Monday, 10 July 2017

Bend and Supple - Clinic Review Part II

Part I here

Day Two

The clinic schedule moved around for day two and three so my group was now in the middle of the day. This had the disadvantage that it was very hot out, but had the advantage of being after a break so I could get in more of a warm-up.

All riding photos are from Day 1, so not our best work and not directly
relevant to the content of this post

The heat plus warmup plus second time in the new arena combined to make for a much more relaxed Kachina. I got some lovely work out of her before the lesson so I ended up parking her in the shade. We all spent a fair bit of time parked in the shade on day two while Robin worked with us one by one. Bend and suppleness were the theme of the day. We took turns getting lateral bend at walk and trot, then shoulder-in at walk and trot, and then bending at canter, all on a circle. Kachina did really well for all of the exercises. She was soft and steady in the contact and responding to my aids nicely. She did start tilting her head a few times though which Robin told me that I should take responsibility for because it means one of my reins is too tight. Even our canter was much nicer than day one. Some of the other horses and riders in my group were having a lot more trouble getting the bend and softness so Robin spent more time with them then me.

I was thrilled with how good Kachina was on day two. As well as being awesome under saddle, she also stood tied to the trailer like a champ. I felt it was a good lesson for confirming that we are on the right track, but again I didn't feel like I learned a whole lot.

Semi-conformation shot - I'm pretty happy with how Kachina is looking these days

Day Three

After a pretty soft day one and two, Robin really ramped it up for day three. We had over 90 minutes of lesson on this day and ran through a lot of different exercises. Many of them were well outside Kachina and my comfort zone, but we are ready for a bit of pressure and I think it was good to try some harder stuff. I also felt like Robin focused on me a bit more in this lesson so it balanced out with the extra time he had spent with the other riders on the first two days.

Here's everything we did with Robin's feedback:

Warm-up - walk and trot figures around the arena
Robin was very impressed with the quality of work Kachina was giving me and was happy with the decisions I was making.

Walk shoulder-in on a straight line
Good. This was actually solid.

Walk haunches-in on a straight line
I haven't actually done this with Kachina yet, though I was planning to introduce it soon. It only took to the end of the first line for Kachina to understand what I was asking and respond appropriately. Kachina went into it much more smoothly on just the second attempt. We didn't have quite enough bend or angle (three tracks instead of four), but Kachina stayed soft and we had the right idea. It was a new exercise for all of the other horses as well, and none of them could quite get it to work.

Walk half-pass
Say what? My dressage career has never gone above second level so I've never even attempted any kind of half pass before, and Kachina certainly hasn't either. I was a bit wary of the whole "clinician comes in and tells riders they can do higher level movements" phenomenon, but Robin's reasoning was a) sometimes horses/riders can actually more easily get the feel for haunches-in by thinking half-pass and b) even if it's not a good half-pass, it's not a bad idea to briefly introduce the idea of the aids to the horse earlier on (it doesn't mean you have to keep working on it). I felt that was a fair idea so we gave it a shot. Kachina and I certainly find haunches-in easier than half pass, and we struggled a bit to move over in the right direction while maintaining the bend. Kachina really tried for me though and we did get a few half-decent steps.

Walk leg-yield
After the half-pass exercise (which nobody did well), Robin stepped it down and went back to the simpler leg-yield. For the other riders he had them just move in one direction to start, but on our line Kachina moved over so willingly that he had us go right-left-right-left all on the same line. I think our straightness could have been better, but Kachina moved over willingly and stayed very soft through the changes of direction. It's been a while since I've done leg yield with her so I was very happy with her.

Trot leg-yield
Like walk, we were directed to do a full zigzag x2 of leg yield in trot. We almost ran out of room, but again Kachina moved over willingly and stayed soft in the changes of direction. For the first time through I used a direct inside rein to ask for the appropriate bend. This worked well, but Robin got me to do it again by instead moving both hands over together to change the bend (so a slight opening rein on one side and a slight indirect rein on the other). This change in the rein aids made for a much messier leg yield zigzag, so I stopped and asked him why he wanted the change. He explained that he thought Kachina was showing great suppleness and was almost ready to start working on half-pass and so I should start introducing that kind of rein aid so I could eventually use it for half-pass zigzags.

