Reflecting on the USDF Region 5 Clinic with Betsy Steiner & Kathy Connelly

2016-10-08-clinicI can’t believe it’s been nearly a month since the clinic. I have been meaning to write this for ages, but as you know life gets busy sometimes. I want to start off by saying this was one of the most exceptional clinic experiences I have ever had. This is for a WIDE variety of reasons, all of which I will touch on here.

We were dealing with some lameness concerns on Fritz leading up to the clinic and decided it best to pull him from the clinic and let him go on vacation for a little while to rehab rather than push him and potentially make whatever was going on, worse. Because I have one of the most supportive and amazing trainers (and friends) ever, Julie Burt, she offered me one of her horses to take. The horse she offered was her Welsh/Quarter Horse cross, Percy, and he has shown through I2. I was bummed I couldn’t ride Fritz but was really overwhelmed by the gesture so I took her up on it, and asked USDF if the horse switch was OK. USDF was kind enough to allow the switch. I had never ridden Percy before, so in the week leading up to the clinic squeezed in 3 rides on him.

Fast forward to day 1 of the clinic. I trailered Percy with the company of an amazing friend up to Reverie Farms. Got registered, all settled in, and watched a couple rides. Nerves were definitely settling in. My friend and I got Percy groomed, braided, tacked up, etc. I got ready and headed to the arena. I hopped on Percy and started walking around while the previous lesson was finishing up. It helped to see a ton of friendly faces there! Riding a horse you have only ridden 3 times in such a large clinic is just a *little* intimidating.

My first lesson was with Betsy Steiner. I introduced myself and Percy, and explained I had only ridden him 3 times. When asked, I explained that my main focus point riding him so far, was the connection. This is something I struggle with in general anyways, so thought it a great topic for us to focus on. Betsy had me carry the riding whip with both thumbs on top holding the whip horizontally between both hands. This really forces you to engage your core, and keep a more steady connection (and less fiddling). The difference it made in my riding and especially my connection with Percy really was quite amazing. It let Percy settle into the connection rather than me bouncing my hands around to find him, and it allowed me to push him forward into the contact. We did this for a little while through all the gaits and a few exercises. Once I got the understanding, we started working on more upper level movements. Betsy is a calm, uplifting, and amazing teacher. In all the exercises we worked through it was no pressure (for me OR Percy). I am a Prix St. George rider at most, and Betsy pushed me (calmly and confidently) into trying 2 tempis and 1 tempis. We even worked on passage. Percy was a hit and I had an absolute blast, I don’t think there could have been enough applause for Percy’s efforts!! I walked away from day 1 of the clinic feeling accomplished, ecstatic, and with a larger toolbox.

Onto day 2 of the clinic, I rode with Kathy Connelly. After hopping on and walking around, Kathy asked if I wanted to work with Percy on the long lines for a moment and I took advantage of it! Kathy worked the long lines and I walked beside Percy’s head while holding a lead rope to help if needed. Kathy worked on getting Percy over his back, into the reins solidly and going forward. After a short period of long-lining, I hopped on him. Kathy made sure to point out to the auditors that you don’t have to long-line for a long period of time to accomplish something. It was really interesting to see the groundwork come together, as I don’t have a ton of long-lining experience myself. As soon as I got on, I immediately noticed how lovely Percy went into the bridle. Kathy also gave me some other exercises to keep him on the bit using slight movements of the reins as well as using my legs and made sure I kept pushing him forward because that is the most important part of connection and dressage. We worked through the gaits and through some movements, including piaffe and passage all the while ensuring Percy stayed on the bit and I was as effective as possible in my riding. Kathy had different exercises and tools to accomplish the exact same thing I worked on with Betsy. Kathy commented on how lovely I rode Percy considering I had only ridden him a handful of times at this point. She is such a fantastic instructor and calmly helped me push through what I would consider things that are outside my comfort zone. After my second ride, I felt even more accomplished and like I can be a better partner to any horse I ride.

The way Betsy & Kathy worked together on both days was amazing to watch. They have different approaches and teaching styles but worked together flawlessly to accomplish a goal. And that goal was a more effective rider and more educated horse because of it. Even though the clinic was only 2 days, I walked away with a ton of tools for my tool-belt and a greater understanding of connection and dressage in general. As an amateur rider going into a large clinic situation, you never know how much pressure or expectations there are, and this was surprisingly easy. While it pushed me out of my comfort zone, I never felt over-faced or uncomfortable. One of the largest take-aways I had though, didn’t have anything to do with the riding or tools I learned. I have always tried to be an advocate for my horse in any situation, and Betsy and Kathy touched on that with one of the other riders. They loved how she was her horse’s advocate when she felt her horse needed a break from the exercise they were working on. And that it is absolutely OK (and even our job as the owner/rider) to speak up for our horse if they need a break or if we feel the horse is being pushed too much and the topic or question needs to be changed. That was really refreshing to hear coming from such well-known and well-respected trainers.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to have ridden in this clinic, to have watched so many other riders work on the partnership with their horse, and to spend 2 solid days learning more about my passion from the ground and in the saddle. And I just have to thank Percy’s mom, Julie Burt, again; for the opportunity to take advantage of this experience even though my horse could not go with me. Percy was such a willing and kind partner considering I was new to him, and we were in a new situation. This is definitely an experience I will never forget!

*All photos posted with permission of USDF.