Monday, May 16, 2016

The good old days of a "paper chase"!

Penryn, California "Mock Hunt"

I know they still have hunts around the country but I hear of very few if any anymore "Paper Chases" or "Mock Hunt". Not a sanctioned event with the hounds, more like a practice round. It would still seem to me appropriate and attractive to test your "Hunter" horses skills in the field. Now I am not suggesting the X-C as in the 3 day test, but just a countryside hack with a few obstacles. The picture above was from one that was put on in the sixties era up in Penryn, California. Sponsored in part by my old friend and mentor Judson Wright, 

Judson son "Skip" on "Debated Issue" 1960 west Coast
 open working hunter champion

.     I used to spend a week every year at the farm on my way to show in Indio and later worked out of Judson's farm in 2007-09 after his passing and then later made my move to Marin in the North Bay Area of  San Francisco, now I am in the Wine Country of Santa Rosa and love the area. They trained on regular outdoor obstacles as well as in  the ring 40 years ago you would find Amateurs riding Thoroughbreds across the fields and in the many show rings. Not so much anymore.

So I am thinking ,"Why do most Hunter/Jumper horses never have the opportunity to go do what they are purported to be so good at"?  I know, because a large percentage of the riders often lack the skill set to deal with just a simple country hack, nor the horses. Why? Because it takes time to haul out for a country hack, trail rides are rarely sponsored or even suggested by most that I know. It is too risky some say, I know with the advent of the Derby it has been (greatly) an improvement, but I would still like to see Hunters and Jumpers out in the country, hacking in the woods. Jumping a natural obstacle in a real life setting is quite refreshing and your horse will appreciate the change from the endless circles around the ring. In this respect I support the Eventing discipline in that they do expose the horse to a more natural way of going on the X-C course, though there is often a little to be said of the technique in the stadium jumping arena.... Every disciple can learn something from the other!!!

Clay schooling a young horse X-C Woodside, California
I was so fortunate and sorely miss our family farm, where I grew up with thousands of acres of BLM space behind us. When I started a young horse, as soon as possible I would head for the hills where they would develop both mind and body in a way that can't be replicated doing endless laps around a ring. I believe a good horse should be more rounded by the experience and I have proven it so many times. I don't have the same out the gate availability but must haul to a regional park to accomplish this. I can assure you my horses love it!

Ten years ago I was bringing young horses in from Holland and the first few times they went on a country hack they were often "lost"! I would ask them to open up on the trail, just gallop and they held themselves back! I had to encourage them to GO! When they finally loosened up, it was very cool.... their ears stood up and they flew along in a freedom they had never experienced other than perhaps in a jump off around a course and that was even structured.

Take them out as much as possible for their goodwill and for your experience, it's a blast!

Clay Jackson

"Rumor has it"

"The truth or fact about a person or an event is rarely known outside of those personally involved, but supposition of the facts, is fielded by many "experts" who will bear witness in testimony" 
Clay Jackson.

So, my advice to those who love to gossip or state "heard facts" about someone, beware how you pass on this information.... we all talk about others, as is human nature, but to say it in "fact" is a very risky action. I have been told by a few that certain people have such "negative" qualities and stay clear. After meeting these individuals and getting to know them I have quite the opposite feeling about them. Funny how the old saying about not "judging a book by it's cover", have so much truth in its teaching.

I have heard things about myself that at first I am blown away, simply because it is so blatantly off course! Then I have to laugh because I don't even know the people who seem to know me! Everyone has had something in their life go astray a mistake or a personal problem so to make a persons whole demeanor or candor based of that one single issue is so ridiculous! No one person is above reproach and if they claim it it says a lot about them. I have a lot of people I respect that others do not.... so we all have our perspective, it doesn't make them wrong or terrible.

To clarify I am not talking about a capitol crime just rumors and talk about each other.... Keep it straight folks and if you have a concern....Talk to the person in question, ASK. and then form your own opinion as you might hear some interesting things!


Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Learning to realize; hot maybe not!

Hot.... the three letter word that can bring a cringe to any average horse rider today, let alone quite a few professional trainers! I like what some "consider" hot horses and I am certainly given that reputation over the years. Recently a client of mine was told (not so indirectly) that I had the reputation of pushing my students to practice difficult exercises and putting them on hot horses.

