Monday 25 February 2013

Clinic Recap

True story - I sat on my bum for 16 hours on a hard chair in the freezing cold this weekend and don't regret a minute of it :)

The clinician is a german dressage rider/trainer who moved to Canada in her 20's and got interested in reining. She also teaches yoga and fitness for riders, so she's pretty interesting. She's very personable and encouraging but has a sharp eye and an insistence on correct work and effective riding - no cheating allowed!

Mornings started with two friends of mine working on mostly on bettering their flying changes. It was a super interesting lesson because one horse is very athletic but wants to be way too forward and enthusiastic, charging off after each one. The other is the complete opposite - not so athletic and very lazy. One rider does jumpers, one dressage. Energetic horse wanted to swing her hind end and leave with her outside shoulder, making the circle bigger and faster, lazy horse predictably wanted to cheat by dropping his inside shoulder and cutting the corners. It was pretty cool to see the clinician break it back down and have them both working on the same exercises - starting from walk. Proper leg yields, then 4 strides shoulder in, 4 strides straight, 4 strides haunches in. Next up 15m circles, alternating with normal bend and counter bend, then transitions within the gait, walk, then trot, and finally canter. Then viola, nice changes. Well, not quite, but after a bit of effort both horses were doing nice work. It was neat to be reminded to slow it down and get it right at the walk first - the lesson today served well as a demo of how even a tiny bit of stiffness or disobedience at the walk comes through in the trot and canter and is magnified when you start asking for more complicated manoeuvres.

Next up were a couple of people starting very green western horses. So we got a bit of a groundwork recap, a ground driving demo, lots of one rein stops and then some neat exercises to use for your first few rides. Clinician had someone with a been there done that type horse basically shadow the green horse, keeping the green horse on the inside of the circle/arena. Kind of like pairs riding. It really seemed to give the young horses confidence and the nervous riders some peace of mind. She then did a bit of ground work while the owners were in the saddle - having the riders ask for the shoulders or haunches and her following it up with a flag from the ground if need be - this made the riders a bit anxious at times and pretty motivated to get it done before the clinician had to "help"!

Then came a couple of english riders just looking to better their skills. She assigned them a couple of patterns - walk a circle at A, then trot the diagonal K-M, then ask for canter between M and C, continuing down the long side and back to walk by K. Than start all over again the opposite direction! This was a neat exercise because it was 'easy' enough for the greener combo to do it and be challenged by making the proper transitions, and as soon as the more experienced combo had proper straightness and bend they were challenged with a bit of lengthening, counter bend and eventually counter canter.

Next up, some more advanced horses and riders interested in reining. Again, lots of work with proper bend and straightness. Some of the same exercises from the morning came into play, except using barrels and cones to mark changes rather than the dressage letters on the wall. For some reason I found that funny - exact same exercises, exact same execution, but different tack and of course the cones make it 'western' :) They did lots of work perfecting their turns on the haunches at a walk and eventually trot (what I was taught as riding squares in my dressage lessons), a key necessity if you want to do spins or work cows eventually, and also a bit of a help to start getting their horses more off the forehand.

The overriding theme for both days was correctness, taking things right back to the basics if need be. At one point with a couple of riders she explained "I can show you some tricks that might win you the blue ribbon at an open show. Or I can show you how to train and ride your horse correctly. The correct way will take longer and be hard work, but your horse will thank you and you'll both be happier for it. So many riders want the quick route, and that's fine - that's their choice. I just want more of you to consider the long term."

This weekend was also a friendly reminder that every horse and rider has challenges - there really is no easy way to get where you want to be, no matter what your gaol the answer is just a lot of time and patience and hard work. I was reminded I'm not alone in my struggles.

All in all, a great weekend with friends and a fabulous opportunity to pick up tips on the cheap!

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