Monday, October 6, 2014

Interview with Jennifer Clover, Competing at Fair Hill International CCI**

I had the unique opportunity to sit with Jennifer Clover, who qualified and is slated to compete at the Fair Hill International CCI** starting October 15, 2014.      She will be riding Scimitar, owned by Jennifer’s partner, Sam Allan.

 Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael
Jennifer said of her mount, “He is a little older than many going out at this level but each time he goes out I am nothing but grateful.  I am very in-tune to how he feels and I am ready at anytime to say that he has had enough but he keeps saying 'no problem'.  He loves life and loves his job and he knows he is good at it.”  

Scimitar was originally Sam Allan’s mount where she competed him through the  CCI2* and advanced levels when he started having some drainage from his left nostril.  After several vet visits and consultations, a large benign mass was found and removed and it was assumed that was the end of his eventing career. 

However, just as Scimitar was recovering medically, Jennifer’s mare was having some ulcer issues and so Sam offered her Scimitar to do lower level events.  The horse surprised them all as he just kept going and going.   They would pull up from cross country and he was wanting to repeat the course.  So they kept going… trying just one more event and one more level.   And he kept asking for more.   Jennifer has no idea how long or how far he will go but she knows he will tell her when it’s enough and she is listening closely.  

She does what she can to help the big guy do his best.   “I’m a big believer in Flair Nasal Strips, especially for him.  They have made a positive difference. “  

Jennifer started riding at nine years old in the hunter world.   She rode and competed until high school, rode occasionally in her college years.  Then her “real job” in the publishing industry in New York took over and riding took a backseat.  Years later, she landed in St. Mary’s County, Maryland teaching middle school.   A fellow teacher knew someone who needed a young horse to be ridden and the horse bug bit again.  The horse was young and she knew she needed some help so she enlisted the help of Sam Allan who introduced her to eventing and eventually became her business partner.    

 Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael
Moving away from the steady paycheck of teaching was not an easy move.   It began with the opportunity to be the Director of Equestrian Programs for the Greenwell Foundation in Hollywood, Maryland.   Clover managed both Greenwell’s therapeutic riding program and standard riding program in addition to teaching special education in the county school system.   Sam Allan, who was still coaching her, was in the process of opening a 25 stall training and boarding barn in Brandywine, Maryland and convinced Jennifer to take a “leap of faith,” leave her teaching job and begin working in the horse world full time. 

The barn business was a lot of work and they both found it really a “two person thing” that worked better when they did it together.  Jennifer said, “it was easier when you are sharing it with someone – expenses and responsibility.”  For a few years they informally joined forces but then in January 2012 they incorporated as Allan and Clover Sport Horses and made it official.

They make a good team but it’s not without its bit of humor.   In Jennifer’s early years of eventing, she was having a tough time of making it around the Training level course with multiple failures.   When she finally succeeded, she rode over to Sam for a congratulation hug.   The motion startled her horse and next thing you know Jennifer was on the ground and her horse was shooting across the field.   The team learned the lesson of congratulations come AFTER dismounting!

In addition to Sam Allan coaching her, she currently works with R. Scot Evans for the show jumping and Susan Graham White for dressage.  Beyond being an “immense help” to her advancement,  they have also been great supporters.

When I asked Jennifer who else she would want to take a lesson from she said, “Denny Emerson.  I took his clinic a long time ago and I felt his instruction was excellent and he could convey an immense amount of info in a short time span and from his perspective he wants what is best for horse and rider and their welfare.   His point of view is very classical and his emphasis is on horsemanship.  It is something Sam and I really try to teach at home – good fundamentals and horsemanship.”

Another favorite clinician for Jennifer is Lucinda Green.   Jennifer noted that clinics “with her are practical and she has a sense of humor.  She was able to teach ‘feel’ on cross country and that is hard to do.  It’s a gift she has.”  She also liked Lucinda Green because she was willing to tell her students about her failures and fears.  Because of that, Green helped Jennifer understand that you can be a real human and successful at the same time.

When Jennifer and Scimitar competed at Plantation Fields, Scimitar got “really strong on cross country” so they switched out reins and gloves and have done more schooling.   Jennifer remarked, “He has gotten fitter and fitter and a little more full of himself.  I need to make sure I have brakes and steering!”  Overall she feels good going into Fair Hill.  “I feel good about my dressage.  Not perfect -- there are some areas we can neaten up around the edges.  We had a run out at Plantation but that was due to him being strong.   I need to be balanced and organized and we will do fine.”

“As riders we know how to ride and we have these skills but a lot of the question is using those skills in a competitive setting.  I need to get in that zone and stay in that competitive mindset so I remember how to ride.   Be 100% out there for my horse and ride my very best every step the whole time so I can give him the best ride I can.  If I stay present in every step, its slows my brain down.  I ask myself, ‘What do I need to do this step to make the next step better?’”

Her warm up routine is the same for each event.   For dressage, the focus is on getting him “free and over the back and relaxed and letting go and then I pick him up and go through some of the movements.  I really work on that back to get it relaxed.  Before we enter, I need to get him really going forward or he gets excited and tense.”

