Friday, June 19, 2015

Clinic, Day 1

So, I signed up for a riding clinic with the trainer I've taken a few lessons from.  Different clinics work differently, but this was basically lessons bumped up a few notches.  We met in the morning, discussed what we each wanted to work on throughout the weekend, then discussed the agenda.  We'd have some stretching and yoga-type exercise outside, then groundwork with the horses, then lunch, followed by riding.  We'd ride in two groups (there were five riders, so three and two in each group), with the non-riders observing and/or helping out while the others rode, then switch it up.  Then maybe an optional trail ride in the evening if we were up for it.  Same basic agenda Sunday as well.

We went outside to stretch and exercise on the front lawn.  It was shaping up to be a hot day, but at 9:00 a.m., the warm sun felt so good.  We worked quite a bit on relaxing body parts, first one at a time, then an entire leg, for example.  We twisted our torsos with our arms relaxed, whapping ourselves with our own hands.  :-)  After an hour or so of stretching, relaxing, and exercising, we all fetched our horses.

Celena talked first about responsibility.  On the horse's part.  This means that if you ask them to walk, and set a speed, they should continue walking that speed until you ask them to change the speed or gait.  Similarly, if you ask them to stand, they should stand until you ask them to move.  She said this absolutely did NOT mean fussing with them to stand still, as of course that would have the opposite effect.  Halt the horse, maybe give it a command, definitely show it that you mean for it to stay put with your body language and a jiggle of the rope, then drop the rope and move away, out of their space.  Then the hard part is you don't try to PREVENT them from moving.  You have to let them make the mistake, THEN correct it, or they won't have a clue what you're trying to accomplish.  So when they move, you get the rope back, put them back where they started, and give the cues to stand all over again.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  So of course we were all self-conscious about having our horses stand still the rest of the weekend.  Or maybe that was just me.  :-)

We worked on getting the horse to lower its head, back up, and back over a pole.  Theoretically.  Arya isn't good about picking her feet up high enough to clear a pole on the ground (not even up in the air!) while walking forward, so when I realized she just didn't care if her feet hit it going backwards, either, but was frustrated when she'd put a foot down and it was unstable.  So we just worked on backing her front feet over a pole, then forward over the pole, back and forth.  Others were backing their horses over multiple poles.  Oh well.

We started working a little bit on lateral work, just moving the hind end around, pivoting around the front end.  The poles were laid out in squares so you could use them as a guide (between the horse's front feet and back feet), but that stressed Arya out too much--when she'd get close to a pole, she was in a hurry to get over it and not paying attention to my cues anymore, so we moved away from any poles and just worked on moving her hindquarters around.

We took a break for lunch (delicious!  and especially hit the spot after working out in the hot sun), then broke into groups for the riding session.  I was in the second group to ride, so had plenty of time to kill while the riders fetched and saddled their horses, so I went down to check out the newest baby at Sabiq Arabian Ranch.  There's a pen with mama, a yearling (I assume mama's baby, but I'm not actually sure), and the newest baby.  The yearling was napping so hard she was snoring.

The baby was curious, but just like the prior night, mama kept shooing the baby away.  But I did get to snap a few photos, and even got to touch her muzzle a little bit once mama trusted me a bit more (I was petting the mama too).


Then mama and baby wandered away for a little nursing session in the shade...

For the riding session, Celena put us non-riders right to work.  She wanted the riders to be able to concentrate on their positions and relaxing their body and stuff right from the get go, so it was our job to hold the horse, first at a standstill, then leading it around, while Celena directed the riders on what to do.  They had their feet out of the stirrups, so we were just there to ensure the horses didn't take off or dodge sideways unexpectedly, and to keep them moving and steer them around each other so the riders could focus solely on the motion of the horse and their own body, and not where the horse was going or whether it would stop or take off.  So we walked probably a mile or so in the hot dusty arena before being released from our duties to watch from the corner of the arena.

The riding started off with just walking, focusing on position still now that they had the reins, and then on navigating some obstacles and using the "opening rein" technique--instead of pulling backwards (and probably toward the midline a bit) on the rein, which actually twists your body in the opposite direction you're trying to cue the horse to go, if you open your arm from your body like a swinging door, and if you hold your thumb up it looks like you're hitchiking, you cause your body to twist in the direction you're asking the horse to go, releasing pressure from the direction you want it to go, and it's much more pleasant and obvious for the horse.  It was amazing how weird it felt at first, but how effective it was.  We worked on soft halt cues and breathing into the walk cues, etc.  Very focused on breathing as well as positions of all one's various body parts.  Very intense riding, mentally if not physically, even at the walk.  Then they did some trotting.

Then it was time to tack up and switch off.  Riders put their horses away and came back to the arena to hold/walk our horses while we rode without stirrups and while focusing on relaxing, etc.  I asked Celena to evaluate my position, as the saddle hurts my hips so much, and she said my saddle was too small (for me, not Arya, but it's more like I'm too big, which I'm working on, and it's not easy to make the saddle any bigger, and it fits Arya, so I'm just gonna have to deal), but I also had my legs too far down and behind me.  She asked if the stirrups could be placed any further forward.  Well, yes, they can, but when I did that, it felt like a chair seat.

Quick visual example:

This is the ideal riding position--head, hips, and heels all lined up.  Knees go in front, of course, and torso might lean forward a bit at the faster gaits and for jumping, but the idea is that you're in balance, and if the horse disappeared all of a sudden, you'd hit the ground and remain standing because you're balanced.

