December 31, 2011

Getting to ride with Debbie

I was lucky to receive an invitation to be a demo rider at the Hassler Dressage Debbie McDonald clinic last month. The clinic was held at Riveredge, the home base for Hassler Dressage, on November 19 & 20th. My friend Gina Miller traveled with me and was great fun to spend the weekend with. I was first to go on the schedule both days with a 9:15am time and Audi was fresh with a capital F. R. E. S. H on Saturday morning. With about 100 people auditing at the far end of the arena it made sense that he was a little jacked up. This was a new experience for him and a lot for his young brain to take in. Both of my sessions were geared towards "whoa and go," which Debbie emphasized as the basic and essential fundamentals for getting to Grand Prix. I think the Dressage community knows that Debbie is a spectacular trainer, but I'm not sure that many people really understand just how incredible she is as a teacher. This was my first time riding with her and I was completely taken with her approach. I appreciated how concise she was with getting exactly to the root of the problem; Audi needed to be quicker off my leg but he also needed to wait and not run through my hand. Debbie acknowledged that yes, he is a big horse, but it's time to sorta cut the crap so to speak (my words, not hers) and start to carry himself in a polite and respectful manner. He CAN do it, plenty capable, and with a lot of talent, but I need to get him to believe he can and that he can sustain it. Debbie started to address this matter at the walk. I would walk and halt a million times if I had to, but he couldn't go to trot until he was balanced in the walk and not rushing through my aids. She also said that I needed to be more diligent about getting him to square his front legs. I had been working on this and it seemed to be a non-issue but during the clinic he got sort of ditzy about it. I guess it's not as confirmed as I thought it was. In trot we worked on maintaining the same feeling we had in the walk; not hanging or rushing through the hand but if he did, I went to a transition either to halt or walk. Then when we went to canter, same thing. It was great to feel how balanced he was, especially in the canter which is our weakest gate because it's so big and a lot to manage. Debbie really got after me about my left hand which I know is a problem. I struggle to get Audi to maintain a good contact on the right rein, he's slow off my left leg and then I try to solve the problem by nipping at him with my left hand. Whoops, not gonna work! She was great about continuing to tell me when I was over bending him left, something I could clearly see when watching my DVD but not quite quick enough to feel when riding. Some things that stood out during the clinic, and that pertained to other lessons: When you feel yourself raising your hands, do a transition. If you ride from a strong core you will not have to rely on your arms for stability and strength. Get the horse to "whoa" and "go" and you will be able to do most anything.

Audi was a bit perturbed on the second day and had a bit of a meltdown. I think the combination of asking him to be more attentive to my aids, containing him a bit more than he would like and the audience just caused him to lose it. He tried every trick in the book but neither Debbie nor I fell for it. I kept riding, though I thought my right arm was going to fall off, and Debbie kept teaching. He lost the battle, oh how he did lose. Debbie and Scott were both really complimentary of my composure during the tough moments. I do think that despite my deep desire to be able to show off more, and have rides that contained less disobedient moments, it's my hope that the auditors got to see two lessons that they might be able to relate to. The idea being, that not every ride is going to be perfect and it's important to know how to ride when the going gets tough. Among the large audience were some special people who came to watch me ride including: Nancy Murray who bred and raised Audi until he was 2 years old, Kathy Adams and her boyfriend Danny Margolin made the trip down from Stockton, NJ, and JJ Tate and Ashley Perkins, also stopped by.


The two days were great fun and oh so very, very educational. I got to watch Debbie teach a great variety of really nice horses and riders, hang out with some of my favorite people, and get a huge dose of inspiration and insight. Since returning home after the clinic I feel as though I've made so major progress. My focus since the clinic has been only on getting Audi quicker off my leg, in particular the left, and that he doesn't run through my hand. As a result, his balance has gotten better and so has his self-carriage. I have been able to start riding more counter canter, doing counter canter on a 20 meter circle with transitions to true canter, and I've even started to play with flying changes. His trot work is ridden with many transitions both within trot, so shorten several strides then back out, and also walk and halt transitions. I've been using raised trot poles and working on half steps. It's been a good month of December. I am extremely excited about 2012 and will keep my fingers crossed for a healthy and successful year in the saddle. Audi turns 7 in March and Hootie will be 21 in April. Hard to believe, but time flies when your having fun!

No comments:

Post a Comment