Every year our barn hosts a clinic with professional trainer Mark Leone. I have audited the clinic for a few years now but due to various factors I was never able to ride in it. You have no idea how incredibly excited I was when my trainer said that I could participate this year!!! You also have no idea how nervous I was! It has been about month now since the clinic but I still wanted to record my experience so I can live it over and over. Lol.
The clinic is two days with a two hour session each day. Since I have show goals for the 2’6” division that is the group that I was put in. My group included some of my best friends which made the whole experience even greater.
Part of my nerves were the nerves of Winifred. Winifred is a phenomenal horse and I know that I can trust him over fences but he is not the calmest of horses. I had seen him at shows so I knew how he could be and that was with a little Perfect Prep in his system. I decided to be brave and not give him any calming supplement. I thought that this would be a good chance for me to see just how bad he could be and if I could handle him at a show.
We started our first session by gathering and giving a little background on ourselves and horses. Win could not bring himself to stand still so we just walked tiny circles as we informed Mark that while we planned on showing in the hunter division I knew the horse I had and therefore I was only looking to hopefully be competitive in the equitation ring. (FYI I was quite dizzy by the time we finished our pow wow.)
Once we were done talking it was time to impress Mark. Too bad I almost fell off in the FIRST 30 SECONDS!!! We had just picked up the trot (maybe 5 steps in to it) and someone in the clubhouse moved scaring the shit out of Win. He did his signature move of jumping down and sideways which had me hanging from his neck. My only saving grace was when he went to spin there was a jump in his way so in the 2 seconds that it took for him to realize this I was able to get back in the saddle and ahold of his mouth before he tried to bolt again. What can I say we know how to make an impression!
Winifred never fully calmed down like our normal rides. Not only did we have lots of people in the clubhouse moving around but Win was sure that the people sitting in the corner of the arena were going to jump up and attack him at any moment as well. If I have to pick a silver lining of this incident it would be that I never felt over looked by Mark who throughout the whole session repeatedly asked me if I was ok. Lol. This actually did lead a great compliment from Mark. He said that he kept asking me because I looked “cool as a cucumber” and told my trainer that I was the right rider for that horse. He even commented to the group that “when you have a nervous horse like the big guy you want to react like Rachel, in that she isn’t making a big fuss about it and just supports him in the areas she knows he is extra anxious.” All I could think was holy shit Mark just gave me an incredible compliment and holy shit am I a great actress because on the inside I was panicking!
The other silver lining in Winifred’s behavior is that I know that I can handle him when he gets like that. I have worried about how he is going to behave at shows and I have a bit more confidence that I can handle him.
We did some general flat work and then some really fun ground pole work. It was a simplistic exercise but SUPER valuable! He placed 3 poles and instead of just varying our canter strides through them (which is a valuable exercise too) we changed gaits. For example sometimes we trotted in, cantered the 2nd, and trotted out, other times we would canter in trot out over both, or canter in, trot the 2nd and 3rd, etc. Like I said simplistic but not something I have ever done before and since downward transitions is something that Win and I need to work on it was a great new exercise. Win does not like to come down to a nice trot from the canter and it was even worse when he thought that he knew we should be cantering. I love any exercise that changes the norm to keep him on his toes and thinking.
Now to the fun stuff…….. JUMPING! The first day to warm up we did a trot in gymnastic of X, one stride to another X. Simple right? My timing was totally thrown off though by the trot pole before the jump. I have not “used” one in years. Third time was the charm though.
Then we moved on to courses. Like the ground poles we worked on transitions at different times. Once he is moving Winifred does not like to slow down let alone come to the trot! We also had 2 lines set up, one of which was a 7 stride and the other was a 2 to a 4. Win’s MO is to grab the bit and drop strides but I had been able to get the right strides with him always…… until that day. We ended up doing a 6 down the 7 line and then a 2 to 3 instead of 2 to 4. Those videos are below. What I do not have are videos of us once I put my big girl panties on and took control of him. My BO later told me that when she saw the 2 to 4 line set up her first thought was Win will never get 4 strides in there so when I did it she was impressed and even more rewarding was Mark shouting “now you’re riding!” Wish I had that on video!
Win came out slightly less psycho but still on edge. We did similar flat so I will go straight to jumping. Man do I wish we always had our jumps set up like this!!!
The little pin wheel of jumps was great and gave us so many course options! The was also a line with a 4 stride to a 4 stride but depending on which way you jumped in it was either a long 4 to a short 4 or a short 4 to a long 4. I was so happy because we made the right strides each time. Oh and let me tell you about the straw bales jump!!! It was two straw bales stacked by two straw bales wide. On the flat Win thought it was going to eat him but he had no hesitation jumping it! (I know it is tiny for some of you out there but this was the a solid jump for me.) But it definitely was not all sunshine and rainbows! I got scolded for pulling out of a line and let me tell you I deserved it. The course started with the yellow oxer to the straw bales to the green oxer. The yellow oxer was fine but I got left behind over the straw bales and instead of going on to the green oxer I pulled him up and asked if I could do it again. Mark was upset and reminded me that things don’t always go perfect and there was nothing unsafe about me continuing on. He was of course right and I took my “tongue lashing”, really it’s not like he was yelling at me but knowing that the reason I pulled out was because I wanted a pretty picture going over that fence really made me feel like an ass. Funny thing is that no one was even videoing me at that moment. I also had a couple of times that I went off course at least one of them Mark liked my version and changed his course to that.
This was such a great confidence builder and I learned a lot of new exercises that Winifred and I can work on to better ourselves.
Things to work on
- Downward transitions
- Reduce anxiety (on both of our parts!)
- Being able to control and vary our stride lengths
- Keeping my heels down over bigger fences
- Not letting my leg slip back
- Releasing better over fences when Win in a run-away-with-me mood
- Staying up with him when he takes the long spot