This is a chair seat--see how the rider's feet are out in front of their body?  If the horse disappeared, the rider would fall over backwards.  It's also harder to post the trot, because you have to work harder to maintain the "stand" for a brief moment at top of the motion because your butt is still behind your leg instead of directly above your knee.

Celena encouraged me to give it a try, so while my very patient "helper" just stood around holding Arya, I worked on moving the stirrups.  It's not easy to do, as they're way up under some thick leather and hard to reach, let alone get enough leverage.  I was able to do the first one with the saddle on Arya, but then I had to take it off to get the other one done.  Finally got it adjusted, put the saddle back on, and mounted up.  Yup, REALLY felt like I was in a chair seat and my feet were too far forward.  Celena disagreed and even took a photo to show me my feet were directly under me.

Yeah, definitely need to lose weight, but my feet aren't nearly as far in front of me as it felt.  [Photo by Celena]

In fact, she said I needed to focus on keeping my feet out "in front" (as it feels to me) or they'd be too far back.  No bracing, but she wanted me to keep remembering to push them forward until it felt all wrong to me.  Great.  :-)

So then it was my turn to get led around without stirrups and stretching and relaxing while the horse moved under me.  I'd done similar work in the semi-private lessons with Celena before, so luckily it wasn't a big deal that I'd missed most of her instructions while working on the saddle.  Then it was our turn to ride, first at the walk then at the trot.  Like I said, it was amazing to realize how small of a cue the horse can feel and how effective you can be with your body movements, etc.  We actually got a really great lesson on that on Sunday morning, but that's getting ahead of myself.

Man, my horse is wide!  [Photo by Karen Weiderman]

  Yeah, my legs really are pretty far behind me, eh?  [Photo by Karen Weiderman]

After the ride, we gave the horses a quick water break, and the horses who'd just had a bit more of a break got saddled back up for our trail ride.  Both Celena and Paige (who attended the clinic as a rider but is also an employee or helper or whatever of Celena's so she had dual roles all weekend) rode bareback.  Woo for them, but not happening for me anytime soon!  We started up the hill I'd come down on Arya before--nice and steep.  Celena had us stop a couple times, and tweaked the order the horses were in, etc.  I took up the rear for the most part.  At the top of the hill, we all stopped for some talk about our positions, breathing, etc.  While we were standing there to listen to Celena, Arya peed.  This is HUGE.  :-)  She's never peed under saddle with me, even on our longest rides so far, and in fact doesn't pee while tied to the trailer or any other time when she's around me.  I've only seen her pee from afar in the pasture once.  It's not a huge problem that she hasn't, but had me mildly concerned that maybe she would hold it in longer than she should if she was worried about peeing under saddle or whatever.  So the fact that she did means I can worry less about that as our rides get longer, though of course it'll still be something in the back of my mind, as it should be.

From there, we headed toward the pasture with the stallion in it that got her all riled up the last two times we'd been here.  But first, the two dogs that were tagging along were play-fighting and made some of the horses nervous.  One in particular, who was in the front of the group, started dancing around, so the rider got off.  I could totally sympathize, as that was me the night before.  But so far, Arya was cool with the dogs (though we had a buffer of a few horses between us and them).  We proceeded onward, with one rider on foot and the rest of us still aboard.  As we got closer to the stallion, Arya got a little more antsy, and Celena kept reminding me to breathe and walking me through it as we went past.  The stallion was just ALL riled up, galloping back and forth and snorting and prancing.  The other horses were a little worked up, too, not just Arya.  Horses are herd animals, so if one is running, it could mean it's running from danger, so their instincts are to run, too.

We actually turned at a junction, and stayed alongside the pasture with the stallion, which I didn't love, but what can you do.  :-)  We stopped and stood for a minute, not far from the pasture, and the stallion kept running around.  Another horse had just about reached its limit, and that rider hopped off.  Then Paige hopped off the horse she was on, as bareback isn't a time to try to sit out too many shenanigans.  So now we had three riders on foot and three still on board.  Arya was doing pretty okay.  She wasn't thrilled about the stallion, but had come to accept that he was gonna run around like an idiot and she was just gonna have to walk/stand calmly.  She really REALLY didn't like that we proceeded to walk through a hay field that had recently been cut, and I didn't let her graze on ANY of it.  (She gets really snarky when I let her eat once or twice then prevent it later on in the ride, so as pissy as she gets when I don't let her eat at all, it's worth it.)  We worked on lots of serpentines, practicing the opening the door / hitchiker thumb.  Celena said she was pretty impressed with me riding through the nervousness earlier on, and working on distracting her (and myself) now.  I gotta say, I was pretty proud of myself and her, too.  We'd had a good day working together.

The other riders mounted up, and we all rode back to the ranch without further incident.  The other group apparently clocked four miles in the arena (more trotting, plus I was standing still while working on my saddle), and I clocked two.  Plus probably at least a mile of walking.  Then the trail ride was two miles.  So I rode a whole four miles, but it felt like much more.  Between the various exercises and such, I was tired and sore.

Celena had made dinner for us, so we enjoyed some delicious lasagna, delicious Caesar salad, and REALLY DELICIOUS cheesy garlic bread, followed by some super-delicious cheesecake.  I went home, stuffed, sunburnt, tired, and very happy.  Things went really really well for us, and I felt like I was really the leader and Arya was really tuned into me.  And of course I was looking forward to what the next day would bring...

Darlene and Max came over, as well as a couple "wows," including Chiquita Poquita.  [Photo by Karen Weiderman]

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