The Joe Fargis Clinic: RELAX

Over the weekend, I had the fantastic opportunity to participate in a Joe Fargis clinic. The experience would bring together many firsts for me and Callie - first overnight trip someplace together, first clinic experience together (and only the second one ever for me), and first time riding with Joe Fargis.

For those of you unfamiliar with the name, Joe is one of "The Greats" in the equestrian world. He's won just about everything there is to win, including Olympic gold medals in 1984. He's the sort of rider who you want to just be around for the off-chance you become better by mere osmosis. He's old school and tough, but I had also heard he was a kind and straightforward teacher.

Now that the experience is finished, I've mulled over the best way to process it and write about it. I thought about doing a play-by-play, but how many people are really interested in the minutia of my daily routine there? I thought about going through some of the exercises, but they were straight forward and for the most part could be accomplished with just a few poles.

Callie and I enjoying a pre clinic flat

So here is what I'm going to do.

First off, here are what I felt were Joe's key takeaways from the weekend:

1) Straightness is next to Godliness. It is where proper riding begins and ends. If you are straight, you are 90% of the way there, if not 99%.  But never rely on the wall or fence to keep you straight. "Find your own line."

2) Let the horse be a horse. Always start on a loose rein. Don't stress out the horse, don't turn suddenly, don't punish a horse that's confused. Be patient with the horse, give the horse its head whenever you can, and never forget that you're on a living being.

3) Relax.


5) Don't worry. You will make a mistake. Ride through it and forget it. Don't be sorry just don't do it again. And if you do it again don't worry.

6) Do as little as possible. But do that little firmly and correctly. Riding is like being "an iron gauntlet in a velvet glove."

7) Do everything methodically and deliberately. Bring order to your riding. Order creates success.

8) RELAX!!

Second, I'm going to tell you what Joe didn't do over the weekend:

1) He didn't berate or embarrass anyone. He was firm and didn't suffer fools gladly (especially those on the wrong diagonal) but he didn't bring anyone to tears or tell them they were bad riders.

2) He didn't let his attention wander, get into any side discussions, or dilly dally. He taught four 2 hour sessions two days in a row, and never once did you get the impression there was anywhere else he would rather be than helping you and your little Paint mare become better partners.

3) He didn't let anyone end unless it was on a good note, both horse and rider.

4) Most importantly, he didn't tell people how to fix problems they were having. He told riders to keep their horses straight during a canter departure, but if they had trouble keeping them straight, he didn't explain HOW to correct it.

It is with number 4 that my mind keeps coming back to - this pillar of wisdom seemingly holding back teaching.

Eventually, after pulling back the lens of the weekend, it becomes clear that Joe didn't try to train any one horse/rider combination on their particular challenges - he tried to impart everyone in the clinic, regardless of which height level they were in, the same philosophy and way of thinking, so that everyone came away from the weekend with the same learnings.

Because in reality, he only had four short hours with each pair. With so little time, why would he waste it trying to explain how to pick up the counter lead or how to feel a diagonal when those things can be accomplished at home with weekly lessons or simply more time and experience?

So finally, I'm going to sum up what the weekend meant for me:

With his repetition and deceptive simplicity, Joe showed us all just how much of a master horseman he is.

For him, it all comes down to several foundational basics: Straightness, relaxation, empathy for the horse, and order. Glancing at that list, you think to yourself that maybe you should have gotten more for your money. It can't really be all that simple, can it?

But then you remember that Joe won just about everything there is to win using those foundational basics. He also rode all sorts of horses, and all of his horses burst their hearts for him.

And then you think you got more than your money's worth, because you were let in on a secret - if riding really IS that simple, as long as you practice and dedicate yourself to it, it means that it's possible to get pretty good at it. He showed that no matter what level you're riding or height you're jumping, it's all about the same thing. You don't need to bring fancy horses or large sums of money to the table - you just need to be straight, relaxed, empathetic, and orderly in your training.

It's not rocket science. It's riding a horse. Relax.

Me and Callie - Relaxed! 


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