“For cross country warm up its much of the same of getting him relaxed as he gets excited about what he is doing.  Usually a little gallop to get him warm and a few jumps based on what he will see on course.  I’m pretty conservative for the cross country warm up since he has a big test in front of him.”

Jennifer has the same advice for her students she coaches as she gives to herself.  “Stick with the plan. Ride the rhythm and ride it one stride at a time.   Be ready though if the plan doesn’t go the way you thought.  Have a B plan and a C plan.  Oh… and have fun!”

Jennifer has an impressive support team.   She concurred with, “I have an amazing group of people here.  So impressed with everyone.  We are staying with our friends Laurel and Heather while at Fair Hill.  Of course Sam.   Several students from the barn.   Myra made blue and yellow tie died t-shirts for everyone.  Everyone is so positive and supportive.   Sally Buchheister  (a fellow eventer) was at Plantation and will be at Fair Hill too.  It’s really fun to do this with a good friend.   We stable together and it makes it more special.  Of course Sam has been my #1 fan and supporter and coach.  I wouldn’t be doing this without her.  I am very very grateful.”  

Turning to the horse side of the equation, I asked her if she could ride any horse, who would she choose? She quickly replied, “I’m riding him. I can’t think of any other horse I’d rather be riding than Scimitar.”
Jennifer's Pit Crew
Photo by Myra and Maren McMichael

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dressage Clinic with Jaralyn Finn

On September 7th, the PVDA Charles County Chapter held a clinic with Jaralyn Finn (  One of the highlights of the clinic was actually the location -- Stephanie McNutt was kind enough to allow us to use her bright and airy indoor arena at her  farm, Cedar Creek Farm.   The fabulous footing was a treat for all the riders and horses so we very much appreciate her hospitality.

Jaralyn taught a clinic for our chapter last summer so for many of us this was a second lesson and amazingly she remembered the issues we worked on last time and were able to build on the previous lesson.   We had eight riders ranging from Intro to Third Level so auditors could take away something from the day no matter what level they were riding.  One rider, Mary Beth Klinger, remarked, "It was terrific to see Jaralyn again. We worked on having the horse more connected right from the start of the lesson. It was a very worthwhile training."

Correct Like you Mean It and Let Go
No matter what level you were riding, correct and release was an important theme of the clinic.  One upper level rider was working on getting prompt responses to her requests.   Jaralyn asked her to think of the requests as "1, 2, 3".  1 being the lightest of aids, 2 a little firmer and 3 being an overcorrection sure to bring a dramatic response.   Jaralyn was quick to point out that even though the aids were to be prompt, you needed to give the horse time to realize their mistake before you moved to the next level of correction.

During another ride, Jaralyn pointed out that holding your leg in place continually was also not the correct aid.  You needed a quick firm pulse with the leg or spur and then release.

The Rider has Lots of Responsibility
Another theme of the clinic is that it’s up to us, as the rider, to give clear and correct aids to our horse. One horse had a hard time turning in time going into the corner.  After the turn he counter bent coming off the wall.  Jaralyn fixed this by having the rider first slow the tempo down a little before each corner and then turn about a meter before the corner and leg yield over.  By the third attempt they were making a perfect turn with correct bend and flexion.   It was up to the rider to set her horse up for success going into the turn.

Another rider was having some issues with position in canter.  Jaralyn had her get lightly up in two point and then sit down.   After her lesson the rider exclaimed, "I realized how important position is.  Immediately my hands were quieter and my horse moved better. The other thing she shared was when cantering keep your feet planted down into the stirrups and open your legs and hips. Cantering was much easier when my position improved."

At one point, Jaralyn mimicked the old Smokey the Bear mantra with, "Only YOU can keep contact." Like so many things in our riding, its usually the rider that is the source of problem and it’s not up to our horse to keep the contact (or whatever goal we are attempting to achieve) – it’s up to the rider to show the way.

Rider Position is OH so Important
Several riders had some difficulty with their positions and Jaralyn did some corrections that made all the difference in how their horse moved.  As one auditor commented on what she learned, "if the rider is out of alignment, the horse will be as well."

For those that needed more freedom and energy from their horse -- Keep the knee and thigh open with a slight bowleg.   It’s important to keep the weight in the stirrup at the ball of the foot so that your seat remains light.  Another image she gave a rider was to think as if her horse was reaching for a cavalletti in each stride.

For those that needed more push from behind -- think of shifting the yielding behind the saddle rather than the front of the horse as the "better he is from behind, the better he will feel in your hands."

For those looking for more fluidity in the up and down transitions -- think of a lighter pelvis for an up transition and pushing the pubic bone down when asking for a down transition.

Clinic auditor, Betsy Hunter summed the clinic up well, "I liked the way Jaralyn was able to quickly access each rider and decide what was most important to work on.  She focused on each rider, no matter what level, so that they improved and gained confidence in themselves and their horses.  She encouraged everyone to stretch out of their comfort zone."