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Jaeckle Centre Presents Ralph Hill


Article & photos by LaCresha Kolba

Eager riders warmed up their horses as a man with a cane made his way to the Jaeckle Centre arena.  With a calm enthusiasm he informed the riders they should just walk the course, since he would be taking them through the warm up.  The man with a plan was Ralph Hill, here in Thompson Station, TN to conduct a weekend riding clinic April 11 and 12. 

Ralph Hill is a legend in the eventing world – a CCI 4 star eventing veteran. He is the only rider to have ridden at least one horse in every Rolex Kentucky 3-Day Event from competition’s inception in 1978 through 2006, until a devastating cross country fall at the spring 2007 Poplar Place Horse Trials put his riding on hold.  He is also a winner of a Puissance jumping class, jumping seven feet, and a winning timber race jockey.  This calm natured, friendly spirited gentleman is quick to give you a smile. If you are fortunate enough to be one of his students, he is quick with praise and even quicker with suggestions for corrections.  Hill doesn’t just tell you what to do; he helps you understand the “why” behind what you are doing. 

“Ride bad horses along with the good horses,” he advised. “We have an arena of really good horses today. When I was growing up we couldn’t afford good horses, so my dad would have me ride the bad horses, get them to their potential, and make them perform better.  But – he always had one good horse, and when I rode it, it helped me realize what I was supposed to feel when I rode.”  Ralph explained what the riders should feel on their horses, particularly hoof placement and movement.  He spoke of the importance of the rider’s seat and the horse’s cadence to maximize one’s performance with the horse.  “Pay attention to his stride; where is that right hind leg?  What about the front left leg? Feel for that movement and adjust your seat and your timing, and you will gain better performance from your horse.  Set him up, take your time, and get your rhythm.  Make sure the horse is out in front of your leg.  Horses are smart, and if prepared correctly, they will figure it out.”

To one of the students whose horse was lagging over the jumps, the other riders could hear Ralph exclaim, “Give him the gas! Forget you have knees and push with your calves!” As the exercises were repeated, he reminded the rider, “Again!” This time he got up from the chair and walked to stand next to the jump. As the student approached the jump again, he told her to squeeze with her calves, and her horse eloquently flew over the jump.  “There ya go!  How did that feel?” he asked her. She turned, and with a big smile on her face, replied, “Good!”

Along with his natural talent, it is having understanding and the patience to slow down that have taken Hill to the top numerous times.  “People live in fast food,” he said; “they don’t want to slow down, so they rush everything. They don’t use their courtesy circle; they hear they have 45 seconds and rush to start their pattern.  Forty five seconds is a long time! You should take that time to run your courtesy circle and then enter the arena.” 

Hill emphasized preparation – preparing yourself as a rider and setting up the horse so you both can succeed.  “If your pattern starts with an oxer, then the last jump you do in practice before going into the arena should be an oxer.  It will be fresh on your horse’s mind, and you can help prepare him to take that jump and succeed.” 

He reminded riders that each day is different: “Horses, like people, have bad days, too.” Hill hopes that if there is only one thing that his students take away from his clinics, it is to learn and understand your horse. “Maybe today you need to go out for a hack, or today we are running long and low.  Find out what your horse is telling you and then listen.  Put your horse first and the rest will follow.”

It is immediately apparent that Hill doesn’t run a typical clinic. There are no large crowds, no frills, and just a few horses and riders.  “My clinics are different from other clinicians out there. You won’t ever see 30 students in any of my clinics. I have a maximum number of 16 students and I break that down into groups of four.  This allows me to give sufficient time to everyone and allow everyone to be able to take the time they need to prepare for success.  It also allows me to thoroughly go through a warm up, and give each rider multiple opportunities to take jumps over, and over again if necessary.” 

What is the key to a Ralph Hill warm up? Always make sure the horse is ready on the flat before asking the horse to go to a jump.  “Warm up on the flat, then take the jump; walk, trot, canter, then take the jump. See who showed up to the dance, and adjust accordingly.  Pay attention to the cadence from walk to trot to canter.  By understanding where your horses feet are, you are able to get a stronger performance, to set your horse up to succeed and, in turn, build the confidence of both the horse and the rider”.

Hill’s clinics focus on helping riders feel the horse so they can know what they have to do, and he explains things from the horse’s point of view. “God has given me the talent to have the horse’s eye tell me what they want at that moment,” Hill said. The weekend following this clinic Hill would be coaching riders at River Glen Horse Trials and then travel to Kentucky for the Rolex Three-Day Event.

For more information on Ralph Hill and his clinics, check out his website: Read about Hill’s recovery and come back from his near fatal accident at:

For information on Jaeckle Centre and the various services and clinics they offer, visit their website:

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