Calm, Forward, Straight

Calm, Forward, Straight

Monday, November 8, 2010

Clinic notes: Day one and two

Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the horse through his glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their having taken form so far below ourselves. And therin we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. 

In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not bretheren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth. 
Henry Beston

We arrived safely on Friday afternoon. Got Val settled in, unpacked and it was time for dinner and a movie. Dinner was delish and the movie - Secretariat - not so much. I won't go into all the things that weren't satisfying - it's very much a Disney movie - enough said.

Saturday morning. Val and I are up first for our lesson. It was seriously cold and windy, blanketing overnight weather and a shock to the system.  We've been spoiled down at the beach - but no matter.
 Our warm-up was excellent and to the point. I handled the entire warm-up myself with little input from my trainer, validating the hard work we've been putting in for the last month or so.

After fifteen minutes of loose rein work and some simple figures we moved on to the trot. Val is slowly but surely reaching and using his back. I focused on allowing hands and driving with my legs - if he ain't reachin', you ain't drivin'! - plus re-balancing with some half halts. My trainer commented positively on the changes in my seat since our last visit (!) We only had a little stickiness, that she pointed out happened when the next student was bringing her horse into the arena. Chalk that up to distraction. I didn't make the connection at the time but she is right. All in all I couldn't have asked for a better start to our clinic.

Sunday morning. Colder and windier. Val didn't notice or care. He really seems to enjoy working, getting playful and sweet as we tacked up. I had more of a struggle with allowing hands, and even weight in my stirrups - sticky hips - in this session. Val responded in his usual way by challenging my leadership. Although I don't enjoy when this issue comes up, I got a lot of good ideas about how to keep it from happening (the goal) and dealing with it appropriately when it does while I'm on my own.

The answer is to break everything down to it's simplest components. If I'm having trouble with the turn on the forehand, make sure I'm getting a halt. If he's blowing through my aids (he was) then really get the halt, not the halt plus one step. I decided my course of action was do as many walk / halt transitions as necessary, gradually increasing the number of strides between the transitions, to get him focused back and listening to me and my aids. I am really happy to say that I worked this out myself, without constant feedback from my trainer.

She reminded me that not only must I allow and give with my hands, but I must also allow and give with my heart. This comment hurt a bit, but what she meant was that Val absolutely knows if I am not trusting in him. Horses know what is in your heart. And (as usual) she was right. I was holding back. As soon as I gave him 100%, he gave me 100%. After getting on the same page we did the most beautiful trot work we've ever done, long, low and relaxed. Smooth round circles. She also stressed that when we are struggling with something, I must be aware when to keep asking versus when Val has given me something - even just one step in the right direction - and therefore deserves to be rewarded. You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em! :)

Sunday afternoon. Time for a longing session. My trainer had computer work to catch up on so another of her students and I longed each other on the students' lovely 17 hand thoroughbred Howard. Very satisfying session. As instructive when you were the long-er as the long-ee. When on the ground I really aware of the way I used the longe whip affected Howard's stride length and smoothness. I had him reaching and using his back which I felt good about. When on board Howard, I was reminded of how far Val and I have to go - Howard uses his back. His trot almost threw me out of the saddle for the first few strides. A cadillac. I haven't ridden another horse besides Val for nearly a year. Getting longed is a great reference for whether you balance on the reins or not. I will say that I was better that I'd imagined I would be. Pleasantly surprised. My hips and upper arms are indeed sore this morning.

Unforeseen horse handling opportunities have popped up :) I had to catch a very wound up mare - who was running her legs off in the arena due to a gate left open. Another student was just chasing her around with a lead rope... not effective. I grabbed a bucket of grain and things calmed down immediately.

This morning two horses appeared on the property and had everyone riled up, running the fence lines.  My trainer took the truck to find the owners and the next door neighbor and I - armed with carrots, hay and lead ropes - rounded the strangers up.

Oh, and Val showed another side of himself this weekend - the escape artist. He got out of his makeshift paddock three times, and had a little middle of the night gelding party that got us all out of bed. We've finally got him somewhere that will contain him. All's well that ends well.

I have some pictures but no cable to upload - so I'll post later. Off to a tack shop (!) to look at bareback pads.


  1. It sounds like you're having a great clinic. I'm also working on the following hands with Dusty, she's so hard to maintain contact with as she has quite the bobbing head when she walks. You'd have to see it to believe it. Anyway, I'm impressed with all you are doing and longeing on another horse is such a great exercise. Hope the rest of your stay is as much fun as the last few days.

  2. Oh, I can't help but feel a bit of envy. It's not so much the clinic that I envy, but your ability to recognize the progress you make when you make it. You're very tuned in to your horse (and that includes with your heart.) Thanks for reporting.

  3. Oh, absolutely excellent! You know when you've improved, but it's always nice to have an outside "professional" party give you that nod of approval.

    Enjoy the rest of your clinic! Sounds like it's going very, very well so far.

  4. I'm massively excited for you!
    Such good reports, and Val..he is awesome!


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