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Karen O’Connor Clinic: Auditor vs. Rider

What better way to recap a clinic with Karen O’Connor than getting a recap from both an auditor and a rider.

Day 1: Dressage


Karen O’Connor’s in the house—I mean the arena and she’s setting the bar—wait

who am I kidding she is the bar. Now she’s chatting with each horse and rider

pair, asking about their trouble spots, adjusting a cheek piece here, suggesting a

different bit there, and they’re calmly talking to her. And they’re are off around the

arena, striving for a steady tempo, following the horse’s motions with their arms—

soft elbows, elastic arms. Then before I know it, the session is over and they’ve

accomplished more in forty minutes than they’ll probably accomplish in next six



Oh my god, were we supposed to be braided?!! Why is that little girl braided?! Oh thank god, she is not part of the clinic. I don’t think she is anyway. Is she? Is it a sign of disrespect if I don’t take the tail bag off my horse? Seriously, this is the ONE time, my grey horse rolls?I Oh my god, it’s Karen O’Connor. That’s her. I can see her piercing eyes from here. I hope they are running on time. I don’t want to be late. Stop pacing. I have to stop pacing. I have 2 hours before my ride. Where is the other girl I am riding with?

Still no sign of the other girl I am riding with. Should I be nervous? Did they move locations? No, that’s Karen in the arena, but where is the other girl? Am I even registered in this clinic?

Ok, well, I’m getting on. My horse is starting to show off her piaffe skills while I am attemping to mount. This is going to be a long morning. At least there is another girl in my dressage lesson.

There is no one else in my lesson? I’m having a private lesson with Karen?

I suddenly feel nauseous.

What is my name? Good question. I’m looking frantically around the arena at faces smiling at me. All sounds are muffled by the deafening roar increasing in my ears. My mouth is moving, but I have no control over the words coming out, much less comprehension of technical questions. Somehow I must be answering in a coherent fashion, though how absolutely alludes me. I feel as if I am watching myself on TV and am not actively participating in this lesson.

Canter? Do you have a sedative? No, for me. The horse is always like this.

That is all I remember before the darkness set it.

Day 2: Stadium Jumping


Circle of death with just one jump on a fifteen meter circle—amazing what that

can do for yielding your horse’s shoulder. Straight lines, bending lines, and turns.

Regulate your tempo, count your strides and execute your point of turn to get your

line of direction. Karen packs it all into a coursework session that sharpens each

pairs’ stadium jumping skills. It’s amazing how much she pulls out of each and every



Even though I’m convinced I blacked-out mid dressage lesson, it appears I made it through unscathed and possibly showed improvement. I have no reason to believe this, as I don’t remember the second half of the ride. Regardless, I have survived Day 1 of the Karen O’Connor clinic. I think.

Now the real terror sets in. My hands are shaking with mild tremors so I shove them further into my pockets, so as to not alert the EMTs that I might at any point have a seizure.

I keep telling myself that I am here to get help. She is here to help me.

My horse is a runaway.

I will be sitting on a freight train with no brakes.

Dear God, I swear I have jumped before. No, this is not my horse’s first time in an arena. Is that smoke coming out of her nose in the stall? I’m pretty sure I smell fire. I think it’s coming from my mare’s eyes.

How many feet apart are those fences? It doesn’t matter, we are going to be going to fast to count. What are strides? I blink and stand in the middle of the lesson before, in wonderment of their horses’ maneuverability. They can halt. I’m in trouble.

Day 3: Cross Country


The phase that everyone who calls themselves a three day eventer lives for.

From refining your gallop position to setting your pace, from tackling up and down banks

to the ever terrifying trakehner, there’s no better way to hone your skills than at

the mercy of five time Olympian Karen O’Connor. She doesn’t back down from the

challenge of getting every horse and rider through each obstacle and oddly enough

neither do the horse and riders. It’s a combination of go-for-it students andtake- no-prisoners clinician that leaves everyone feeling like there’s nothing on the cross

country cross that they can’t handle by the time the session has ended.


Galloping can only help me at this point. I’m trying to ignore the fact that my mare reared immediately in warm up. I keep checking my airvest. I might need that. Medical Arm Band? Definitely. Check.

My eyes start to focus again and my breathing starts to dip slightly below hyperventilating.

We are here for the cross country.

Deep breathe again.

Here we gooooooooo…. click, click, click. It all falls into place.

Auditor and Rider: We will see you next time!

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