I was not surprised. Literally, it is no surprise, as I am openly appalled at the lack of real horsemanship taught these days by many. My students are not "coddled" for the very reason I never was, growing up and learning to ride. I have had many students from other programs claiming they have ridden for years and yet don't know the basic things I teach in the first few months.To be good at any sport, in fact, good at a very dangerous sport, you have to be ready, tough and very "real" about your undertaking and your current abilities. When it comes to horses; I disagree with many on what is hot. Let me tell you a short story:

I remember speaking to an elderly equestrian one day ten years ago, who came out of his house as I was riding down a country lane on a very alert, young warm blood cross. I chanced to meet Curtis Nelson, whom used to run the old Sacramento riding club (a popular haunt for local equestrians in the 60's and early 70's such as Barbara Worth, Skip Wright and many others, ), A tall willowy man, he stepped off his porch and came out to the gate to speak with me. He said "We don't see much of that any more", When I asked what? he replied "People riding out for a hack, he looks old is he?" I said, "Just and four a half years, still going on two"! Curtis laughed and then replied, "You know we all rode Thoroughbreds back in the day, we never had these warm bloods to ride, they weren't invented yet". "Usually something "hot" off the track was all most could afford and the amateurs then thought nothing of riding a 4' foot fence, that was common. Nothing like they do these days, these little 2'6" jumps! Anything under 3' at a show was usually for the ponies! That conversation went on for another 30 minutes and I will always be fond of it. It personified my belief that as an industry it has become all about making money and not making horses and riders.There is something more.... The American Thoroughbred, a treasure of a breed is largely overlooked by most buyers, referred en-masse to as "Too Hot". Which is just a shame! I have ridden "HOT" Quarter horses, Arabians, Saddlebreds, Mustangs, Tennessee Walkers, Iberian Warmbloods, Morgan and many Dutch, German, Irish bred horses, etc., just about any horse breed you can imagine will have a variety of personalities.... I have ridden horses straight from the track that were amazing "packers"and some that definitely were only "born to run". Another article about them someday.

What I find is the average "hot" horse is not. It is simply the uneducated rider/handler that considers them so. Often I think they are just a lively horse, not "crazy".  The term "hot" came from that early era of racing and it referred to a horse right from a race, they were hot and had to be walked (usually by a boy) and that is were the term came from. They were mostly trained by a professional and often took a professional to re-school them but just an average intermediate rider would often ride them. It seems revealing that most of today's average "intermediate" riders prefer a "packer"? My definition of a "packer" is more befitting of a mule carrying supplies down the mountain trail! Today it is horse that will continue at a given pace and direction and despite the absolute recklessness or inability of the rider to stay in control and will continue to perform on it's own accord. The individual designated trainer is then allowed to focus more on their income strategy than teaching the rider horsemanship. which I can say I strongly oppose the overuse of "packers"! They may have there place in the pony rings and the first time adult riders, not after someone has become skilled enough. That skill level is directly affected by the teachers knowledge base.

 Keeping a client on a "packer"for years keeps them on a fixed path and the revenue flowing in, doesn't it? The reality is that collectively, the industry trainers have lowered an expectation for riders to actually learn to ride. What I can say is; it's mostly a dressed up dude string you find in many barns like many vacation rentals, the horse who mindlessly follows the horse ahead of them on the trail, is also parading into the show ring with a rider of slightly more knowledge than a pedestrian. I rode so called "hot" horses as a young child, safely. How far can we dumb down the horse and rider for the sake of job security, just to make a buck?

I like to have successful clients, but I can assure you that anyone coming through my program will need to accept each aspect of horsemanship and develop the skills of an adept rider or they will need to move on to a program following the prevailing trend. The trend more concerned about style, appearances. Believe me; I am certainly not an advocate of recklessness! I am an advocate of EDUCATION which in my book means SAFETY! What gives? It is not that hard!!! If you can teach at all.... teach or try to learn how to accept a challenge, to realize limitations and encourage your student or yourself to grow beyond them! You don't have to be jumping a 4' wall to be a horseman, but you have to care more about the horse than the brand of tack your putting on him and what someone's opinion of your breeches are! Hot often is not, because many who call themselves teachers, are not taught and subsequently are not teaching..... and therein lies a Catch-22.