Lengthened trot
After all the lateral work, our horses were all getting a bit bunched up so he had us all go out on the rail to get our straightness and forward movement back. He had us do some lengthens on the long side. Kachina gave me a few nice lines of lengthen, but she also broke into canter a few times. Breaking is a new problem for us, but they were smooth transitions so I didn't get after her for it. Her head popped up a few times too, probably because we haven't worked on lengthens in a few months (again I was planning to reintroduce these myself soon). Despite the bobbles Robin commented about her trot quality and her strong potential for the extended work. I've always felt that Kachina will be naturally talented when it comes to lengthens/mediums/extensions and every trainer I work with seems to agree. We haven't done much of it yet but I look forward to the day when we're really ready for it.

Trot and canter on circle
After the lengthens we went back to working on a circle and taking turns. With the other riders he did more focus on the lateral work, but Kachina and I just did some basic trot and canter, just to the left though. I was pleased to have an opportunity to practice my canter as its far from confirmed and we're at the point where we just need to do more of it. Kachina did well, and I was better at pushing her forward when her canter started to get slightly lateral, this worked well.

Canter-Trot transitions on diagonal
Next, Robin singled me out to demonstrate an exercise of going across the diagonal doing three strides of right lead canter, then three strides of trot, then three strides of left lead canter, three strides of trot, etc. Kachina are still working on being able to get a single canter transition on a 20m circle so this exercise was way above our ability level. I wonder whether I should have explained that and asked for something simpler, but I decided to just go for it and give it a try. It wasn't pretty. The straight line and quick changes meant I couldn't set Kachina up well for the transitions so there was some running, head flinging and hollowing. I also wasn't caring enough about which lead we were going for which is on me. Robin seemed to expect that the first one was a fluke and that we should be good at this, so he had us repeat it a total of four times. On the last one, I actually got two nice (for us) canters on the leads I was aiming for, which still kind of shocks me. We ended it there, though I kept her cantering for a circle after the diagonal just enough to get Kachina to relax into the canter a little and for me to convince myself that I hadn't ruined the gait by asking for too many transitions. I think the haunches-in work earlier really had Kachina listening to my outside leg in a better way which was cool. I could tell that the exercise kind of fried her brain though and I felt bad for putting her in that situation.

Walk Pirouettes
We slowed it down again and all did some work on walk pirouettes. Robin wanted us to focus on having the bend in the direction of travel, but he wasn't being fussy about the hind legs crossing or swinging out behind. I kind of struggled with this because I wanted to learn the feeling of a correct walk pirouette but I wasn't given enough information to know what she was doing with her legs on any given attempt. Different attempts had quite different feels to them but I'm still not sure which one I should be aiming for. I don't want to wreck this movement so I don't think I'll do any work on it until I have a more focused lesson on it.

We ended the day with a bit of a chat while our horses chilled in the shade. Robin had positive things to say about each of us and our horses. He was the most positive about Kachina though. He said that on the first day he had doubts about whether Kachina had the temperament for dressage, but that the last two days had showed him that she does, especially with how I ride her, and that with her movement and talent gives her potential to go high in Canadian dressage (he went on a few tangents during the clinic about Canadian/North American riders and how we shouldn't try to emulate those "strong German men", just because they dominate the sport doesn't mean they do things the best way. I'm not sure whether there is some bitterness there, or whether he just wants to see Canadian dressage evolve on its own instead of trying to copy other countries). I have some skepticorn feelings about his praise, because clinicians don't make money and get repeat clients by telling them they suck, but it was still nice to hear.

Kachina was pretty happy to get back to the pasture after clinic rides

Final Thoughts

Overall I had mixed feelings about the clinic. On the plus side, it was good exposure for Kachina, we pushed ourselves and I'm really happy with how Kachina stepped up and responded. But on the minus side, I used two days of banked overtime hours and a few hundred dollars and I'm not sure if the amount of learning was worth the cost. I don't think Robin is a bad clinician, I think I'm just getting pickier about who I train with as I get more educated as a rider and learn what approaches work best for Kachina and I. On the other hand I don't want to close myself off to new methods and clinicians because you never know when something will click. All in all, I got to spend three summer days on my horse instead of at my desk and that's something to celebrate.


  1. wow you guys really covered a lot of ground on day 3!! i know what you mean about feeling conflicted about some clinician experiences. i've DEFINITELY felt that way before and it's kinda.... eh, not the best. hopefully tho you got enough out of it to chew on for a little while, even if it means you might think twice about riding with that clinician again...

    1. Day 3 was definitely more intense than the other two days put together! It's tough because I have so few clinicians I can ride with here, so it's hard to be picky.