Fifty riders from four states converged on the Woodford Hounds Kennels September 3-5 for a Foxhunting Clinic featuring Chris Ryan, MFH and Huntsman of the Scarteen Black and Tans, County Limerick, Ireland. For those of you who haven’t had the honor of riding with Chris, it is a life-altering experience centering on safety, preparation and FUN.
Chris taught three levels of riders: those already riding first flight, green but gutsy riders ready to move up, and second flight members wanting to ride more aggressively to be able to follow and enjoy hounds better. Each group practiced many of the same exercises, which were designed to perfect straightness and pace.
The first day was hot—100 degrees and counting—and riders concentrated on exercises to make each horse aware of where he was putting his legs. Chris says he uses the exact same exercises at home before jumping any horse, any day. Lots of repetitive trips down simple gymnastic lines made the horses relaxed and more obedient. If a mount was a bit fractious, Chris would walk up to him and feed him a handful of grass to momentarily change his focus and get him ready to go back to the job at hand. Once proper pace was established, putting the horses over jumps was easy and riders were delighted with the improvements.
The second day was a bit cooler—high 80s—and each group followed a similar warm-up as the day before and then moved out to jump more of the cross-country obstacles expertly built by Robbie Lyons, MFH, and Glen Westmoreland, Woodford Hounds’ Huntsman. Riders schooled log piles, coops, stone walls, hogsbacks, steeplechase and timber fences, drops and banks, again concentrating on the presentation and pace needed to successfully negotiate each obstacle. Chris has faith in his riders and their mounts; you benefit from his endless enthusiasm as well as his knowledge. All of the riders came away with an “I can do it” attitude that was transmitted to each horse as well.
On day three—which started at 60 degrees and didn’t get much warmer—riders moved on to some of the more difficult jumps. After the obligatory warm-up that prepared horses and riders for the class to come, Chris had students string several fences together into a course, first as a group and then individually. Without exception, each horse and rider pair showed remarkable progress from the first day. Riders were more in control of their horse and in better balance; horses were happier, and everyone was having FUN!
Despite horrendous temperatures, a thunderstorm, a car accident that blocked traffic coming from Lexington (and almost took out the camera crew), a misdirected group of hilltoppers who toured some of the back trails of Shaker Village, Chris managed to share his experience and exuberance with us all and leave us wiser and better prepared for the season to come. We truly appreciated every moment and look forward for his return visit next year.
Media students from Asbury College filmed and photographed the entire clinic with the plan to produce an educational video on Foxhunting, using narration from Chris Ryan to explain the exercises and results. Visit the Woodford Hounds Web site for more information on the video at www.thewoodfordhounds.org.