The next e-mail asked for permission to use video from the clinic as part of an online video library. I agreed, as it seems like the right thing to do. Then noted my nervous-meter creeping up.
My Facebook feed and inbox started filling with more and more ads for the clinic, then the Saturday reception was advertised as full. From attending previous clinics at Hasslers, I know that means close to 200 auditors – nervous-meter cranked up another click.
Linda was right with me. She checked out the rider list, and realized that not only was Secret the only non-warmblood, she was the only mare. I was pretty sure we would also be at least 5 inches shorter than any other horse there.
The week before, my groom was on vacation. She returned to work on Thursday, and my working student, who had been trying to muscle through work with a stomach bug, gave up and called out sick. Which pushed packing for the clinic to Friday morning, with us leaving early afternoon--nothing like a little frantic activity on top of nerves.
I am a chronic over-packer. With the temperature doing it’s normal PA fall fluctuations, and nerves telling me I need to look tidy no matter what, I just kept throwing in more and more clothes. Then, in last-minute panic, I tossed in yet another outfit. If nerves completely sabotaged my riding, at least I’d look tidy.
|Check out that boot polish - the square is a reflection of the window pane, and my boots are not patent leather. This is a bright, shiny example of nerves.|
In the spirit of getting the most out of the weekend, I signed up for an additional lesson with Michael on Friday. I tend to ride like a robot when I’m getting used to a new instructor, so I thought it best to get that out of my system before the auditors showed up.
I made my hellos to Michael, told him a bit about Secret – age, show experience, her highlights (canter pirouettes), what I’d like improved (more cadence in the trot, help with her hard flying change), and Scott added that he thought Secret would be a good horse to show the auditors about early piaffe/passage training. I purposely didn’t mention her breeding.
Michael watched me warm up, then stopped to discuss the training plan. I realized (and he commented) that I was out of breath – yep, I was in total nervous mode, complete with holding my breath.
We went to work, in a format that he held to in all of the lessons – first transitions within the gait, go a bit from the leg, come back with the upper body to test the half halt. Once he was happy with that, then trot canter transitions until they were fluid. Then into the work phase.
First we spent time in the working pirouettes. He had me ride her a bit more up in the shoulders, and had me use my upper body more firmly to help with the collection. He asked me to ride the first step of the pirouette small, then make them bigger as we went, and stressed that I needed to know how many strides I wanted to put in my pirouette before I began it. Then he sent me across the diagonal, with instructions to ride a full pirouette at X. My mind got a bit racy – I have ridden full working pirouettes on Secret, and technical, show-pretty half pirouettes, but I had not asked her to give me a show-quality, at-a-specific-spot-in-the-arena full pirouette.
I headed out, collected, rode the first half of the pirouette well, then, like a nit whit, started pumping with my upper body in the second half. Secret politely covered for my messy riding. The good news is Michael let us do it again, and I rode like I actually have sat on a horse before in my life.
Then Michael gave us a break and asked me about her breeding. When I told him, he said, “when you came in, I wondered what pony is this? But then she goes to work, and she can do the job.” I admit, I enjoyed that Secret surprised him.
Next Michael came in with the in-hand whip. I had done a little bit with Secret between the BLMs and this clinic, just teaching her to walk and halt from my body language and voice on the ground, and teaching her lift each leg when it is touched with the whip. Secret is half Arab, so she picks up on “tricks” quickly.
We made a good start on the piaffe, so we moved on to the changes. Secret has had trouble with her right-to-left change. Recently I made some equipment changes, and as a result she was keeping her back more lifted and the changes were coming clean at home. But I had been getting them clean by letting her go in a lower frame for the changes, and doing them early in the ride while her back strength was fresh. Now we were late in the workout, and I was no-way going to lower her frame in front of the German.
So the changes were messy. Michael took my stirrups and whip away, to get me sitting back more in the changes. We played with several different patterns, to find the one where she could keep her frame up AND do a clean change. Then we rewarded her.
