This past Sunday (March 5, 2017) Fritz and I headed to our first clinic since his lameness issues arose last summer. We made the trek to Paragon Equestrian Center to clinic with Shelley Lawder. I was a bit nervous, being away from *home* the first time in quite a while with Fritz, and trailering up the morning of the clinic with not much time to acclimate to the arena before our ride (which often times leads to a tense/tight and spooky Fritz!). But he really made me proud! He handled the new arena and sights like a champ, and really gave his all for me.
Shelley took the time to read my bio before our ride, and asked what specific issues I would like to work on: canter lateral work and the straightness in tempi changes; which is exactly what we focused on!
As we started, Shelley made it a point (in my ride and other’s rides) to ensure relaxation above anything else, her focus was on relaxation and throughness. Which is something we struggle with and REALLY focus on, on a regular basis; so it was really nice that this was the base of all of her work.
The first exercise we worked on was trot/canter/trot transitions on a 20 meter circle. In this exercise we really focused on keeping a longer soft neck with relaxation and not rushing through anything or changing of the tempo. We also focused on keeping the bend, which we (I) are not completely consistent with and is something I need to keep my focus on for his suppleness and really improving our riding for the upper levels.
Second we did canter haunches in down the long side, volte in the corner and from centerline did a canter half-pass – in each direction. It became very apparent I was not asking for enough bend as he was giving me flying changes and you could visually see (especially after I watched the video) there was not enough bend for the movements.
This brought us to going down the long side with a volte at every letter, and keeping the bend even when we were going straight. This really helped emphasize that he CAN bend and keep going without stalling or over collecting as well as it gave me a great feel for what I need to see/feel from the saddle when schooling to help teach him he can bend. I didn’t understand how much bend was needed (to show him he CAN do it), and it is definitely more than I am used to asking for (but after seeing the video makes total sense)! But also keeping in mind when you ask for that bend as soon as he gives it you release the rein pressure so he gets a break from the *pressure*. Since we are doing such intensive schooling to teach him the bend, we then gave him a big reward afterwards, which we did in the form of a walk break. I am going to have to really focus on that to get him more supple in each direction and make the work easier for him when the bend is required while improving all the movements because of it.
Next up we worked on the flying changes. Shelley had me do single changes first so she could evaluate what they looked like. Our single changes were pretty straight and accurate, but what she noticed is that I over-position Fritz to the direction of the new change.
We then did a 4th level line of tempis (quarter line, center line, quarter line). Overall those were good and we moved onto 4 tempis. In the 4 tempis I need to really focus on making him through to my right rein and getting off that right shoulder so the changes stay straighter and more accurate. I also need to really emphasize my outside leg on the last change to keep him from swinging through the last change as we approach the wall. We moved to 3 tempis and again I need to keep him through on that right rein.
After that I was surprised to hear her say 2 tempis! I have not asked for 2 tempis on Fritz before; so this was a nerve wracking/exciting moment for me! We did two lines of 2 tempis before I walked briefly to tell Shelley I hadn’t worked on twos and her response was beyond perfect! “It doesn’t matter we’re going to do them now! Don’t worry about it he’s good, he’s ready.” She explained that if you can get your 2 tempis, then you will have a LOT of confidence in your 4’s and 3’s. Which does make complete sense! The last thought/comment on our tempi changes was not to let him drift into my right rein and that will help the straightness immensely (which was evident in all tempi counts). She also gave me the timing on the 2’s: 1 – ask, 2 – ask, 3 – ask, 4 – ask, etc. Which is really fast when you aren’t used to it!
Our final work was the trot lateral work for the PSG (shoulder-in down the long side, volte, half-pass to centerline). We started sitting but because he was stiff and bracey Shelley told me to make the compromise of posting the trot for schooling purposes until he becomes more solid and fluid in the bend work. I need to get more true bend and offer less angle to really get him bending accurately through a shoulder-in, I also need to be aware of my volte size; as I was focusing on the bend I wasn’t quite as accurate as I should have been on a few of the voltes, and for the half-pass I need to use more inside leg and keep more bend.
Then as we were about to stretch and finish the ride Shelley gave me one more exercise to try. It is used to help with the bend in the lateral work and keep him responsive to my leg and bend aids. It was shoulder-in down the centerline, to a few steps of half-pass, and back to shoulder-in. It really demonstrated to me (and Fritz) to keep the bend and stay off that inside leg in order to perform it accurately and effectively. And finally we did some stretchy trot to reward him for all of his efforts.
A few other key points I took away from this clinic are: not to drill a movement repetitively without a break in between, make sure the relaxation and tempo are there first and foremost, the preparation work for the canter half-passes and voltes is also the preparation work for the canter pirouettes for Fritz, and don’t feel like I must sit all or post all of an exercise but instead mix it up to make it fluid and easy
Shelley also made note to say “Well Done” and “Very Competent”. It is lovely hearing that from a new clinician you have never worked with before. It can be hard to find a clinician that pushes Adult Amateurs out of their comfort zone (to a place where they will still be successful) and still maintain a very positive, upbeat and friendly demeanor. Especially on their first time together. I can’t wait for Shelley’s next time to Colorado. I truly walked away with a lot of extra tools for my toolbelt and a better understanding of how to make the movements better and on how to be a better partner for Fritz.
FEI, here we come!