When you are afraid to expect your student to ride nothing more than a "packer" you're the one who's in need of an education. USEF/USHJA/USEA/USDF offer excellent guidelines through  individual Trainer Certification and continued education clinics. I highly recommend you attend and participate in the programs. These are all designed to promote the longevity, safety and success of our equestrian pursuits, George Morris said it in so many words, "Our job as trainers are to turn out Horsemen and Women not just show winners".

Clay Jackson

Training youngsters: Keep it light!

What I mean by this is, that a good laugh will get you a long ways when training a young horse. Just like human children our young horses are full of energy and surprises that are pretty funny if you let yourself recognize their responses! Whenever I am working with a colt(either gender referenced as) I never approach the training session with a heavy hand, perhaps a firm one but always with deliberation on the possible outcome. It will depend on the colts personality very often how they react and recognizing this early on will get you farther than any cookie cutter methods employed.
Young "Nautique" just hours old.

I love working with the colts, always have. For almost 20 years I started young Thoroughbreds on a large scale breeding and racing farm, often with them right from birth to their first saddling, some came back from the track unsuccessful in their bid, but still a viable horse and I had the privilege again, to teach them to be recreational horses; some hunters and jumpers, but all of them found a good home, never auctioned. I bred some nice foundation Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds myself and started all of them under saddle, each one different as the next day and all happy to go to work. What lends to my success, creating happy horses?

Nautique on the long lines. 
I enjoy them as they are, just like children they will teach you a few things with their simple and clear, pure reactions to circumstances. I try not to overthink training, definitely I look for the joy in the horse. I believe that often given the chance the young horse will thrive with a simple challenge and a instant reward that they appreciate, I often laugh lightly and tussle a young horse's mane, give them a big pat on the shoulder, They recognize this happy reward and give me back so much more!  Every once and awhile I see someone trying to work with a young (and older) horse and they are so serious you'd think they are working with a criminal, I think "Lighten Up". It is very possible to enjoy every step of the training  with a light heart, even when it goes south a little... that when I chuckle at myself because I probably missed an opportunity.

Nautique greets me everyday ready!
In the end what I want is a horse that is always happy and ready to go on an adventure, wanting to give me their best performance, NOT because I can make them with my spur or crop or under threat.... because they trust me and they WANT to give 100%. They love to work! When I walk in the barn this happy horse that nickers at me with a look of "What's next Dad?" is my everyday reward! I like getting a ribbon at the show, and percentage wise my horses most often do, but face it that's not everyday! When I do show I enjoy the whole event, but it's at home where my horses live and grow that the real rewards are!

I firmly believe that all horses respond better to kindness and a firm but understanding approach to training, some of my clients and friends at home or a show have heard me chuckle a time or two at my horses, I believe that they respond favourably and know I love them even when they are a little playful, If they misbehave I drop my voice and they prick their ears in respect and correct themselves, they show me respect and trust through willing obedience supported by great rewards!

Clay Jackson

Monday, March 14, 2016

If you want to be a great rider, let go your ego!

       PLEASE: Not meant to be a rant, rather in response to a recent (and seemingly recurrent) experience; a new rider who claimed 1.20m show experience, came to ride, yet failed to do simple canter departs and had some basic issues on my former Grand Prix level "school master" and so I limited the lesson to flat work, focusing on position and aids. Some days later, the student called me and ranted on that they expected a "jumping lesson" and felt I had insulted, in some manner by working on such "basic"work, insinuating a "beginner" and had expected to "Jump Big". I explained my thoughts as carefully as I could and yet don't expect to see a return.

 I am often perplexed by the enormous variety of expectations I encounter as an educator of riders or "horse enthusiasts".  What I have had a hard time accepting and perhaps that's been my own obstacle is the fact that "EGO" plays such a huge role in the process. This single thing has caused me much consternation. A perfectly able student is suddenly up in arms or retreats away from a simple correction, one that they may have known and dismissed or just didn't ever realize, perhaps another teacher missed or dismissed the importance of a BASIC riding error, but upon my illumination it's slanderous.

        I am not perfect nor do I consider myself the very best as I look up to so many other riders, but I believe I have after five (5) decades of horsemanship, enough solid experience, knowledge and ability above the average. Without fear of contradiction, throughout my life I have studied hard the smallest of idiosyncrasies of any job or sport I have undertaken in order to do it to my best ability limited only by time or money or previous obligation. I write now about Equestrianism, something I have devoted the majority of a life to. 

