Wednesday 23 June 2021

First Away Clinic - Day 1

 On Friday night I had packed up all my stuff so Saturday morning all I had to do was load Naia and go. I arranged for SJ to meet me at the barn to supervise me loading, to keep me calm more than anything. I could visibly feel my nerves in the morning so I focused on being slow and deliberate as I caught and groomed Naia, making sure that I didn't transmit my tension to her. We walked out to the trailer and were able to load up immediately with no issues. Since I had allowed plenty of time for loading, I was on the road with time to spare, which gave me time to stop a couple time enroute to check on Naia (a trailer camera is definitely on my wish list, give me suggestions if you have any!). The haul was thankfully uneventful and we were the first ones to arrive at the ranch, one hour before the clinic start time. 

My truck passed the 150,000km on the drive to the clinic, pretty good for a 2000 model!

In all my preparations for the clinic, there were a few things that I was not prepared for, and that was seeing the herd of sheep and the llamas as I drove up the long drive to the ranch headquarters! It's a ranch, so I knew there would be cattle, but Naia lives across the street from a herd of cattle and I'm pretty sure the ranch she was bred on had cattle as well so I wasn't concerned about cows. Sheep and llamas were a different story though. Luckily the llamas stayed out of sight for the rest of the day so we only had to contend with the sheep. 


Naia was pretty up and looky when I unloaded her from the trailer (but she did unload politely and didn't charge off the trailer). I tried to hand graze her a bit but she was too nervous to eat so I led her around while I closed the trailer doors, took her hay bag out of the tack room, etc. We also wandered over to the fence to look at the sheep from a safe distance. Eventually some of the resident horses that were turned out with the sheep approached the fence as well. Naia seemed to feel better having other horses around so I tied her to the trailer in sight of them and finished getting ready. Once a couple other people arrived I brought Naia into the outdoor arena (just in a halter as AM's clinics always start with ground work). As soon as I started working with her she started to relax. A couple people in our group were running a bit late so we had plenty of time to walk around and investigate the arena and obstacles in it (poles, logs, barrels, a chair, a flag, some pool noodles). By the time the group lesson started in earnest Naia was already in a relaxed and thinking frame of mind. 

On Saturday I was in a group of 5 people and 6 horses (1 lady brought 2 of her horses and so AM used one of them as her demo horse). AM has worked with all of us before so she explained that all of the horses were in a similar stage and were younger and more reactive/hotter horses. I was the only dressage rider, the rest were ranchers who used their horses on the ranch (but they all had multiple horses and the ones at the clinic were the greenies), but a couple of them were also interested in having more well rounded horses that could do multiple things. Our Saturday session was scheduled for 3 hours (a lot of the time the horses are standing or walking so it isn't super physically demanding but the long sessions are great for working on and reinforcing multiple things). 

I had to pass near the sheep on my way to the outhouse at one point and this lamb ran right up to me

The ground work consisted of the essentials: stop (including backup as an extension of stop cue), go, park, yield shoulders, yield hip. None of this was new but it was good to revisit everything in a new environment. I also did learn a different technique for moving Naia's shoulders which was nice. Once we had done the basics, we were set loose to practice those same skills in conjunction with the obstacles in the arena. I chose a bigger log (about 12" diameter) and practiced walking over it, stopping halfway over, sidepassing in front of it, and finally sidepassing over it with the log between her front feet and back feet. We also walked and trotted over some other poles and did some figure 8s around 2 barrels. Naia was excellent. She was relaxed and obedient and even when other horses got upset she didn't seem phased at all. The biggest challenges were the flies (they were really bad), and the fact that the arena was more weeds than sand so she wanted to take snack breaks, and I really can't blame her for either of those. 

After the first 90 minutes, AM wanted to work with each horse individually in the round pen while the others tacked up. Naia was the last horse to take a turn in the round pen so we tacked up first. Naia was noticeably more tense back at the trailer than she had been in the arena, but we succeeded in tacking up and refreshing our coating of fly spray (I had forgotten human repellent so sprayed Naia's Ultrashield over myself as well). We got back to the round pen in time to watch a few of the other horses go. One horse was working on maintain canter (note: maintain is a word AM uses a lot, it means that the horse is supposed to be responsible for maintaining a gait until the person asks them to do something different, no constant nagging). Another couple horses worked on safely introducing hobbles. For our turn, the focus was maintain canter. I have only been asking for the canter transition up until now and so Naia generally breaks back to trot after a few strides, which I have allowed. Maintain canter is the next step and Naia was initially pretty put out by the idea that she had to canter for even half a circle. This is also the stage where I need to start caring about what lead she picks up. Naia picks up the correct lead to the left every time, but going to the right is hit or miss and varies day to day. This was a day where she was not wanting to pick up her right lead at all. Adiva tried some of her tricks without success and so I was given the homework of practicing getting more inside bend on the lunge (she likes to be counterbent when going to the right), and also lunging at the canter over ground poles or cavaletti (apparently they encourage the horse to get the correct lead). The round pen session wasn't long, but it did involve quite a bit of canter and Naia isn't the fittest so she was puffing a bit by the end.  

On high alert at the trailer

Next it was time to go back to the arena as a group and ride! To my surprise I had zero hesitation about getting on Naia even though it was my first time riding her in a new place. She had been so good throughout the clinic so far that I felt confident. Sure enough, there was nothing to worry about. We walked and trotted around the arena, working over and around the same obstacles we had worked with on the ground. Naia was foot perfect and felt great. 

Our last challenge for the day was to leave the arena. An advantage of the ranch venue for the clinic is the ability to go ride in open prairie, that was ultimate goal of the clinic, but since we were the beginner group and it was only Day 1, we started by going to a smaller field adjacent to the arena. Said field had so many gopher holes and badger holes, but steering around them was actually a great way to work on bending and fine control of where the horse's feet went. One horse had a bit of a hissy fit going from the arena to the field but Naia was able to park calmly while they figured things out. We did circles and zigzags all over the field and Naia was strongly focused on what I was asking her to do. After a little bit of time in the field, we hear a couple bleats in the distance (the advance warning was nice), and the herd of sheep rounded the barn and ran up to the fenceline of the field we were in. One of the guys in my group was the manager of the ranch where we were riding so his horse obviously was accustomed to living with the sheep. I made sure to keep his horse between Naia and the sheep when they first ran up to see if she would react, but she seemed fine so we went back to doing our circles and zigzags around the field, Naia would look at the sheep but she never panicked or got tense (though I didn't push her too close to them). The other 3 horses had gone to the corner farthest from the sheep when they first approached but then they started working their way closer to the shared fenceline. This caused some freakouts and 2 of the riders dismounted to continue working from the safety of the ground. Even with a couple spinning freaking out horses, I was able to just keep calmly riding Naia around without issue. I was so so proud of Naia, and proud of my own riding as well for having confidence in my horse and not freaking out myself. Eventually we rode back into the arena and that was the end of Day 1. 

Unfortunately not much media from Day 1, but I do have some more for Day 2, so stay tuned!


  1. What a fantastic first experience like this for a young, green horse. Good for you for doing this with her ☺️

  2. What a great first day out! You're doing such a great job with this beautiful horse <3