Sunday, April 11, 2010

Michael Klimke clinic March 2010, part 2

This is the second part of a two-part post -- check out the previous post for  the first part of it.

Which he did, but not until he had valiantly tried to correct my hands and seat enough that she would reach forward and downward.  As an instructor, I understand why he took that approach, and in my stiff-and-stressed-out state, my seat and hands gave him lots of areas to correct. 

The more he corrected, the deeper I tried to sit, the stiffer my back got, and the more frustrated his tone got. Once I heard the frustration in his voice, my favorite “I’m nervous so I think I’ll ride badly habits” showed up.  You know, those pet bad habits that lie dormant for months and months until you are lulled into thinking you have finally banished them, only to find that once you get nervous, they pop right back up.  

For me, when I’m nervous, the neuropathways between my brain and my right side shut down. 

This time it started with my hand position.  No matter what I told my right hand to do, it didn’t do it.  Instead it did all sorts of random things, things I would never ask it to do.  Really, would any self-respecting dressage rider ride with her right hand nearly touching her thigh?  I know I didn’t tell my right hand to do that, especially not in front of Klimke and 80 auditors.  But sure enough, that’s where my right hand kept drifting.  I’d tell my right hand to come back up, and two strides later, like some rebellious teenager, it’d go sneaking down to my thigh again.

Then there was my right leg.  On a normal day, my right leg is my weaker leg. I know I’m riding well when my right thigh is slightly more tired than my left one. Which thankfully, is more often than not.  But I wasn’t riding well, so my right leg didn’t even join me on the horse.  I might as well have been wearing a prosthetic.  My calf wouldn’t stay connected to Secret sides, no matter how hard I tried.  The more I pushed my knee down, the more my calf would pop off and slide forward.

Then my inner critic kicked in.  Every time Klimke tried to improve my position, my inner critic destroyed it.  By 15 minutes into the lesson, I went from being on top of the world for being selected for this clinic, to feeling like the weakest dressage rider in the clinic, to feeling like the weakest dressage rider ever.   

While I’m beating myself up, Klimke decided to try using transitions within and between the gait to get Secret more through her topline.  She reacted by getting tighter in front of the saddle, doing a very effective impression of a chess piece.  I could practically hear her thinking, “Aunt Ange, this isn’t what we usually do, but if this is what you want, well, ok...”

Klimke, being German, was not one to mince words.  He made it clear what he thought—“Your hands and your seat are not good enough.”  This, of course, got my inner voice screaming, “Well that advice doesn’t really help, does it???” But I kept smiling and riding, hoping my thoughts didn’t show too clearly.

Once we got to the canter work, things improved.  Secret has an amazing canter, naturally very uphill and balanced, and my canter seat is better than my trot seat. As the work improved, I was able to gain control of my right hand and leg, and began to think maybe I was letting Secret show everyone how awesome she is. We worked on the canter-walk-canter transition, and it improved significantly by the end of the ride.

But by day two, Secret was tired of my stiff back and the different training approach. She came into the ring tight and fussy, and seemed determined to stay that way.   Klimke kept changing exercises in a vain attempt to get us to settle.

But nothing really worked.  I tried to ride all bent lines in shoulder fore. I tried riding the lines straighter.  I tried a lighter seat.  I tried a stronger seat.  Klimke kept stopping the lesson to talk, which I quickly learned is Klimke-ease for “this isn’t working at all.”  My mind was going 100 miles an hour, between “c’mon Secret, please” and “Ange, friggin’ ride better,” and “Can we try something else? Like tennis?”  But nothing worked. 

We had one shining medium trot mid way through the ride, but when we got to counter canter, she was through with all of us. 

Klimke started the counter canter work with Friday’s exercise. Secret did the same as she had done on Friday—counter canter nicely to the corner, then swap leads (cleanly, I must say).  So he had me bring her to walk, then counter canter again.  And she swapped leads again.  And again. And again.  And again.  The movie “Groundhogs Day” was playing right there at Riveredge West.  My inner voice was screaming, “enough already!”  Secret kept getting more and more tense.

After what seemed like hours, Klimke finally simplified the exercise enough that we could at least end on counter canter instead of an un-cued flying change.  At the end, he patted her on the neck and said he hoped he hadn’t messed up her canter. 

Then Scott Hassler picked up the microphone and said “I want to commend Ange on her composure and tact.”  And with that, my red-headed-bad-ass facade cracked.  I cried.

Yes, me. 

I wanted the ground to open and eat me alive. 

But of course it didn’t.  I survived.  We watched a few more rides, then packed up and headed home. 

After the clinic I was in a funk. 

I looked at the still photos, and I really didn’t look that bad, but that didn’t help. I watched the video snippet on the Internet, and Secret looked good, but that didn’t help either. I couldn’t get past Klimke labeling my seat and hands “not good enough.”  I was second-guessing my aids, picking my seat apart, and generally feeling sorry for myself. 

With all of this negative mental baggage, I continued to pretty much ride for crap until I saw Scott for a lesson two weeks later. By then, my trainer-ego was battered from my unending self-flagellation.  But Scott had watched the same lessons, and he saw tough training sessions, not embarrassingly ineffective riding.  His words helped me put it in perspective.  In typical Scott fashion, he ended it with “You be you.” 

He is right.  I am me, and these hands and seat are my tools, tools that have a track record of serving me well.  That weekend, I was not at my best.  That weekend aside, my tools have brought a lot of horses up the levels, many who lacked the natural Warmblood balance and looseness.  Heck, several weren’t even born with clean gaits.  But somehow my “not good enough” hands and seat taught them how to become solid competition horses with piles of year-end awards.

So what did I get out of the clinic?  I don’t ride well when my world is crumbling, but then who does?  And my daily track record of riding well, using and re-using and re-using all of the lessons I have learned, trumps one weekend of riding poorly in front of a big-name expert. 

And Venus?  Now, seven weeks after her accident, we are pretty sure Venus will return to a dressage career.

The Honda, though, will forever wear the mark of my horrible week.


  1. Hi Ange. My name is Carol and we've all had those experiences. I know I have. I think a lot of us in dressage are WAY too hard on ourselves. I know personally how hard it is to break the habit, but give yourself a break! None of us are Michael Klimke (although we wish we were)! I always say, world peace is not resting on our dressage score or ride! ;-)

  2. Wow, Ange. As an amateur dressage rider, when the world spins too fast, I can say "Stop, I want off!" My horse can hang out in the pasture, get pudgy and stay happy without wondering why his mom is in such a foul funk of a mood when she rides him. However, I do have to work for a living. Your work is dressage trainer. Mine is IT project manager. So when the world is spinning - I can't tell my boss I want to stop and get off. I have to keep my composure, keep my eye on the ball, meet my commitments. I recently got called on the carpet for dropping the ball on a highly impacting issue after my SO had a heart attack and triple by-pass surgery. So I feel your pain. I think you do a bang up job at your profession and were truly awesome at this clinic considering all the monkeys that were on your back. Your friend in GA, Katie (and Porty).