Tuesday 23 October 2012

I know my riding is awesome... but be honest... does my butt look fat in these pants?

Oh come on... you aren't seriously going to another clinic, are you?  You have already bitched about clinics a few times!  Give up already.

No, no, you have misunderstood my feelings towards clinics entirely.  Really - I LOVE going to good clinics, operative word here being..GOOD.  The clinician must be someone who actually rides, and has proven that they can teach someone to do the same.  Riders should be an even split of amazing pros on horses that are breathtakingly wonderful, and puffing red faced amateurs exactly like me.  One group to inspire, one group to help you feel better about your pathetic inadequacies. Throw in at least one rider who says they are training level but shows up in a double because "I just seem to have more control with it", or has an ewe-necked, 900lb, 25 year old OTTB who is "schooling Grand Prix" just to add a few awkward sideward glance moments. Voila. Perfect clinic.

Believe it or not, I am in fact going to audit a clinic this weekend, or as Mr. Motard likes to call them, a "show'n'shine". Based on my description to him of what typically happens at a clinic, he interprets it as an event where people gussy up their horses and ride around showing off their tricks to onlookers (if all goes well), but don't actually compete per se.  Errr.. yah.  It is kind of a show'n'shine I suppose. 

(He even asked if he could attend this particular "show'n'shine" with me, for something to do.  When I told him he would have to sit on a lawnchair wrapped in the emergency blanket from the trunk of his car and drink cider from styrofoam cups, he quickly lost enthusiasm.  Thank God.  In reality, there were excellent lunches and delicious brownies and comfortable couches in a heated viewing lounge with piped in sound from the clinician's mike. This shall remain our little secret). 

Anyway, around this time in my journey, I audited a LOT of different clinics. I do think this was a really critical activity that did help me to keep my eye tuned in to riding that did not suck, and how one might go about recreating that in one's very own arena.  Although I did feel that things were progressing well with Coach Ritenau, she kept her upper level horse at a different barn, so I didn't get to see her ride him, and there were not any other mid to high level riders at Lilliput. Just me, and a few other solidly training level ladies, doing pleasant 20 metre circles.  I needed to keep my eye on what was supposed to happen NEXT...

Because getting Swiffer "supple and moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm, accepting contact with the bit" in a training level sense of the word was becoming quite easy.  It totally made sense to me now.

What was confusing was... how that possibly morphed into "accepting more weight on the hindquarters, moving with an uphill tendency, especially in the medium gaits, and being reliably on the bit" in a second level sense of the word.  And how the hell I would know exactly what a "greater degree of straightness, bending, suppleness, throughness, balance and selfcarriage" was, and when I had arrived at this point - "the beginning stages of collection".

To make things more confusing - as I mentioned before, when you go to the average show to observe, it seems like there was a whole chunk of people missing from the chain of events. You sort of get the "training level, first, yada-yada-yada, PSG" version of the story more often than not...  flat toplined "dum-de-dum-dum" low level people moving freely forward in a clear and steady rhythm around the outside in the warm-up with flexed, sweaty foamed, arched neck things snorting like steam trains while doing pirouettes and passage in the middle.  I found myself constantly wondering where the pupal stage was...

Enter A, X halt salute.

I reasoned to myself that maybe it was somewhere, out there, transforming .. possibly by attending clinics. 

In truth - the pupae aren't generally seen at clinics either. As in the insect world, whereas worms or caterpillar may be kind of cute or interesting, and butterflies or ladybugs or whatever are beautiful - the pupa stage is generally ugly.  No one gets excited about seeing a webby coocoon or crusty insect shell thing.  Likewise - one would not take their horse in the throes of the webby, crusty stage of training to a show'n'shine.

But what you did see at clinics were lots of people boldly driving their horses right up to the proverbial second level wall, and BANG - smashing into it.  Then kick-nag-kick-nag-kicking at them to try to somehow motor on through it and on to the butterfly stage.

I did get to hear plenty of different suggestions by the clinicians aimed at somehow getting the riders to understand that something much more dramatic was required to get their larval asses into a coocoon.  (Forget about getting out of it.  First things first). Which generally did not happen, and the clinician eventually backed off so as to save everyone face, encouraged rider to do a few transitions that didn't suck and whole show was generally over.

But now and then - you would go to a clinic with a clinician who really didn't care who the hell he or she pissed off.  Who told it like it was, even if it made people very upset, all for the right reasons.  And what they generally told these women was - make your horse go forward, and let go of its face when he does.

I started to feel good about the fact that I could SEE there was a problem - but more uncomfortable than ever about the fact that these riders just didn't seem to be able to get anything out of their horses that approached the power and suppleness that would be needed to change caterpillar into butterfly. I also was starting to feel more uneasy about the fact that such a large percentage of riders could not see or feel that what it is they were doing while riding was not taking them anywhere near where they had to be.  So many riders truly seemed confused when the clinician burst their "we are going to show third this summer" bubble.

And if you think I am being judgmental here, or catty - really, I am not.  Forget sitting the trot, or learning the footfalls or whatever other crap you may be worrying about now.  Just knowing when you suck - that is a skill that really takes time to develop.


  1. "it seems like there was a whole chunk of people missing from the chain of events"... so true!

    At some point I got disillusioned and assumed the missing link was $, and went home.

    1. Yep, I'm kind of at that stage right now- where I pretty much believe getting past the 2nd level wall requires more horses, lessons, and $$$$ than I will ever have.

  2. It is a troublesome area of showing. I honestly dont see a reason for competing through it if you are planning to go above because you should be working with the best steps(they may be few) praise and move on. Building on those good steps is how you get there so I have no clue why anyone wants to spread it out and show it because it really is the kind "in-between" place where a horse can settle if you let him or you push, grow, be generally unseemly long enough to really want to hide.

    I know I do.

  3. I can't see the shocking part of there being a large percent of people at lower levels and less at the higher. And if the higher level riders are professionals - no shocker there either. These professionals are making a living and limiting showing expenses during the 'pupal' stage makes sense to me.

    It seems to me that transitioning through the medium levels is pure grunt work - its strength training done correctly. Nothing more simple in theory but insanely difficult to achieve.

  4. I guess it's just me, but I've never found moving up the levels to be wicked hard. Find a horse who is capable of doing the work (this doesn't require tons of money), find a good trainer (probably the hardest step), and introduce your ass to the saddle.

    Around 3rd is where dressage really starts getting fun and things start to fall into place.

  5. I went to a clinic once where the instructor told a rider that if she wasn't okay with her horse producing forward motion, she should get a tennis racket. Best. Clinic. Ever.