 To support my indulgence, here is a short list of accomplishments: I have in my life in order to make a living and for my own interests, became certified as a USHJA trainer, I also certified in piloting light aircraft, as a commercial driver, scuba diving,  I played soccer through high school to intercollegiate competition, I studied multiple forms of martial arts, earning my belts and even teaching for a short stint, I rock climbed (free solo) crazy cliffs and mountains,  I learned to do freestyle downhill skiing, became certified in advanced lifesaving.  I have over several years now, thanks to my love, Pam (100 ton Master Mariner licensed captain), learned to crew and be helmsman under sail an 18 ton, 51' ketch rigged yacht, even in 40+ knot winds in rough water, I may even sit for a Captain license.   What does this all lead up to? What does it mean to horsemanship? Riding?

Training with Susan Hutchinson
       In order to achieve any competencies in the above; I had    to drop the"EGO", I had to be the "STUDENT"every time I was training. To this day, I hold the desire to learn, to absorb any and all the information I can, by watching, reading and actually doing well, whatever it is I set myself upon or am taught by someone above my ability or knowledge!  I am so surprised that in the business of horses how many "EXPERTS" I am presented with. It is the most frustration I think I have encountered, when trying my best to pass along the information I learned,  my many countless hours, years of studying, my mistakes (YES) and by my MANY successful efforts, just to be confronted by an eruption of an EGO. Stopped cold in my efforts to share, because another is suddenly an emotional puddle or worse a belligerent, stuck in the mire of their vanity.

Rich Fellers and Flexible
       I love conversing and learning from George Morris because he is a realist, just like my good friend and mentor Col. Julian McFadden was, like my friend and teacher pictured (left) Rich Fellers is, like Susan Hutchinson (above) is, like my Mother and many other great people I have learned from are..... They were the students with the white heat of desire to learn, they achieved so much and they have become my teachers, they passed along VITAL information and you bet, I grab on to as much as I can! THAT, is my foundation, that is now my knowledge I teach from. Yes, we all need to make a living,  but why do so many teachers (trainers) become so very complacent? To be a mediocre teacher spreads mediocrity to the student. I will not, I must hold my students to a standard, that desire to learn must be ever present and to learn you must put your "EGO" aside in my program.  

      SO, "everyone" has an (ego) right?And the best way to serve it healthily, is to better yourself, honestly. To put forth your best effort and wherever you reach a new threshold, you have that to be proud of! Your self image, can be a result of your open minded, harvested education! In my belief, until I pass on from this world, unless I am incapacitated from understanding, I will always be learning and then teaching. If you allow your pride alone to rule your action,  chances are you will suffer the indignation of your "EGO" stopping or at least hindering your life's ambition. 
We all struggle, even the wealthy, the gifted, someone, everyone alive always has a problem. But we have choices.....
Don't pass it onto the horse, we have the EGO, they have the HEART and those in my opinion are often diametrically opposed by many. I am very proud of my accomplishments and I will be damned if I let my ego ever stop me from learning something new, even about myself (which can be the hardest lesson) and then suffering a student or horse by ignorance or closed mind.

Knowledge never ends....... so ride on!

Clayton  Jackson

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Time for a good start     By Clay Jackson

(This is a rewrite of an article I formerly published in California "Riding"magazine)  

     This is the time of year that many people are thinking about starting their young horses with the hopes of a show career…. Spring has sprung and summer is coming, it’s drying up outside soon and the season brings out the desire to compete or just plain ride the countryside!

You might have a young horse you bred standing in the paddock, pasture or like some, you’ve picked up a prospect from a breeder or an off the track or OTTB as they are commonly known, like the one in this picture to the left who ran several times before a change in careers. If you have not been down this road before I strongly suggest working with an experienced trainer or breeder who has; as this is one of the most crucial points in your horses life, the point where it learns to trust your direction and whose relationship with humans can be made wonderful over a lifetime or severely compromised in a matter of minutes.

    That may sound a bit dramatized, but it is the reality of training horses, we either make them good or bad and that is mostly by experience or ignorance, so if you chose to go down this path, pay attention to details, pay attention to everything, especially yourself;  Why, you may ask?…. Because, lack of self-discipline or one’s ability to control the process,  is often the resulting factor in turning your training program from a well-meaning attempt into a mess and this is more common than most understand.

