Recap of Thermal, CA Trainers Symposium
Teaching the Trainers

Leslie Deckard

April 30, 2010



Being a trainer of hunter jumper horses is more than training horses and instructing students on the proper way to ride and jump a horse. That is the primary lesson John French brought to the Smart Pak/USHJA trainer Symposium, held Feb. 16-18 at HITS Desert Horse Park in Thermal, CA.

"Before I even started with my first group (professionals on green horses) I talked about when you become a trainer, it is just not about training horses," John said. "I talked a lot about hunters, selecting the right type of horse to be a hunter. I had different types of horses and went over, not conformation to the full extent, but conformation of how the neck needs to be put on, and how that is so important for the hunter in creating the right look and creating the right balance. I wanted to bring my personal philosophy into my instruction."

John joined legendary horseman George Morris at the three-day symposium which offered attendees a rare opportunity to participate in practical training sessions and round table discussions with top professionals in the industry.

The trainer symposiums offer instruction in the disciplines of hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Each of the disciplines is broken into sections, such as, junior hunters, intermediate equitation, and junior/amateur owner jumpers. Each session has three-to-four demonstration riders for the clinician to work and explain different techniques, exercises, and tips for various levels of riders and horses. The symposiums are a great opportunity for professionals and members to exchange thoughts and ideas on training exercises, training aids, and business practices.

"We were helping other professionals and up-and-coming trainers," John said. "It is great to be involved in something like this. It is just not about improving the rider, but teaching the trainer new and different techniques."

As part of requirements for the USHJA Trainer Certification Program, applicants for the program must attend a USHJA Trainer Symposium within one year preceding their application.

At the event in Thermal, the experience and training levels of the auditors/trainers varied from teaching beginner and grass-roots riders, to taking students to "A" rated shows, and perhaps even higher levels.

Shelley Campf, chairman of the trainer certification program committee, said a wide variety and skill level of people and horses were used during the symposium, which allowed George and John to offer tips on how best to prepare all levels of riders and their mounts, from the polished to the ones who are a little rough around the edges.

"Normally, you would see something more like a perfectly presented group of equitation horses and riders," Shelley said. "In this case, there were different riders of different skill levels and different qualities of horses. These clinicians taught them right in stride with the other ones and I thought that was a nice comparative for the participants that were watching."

John taught the hunter course and George ran the equitation and jumper clinics. Each brought their own unique style to their teaching methods. George was loud and verbose, while John was more was easier going throughout the clinic. The opposite dynamics of each clinician helped connect with everyone at the symposium—from the quiet, laid back trainers to the ambitious and bold trainers.

"George teaches a lot of clinics and he adapted his clinic model beautifully for what we wanted him to present," Shelley said. "He taught a grand prix level and he taught an intermediate level. He taught sort of opposite ends of the spectrum in the same day, which the participants really appreciated."

George used old movies of historic competitions to illustrate how riding styles have evolved from the 1950s to present time.

During the event, the participating trainers remained focused on all of the sessions, and were eager to ride with each clinician. George and John introduced new, and sometimes very challenging, exercises for the riders, who were up to each and every challenge even if it took them a few attempts to master it.

John used gymnastics while teaching green horses and pointed out different flaws in the jumping style of each, and how he would try to improve their flaws through different exercises.

He also taught a section on handy hunters and how to prepare for a derby. "I went over things you would do to prepare a horse for derby, and what I had done in past to get horse ready for derby, like giving a horse a command on both leads," John said.

The attendees had a lot of fun with the hunter derby training. John made the participants jump tricky, unreasonable courses and used those courses to illustrate that it is best to expect the unexpected when preparing for a hunter derby.

"I thought everybody seemed to really enjoy it," John commented on the symposium. "I think the handy and derby stuff was fun for people to see and there were a lot of good questions."

Calling the event a success, Shelley was pleased with the amount of participation at the symposium despite the date being a late addition to the calendar and what she called a lack of advertising for the event.

"We were criticized for not advertising this very well, and not a lot of people knew it was happening," she said. "I would like to acknowledge that and say we came up with Thermal as a potential date very late in the calendar and I agree that it was not marketed well enough. We will try our best to make that better in the future. But overall, I was pleased with the attendance and the enthusiasm of those who attended."

Dates for additional symposiums will be announced in June.

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