Friday, May 26, 2017

The Legends Series: Joe Fargis

Treating this like a proper blog and pretending people actually read it by giving it a very distinguished can throw up in your mouth a little if you want to, it's totally okay.

I used to live/work in the Middleburg, Virginia area many years ago.  I used to ride for a living.  Every day I used to drive by Stoneleigh Farm, the home of the legendary Joe Fargis.  But I never rode with him.  Never really took advantage of living in that area and all the horse knowledge that exists there.  So when I got orders to return to the D.C. area in 2014, I screamed with excitement because NOW I was going to get to ride with all these people.  I didn't know how, or when, or how to even schedule a lesson with some of these legends...but g'dammit, I was going to do it.

Fast forward three years.  I finally got my opportunity.  The farm owner and I traveled out to Upperville on Wednesday to take a lesson with Joe Fargis.  She had worked with him a couple times in the past, and was able to get a hold of him to schedule some dates for this summer.  I was thrilled at the chance! We packed up the horses in the super swanky new farm trailer (box stallllllls) and headed out to VA.  My boots were polished, my tack clean, I was ready to listen and learn...

We got there, I gawked at the beautiful indoor, we got the boys tacked up and down to the ring.  Soon was pretty okay about it, I openly admit I was internally freaking out, so he was feeding off that a little bit.


My most embarrassing moment was when I didn't halt and talk to Joe Fargis about my horse...I kept trotting around him while giving him the rundown on who we are...oops.  He politely informed me to to just stop and have a conversation, and I was mildly mortified, but had to keep going.  We were tense warming up, but that was mostly me.  Joe (like everyone else lately) wanted me to soften my hands.  We worked on slowing the tempo at the trot, being as soft as possible through the hand (even holding the crop loosely at the base of the handle to soften my grip), and relaxing.  The flat warm up was not our best, but thankfully that went relatively quickly and we got on to the jumping.  Thankfully, that's where we both seem to relax and settle in to our usual groove!

We started trotting back and forth over 1, which was a low vertical with 9' poles on either side.  Once we were all soft and quiet, we proceeded to trot over the second fence.  We pieced the course together 2-3 fences at a time before doing the full course.  Soon was very responsive - our new approach of me giving with the hand and just closing the leg to the jump is clicking great with him, as he's finding the base of the jump on his own versus me pulling to the quiet spot or having to dictate the distance.

The course was lots of turns in a relatively small space, I really had to keep the leg on to keep the energy, while making sure he stayed together and quiet enough for the short turns.  I was loving how light he was and how he was reacting to what Joe was having me do.  The first little course was lovely, the second course over the 3' height was slightly rougher, but we came around to the last few fences and repeated 5 & 6 on their own, and he rode beautifully to both of them, and we called it a day.

Nothing Joe said was complicated.  All the great horsemen have an incredible knack for sticking to the simplest concepts; the things that everyone else wants to make tricky, or over complicate, or add an extra 50 steps to.  He focused on softening my hand, staying on a straight line to/from the fence, and closing my leg to support the horse to the fence, and ride away "with purpose" on the landing side of the fence.  Simple.  And the results were absolutely lovely.  Yes, I clearly have something to focus on and improve right now, and it's nice to know that everyone is giving me consistent feedback and complimentary exercises to help me improve. 

Soon felt great, he was jumping well and was totally quiet and focused on his job once we got down to work.  He was also very tolerant of trotting 3' verticals - can't remember ever asking him to do that!  But he took it all in stride and performed beautifully.  Afterward, Joe encouraged us to take the horses for a hack up to the jump field (we didn't ride out there due to the rain the day before), because "that's where we'll be next time."  There's a NEXT TIME!!  We happily obliged - Joe seems to be pretty big on taking the horses out and relaxing after a workout.  We hacked down the drive, around the beautiful pond and up the long hill to the wide open jump field.  The most beautiful jump field!

All in all, this was a dream day.  An absolute dream day.  I rode with a longtime idol of mine, a real legend in the show jumping world.  A man whose riding I have admired since I was a kid.  And the best part: we're just getting started training with him!  The prospect of getting to work with him multiple times between now and whenever we leave makes me smile.  Like an idiot.

Also, after three years, I finally got to take Soon out to the Upperville area and ride in the beautiful fields I used to call home.  I have been dreaming of that simple gesture for such a long time.  And yes, we'll be back in two weeks for the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, just down the street from Joe's.  And after that, we'll go back to throwing any available days off and money at riding with people like Stephen, Joe, and Linda until our big clinic with George Morris in the fall.

I may have waited a little too long to take advantage, but I'm so grateful to still have the chance over the next year to keep riding with all these amazing people.  And have the most incredible, generous horse to do it with. 

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