Killin’ it in the Chiacchia Clinic

Darren Chiacchia clinic
JJ brought his little briefcase and showed up ready to WORK for our lesson with Olympian Darren Chiacchia! (PC: Libby Sams)

Now that JJ and I are back up and running, we’re having fun fine-tuning things and getting back into our pre-accident rhythm. When my trainer, Miriam Offermanns of Milym Equestrian, announced that she would be hosting Olympian Darren Chiacchia for lessons/mini-clinics at our barn, I decided to schedule a ride with my lesson buddy, Mary Campbell of Mare Modern Goods.

After our last Novice 3-phase event, JJ popped a splint and got to enjoy a little more unexpected rest. He recovered quickly, and we got back into work on the flat only.

Two months later, it was time to start jumping (small) things again – and JJ could not have been more excited about it. I had a lesson this past Saturday, and it was like riding a barrel horse with some jumps in the way. He was just so incredibly happy to be doing what he loves again, and I was so incredibly happy to have survived. ;)

Knowing our clinic with Darren was scheduled to be centered around XC, I figured it would be wise to do one more little jump school with JJ before the “big day” to get the remaining “woohoo!” out of his system. So, on Tuesday, that’s what we did – and I had a much more rideable horse, although JJ was still definitely a bit more energetic than usual.

The next day, Wednesday, as I was grooming and tacking, I was wondering which of JJ’s many personalities would come through today – Would he be the overly-excited jumping machine? Would he be the I’m-so-over-it lazy lump? Would he be an agreeable, happy hunter? Well, I was pleasantly surprised to find out he was none of the above…

We started out flatting in the indoor arena since the storms had rolled in the night before and it was still iffy outside. We did a quick warm-up and immediately got down to business – and JJ made me beyond happy by showing up with his little horsey briefcase, completely ready to go to work! He was absolutely lovely, super soft and supple, and nicer than I have felt in ages. At one point, I trotted by Miriam and whispered to her “who is this horse?!” He tried his heart out, and I couldn’t stop smiling because I was just so incredibly proud of my little guy.

We worked a lot on a circle, at the trot and at the canter, and then did a bunch of shoulder in. Eventually, the clouds broke and the drizzle stopped and we moved out into the jump arena to finish things up. Unfortunately, there would be no jumping in the field due to the rain.

Darren had me and Mary working over a single low vertical in a somewhat teardrop-figure-eight pattern, counting strides, finding distances, and managing leads. Much to my surprise, JJ was simply wonderful and made the exercise a lot easier than I expected. My plan had worked; the jump school the day before helped him to settle down and focus.

There were several other riders around watching our lesson, and I talked with a few about the nerves that go along with riding for someone of such a high caliber. They mentioned feeling anxious and not wanting to screw up, and it made me realize – what’s the point of a lesson if you’re perfect? You’ll get way more out of it if there’s room for improvement and teaching moments. Fortunately, that’s something I had thought of before I swung a leg over JJ’s back, so I was able to just be in the moment and ride without stress.

Overall, it was a really cool opportunity to ride with Darren. He was very kind, very encouraging, and had a lot of really great insight for us. I hope to be able to lesson with other top-level riders in the future!


Don’t worry about impressing your clinician or being perfect, just ride your best and it’ll be what it’ll be. They can’t teach you and help you improve if you don’t make mistakes – you’re paying to learn, so enjoy the opportunity!