      I have over the past 45 or so years worked with hundreds of horses, from young weanlings on my parent's active Quarter horse ranch to a large scale Thoroughbred breeding farm, as a trainer for those young horses bursting with energy and a bright eye on the new world, eventually to re-schooling seasoned show veterans whom have been made difficult to handle or have shut down and want nothing more to do with any work.  I have witnessed riders in 1.20m jumping classes on young horses who surprisingly, barely know the basics and are getting around on the horses shear natural ability rather than proper training and conditioning of both partners to seeing riders on the trail taking ridiculous chances, lacking the skills and sustaining injuries.

     So the first principle I highlight is “time”. It is one of the most valuable assets available to you. Do not waste it nor rush it when it comes to training a horse. When I mentioned earlier "self- discipline" as one of the hardest for many to even conceive of as a factor. Let me say, if more people used self- discipline many horses would be saved the experience of pain, frustration and FEAR! This holds true as well to anyone who works with horses, from handlers, farriers, and veterinarians, any and all being professionals, should already know this.

    Put yourself in the horse’s shoes, would you want to be rushed into doing something you don’t understand? How about packing your own parachute and getting ready to jump out of a plane? I had to pack my own parachute when I was 17 yrs old and I darn sure wanted to understand completely what I was doing, before I jumped from that plane and plummeted towards earth from 3500ft., that may seem like overkill in comparison, but hitting the ground with 1000 lbs. of horse landing on top of you will yield some nasty results. So your safety and the horse’s (sanity) need to be paramount. Take your time, give your horse a chance to learn, and give yourself a chance too! When you methodically, slowly progress in a training program there is much less chance you will miss something.  I train horses and coach riders continually and (often) find in every new horse or person I work with a missing step, one that has been overlooked in some very basic part which is inhibiting the progression forward. Being in a hurry to JUMP, being in a hurry to get COLLECTION, being in a hurry to just to go FAST….. These often lead to ultimate failure.

    Timing is one of your best learned tools, being quick to see a problem and perceptive enough to move a horse along when they are ready or to wait will produce much better results, often lasting a lifetime. My concern has always been seeing so many good horses quickly pushed to competition, burned out by the pressure of it and then disposed of like an unwanted dessert. The idea is all sugar coated and looks like something easy and desirable, but even some professional trainers can spoil a horse and often many young horses start down the path of ruin, not by the hand of an abuser but by the hand of ignorance. The worst is the person who accepts this as a way of cycling through horses till they find a rare one that can take whatever the person is dishing out and still perform.
"Metro" a re-schooled Holsteiner, who
I brought back from the brink of ruin, he sold
and moved to Canada with new owners,
now happy with his life again in 3-day.

     I always caution new horse owners to check out the trainers they choose, make sure they have a strong background of working with young horses, there are far too many who assume since they are good show riders or riding instructors, they must be good horse trainers….when they can’t get the job done they advise the owners to sell or dispose of the horse and buy a “trained” horse…. Thus making their job easier and the horse ends up with a trainer like me.  I can’t stress enough this is wholly unnecessary in most cases and if you take the time the reward of patiently training your horse will never be forgotten and you would be contributing to our sport a well-balanced and happy performer. 
     As an example I was asked to work with a young mare, which had been bred impeccably for her destined career, but had shown difficulty in training and after being with several different trainers, the last gave the owners advice to “put her down”.  When I met the mare she stood facing the back corner of the stall and would not engage with anyone. Within one month of patient work, I had gained her trust and we began to work successfully together.
"Darcy" in her early canter work. Love this horse!
I finished after a time with her and sent her back home.  Nearly a year later I happened to run in to the owners at a local show who exuberantly came up and gave me a hug! They told me the mare was training beautifully and was very happy, the “Belle” of the barn, to my astonishment they said the current trainer thinks she will make Prix St. George…. I couldn’t have won any more of a prize; no blue ribbon replaces the feeling of training a horse to fruition.
I love training Hunters, Jumpers and Equitation horses but actually all horses and along with that, my background from working with so many young horses early in my life has helped me to understand and develop horses in the basics from day one to walking through the "in gate" at an "A" rated competition. No matter what discipline or use is intended it all starts with the basics and what I have learned is; it is a lot easier and rewarding to take your time, be educated in your decisions, read, watch others, go to clinics and ALWAYS pay attention to different methods and the results, in the end; your horse will tell you if you got it right!  Ride on!   

I currently train out of Santa Rosa, California and travel to teach clinics regionaly, you can reach me at: