It’s dawned an absolutely beautiful day in the Bluegrass with sunny but mild, new-spring weather and a great turnout of 18 riders and horses at Flying Cross Farm in Goshen, Ky.
This is Team EnGaged's third clinic with Stephen, who has become an increasing popular clinician in the region due to his regular, quarterly visits throughout the year. This time the Team has attempted to place the dates before major regional competition dates to help give a leg up to competitors.
The day started out with the smaller groups of beginner novice and then novice riders working through stadium gymnastics and small courses and finished up with the split training level classes and a solid prelim/working intermediate group.
New to the clinics and done by popular request is the rider-dubbed 'super green bean' group, for young horses just starting out their careers in eventing. It's a hybrid lesson of flatwork and very simple gymnastic building exercises so young horses could be positively introduced into the sport.
But throughout the day, Stephen took all pairs through the basic gymnastic of a cross-rail to vertical to a simple bounce then progressed to a series of gymnastic exercises, always emphasizing balance, rhythm and straightness through the grid.
The progressive nature of the exercise allowed him to instruct quick, effective corrections to the riders so that their horses would ultimately gain the most benefit from the pattern.
After mastering those gradual elements, he then turned them loose on more complex, bending lines and different angles, to add the emphasis on straight, he included two skinny jumps, one as a stand alone, and the other placed before the grid.
So far a variety of breeds have been represented, including two Connemara crosses and two Appendix Quarter Horses, but the majority rule for the clinic has been Thoroughbreds with an off-the-track background and a smattering of warmbloods. Everyone was turned out exceptionally well, and sponsors were on hand throughout the day to talk to riders about how to make their horses (thanks County Saddles, SUCCEED and HAYGAIN) and their farms (thanks Bobcat) better and more productive.
Despite the bad weather that Kentucky has been battered with in the past three months the groups proved that they were fit enough to stand up to the questions that Stephen posed throughout the day. Tomorrow the groups go out on cross-country where they'll take the working knowledge of the stadium and translate to the rolling topography of Flying Cross.
Topping out the day was a full dinner by the group with Stephen, where everyone had a good time getting to know one and other.
The second day started early with a wisp of spring in the air. For many, this was the first gallop and cross-country school of the season, recovering from a long winter in Kentucky.
Stephen is a technician and a master at translating the precise nature of the stadium into concise, clear rounds out in the field. Sunday's sessions from the green bean group all the way through the Prelim/intermediate did not disappoint.
Picking out four distinct cross-country elements, Stephen built on the prior day's elements of straightness, balance and forwardness over the rolling grass fields. Starting out in the front field the groups warmed up over simple logs, coups, banks and drops. Once fully warmed up, they went out into the greater fields, addressing various ditches, coffins, water, Helsinki's, related distance and staircases.
Stephen kept the sessions simple and incredibly positive for each rider, making sure that the prior day's elements were at the forefront of each physical approach. With this method, he built the riders up from singular jumps and questions to a string of seamless elements.
By slowing the rider's down and having them approach each part of the question individually, the horses were better prepared and balanced. Aside from the immediate benefit of a prepared, focus pair, it allowed riders to correctly and accurately access the course and questions in front of them.
In the end the riders kicked off their spring season successfully, and went home with more food for thought to prepare for the first horse trial of the season.
Stephen Bradley's next stop in the Bluegrass is June 18 and 19th, we look forward to seeing new and old faces back then.