Hi all! Equivont intern, Lisa, here to give you an inside look at the latest clinic with Buck Davidson Jr.. Buck is not only an incredible American athlete (currently ranked 28th in the world for Eventing) but a wonderful coach and a genuinely good human. I’ve had the privilege of riding in his clinics for about 5 years now, and each time I feel like I learn even much more than the last.
His clinics are focused on cross-country type exercises that make you ride forward and with extreme straightness. If you are on a horse or if you are a rider that likes to be backed off and/or more likely to add to fences, Buck’s exercises help open your stride while keeping balance. On the other hand, if you are on a horse or if you are a rider that likes to rush to the fence, Buck’s exercises force you to maintain a steady and open pace to the fences. He teaches Novice to Advanced groups with mostly the same type of exercises.
This clinic was, as Buck said himself, more to get back into the groove of things and dust off those holiday cobwebs. He also said it was beneficial for him as well, to get back into the groove of teaching (proof that even powerhouses like him take a break sometimes!). We didn’t focus on height at all but it was more with a central focus on the technical elements and rideability of our horses. Bones and I were in the Advanced/Intermediate group on both days with 3-4 other horses and as such, we had technical questions that we’d likely see on Intermediate/Advanced courses in addition to “basic” fences that required attention to detail, no matter the level.
Buck really likes to set poles and blocks out to make the riders use the right lines to the fences. Friday’s lessons started with a line of canter poles to an oxer and canter poles out for all groups. Eventually, we added a vertical before and an oxer out (and vice versa) where it was supposed to be 6 strides from the oxer to the middle oxer and then about 8 out to the vertical (re: oxer, 6 strides with canter poles to oxer to 8 strides with canter poles to vertical). Though it may not seem like much of a question, this exercise is actually great for all levels to encourage the riders to open the horse’s step and also to not change anything before and after the fence, aka making sure you are not changing your rhythm. He also had us loop around, through a path laid out by blocks, and come through the exercise again the other way.
For our group, Buck later removed our poles and blocks from around the course and told us, “if you can do it easily with the poles and blocks, let’s see if you can do it without all that”. At our levels, Buck expected (as he should) that we know where our horses’ feet are and/or where they must be in order to jump the lines smoothly and correctly with the right number of strides and balance. Removing these aides would determine if we were aware of these things.
I had some trouble from the poles back to the oxer and the oxer back to the poles, especially after he removed the poles and blocks. This is where I needed to create a bend from my inside leg to get my horse to carry himself (i.e. Bones not relying on me/my hand to find his own balance through the bending line), which effectively made the line easier and also made Bones jump in a better shape. When I left a stride out, Buck noted that it was because I rushed on landing and didn’t create a bend in the line (where the path blocks would’ve been). I also opened Bones’ step in order to make that incorrect long spot, which then made my balance and striding for the next combination more difficult.
Tying it all together: On the two long sides of the ring were two grids -- both included two 1 strides and, if you did it right, it had you engaging the horse’s hind through the combination so they carried themselves in their correct balance and shape while maintaining the quickness they needed to get through the 1 strides. These tested to make sure you had your horse correctly in front of your leg. These exercises were difficult too but were easier in the sense that you just needed to make sure you came into the combinations correctly and you shouldn’t have to change anything on the way out. Just keep leg for support, but otherwise, the horse should not need much more help from you than that. By the end of the lesson, Bones jumped through these grids and felt like a different horse. There was self-carriage where I could have a loose rein and he was able to balance himself throughout the line. Additionally, he was in the correct balance and coming from behind enough that the bending 5 strides to the verticals afterward did not create any issues for us.
That was a great day and I felt like we learned so much in one sitting! It was a day full of effective exercises without using big fences to create straightness, push from behind, find a steady pace, and correct balance throughout.