Renowned British 5* winner and Olympic gold medalist Laura Collett recently brought her expertise to the United States for the first time to teach two clinics of 25 lucky riders each, one at Galway Downs in Southern California and one at Dragonfire Farm in Northern California.
In her first appearance stateside, Laura captivated riders with her swift and effective teaching style. I felt very lucky to have this Olympian come to Dragonfire Farm since I had become a fan of hers while watching 5* competitions over the past few years. Laura taught a four-day clinic here, during which she delivered two days of private flat lessons and two days of dynamic group jumping sessions.
What unfolds when an equestrian of this caliber takes the reins in your own arena?
There have been times when I have come out of a clinic not necessarily knowing what I’ve learned or if my riding has really changed. I wonder if that is a case of too much information at once, or if too much is being changed for me to understand. I’ve been riding my whole life and have taken a lot of lessons, so I think that now I have become clearer on what kind of instruction really speaks to me.
Laura was selective with her comments, but I almost prefer that, as I like really focusing in and trying to improve one thing about my ride. At times, when you’ve been through a long group lesson, the best thing is to just have a few concise words of advice to reflect on and apply to your riding.
Day 1-2: Dressage
On the days dedicated to dressage, Laura’s precise methods brought steep improvement in her students. I noticed how systematic her approach was over the course of all the private flat lessons. By the end of every 45 minute session she would have every horse come out looking the same; in a matter of time, she had all horses moving forward and supple.
During my dressage lesson, she had my horse, Hallelujah DF, going very smoothly. She kept moving us throughout the dressage court, not staying on any exercise too long and keeping the horse’s back legs active. I liked the variety of different “drills” she had to move the horse on and not let them drag and get stuck in place.
I got the idea that she was riding the horse along with me and was just directing me to do exactly what she would have done on my horse. 10-meter circle, short diagonal, 10-meter circle, around a big circle, give the inside hand, extend down the long side — all these directions given with good timing to achieve the goal of a harmonious ride.
With a keen eye for detail, Laura’s system left me (along with the other horse and rider combinations) feeling polished and in sync by the end of the day.
Day 3: Simple Jumping + Turns and Angles
The third day of the clinic transitioned seamlessly into jump exercises. Laura Collett gives a very fast-paced lesson, yet the progress each person experienced was evident as she guided riders through challenging lines and intricate exercises.
For the riders, the focus was on perfecting the position over fences, emphasizing the importance of keeping shoulders upright and reins soft while also giving so that the horse was in total freedom to use its neck as needed, without interference.
The course for the first day of jumping featured a minimal set of jumps that you could combine into S turns, angles or jump as singles. The focus on each horse was to keep a forward attitude towards the jump, half-halting through the turn but then keeping a powerful canter on the straight approach to the fence rather than letting the stride diminish.
Most clinics tend to start with a more simple lesson on the first day of jumping, and I believe this was helpful to get everyone’s eye seeing a more forward ride to the perfect take-off distance. This would prepare us all for the challenges coming next…!
I was able to participate in jump groups with both Hallelujah DF and Overkill DF, also known as “Scarlet”. At almost 6 years old, Scarlet had a year off due to having a foal, which left her a bit behind in experience and fitness.
On the first day of jumping, Scarlet displayed both her explosive jump and her explosive attitude. Her sassiness and strong-willed personality have always been a part of her ride, but today she seemed to be fully against my input.
I had my doubts on whether or not I should be fixing everything for her. I asked Laura if I should “drop” her in front of the fences — just let her go ahead and rush as fast as she likes and see how well that goes — but together we decided this wouldn’t be helpful and only make her lose her bravery.
Laura’s advice was to set her up with my body posture and leg, taking my hand out of the equation and making it so my input wasn’t quite so strong. It was very difficult to “let go” in this way as it made the approach to the fence feel quite out of control at times, but this did soften Scarlet’s attitude and improve her choices over time.
Day 4: Complex Jump Course + Elements of Cross Country
The second day of jumping featured a vast course with many different routes to take through its wide array of efforts. There were a mix of technical fences, narrows and a coffin combination along with bravery fences that put the horse and rider on a larger stride, such as larger oxers and triple bars.
Laura’s wealth of experience shone through as she swiftly aligned riders with her vision. The jump lessons incorporated tough and complicated lines across all levels of every group. I personally loved how you could string so many parts of the course together through angling or S turns.
During this last day of the clinic, I experienced a breakthrough in my riding posture and rein handling. My horse, Halle, in her carefree nature tends to lope around the course, and I struggle to feel her engagement toward the fences. Laura’s guidance led to a significant positive change.
By adjusting my posture and rein length, following Laura’s advice to lengthen the reins and adopt a more driving position, Halle transformed her approach. The shift from leaning with short reins to sitting back with extended reins resulted in a powerful and controlled canter toward the fences. To me, the difference was obvious and it was very satisfying to feel that this issue was easily changed by adjusting my ride.
On the second day of jumping with Scarlet, I felt up to the challenge. Perhaps the consecutive days of jumping had settled her, but Scarlet was also a lot more agreeable when I used mostly seat and leg to control her. I’ve always loved Scarlet’s brave nature, and while at times it causes her to make bad decisions in front of the jump, when I got her in sync it felt incredible to set her up for the fence and hit that perfect take-off.
Scarlet is the type of horse that will jump whatever you put her in front of, so I’m really happy that we are on track to becoming more harmonious. I was very glad to hear that Laura felt I was on the right track with my young horse. As the one who broke her out and trained her, it felt reassuring to confirm that I have a sound plan for her progression.
Laura Collett’s clinic here at Dragonfire Farm went beyond the routine, offering riders like myself the chance to focus on specific improvements. Her mastery of dressage and jump exercises made for very engaging lessons. This, combined with her succinct guidance left an impact, making this clinic a standout experience in my riding journey.
I’d say that most, if not all riders, left with a more accurate eye when it came to forward distances to a jump. I am so grateful for the chance to have ridden with her and hope she comes back to the States (specifically mine!) in the future. I definitely recommend taking a lesson from her. 5 stars.
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Autor Taylor McFall