12 Training Tips from Buck Davidson

Top lessons riders took home from their Win-A-Day clinic with Buck Davidson.

“The clinic was truly magical experience for all of us,” said amateur eventer Tiffany Morey. Morey was the winner of Practical Horseman’s Buck Davidson Win A Day Clinic contest sponsored by ADM Animal Nutrition. She and nine friends had an “unforgettable day” at Flora Lea Farm in Medford, New Jersey. There the members of Southern New Jersey’s Pineland Riders Pony Club enjoyed a day of private training with leaderboard topping five-star eventer, Buck Davidson.

Buck Davidson coaches clinic winner Tiffany Morey on cross-country.
© Julia Murphy

Clinicians ranged from 8-year-old Hayden Swartz who rides at the Beginner Novice level aboard her pony, Gracie, to Kelly Coile and her Thoroughbred gelding, Rebel, who compete at Training level. Over the course of the day, Davidson coached the riders through show-jumping and cross-country exercises. Groups were split up based on riding level, and Davidson adjusted the jump heights and cross-country questions accordingly. During every session, he shared various lessons that each horse and rider could benefit from. Here are 12 of his best takeaways from the clinic.

  1. Amanda Murphy pointed out that her horse was uncomfortable with the right lead. “If there’s something [your horse] can’t do, that’s what you have to do,” Davidson told the her, explaining that her horse can’t get comfortable with an exercise if she doesn’t practice it.
  2. Each show-jumping group started with the same exercise—Davidson asked the riders to trot a crossrail and canter down to a second jump in three or four strides, depending on the horse or pony, then halt. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re hoping to go Beginner Novice or if you’re on a team somewhere around the world. These are all clear exercises to practice being clear with your horse. That’s the most important thing—that you guys are clear.”
  3. Davidson explained that pressure and release should be used as a training tool. “Release the pressure so that the horse understands that what he did was good. The language that you speak with your horse is the pressure and release.”
  4. Horses naturally move their bodies’ to maintain balance with the rider, Davidson explained. “When you’re carrying a bag of feed over your shoulder and that bag slips, what do you do? You move underneath the bag. That’s exactly what happens to the horse. Every time you move, he’s going to try to get underneath you. So, our job is to stay in the middle and not move around so much.”
  5. Davidson offered a second analogy—”It’s like driving with a cup of coffee. If you hold the cup of coffee with a stiff arm, it will spill out. Instead, you naturally move your hand with the feel of the car. It’s the same thing when you ride your horse—you want to naturally move with your horse.”
  6. Davidson asked the riders to focus on two things that he uses to make himself and his students better—”First, worry about where you want to go. Second, how fast you want to get there.” But, he added, if you’re not clear, both the rider and the horse can get frustrated.
  7. Davidson explained to the riders that everything in riding is counterintuitive—”Horses move away from pressure. If you pull on the right rein, the horse is going to go left. If you use your right leg, the horse is going to go left.”
  8. He emphasized knowing where you and your horse are at all times in respect to the question ahead. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Don’t try to prepare your horse for the jump right at the jump. That’s too late.”
  9. Emma Lilleywhite struggled with relaxing her hands and arms and was sending her horse mixed signals. Davidson told her to “touch her horse’s ears” and think about being soft in her elbows. “Your hand can’t be the gas and the break.” With a looser arm and clearer aids, Emma didn’t catch her horse in the mouth and he rode the exercise more smoothly.
  10. To demonstrate how control comes with power, Davidson asked Emma, “Have you ever driven a boat? When you’re going slow, it’s really hard to do anything with the boat. It doesn’t really steer that well, you can’t go, you can’t slow down, it’s just plowing through the water. But once you’re brave enough to get on plane, then you can slow it down and it’s easy to steer. It’s the same with your horse. You have to be able to get him up ‘on plane.'”
  11. When landing from a jump, Davidson told the riders to focus on going straight and to wait until the horse is even in both reins before turning. “Think, go straight, then when the horse is even, take both reins like you’re passing a plate of food and that’s how you turn.”
  12. To get the riders’ hands into the correct position, Davidson used a carousel horse analogy. “When a kid jumps onto a carousel and grabs onto the pole, they are in the perfect position to ride a horse. Your hand should be up in front of the wither.”

Find More on Practical Horseman OnDemand!

Visit Practical Horseman OnDemand to watch the full Win-A-Day clinic with Buck Davidson, including how riders applied the tips above and even more lessons from Davidson!

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