My three biggest takeaways from the Andrew Nicholson clinic

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My three biggest takeaways from the Andrew Nicholson clinic

Yesterday, I attended the second and final day of the Andrew Nicholson clinic held at Fredericks Equestrian International in Anthony, FL. This will sound corny but it was honestly a dream come true for me to audit a clinic taught by this Eventing master. Andrew has a seemingly endless list of accomplishments touting Olympic medals, World Equestrian Games medals, CCI4* wins and so much more.

Andrew does not teach clinics on a regular basis so riding and auditing this particular clinic was a rare opportunity for North American eventers. Fortunately for me, I was one of the lucky people auditing this clinic. The clinic ran over two days – day one was show jumping and day two was cross-country. Be sure to catch up on all of the day one action by clicking here.

The riders and horses who were participating directly in the clinic were no slouches. Every single person riding in the clinic had competed at least up to the two-star level and there were several four-star riders and horses. There were four groups of four pairs:

  • Group 1 – Sara Kozumplik Murphy & Ruben d’Ysieux; Clayton Fredericks & FE Bowman; Will Coleman & Galway Bay Cooley; and Maya Black & Mowgli
  • Group 2 – Justine Dutton & Huck Finn; Sharon White & Cooley On Show; Dana Cooke & FE Mississippi; and Clayton Fredericks & FE Stiff Upper Level.
  • Group 3 – Jennie Brannigan & FE Lifestyle; Alex O’Neal & DJ; Alexa Ehlers & Amistoso; and Dana Cooke & FE Stormtrooper
  • Group 4 – Lily Geelan & Luksor; Shelby Brost & Crimson; Victoria Garland & FE Capricino; and Molly Tulley & Gliding Class.



All of the groups started off their session by walking a short cross-country course with Andrew. The course featured a variety of jumps including corners, banks, jumps into water, tables and everything in-between. Once they had walked their course, they got back on their horses and were sent to warm-up on their own around the cross-country field over simple jumps of their choosing. After everyone felt warmed up and ready to rock, they individually tackled the cross-country course that Andrew had walked with them. Watching all of the sessions yesterday and the day before, I learned three important lessons that I will remember for the rest of my riding career:

1) Use your upper body to whoa and your leg and seat to steer and go. Even the four-star riders in the clinic were told by Andrew how to use their body to control their horses. He put a big emphasis on riders remaining tall with their upper bodies on the approach to fences to keep their horses in balance. All riders were reminded that keeping their upper bodies taller will keep them from getting in front of their horse’s motion. You could see a big positive difference in how the horses would approach the fences when the riders stayed tall to balance their horses rather than leaning forward and pulling. On the bending lines and jumps that required forward rides, Andrew had riders sit on their butts and use their leg and seat aids to send their horses forward into the bridle and steer them off their leg. We all know in theory that we are supposed to use our leg and seat to steer and send our horses forward but it was clear many of us don’t actually do enough of this. It is truly amazing how something as simple as tweaking your own position can make a major impact on your horse’s way of going.

Dana Cooke & FE Stormtrooper

2) Do not get fixated on the number of strides. Andrew told riders, “Cross-country is all about having a partnership with your horse and being able to ride your horse your way.” He explained that the point of your course walk is to formulate your plan A but as things happen out on course while you are riding, you need to use your instincts and ride what is happening underneath you. He explained that at a show he heads out to watch cross-country before his ride time to scout out how horses are looking at the jumps, not the strides they are putting in. For example, if a certain jump is causing horses to back off and land short, then you might rethink your plan about riding a forward distance. Andrew repeatedly told riders that cross-country is about having your plan for your horse. He was never concerned about the number of strides riders and horses were putting in-between combinations, what he cared about was how they were jumping the fences.

Sara Kozumplik Murphy & Ruben d’Ysieux

3) Confidence is key. Andrew was very encouraging to all of the riders and placed a huge emphasis on them all riding with confidence. He said that confidence is everything and you need to believe in the decisions you are making on course even if they are wrong. At one point a rider had an awkward jump over a large table and landed apologizing to her horse. Andrew’s response to her was, “Don’t say sorry. It is the horse’s job to jump the fence and help you out.” He was not suggesting that riders gallop to jumps aimlessly but rather ride decisively but in the event things get a bit rough,  don’t let this rattle you.

Will Coleman & Galway Bay Cooley

The lessons that Andrew taught riders were straightforward and effective. I jumped my horse last night after watching him coach for both days and I noticed a clear improvement. Overall, these two days were a great reminder that riding is simple in theory and the basics never change.

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