Jeff Cook Clinic at Spring Mill Farm

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Article & photos by Nancy Brannon

Former Grand Prix and “A” circuit show rider, and assistant to George Morris, Jeff Cook was at the Pellegrinis’ Spring Mill Farm in Eads, TN for a weekend clinic March 23-24. Seventeen riders participated in the group lessons, with a gallery of auditors watching, listening, and taking notes.

Jeff has been a professional rider and trainer since 1979, but he has ridden horses most of his life. He was fortunate to work for George Morris as his assistant on two occasions, five years each, where he honed his skills under the perfectionist hunter/jumper trainer. “I still miss working for him,” Jeff reminisced. Jeff has been a successful Grand Prix level show rider and an “A” circuit rider/trainer, with students winning at both national and international competitions.

Flying in from his home in Bend, Oregon, Jeff had time on the plane to lay out his course designs, making notes on the sides about particular exercises he could use. But these serve simply as guidelines to his clinics and may change according to the needs of the groups he is teaching. “You have to tune in to the group,” he explained. “I have a list of notes, but they may not be what the specific riders need. If I’m working with a group of riders that are more familiar to me, whom I’ve seen show, I can plan more for what they need. I see their weak spots and what they need to work on. We all have things we need to work on!” At the beginning of each session, Jeff checked for correct tack and adjustment. For example, he told riders about the serious problems they can encounter with particular kinds of spurs if they caught in the horse’s tail. As he watched these riders warm up, he noted specific aspects that each rider needed to work on, tailoring clinic time to meet their needs.

In his clinics there are some basic points that Jeff considers every time. “Position is very important for both safety and function. Balance and correct communication with the horse are primary.  For if a rider has position flaws, this creates a breakdown in communication between rider and horse. Overall, the riders I’ve seen here are very solid in their position.” Jeff emphasized that correct position enables greater safety for the rider and strengthens the rider in the ability to get the job done, while allowing the rider to be light in the aids. “Correct position is important for anything you do on the horse. If you lean, for example, you make the horse’s job more difficult – mentally and physically – and more stressful. You want to interfere with the horse’s performance as little as possible. It all boils down to correct riding.”
Second, correct application of the aids is crucial to communication with the horse. Jeff warns against overusing aids. “You want light, intermittent (for lack of a better word) aids,” he said. To help the horse learn to be more responsive, he creates exercises that may involve doing what the horse doesn’t expect. “Turning the horses the opposite direction from what they thought they would do gets them moving more responsively and attuned to the rider. So is you have a horse who wants to go to the barn, this exercise breaks the cycle of their being anxious to return to the barn.”

Third, self carriage is the ultimate goal to achieve. This comes with balance, correct communication and application of the aids, and correct training of the horse.

Turnout and presentation are important, too, not just for the show. “The riders here have looked good, with polished turnout,” he complimented.

Jeff usually rides five horses daily at Kilkenny Crest, Bend, Oregon. He has been off the showing circuit for the past seven years, devoting more time to giving clinics and to his family. Jeff and his family – his wife, twin 11-year-old daughters and 14-year-old son – live on a 20-acre farm near Kilkenny. He has a large pony and a Quarter Horse, but his children have not been as immersed in the riding world as he.

For more information about Kilkenny Crest, visit For more information about Spring Mill Farm, visit

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