He watched a few half passes in trot and canter, which he announced were “fine,” and we wrapped up the first lesson. I was starting to think I’d be ok in front of all of the auditors.
At the rider’s meeting shortly after my lesson, Jann announced that the riders needed to meet with the videographer for a short interview. Interview? On camera? The nerves jumped right back up.
I had a bit of time between my lesson and dinner, so I went for a short run to burn off the rest of my stupid nervous energy, then grabbed a shower and headed out to the rider’s dinner. Food, wine, and laughing at funny stories dissipated the rest of my nerves, so I figured I had a chance at sleeping.
I was a mid-morning ride, so to keep me from fretting, I braided Secret and Eiren Crawford’s mount, Godot SSF. Both turned out pretty nicely, if I do say so myself.
In our Saturday lesson, Secret proved she understood how to lift her hind legs, by picking them up the minute Michael came near her, before he even cued, which generated chuckles from the audience. She tried a bit too hard in the in hand work, resulting in a bit of rushed, quick steps. She redeemed herself in the pirouette work, making even better quality pirouettes than the day before.
That night was the lecture, and here’s some cut-and-pastes from my notes:
· Riders are responsible to be theoretically fit. Not just rely on the trainer on the ground.
· Replace 'why won't he' with looking at it from the horse's perspective.
· Teach a horse a movement - 'get it done.' Once you can get it done, then time to polish.
· For every time you have to ride a transition, it's reacting. Every time you ride a transition because you want to, that's training. Same with half halt.
· If the gaits change when go into lateral work, it is a problem. Fix it before the movement.
· Balance control with quality of gait/beauty.
· Ideally should be able to dial the positive tension up or down.
After the lecture, Carol Havelka, the videographer, cornered the riders for our interviews. Cue the nerves—instantly I was at full blown to panic. I had crazy helmet-hair that was hidden under a ball cap and my chin was peeling from windburn the weekend before. I borrowed a lipstick from Linda, and as I used my reflection in a window to put it on, I didn’t realize until afterwards that my eyeliner had melted when I rode, giving me two nice raccoon eyes.
Then, to make it even better, I stuttered in the interview, mispronounced Linda’s last name, and got mentally flustered. I was trying to describe Secret’s work ethic, and between the thoughts of “10 on try” and “100% effort every day,” I managed to make her a 10% try horse. I hope Carol is an editing wizard, as I didn’t give her much to work with. The video will be online in January, and I don’t intend to ever watch my interview. Ever.
On Sunday, after the warm up, we began with patterns to help her changes, and tons of rewards when she got her harder change clean and right with my aids.
For the half steps, Michael wanted to do the in hand work without a rider. Secret proved she had been thinking about it in her stall, and by the end gave some lovely, recognizable piaffe steps. He announced she had “ability for piaffe,” which is high praise from a German.
Then with me up, we did a ton of transitions between half steps in sitting trot, then forward rising trot to help create more swing in her trot. We didn’t turn her into a warmblood by any means, but I could feel her starting to use her back in a more swinging way in the trot. When we played with the medium trot, she was more able to lengthen he strides without defaulting to her usual quicker strides. This is an area we will continue to work on, but I felt true progress in the quality of her trot this weekend.
We ended the lesson with some half pass work. During one half pass, he had me move my inside hand more away from her neck. Then he asked me to keep my hands closer together, so I moved my outside hand over, and felt Secret wrap her body more around my leg with no shifting in her balance. That was really cool.
I am now home, and with videos of my lessons as well as notes from my and the other rider’s lessons, I’m inspired for the fall training season.
Thank you to Scott and Suzanne Hassler for including me in this event, to the staff of Hassler Dressage for keeping all of it running smoothly, and to all of the event sponsors that helped make this happen. Thank you to Linda, for being Secret and my biggest cheerleader up the levels. Special thanks for Secret, for covering most of my nervous-nitwit moments. And a special thanks to Michael Klimke, for giving so much of his knowledge to all of us.