The prep clinic last weekend was a pretty good experience for the two of us. I'm not sure that I took home as much new riding ideas as I usually do from a good clinic, but I did learn a lot more about what's going to be expected of me at the C-3 rating, which is very useful.
We dragged along a non-horsey friend of mine who needed to get out of the house. I think he had a reasonably good time - I did warn him to bring a book, though!
Things started out a little tense. The problem is, I don't take her to shows that often, and she's almost never high-strung at our lessons...so I forget. I forget that when she's really actually tense (and not just a little distracted or unfocused, which is easy to deal with) I can't just put her to work and expect her to come out of it. She needs me to relax first. I learned this at Inavale: when schooling our dressage on Thursday, I couldn't get a decent step out of McKinna until I physically relaxed my hips and abs. It's not that I was nervous or anxious myself, not really; it's just that I tighten things up in response to her, and I forget to let go.
So, the first bit of the clinic was a little frustrating. Once the clinician essentially reminded me what I'd learned from Devin (that is: let go! Relax your hips! Relax your abs!), things got a little better. She wanted us to really follow with a relaxed seat and "feel" the rhythm of the next gait up (or down) with your seat before asking for a transition. This worked fairly well with McKinna. For the first while, we were just on a big circle doing lots of transitions. Unfortunately this is not the kind of work that settles McKinna down - it's just the kind of work that would have calmed my OTTB in the past, but once McKinna's got a modicum of relaxation, she needs to do some more complicated stuff because transitions just don't cut it.
Finally, after working on some exercises to open up my hips (all I can say about that: OW OW OW, and, I really need to start up with some yoga again), the clinician began working with the other rider and left me to my own devices. At last! I started trotting big figure-8s like we practiced in our last lesson, really focusing on using the inside bend to break up resistance in McKinna's neck and pushing her ribcage up and over with my inside leg. At first she wanted to really fall around the turns, schoolbus-style, not willing to change her bend smoothly and push into my new outside rein, but after a few repetitions she really blossomed into her normal, supple, gorgeous self.
Then we went back to the big circle and did some more transitions, way more lovely this time, throwing in a few figure-8s whenever things started to get shaky. It was beautiful! The clinician was very happy with how we were doing, and I explained that this is how she USUALLY is all the time, which is why it's so hard for me to deal with it when she freaks out. The clinician pointed out that this is exactly why I'm doing these prep clinics!
Then we did some canter work, which I was very pleased with. I had to work a little harder than usual to keep it from 4-beating, but as long as I concentrated on following with my hips and RELEASING the tension in my abs after I half-halted, it went pretty well. I got one really lovely transition to the right, too.
And that was about it. I came away with two big notes: if McKinna is actually nervous, shut up and relax yourself before expecting her to go to work; and, keep in mind the warm up that works for US is not the same as the one that works for everyone else, so we should stick to what works.
After a lunch break of delicious soup and sandwiches (this is why my dad is the best horse dad ever), it was time to head back into the ring for jumping. And man, were we solid. Just one of those times where you get on and as soon as you start trotting it just feels right - she was really forward but not quite over the edge of being too fast, I felt like I was just locked and loaded in the saddle, and we were really in sync. The feeling carried straight over into jumping.
We began by trotting a small X and halting. This clinician is pretty big on halting after fences, because it keeps your horse on your aids and prevents him from really getting on a roll and becoming harder and harder to control as you go. McKinna was ace at this, naturally. As long as I half-halt before the fence to let her know what's coming, she almost always comes to a really nice round halt.
Then we jumped a course. I was REALLY pleased with how it went. I basically just chilled out in my two-point, encouraged with leg where necessary to develop a bigger stride and sat up to half-halt where necessary to balance for the turns, and we got to every fence pretty much perfectly. They were around 2'6 to 3'. The only comment I got from the clinician was that I need to be able to adjust my position if necessary - the point being that I'd basically not deviated from a simple two-point, and at some time I might need to gallop forward or sit into the horse. She said it wasn't that I had needed to do that on course...just that I needed to be able to do so. It's good to know, but I also know that I AM capable of changing my position if I need to. It's just that most of the time I don't have to, with McKinna!
And, unfortunately, that was pretty much the extent of it with McKinna. That was the only course we jumped. I was hoping to get a lot more coursework in, as well as jump some stuff up to rating height (3'3), but it was not to be. One girl was having a lot of trouble with her horse, and the clinician spent a lot of time with her while another rider and I swapped horses to practice the switch ride. Her horse is this huge, slow-moving Warmblood. Huuuuuuuuge. I felt like I was posting in slow motion! He was very polite and easy to jump, though of course we had a few small errors in communication that were my fault, as this is really the first time I've done a switch ride over fences. His rider had him in a pelham, but took off the second rein for me since I'd never ridden in one before. So that's good to know - I need to practice riding with two sets of reins in case that happens at my rating.
McKinna was pretty quick with the other girl, not as relaxed as usual but still pretty good. She got one really nice simple change out of McKinna, barely a bump to trot and then the other canter lead, so I'll be trying that out next time we jump!
So, overall, it was a pretty good experience. I took away some good, solid things to work on: relaxing myself, practicing stressful situations, LOTS of switch riding (especially on horses very unlike McKinna). The next prep clinic is in January with a lady who I've heard really, really good things about.
In between then, lots of Pony Club lessons and lessons with Leslie. Things are coming along, slowly but surely.
I've got some video of our flatwork at the clinic and of me on the big WB. I'll get that up tomorrow.
On Falling Short
2 hours ago