***This is my interpretation of what went down during the clinic on Saturday. I may not remember everything correctly, but I am trying to capture the spirit of the clinic and not directly quoting the clinician at all. Anything that seems funny to you is my responsibility, not hers.***
My barn hosted a small, private clinic over the weekend. A trainer from Louisiana that one of the trainers at my barn has worked with frequently over the years came to conduct small groups in both flat work and over fences. I have known both that trainer and the clinician for many years and I jumped at an opportunity to ride with her. I could only ride with the clinician on Saturday, so I got some flat work and some over fences in the same session. Another treat–my session was a semi-private with my trainer! She rode another client’s horse, a nice warmblood hunter. I rarely get to see her ride, so that was completely awesome.
The clinician first observed our warm up, and after that we discussed my position at length and the effects of it on my horse’s way of going. Basically, I lean too far forward, which makes it hard for Eli to lift his shoulder, and power through the hind end, so it’s more like he’s pulling himself forward instead of pushing. To correct this, the clinician had some visuals that really got her points across, and Eli actually responded extremely well to the adjustments. I need to think about my shoulders being behind my stomach and hips. Not the same as just leaning back–more of a posture change from the forward half-seat and two point I am comfortable in. So I had to “lead” with my stomach and hips and SIT DOWN in the saddle. Admittedly, I had some reservations about this instruction at first because Eli is not so enjoyable about being SAT ON. The reservations were short-lived.
My posture change truly affected Eli’s way of going for the better. When I changed my posture, I could feel him lift his shoulder, use his back better, and step under himself, with much more power from the hind end propelling his movement. We still have a lot of practice in this position to get through before it becomes second nature for us but he responded so well. The clinician was not saying to ride in this position only, but to incorporate it into the flat work especially, although all three seats are still necessary in different situations. This really opened my eyes to just how adaptable Eli is, and how forgiving he is of my mistakes.
The clinician also focused on hand position–a rider must carry her hands, and we talked about how my long torso and arms requires a higher hand position to be effective. And for downward transitions, the key is lifting the hand (not a lot) to step down a gait while still going forward and definitely NO PULLING. Eli caught on to this fairly quickly, too. He exhibited some fussiness by shaking his head just a bit at first, but after a few more transitions he had it down.
The next step in the flat work session involved square turns. In an exercise where all three seats would come into play, the clinician set up poles that we had to turn through. I could see by how she set up the poles that this exercise would not be easy.
We first worked on the task at the trot, and then at the canter, turning left and then doing the mirror of the exercise to the right. The clinician emphasized OUTSIDE AIDS to accomplish this type of turn. A rider must support the horse around the turn by controlling the haunches, using the outside leg and seat bone to push the horse forward into the outside rein. The clinician also had us do this by at first picking up a forward trot in a half seat, and then half-halting before sitting the trot in a more collected gait through the turn.
I at first got caught trying to go right from forward posting trot to collected sitting trot with no actual preparation for a transition. Immediately, she suggested I change my body position first, and then ask for collection, finishing with a sitting trot. That helped to make Eli much more pliant in the turn, both at the trot and canter. We struggled primarily with the left-lead square turn, because of his weak right stifle. I did let the clinician know in advance about it, so she was really able to help us through the exercise and finally get it on that lead, too. It means more leg. No, more than that. MORE LEG NOW. Here’s video of going to the right at the canter:
We did some jumping, too, incorporating the square turns, the deeper seat and more upright body position, and Eli could use his hind end so much better when I rode like that. Like, whoa, my horse can turn. Now I don’t have an excuse. Eli, again, adapted quickly to this ride and tried so hard to listen and keep me in line. I made mistakes, and honestly I made a huge mistake at one vertical and damn near fell off. Eli came back down to a walk and lifted his neck so I could push myself back into the saddle. He didn’t bat an eye. I have not been giving him enough credit for how good he actually is. (I am a little sad I don’t have any of that on video.)
I was trying to ride in the right position, got to a perfectly acceptable distance, and flaked. Did not add leg when I should have. Eli did his best to jump anyway and I got popped right out of the tack onto his neck after getting left way behind. This was actually the good kind of bad mistake to make, because it made me realize exactly what I should have done instead.
Even better, we came right back to the same jumps, and he had no qualms about going right around, and I helped with leg more (Duh.). The clinician liked how game he was for everything, even after my blundering. I had a rail at the same vertical, because I pushed much too hard with my seat. The clinician said I needed to use all three seats, adjusting to how my horse is going, and supporting with leg is not the same as jamming him into the fence.
Again, rail 100% me. I wish I had been able to ride with her again on Sunday, too! I learned so much about my horse and how to really get him back on his hind end, making the turns so much easier for us. I think this may help us with lead changes, too. My trainer and I both hope to have this clinician back on a regular basis because we had so much fun riding with her.
She also noticed that my core strength is not what it was in my 20s. She had me keep my seat bones in the saddle and touch the tip of my nose to my horse’s neck (just while halted or walking). That opened my eyes. I invite you all to try that, because holy shit it’s hard. If I can build my core strength back up, I will be more able to use all three seats, switching between as needed, instead of struggling with my position two strides out from a fence.
I cannot wait until the next clinic with this trainer!