At long last, I’m finally typing up my thoughts about our clinic with Will Simpson last month!
This was a one-day clinic where each group had 4-5 riders and about 90 minutes with Will to work on the flat and over fences. They started with the 3’6″ group, moved on to the 3’3″ group (which was mine!), took a lunch break and then had the 3′ and 2’6″ groups in the afternoon.
He had all of the groups do similar exercises on the flat, and I found this part really useful. Starting at the walk and eventually moving up to the canter, he has us establish a nice forward pace on a very loose rein, then add a bit of leg and a bit of hand to encourage a release over the poll. The instant the horse gives, you release the hands. Nothing groundbreaking in itself, but his explanation of the timing and aids definitely helped it click into place for me. He even got on Frankie to demonstrate!
For a horse that struggles with the concept and execution of self-carriage (or more accurately, a rider that struggles with the right way to ask for this), I’ve found this exercise to be extremely helpful in every ride since. I’m able to remind Frankie to soften and give, allow him a release when he gets it right, and decide how frequently and for how long I ask for it. Not only am I getting a rounder horse up into the bridle, but I’m able to ask for a more productive stretch once we’re warmed up.
You can even watch Will work with him on these exercises!
The next exercise he had us all do was a figure-8 over a pole at the walk, making sure to step over it with the inside front leg first. It was simply a very tight turn, eyes locked on the pole, and adjusting your track by moving left or right to get the perfect spot. I was a bit nervous about this since I am regularly a clueless monkey up top, but this actually worked pretty well. It was great practice for getting your eyes on an obstacle and keeping them there while making adjustments as necessary. He said he loves this exercise because it’s a great chance to practice precision and finding a spot without pounding the horse or stressing them out – they have no idea if they got it wrong since they’re just walking over a pole on the ground, so it’s easy to go try again.
The last big flat exercise he had us work on was cantering small circle-big circle-small circle. The way he had us do it was to pick up the canter on a very small circle to really encourage the horse to rock back and power up into the new gait, establish the canter on a larger circle, and then ask for the walk transition on a very small circle by using the turn to let them balance themselves into the downwards. I did like this a lot for Frankie – anything that puts the onus on him to balance and propel himself is very helpful and keeps his brain engaged. He caught on to this delightfully quickly and I really liked how the small circle discouraged him from “plopping” down into the walk.
Then we moved on to some over fences work. The main exercise Will had our group do was coming to a small jump off a short left hand turn. His order of operations was: (1) lock eyes on the jump as soon as reasonably possible (2) use an opening rein to establish the bend towards the jump, then release the bend to allow flexibility in the track (3) actually jump the jump.
The hardest part for me was keeping my eyes on the jump for that long. Will really drilled it into us that once you look at the jump, you should not be looking away – that gives your brain the chance to get distracted and lose the spot. It definitely took some practice to not let my eyes wander off #easilydistracted and I noticed a difference when I was able to stay super focused on the jump. I found it interesting that he seemed to like a bigger flowier distance even to the little jump we were doing. For small jumps I usually try to put Frankie a bit at the base to encourage a better effort and I had to adjust to leave a bit further out for the spot Will wanted us to get.
We moved on to doing 2 jumps on a circle, putting our eyes on the next fence while we were still over the previous one. Continuing to use the opening correcting rein to give us options on the track. It was interesting and certainly effective.
And that was our session. Some good takeaways – nothing truly groundbreaking, but clearly communicated and good practice applying those concepts.
There were several other exercises set up in the ring. There was a series of 8 bounces to encourage self-propulsion, and there was a gymnastic set up with 4 oxers each set one stride apart. I was really pumped to give those a go with our new skills. But then we broke for lunch and didn’t get to do either of them. Every other group got to do every exercise except for ours. Other groups ran over their allotted time to be able to do them while ours ended a bit early. I’m definitely salty about that. I’m not sure of the reason for it and I assume there is a logical one, but logically I also paid the same amount of money and would have liked the same opportunity to go through all the exercises.
You can read about all the exercises here: https://www.phelpssports.com/five-essential-exercises-olympic-gold-medalist-will-simpson/
You can also watch the 3’6″ group on USEF on demand here (complete with AT on her baby horse that she’s brought along from the ground up!): https://www.usef.org/network/coverage/2019rutledge/?cl=b
I will say that the venue itself and the way the clinic was run was wonderful. The farm is stunningly beautiful, the ring had great footing, there were snacks and water and a few little vendors set up, and I even got a swag bag! Frankie got some treats and I got a customized wine glass with the date and the clinician’s name on it. Not gonna lie, it made my hoarder heart want to go back and clinic there again just so I can collect a set. The host did a truly fantastic job of making me feel welcome and supported as a rider there, there were plenty of opportunities for auditors to ask questions, and you can’t beat the location.
I also had a great time with my friends that went, and of course I enjoy any opportunity to try new things with my favorite beast.
So overall thoughts: I’m kinda eh on it. It was fine. There were some interesting takeaways that I’ve found useful in the month since the clinic. I think I would’ve been perfectly happy for the novelty of riding with an Olympian if I had paid less for it. As is, I’m not thrilled that my group got less to do, and ultimately that colors my view. That being said, I’m already looking for the next clinician I want to ride with at that venue because the overall experience of participating there and the atmosphere was A+. Clinician was a decent 6/10, venue and experience were a solid 11/10.