Rob Hoekstra clinic for the top 16 jumping coaches in South Africa

[dropcap style=”font-size: 70px; color: #052b51; font-family: ‘Droid Serif’, Arial, sans-serif;”] A [/dropcap] t the beginning of February 2013, the TOP 16 COACHES IN SOUTH AFRICA were selected to attend a “Coach the Coaches” course with British Showjumping’s Olympic Gold Medal winning Chef d’equipe – Rob Hoekstra. Nicola Sime is recognised as one of the top 16 showjumping coaches in the country and was invited to attend.

Rob Hoekstra is arguably one of the best showjumping coaches in the world. He took over the British showjumping team in February 2010 following their somewhat embarrassing exit from the Nations Cup Top League. Under Hoekstra’s keen eye the British team transformed and went on to clinch the team gold medal for showjumping in the 2012 Olympic Games. An impressive feat considering the last time the British showjumping team won a gold medal was more than 60 years prior – in 1952!

The Olympic Gold Medal winning team coached by Rob Hoekstra!

While spectators were welcome to attend the clinic hosted by this coaching great, only the 16 selected coaches were allowed to bring a “guinea pig” pupil. Hoekstra would then coach the trainer on how to coach the pupil.

Rob Hoekstra (middle) with the British team following a Nation’s Cup win. 

Nicola Sime took her pupil Samantha Wright, who shared her thoughts on the clinic:

“I was extremely lucky to be selected by Nicola to go along as her pupil on the Rob Hoekstra clinic. I have been competing at open level for less than a year. While Nicola has many pupils with far more experience and jumping bigger than me, she asked me to be her pupil on the clinic after I spent most of last year arriving at the yard at 6am every morning come rain or shine. Even in winter I’d be knocking on her door for keys to open up. She said she thought I would benefit greatly if I could attend the three day clinic on my horse, Beausejour.

For a rider at my level, being allowed three days access to a great such as Rob Hoekstra is a huge honour. He lifted the British showjumping team back to former glory and has vast experience coaching top level jumping in Europe.  When Nicola took over my coaching towards the end of 2011 I was rather horrendous. I knocked up cricket scores in 1.10 and tended to look like a howler monkey clutching on for dear life as my horse bashed around the course. I still have a very long way to go, however in less than two years Nicola has successfully got me to open level (1.30) and produced me to such a point that I could keep up in a coaching session with an international great. That alone is a phenomenal achievement for any riding instructor.

The clinic itself was a fantastic learning opportunity. I had three lessons with Rob and a few other riders over three days. Nicola would teach me and Rob would then make suggestions to her as to how to coach me. I was, by far, the least experienced rider on the clinic and so the first day was extremely nerve wrecking. Rob’s teaching style was very similar to Nicola’s which helped ease the butterflies in my tummy half way through the second day.

Sam being coached by Rob on the importance of her upper body position over the fences 

Many of Rob’s suggestions and advice were things Nicola had been telling me for months (though it does help hearing it from an Olympic Gold medallist – reassures you that your coach does know what she is doing!).

His training principles and programme is very simple and straight forward. It can (and should) be used whether someone is jumping 90cm or 1.50. The concepts remain the same. Which I think is extremely important. He said that many a time a coaching system works up until a certain height or only after a rider competes at a particular level. This does not work as the riding style then has to change.

I also think, in this case, it is important to have a coach that does or has jumped at the highest level and achieved. Nicola has won numerous accolades in the international classes and produced three of her own horses to the height. She also jumps 4 other horses in the open levels regularly. All the coaches on the clinic – who are the top 16 instructors in South Africa – also compete or have competed at international level and they also all have pupils achieving in the open heights. Whether you want to jump 1m or 1.30 I do think it is important to have a coach who is active in competition. This was clearly shown at the clinic by the coaches selected to attend.

Rob primarily focused on getting the horse to work underneath you and increasing the tempo. He simplified the showjumping round: soft hands and elbows, legs mean go, body means whoa and shoulders indicate the direction. It sounds far too basic but when your horse is working correctly underneath you it allows for a simpler showjumping round that can also be much quicker against the clock.

He illustrated the three positions of the rider, light seat and slightly forward around corners followed by the rider “standing” with a tall upper body before sitting two or three strides before the fence.

I saw a huge improvement in my body and my horse’s jump utilising this method. It is also common to see Nicola and other top South African showjumpers riding like this when jumping the Grand Prix classes.

I learnt far too much to put it all down on paper, but I think Nicola learnt far more. Rob constantly spoke to the coaches and shared his knowledge with them. It was interesting to come back to the yard and watch Nicola instruct other riders in Hoekstra’s methods. He advocates higher hands and it definitely wasn’t a favourite when Nicola began her “higher hands” campaign. But many of us (her pupils) can now feel a big difference in how our horses are working and responding!

For me, it was a riding experience I will never forget, but more importantly it was a reminder that a good coach, like any professional, constantly strives to gain more knowledge so as to better help their pupils.

Ensuring you have a good coach is a huge part of the formula for success in achieving your riding goals.

The top 16 showjumping coaches in South Africa that attended the Rob Hoekstra clinic were:

  • Nicola Sime
  • Gonda Betrix
  • Barry Taylor
  • Lorette Knowles Taylor
  • Dominey Alexander
  • Anne Marie Esslinger
  • Jonathan Clarke
  • Rogan Asken
  • Diane Botes
  • Roger Hessen
  • Bruce Dewar
  • Chad Cunningham
  • Grant Langley
  • Anthony Kay
  • Rainer Korber
  • Carl Bonzaaier