody's mind about what is going to happen next .

wf619ad1.GIF (27028 bytes)And we are right! Because David made such a strong move on landing in the water, he leaves out a stride to the Jetty. If the water were deeper, that might not have been the correct decision, but for this horse in these conditions, it is just right. David's legs have slipped back a little. This worries me, as the horse is landing back into water, which can cause some horses to stumble. I would like to see the rider have his legs more at the girth, with a flat back, not rounded as we see here.

wf619e.GIF (34613 bytes)When you look at the video again, notice how quickly David turns and how his eyes are already fixed on the last obstacle. Rattle & Hum knows there is another fence in his immediate future and he is already looking for it. All in all, this is an excellent example of going fast without being in a hurry.

Practice letting your reins slip and then recovering them so that when you get to Rolex, you can handle exercises like this. Remember to adjust both reins at once, not one at a time. That way you won't wander in the middle of your combinations. If you don't know how to do this, I describe it for you on page 100 of my book, Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider.

wf619f.GIF (33418 bytes)David has met the last fence on a forward stride and stands off this ditch and coop from a respectable distance away. I can make a good argument that the forward stride here was created on the landing into the water. Rattle & Hum is jumping for fun and will land at close to the required speed of 570 meters per minute with his ears up, already galloping and looking for the next fence .While I would still like to see the rider's back more flat, the consistently soft hand and strong leg has created the attractive picture we see here .

Balance, soft hands, strong legs at the girth - are we talking about Cross-Country, or Dressage here? My point is that it is hard to separate them these days, as the course designers are so adept at combining the requirements of the various disciplines. That is why the sport is so difficult to learn, so much fun to do, and so beautiful when we see it done well.

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