Tuesday 19 March 2019

February Clinic with Elaine

I had another two lessons with Elaine on the last weekend of February.

Since the last clinic in January I have really been working on using my upper legs in my half halt and down transitions, and also using my inside rein more to supple Kachina. Both of those things have been going well.

This time around we added a few new things to work on.

First, we worked on improving Kachina's roundness and uphill balance by keeping the reins very steady and letting Kachina find the softness in the contact herself. When it worked I could feel Kachina slow down and become more deliberate with her steps. Elaine assured me that Kachina was lifting her withers at these moments and loved what it did to her walk and trot. I felt the deliberateness more than the lift so I will have to keep training my feel.

Next, I requested that Elaine help me with my upper body position. I have been pleased with the improvement in my hand and leg positions over the last couple years but my upper body still tilts forward despite years of work. Every time I think it's where it's supposed to be, video or photos prove me wrong.

First, we worked on it while posting because that's where I can feel myself that I get thrown out of whack. Elaine had me think about pushing the top of my head up into a shelf above me. That's such a simple visual but it's exactly what I needed! Somehow being told to "straighten up", "shoulders back" or "think tall" would tend to make me arch my back too much, but thinking of "pushing" into something above me had me think "up" + "strong" and that seemed to be the trick to having me keep my upper body straighter while still keeping my core engaged properly. This also tied into me holding the reins more still and letting Kachina find the release herself. As an overcorrection from my previous pulling, I now try to release too much to Kachina and I do so by compromising my own arm and upper body position. I can keep my position much better if I focus on keeping my elbows by my sides. It did feel at times like I was too stiff in the contact but Elaine said it only feels stiff in relation to what I was doing before, I still naturally have some elasticity in my arms and that's all I need so that's the feel I need to look for right now.

The other part of posting that we focused on was resisting the movement a bit by slowing my posting. Elaine had me think of tightening a screw to stiffen my hip joint and that was another good visual for me. Doing that had an immediate effect on Kachina and her trot slowed. We even did some work of posting into walk, where I kept slowing my posting down until we were walking.

Next we worked on sitting trot. I know where my upper body should be in the walk so I assumed that my upper body was correct if I recreated that feeling at the sitting trot. Wrong! Elaine had me lean back, lean back, and lean back some more before she let me know that I was straight. It honestly felt like I was leaning back in a beach lounger. Correct at the trot feels MUCH farther back than correct at the walk. I don't know why this is but that doesn't really matter. What matters is that I know the feeling I am looking for now. Having my upper body in the correct place made my legs swing forward a bit and I lost some of the pressure in my stirrups but that's okay for now. Once my upper body position feels more natural I can go back to fixing my leg. Part of the reason I can't get both correct right now is likely due to my tight hip flexors so I need to work on those. I haven't done a lot of sitting trot lately but my seat still knows how to absorb and go with the motion so it didn't feel too bad.

During the lesson, there was quite a bit of time where I was 100% focused on my position and didn't have any brain power to use on what Kachina was doing. That meant we lost the bend a few times etc. but for the most part Kachina went around very nicely even while I wasn't actively riding. I guess this is what is meant by "baseline gaits" and it seems like ours are improving.

All of these things were covered in the first lesson. The second lesson didn't add a whole lot but helped me both clarify some of these concepts in my mind and also helped me to cement the new position feelings into my body so I could recreate it on my own. We didn't even canter that weekend (which I was a bit disappointed about) but it was still very valuable.

At the end of my second lesson I took a few minutes to ask a question I have been wanting to ask for a while. I started by saying that it was a great weekend and I really appreciated working on these basics. I know that basics are so important but ultimately I do also want to show and compete. I asked Elaine what level she saw me showing in 2019. I was careful to not lead the question by including my hopes, I wanted an honest answer even if it wasn't what I wanted to hear. Secretly I feared that Elaine would tell me that we were finally ready to show Training Level, after all our lessons include a lot of 20m circles. I was pleasantly surprised when she said that we had come a long way since she first saw us; she could see us at First Level now and that Second Level wouldn't be too far away. I think that may of been a slightly optimistic response but I will take it and work to make it a reality!


  1. working on my posting mechanic and speed is my main objective right now. How exciting that she believes in you and your ability!

  2. Great to have lessons from someone who sees the potential in you and your horse!