Recently I audited the clinic of one of my favorite instructors, Jim Wofford. Jim teaches with humor and clarity, both of which are really helpful to students. Jim’s system has been developed from his early lessons from Fort Riley instructors, countless hours on horseback in a variety of activities, time spent on the Olympic team, and an extraordinary amount of competitive experience.
He’s the rider’s instructor and the instructor’s instructor. You can’t help but learn new teaching technique when you listen to his lessons. He’s inspiring, encouraging and realistic. Listening to him, you could knew he’d been to the top but you also knew that he understood the place each of his students was in.
He started the day with a lecture that lasted about an hour. The lecture outlined his theory for the lessons he’d planned for the day. Jim teaches that the rider should always have a vertical stirrup leather. This is different than a leather that is perpendicular to the ground because that only works for the rider when the ground is level. A vertical leather means that the rider always has support in the leg and foot, the foot, he says, is the rider’s ground. Jim had a white board and a marker and showed us this theory in detail.
Jim also believes that we can’t micro manage every foot fall f the horse. He says that the horse needs to be allowed to make mistakes in order to learn how to handle problems when they arise. He told us that Jack Le Goff said that a rider can know too much for the horse. In other words, the rider that knows too much is in danger of doing too much for the horse and not allowing it to make mistakes.
I want to be clear….Jim does not teach “natural horsemanship”. But for me, he’s living proof that “natural horsemanship” is natural to someone who is a horseman through and through. He teaches that training is not about what the rider knows, but it’s about what the horse perceives, understands or thinks it can do. I’d say that’s about as close to seeing things from the horse’s point of view as you can get. And “from the horse’s point of view” is a major principal in “natural horsemanship”.