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Amy Skinner interviews Jec Ballou, Part II

Published: 6/29/2016
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Editor's Note: Amy Skinner is a regular guest columnist and has been a horse gal since age six. She  runs Essence Horsemanship, rides and teaches English and Western. Skinner has studied at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Spain, with Buck Brannaman, Leslie Desmond, Brent Graef, and many others.

Read more about Amy here.

Read more Journals & Journeys here

By Amy Skinner

I recently rode in a three-day clinic with Jec Ballou. We worked in one-on-one settings and a group format.  I rode my nine-year old Morgan gelding, Geronimo, who is a bit headstrong and of complicated mind.  I also brought along my 12-year old paint mare, Dee, who tends to be braced, stiff, and a bit choppy in her gaits. 

I was thrilled with my horses’ progress after three days of balancing, developing symmetry and self carriage, as well as relaxation.  Jec had lots of great exercises involving poles and cones, as well as dressage movements which facilitate a beneficial and smooth ride. After the clinic’s end, I was lucky enough to snag her for thoughts on a few questions.

Read Part I

Part II

AS:  We talked about a horse’s training scale, but I’m curious to know what you think the most important thing for a rider to have in their foundation?

JB:  I still think it comes down to position and feel.  I think if you look at all the top riders in any discipline, being in balance and able to feel and respond to things is still most important.  It helps if you start younger, it’s harder to mold people who start in their 50’s.  I totally admire them, it’s just that their learning curve is way bigger. 

Good riders and trainers feel as soon as the horse starts to fall out of balance, and if you don’t have that you’re already so far behind the eight ball. 

AS:  Obviously fitness is a huge part of becoming a really great rider.  What in your opinion is the most important aspect of rider fitness?  Cardio? Core strength? Flexibility? All of them?

JB: I really think it’s core strength. Riding is not really cardio-intensive. It requires core stability.  I’m a huge proponent of Pilates and I think it’s so helpful for riders.

AS:  How did you come up with the ideas for your different exercises?

JB:  Well, I am studying all the time.  I study what works for my horses and other disciplines.  I study a lot of physical therapy and rehab.  A lot of the patterns that I do come from people like Jillian Higgins in England, and Jean Marie Denoir in France who is a wonderful veterinarian and does a lot of rehabilitation.  So I started thinking, if these exercises work for rehabbing horses, they’re going to work for improving proprioception with performance horses.  The changes in horses who do them regularly are awesome.  So a lot of them come from those kinds of sources. 

Read more about Ballou’s exercises here.

AS:  What is the biggest thing you hope for riders to take away from your clinics?

JB:  The big hope is that people get some sense on how to get their horse moving better by some of the exercises that we did.  I believe if I can put people in the right exercises where they get that feel, you self-correct, and that is what makes better riders.  It’s one thing to have a good coach on the side telling you what to do, but you don’t necessarily take away the tools that will help you help your horse better.  That’s what I hope people take away is little feels about what got their horses to move better.

AS:  What about the horses? What is your hope for them to take home?

JB:  More symmetry and more balance.  A lot of horses that come to my clinics need their balance improved, whether it’s lateral or longitudinal.  Being a better athlete, better breathing, and more comfortable for his job.

AS:  Thank you. Those were great answers!

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