On December 17 and 18, Jose Francisco Garcia came to Coves Darden Farm just east of Aiken to conduct a dressage clinic. Jose Francisco Garcia is from the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez de la Frontera Spain, where he is a "jinete professor especialista", the highest level of horse trainer. The Royal Andalusian School is world famous for its riding school, which specializes in the art of high school dressage.
Mr. Garcia, who has been working at the school for 26 years, has been responsible for the training of some famous Spanish horses. For instance, when the Spanish team won the silver medal in dressage at the 2004 Olympics in Spain, one of the horses, Oleaje, ridden by Ignacio Rambla, was an animal that he trained for eight years.
Miguel Coves and Dorothea Darden, who invited Mr. Garcia to their farm, both agreed that he was possibly the best rider they had ever seen.
"I have never seen anyone ride a horse like him," says Miguel. "When he gets on a horse, it changes completely. When I see him riding my horse, I want to buy it again!"
"He has a great eye for what a horse needs," adds Dorothea. "He seems to know exactly what to do at the exact right time. It's been fascinating to watch him. He can get so much out of a horse. When he gets on, the horse just transforms."
Riders in the clinic agreed with these sentiments. Although Mr. Garcia is certainly an upper level trainer, he had no problem working with lower level horses, even those that had never really schooled in dressage before. Nancy Bruen Smith brought Mattox, her 9-year-old Percheron-Thoroughbred field hunter.
"Before I came here, I asked myself, am I crazy doing this?" she says. "He is so wonderful, I felt embarrassed at my level to come and take a lesson. But I accomplished so much in just that one lesson, that I can work on what I learned for weeks."
Shirley Singelton, a dressage trainer from [JBG1]Madison, Ga., brought two horses. One was a Swedish Warmblood schooling at Second level. The other was an Azteca (half PRE and half Quarter horse) belonging to her daughter that had been having trouble with his flying changes. Shirley was impressed with Mr. Garcia's understanding of this horse.
"He is the first trainer who really 'got' him," she says, noting that there was a real difference in the way the horse rode at the end of the session.
On Friday afternoon, clinic participants watched while Mr. Garcia schooled Orlando IV, a PRE stallion owned by Coves Darden Farm. At the beginning of the session, spectators chatted amongst themselves. But as the horse and the man worked in the arena, a hush settled over the place. By the end, everyone watching was silent and spellbound.
Francisco says that he enjoys giving lesson to horses and rider of all levels and abilities.
"The level is not important. What is important is to be able to help the person improve his own horse. I think the people came away happy, and the horses came away changed.
"When I give a clinic in America, the people riding dressage tend to have a harder contact," he continues. "I like to convey the art of understanding the horse's feelings, to show people how to play with his balance. It is important that the horse does not suffer, that he goes forward, feels important and enjoys himself. To learn the art of equestrian tact. . . it is like unheard music."
Mr. Garcia will be back for future clinics at Coves Darden Farm. For more information, visit the website: www.covesdardenpre.com. To watch a video of Francisco Jose Garcia's ride on Orlando IV, go to the CovesDarden channel on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/CovesDarden.