What do you do when Olympic Show jumper Joe Fargis holds a clinic in the frigid cold? You go, of course!
The cold doesn't deter equestrians. We add a few more layers, bring a mug of coffee, and work or ride, no matter what Mother Nature brings. The first weekend of December 2016 brought clinician and former Olympian show jumper Joe Fargis to Knightsbridge Farm in Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey. Knightsbridge Farm is owned and operated by Mary Babick, newly elected United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) President. The equestrian facility provides hunter/jumper training for all levels from leadline through to Grand Prix.
The riders are walking their horses while awaiting Joe's arrival, introducing them to the indoor ring and getting their muscles warmed. When he walks in with his tall figure clad in a bright yellow jacket, he immediately commands their attention with a quiz on a horses' body parts. 7 riders standing in a circle, and there is much nervous laughter as none of the riders can answer all the parts correctly. So he goes through it a few times.
Then it's time for warm up. As an equine massage therapist I place a strong emphasis on proper warm up and cool down, so I was happy to see Joe's method.
Horses and riders began by tracking left on a loose rein, moving from a walk to posted trot then finally sit trot in large circles before reversing direction. On each side riders were asked to release the inside hand and hold both reins loosely in the outside hand. Large, loose movements were asked for during warm up. The exercises appeared to relax the riders as much as the horses.
Once warm up was completed riders worked on flatwork while the jumps were set up, "It takes a village", joked Joe as Mary Babick and her crew arranged what would become a central grid of 8 jumps. However, the biggest hurdle seemed to be transitioning to the canter:
Some riders have more trouble than others and hearing your name from Joe's lips repeatedly appeared to create some anxiety, but Joe stresses patience. And when they nail the exercise- relief and pride. The most daunting of all was the serpentine jump course created in the center of the ring. Halfway through the ground crew rearranged the numbered standards to aid the riders in remembering the course. But Joe has a method to his madness, encouraging a serpentine pattern at the trot or canter over ground poles, small verticals, and then increasing in size throughout the exercise. The goal is balance.
Riders jumped the course in singles and groups. Frankly remembering the course is daunting. Some riders worked more on remembering the course while other riders had to concentrate on pace and balance. With the constant turning it became easy for these riders to forget their diagonals from time to time. There was a lot to think about, but Joe stressed patience with the distance, with their horses, and with themselves.
Joe Fargis has impressive statistics as a show jumper, and yet he acknowledges that each rider knows their horse better than he does. He stresses patience but then also performs it when a horse shies from sun glare or another horse bucks after a jump. All in all, it was a successful day for all. We learned a lot and had an amazing opportunity. Thank you Knightsbridge Farm for a wonderful weekend.
Heather Wallace is a Certified Equine Sports Massage Therapist (ESMT), Certified Canine Massage Therapist (CCMT), and Aromatherapist. The best thing that she can imagine is having a career improving the quality of life for horses and dogs alike. She and her business partner, Danelle Stukas, are the co-owners of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC based in Monmouth County, New Jersey.