Joe Fargis: Keep Your Riding Simple

Show jumping Olympian Joe Fargis' simple system focuses on rhythm, balance and precision.

Joe Fargis stood near the chute of ground rails running the length of the indoor arena, its centerline falling precisely under the middle row of lights. Riders first walked their horses through the chute, then rode transitions midway down at X, progressing from walk-halt-walk to flying changes.

The 1984 Olympic show jumping double-gold medalist was giving a clinic at Canterbury Stables in Cazenovia, N.Y. Over the brisk September 2009 weekend, the four groups of students Joe taught varied in experience, from riders jumping 18 inches to those who could easily clear 4-feet, but his basic instructions to all were essentially the same:

  • “It’s important to be forward, straight and uncomplicated.”
  • “Be precise on the flat. Then a course will be easy.”
  • “Get the transition done with the least amount of commotion. Be as light and invisible and efficient as you can be.”
  • “If you practice being fluid, you eventually will be fluid. If you’re casual about it, it will never happen.”

For the most advanced group of riders and horses, Joe started the jumping work by building a line of fences: a vertical to an 18-inch skinny green wall to two trot rails to a vertical, set so there was only about three strides from the landing to the arena wall (see diagram at right).

The riders jumped each section as it was built, starting with the trot poles to vertical. Then they rode the entire line. They trotted the first vertical, cantered to the skinny wall, figuring out the striding, which ended up being four or five strides, then trotted over the trot poles to the vertical. The challenge was steering the horses to the skinny wall and then bringing them back to the trot. “Everybody use all the tact and talent you have to make it fluid,” Joe said as the riders struggled to get a smooth trot back before going over the trot poles. After the horse’s jumped through the line a few times, he gradually raised the fences a few holes.

Next, Joe built two skinny fences on the landing side of the skinny wall, creating a bounce perpendicular to the wall. “All this has to be fluid, like water through a hose with no kinks,” he said.

Once horses were jumping the bounce smoothly, he built four oxers on the diagonals and created a course of 3-foot-6 fences with lots of twists and turns. “This is an exercise in control,” he said. Then he urged the riders, “Don’t let the higher jumps worry you.” When one of the riders didn’t get her horse back and organized after a fence, he said, “You have to think of the next jump over the previous jump.”

He finally took away the standards of the skinny bounce. The “new” fence caused the first rider’s horse to run out in middle of the bounce. “Don’t trust it so much without wings,” Joe told he rider. “If you think of straight line, it will help.”

After building up the courses, Joe began to lower the fences and make them easier, for example, turning the skinny fences back into regular fence width. The horses happily jumped over them and ended the day’s session with ease, as Joe explained, “Horses should finish just loving life.”

To read more about Joe’s clinic, see “Keep Your Riding Simple” in the December 2009 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.

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