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There are some authors who inspire us, even out of the saddle. Jen Marsden Hamilton is one of those. She always seems to reach out just when we at TSB need a shot in the arm and encouragement to keep on, keeping on. We connected with Jen recently to talk about her book STRIDE CONTROL, what’s it’s like to own a field of sunflowers, and what Mark Twain has to teach all of us.

TSB: Your book STRIDE CONTROL provides exercises and advice for practicing striding at home so you can perform your best. Why is stride control integral to jumping success, both in the ring and cross-country?

JMH: The average hunter course is about 100 strides and 8 jumps. Jumper courses, depending on the size of the arena, could be 150+ strides and up to maybe 16 jumps. The cross-country count can be 12 to over 30 over several miles, with lots of jumps and combinations.  

Obviously, on a course the rider/horse spend more time on the ground than in the air. Best to spend that time wisely.

The ability to control the horse’s stride to a jump and within lines enables the horse to do his job—jump!

TSB: In your book, you describe yourself as a “watcher” who copied her heroes when you first rode and competed in the fifties. What is the benefit of being a “watcher”? Should young riders learn in this way today?

JMH: In the old days, riding lessons taught a very basic position, how to post to the trot, and how to canter. Basically how to “go” and “whoa” and not fall off.

One of the best ways to learn is to watch the best of the time. Your choice is to do that or remain stagnant.

Of course I think young riders should watch the best. Watching the best inspires! But one must never forget the progression of skill development to greatness.

TSB: You use the word “strategy” in your book to describe the plan you provide for each of your exercises. How does one devise a strategy for developing new skills and practicing new exercises without the benefit of a coach and when working on one’s own?

JMH: Read STRIDE CONTROL! Anyone can have a plan: Find exercises to take you toward your goals and follow the strategies to promote learning. Over time, your exercise strategies can be fine-tuned to your personal needs.

TSB: One of your catch phrases is “Be a star!” When did you first start saying this to your students and what does it mean to you?

JMH: I can’t remember when “Be a star” became my thing, but it has lasted over time and is so meaningful to so many in different ways. 

Rapport allows for personal interpretation and positive affirmations. 

Jen flaunting her catch phrase.

TSB: What is one lesson you hope readers will take away from your book?

JMH: Teacher-directed lessons are great and at times essential when introducing new skills, but nothing replaces personal practice time to develop your feel and how to read a situation.

When the in-gate closes, you’re on your own. Internalized skills need to kick in. Take responsibility for the ride.

The exercises in STRIDE CONTROL promote self-directed positive learning in a non-threatening situation. It’s more than okay to self-train over valid exercises that promote correct and safe learning.

Jen using the sand to clarify a lesson.

TSB: You are based in beautiful part of Nova Scotia and have your own field of sunflowers that blooms in the summer. Why sunflowers? And how did that field come to be?

JMH: My husband Brian is a fixer not a “throw-it-outer.” During the COVID lockdown, he refurbished a 100-year-old seed spreader.

Lots of land + working seeder + 2 bags of sunflower seed = a lovely field of yellow.

Being on the top of a hill the yellow could be seen from a distance. People enjoyed our field and many came for a big handful.

Husband Brian and his antique seed-spreader above…and the heavenly result below.

TSB: If you were trapped on a desert island with a horse and a book, what breed of horse would it be and which book would you choose?

JMH: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett:  My favorite book, and it’d take a long time to read.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White:  The story of true friendship.

Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne:  I could entertain myself and talk to myself, reciting the lovely stories and rhymes.

No horse. I’m taking a cat!

TSB: If you could do one thing on horseback that you haven’t yet done, what would it be?

JMH: Go swimming bareback in the ocean.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a friend?

JMH: Truthfulness to help me maintain personal balance and someone to laugh and cry with. A tall friend to reach the top shelf is also useful.

TSB: What is the quality you most like in a horse?

JMH: I love honest horses. Horses who try their best based on ability. The horse that would be the McDonald’s “Employee of the Month.”

TSB: What is your greatest fear?

JMH: The loss of hope.

TSB: What is your greatest extravagance?

JMH: I have a retro 2002 Inspiration-Yellow Thunderbird. Whenever I’m at a stoplight next to some young pups and they look over and think, “What a waste!” I gun it and leave ‘em in my dust!

Jen, going topless!

TSB: If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

JMH: Since I can remember, I’ve asked for both my birthday and Christmas to wake up TALL and THIN. I’ve always been disappointed! I’ve learned to embrace/accept terms like RUGGED and STURDY, but really it is body shaming.

TSB: What’s in your refrigerator at all times?

JMH: Milk, peanut butter, and red jam.

TSB: What is your idea of perfect happiness?

JMH: I think the lyrics of “Happiness—You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown” sums up happiness beautifully. If you don’t know the song, have a listen, then sing along, and enjoy. It will bring back memories and help you enjoy the present.

Really, it’s all about smiles and laughter. Smiles of greeting, love, safety, and personal and shared accomplishments.  Laughter related to joy and memories, and just shared laughter with family and friends.

I can’t wait to have our whole family back together again! The smiles and laughter will be wonderful!

TSB: If you could have a conversation with one famous person, alive or dead, who would it be?

JMH: Mark Twain. He was the ultimate watcher and commentator on society. I love his quotes. In fact, I’m living by one of his quotes: “I have achieved my 70 years (74 now) in the usual way: by sticking strictly to a scheme of life which would kill anybody else.”

TSB: If you could go back to December 2019 and go one place anywhere in the world with as many or as few people as you would like, where would you go, who would you bring, and what would you do?

JMH: In December 2019, I was planning and booking a trip to Kenya for Brian and me, our daughter, her husband, and our three grandchildren. I have been lucky to teach in Kenya several times and make friends there. I wanted to take everyone on safari and meet our friends before the “grand-ones” were too old and grumpy.  

Hopefully, by the time the world opens our family will still want to travel with us and we won’t be too lame or jaded.

TSB: What is your motto?

JMH: Whatever you do, do it with total conviction and be a star!

Jen Marsden Hamilton’s book STRIDE CONTROL is available from the TSB online bookstore, where shipping in the US is FREE.

CLICK HERE for more information or to order.

Trafalgar Square Books, the leading publisher of equestrian books and videos, is a small business based on a farm in rural Vermont.

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