Winter clinics: Boyd Martin clinic review
At the beginning of the month, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to ride in a clinic with Boyd Martin. The weekend session was graciously hosted by Pepperwood Farm in Fuquay-Varina, NC, a lovely new facility that caters to riders of all disciplines. Mike Plumb and I work together 12-14 hours per day; perfection is expected, full attention is demanded, and excuses are null and void. JMP instantly jumped on the idea of Boyd's clinic and told me to sign up immediately, with JER's pretty, athletic, phenomenal mare, Zizi. (Z is 14.2hh of black Akhal-teke/TB perfection.)
I had heard mixed reviews of Boyd's instruction, but went into the clinic with an open mind, knowing that I could learn a lot from any rider that JMP respects. In short, Boyd, very much like JMP, is trying to teach riders how to be better riders, and is trying to help horses to fully understand. I have nothing but rave reviews for this clinic-- Boyd's style, the exercises, the progression, everything was wonderful. Boyd was personable and friendly, gentle and encouraging, and kept the clinic nicely flowing forward. I must say, I was immensely impressed with his ability to keep a good humor and "teaching wits" about him at all times, even when presented with very difficult pairs.
Individuals here on CotH have expressed complaints about Boyd's exercises being too hard, overfacing, or difficult. On these points, I must vehemently disagree. Boyd's exercises are foundational yet unique-- lessons that test basic wtc/straightness/adjustability, but aren't the same jump arrangements/questions that riders see every day. Because the skills tested in these exercises are the cornerstones in a horse's and rider's training, riders at any level should be able to handle their setup, particularly before setting foot outside of a closed arena. Walk/trot/canter, turn left, turn right, go straight, stay straight, lengthen stride, shorten stride: the exercises used to address these elements were NOT difficult questions. As presented, they were a suitable challenge, a good test in a novel environment. When they seemed difficult or confusing to a horse and rider pair, a weakness in a pair's training was readily apparent.
Does that make Boyd a bad clinician? Nope. His exercises test the skills that all riders should aim to fully master. He does not try to "catch a rider out," but tries to show a rider where things need to be better. If a rider shows up unprepared with a crooked, unschooled, over-bitted, or unconditioned horse, there is only so much that any clinician can fix. Can't change the world in a two-day group jump school. As a clinician, you try to give riders exercises to better understand, better address, and better ride their horses. This is what Boyd does.
If there is frustration or difficulty, does this make the participants bad riders or bad students? Nope. It just illustrates that the degree of training and proficiency are not necessarily where they could be. At some point every rider needs to be challenged to learn how to ride new skills correctly, outside of her every-day comfort zone. At what point does a clinician or instructor stop feeding into "Let's make it easier!" to nurture a rider's ego, and just say "Get on with it! Start riding!"? Someone needs to step up and say "HEY-- ride your horse correctly, train your horse properly, and Training level is going to be easy! Why? Because it's true." This is what Boyd does.
Having said all this, Boyd appeared to be most within his comfort zone with riders -- regardless of their level-- who were set to go, could take instruction, to whom he could say "Hey, ride like this. Add stride here. Hands low, sit back. In this turn, do this. Here, do that." He knows what it takes to be a competent, effective rider, he can get the job done incredibly well with a prepared rider and horse, and someday he is going to be a mind-blowing team coach.
So, to summarize. Boyd's style as a clinician: challenging, positive, reinforcing. Boyd's teaching: pretty darn clear and effective, if one pays attention, listens, tries to understand. Boyd's clinics: worth every penny, and then some. There are reasons he is one of the best, and that the best have much respect for his riding.