Rid­ing in a Clinic

Horse & Rider - - Conformation Clinic - BY KATIE NAVARRA PHO­TOS BY MARK SAMU

As a life­long Western rider, I’ve no­ticed Western per­for­mance events aren’t as plen­ti­ful in up­state New York as they are in other re­gions of the coun­try. Be­cause of that, ac­cess to na­tion­ally rec­og­nized rein­ing, ranch horse, and cut­ting train­ers is lim­ited. So when I learned Texas-based rein­ing trainer Joe Hayes was com­ing to town for a clinic, I couldn’t reg­is­ter fast enough!

Co­in­ci­den­tally, Hayes, who’s judged in 23 coun­tries, was born in Green­wich, New York, a ru­ral town not far from Ge­orge Peters’ Win$um Ranch in Schuylerville, where I’ve taken lessons. It re­ally is a small world, be­cause Joe and Ge­orge at­tended ri­val high schools fewer than 20 miles apart—then met at Cor­nell Uni­ver­sity as un­der­grad­u­ate agri­cul­ture ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents.

I’ve rid­den with Ge­orge for five years now. He reg­u­larly talks about Joe, their adventures to­gether, and his re­spect for Joe’s train­ing pro­gram. Thus it was a no-brainer: I had to par­tic­i­pate in this clinic! Here, I’ll share de­tails about my horse and my clinic ex­pe­ri­ence, in the hope of en­cour­ag­ing you to take

the plunge and sign up for that clinic with some­one you re­spect and ad­mire.

Our Jour­ney

Dusty Rose Thing (“Bella”) brought me back into horse own­er­ship af­ter a decade away. I bought her in 2012 as an un­trained 4-year-old. That’s right—I broke all the rules about horse shop­ping. My de­ci­sion was largely based on her gor­geous color. Her tawny coat, black points, and choco­late dor­sal stripe sealed the deal. I didn’t have a plan for what I’d do with her, and it had been nearly 10 years since I’d owned and rid­den an un­trained horse. Yikes.

Our first two-and-a-half years were frus­trat­ing, and I al­most sold her. But once I found Ge­orge to help us, we pro­gressed. I’m happy to re­port I now have a will­ing and handy ranch horse. We reg­u­larly com­pete in Amer­i­can Ranch Horse As­so­ci­a­tion shows and hope to add Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse As­so­ci­a­tion ranch events to our com­pet­i­tive ré­sumé in the fu­ture.

Our Goals

Be­fore you write that check to at­tend a clinic, iden­tify what you want to ac­com­plish. One of the sev­eral goals I have for Bella is im­prov­ing our per­for­mance in the rein­ing classes at ARHA shows. Bella guides well, will­ingly han­dles speed tran­si­tions, and loves to stop. But our spins and roll­backs need serious help. Iden­ti­fy­ing these as my weak spots wasn’t easy to ad­mit, but it en­abled me to tell Joe pre­cisely where I needed to im­prove. (Lit­tle did I know I’d need im­prove­ment else­where be­fore we could tackle my self-iden­ti­fied prob­lem spots!)

With a goal set, I next needed re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions. Bella and I weren’t go­ing to be sud­denly spin­ning and rolling back like rein­ing champs. I needed to rec­og­nize what level of im­prove­ment was pos­si­ble and real­is­ti­cally eval­u­ate my horse’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. With those bench­marks in mind, I was con­fi­dent in my ex­pec­ta­tions. Then I learned that to im­prove our ex­e­cu­tion of these ad­vanced ma­neu­vers, we’d first need to go back to ba­sics. Joe didn’t have a but­ton to push to mirac­u­lously fix our prob­lem ar­eas; we were go­ing to have to work to achieve our goals, and I’d have to ad­just my orig­i­nal ex­pec­ta­tions for the clinic.

Be­ing Present

Joe de­liv­ered the most im­pact­ful les­son of the full-day clinic in the first five min­utes. He said our job as rid­ers is to pay at­ten­tion to ev­ery step of the

ride. And that goes no mat­ter what. For most of us, rid­ing hap­pens at the end of a day, af­ter work. I know by the time I get to the barn I’m ex­hausted, fraz­zled, or stressed from a day at the of­fice. Bella, who spends her sum­mer days in a stall loung­ing in front of a fan, is well-rested and ready to work.

When I stepped into the stir­rup and swung my leg over to ride in the clinic, my mind was any­where but fo­cused on the first few steps Bella would take as she moved when I mounted. Joe pointed out that my mind­set was

en­cour­ag­ing Bella’s bad habits. Al­low­ing her to step left in­stead of stay­ing straight ahead while I mounted set the stage for mov­ing even far­ther to the left. With­out cor­rec­tion, step­ping left an inch be­comes a foot—then bleeds into half a cir­cle on a rein­ing pat­tern. Key in­sight: Bad habits are best stopped be­fore they form.

At first, though, it seemed ex­treme to con­cen­trate on that level of de­tail. I mean, could it re­ally mat­ter that much? But the more I thought about it, the more I re­al­ized Bella was de­ter­min­ing the size and shape of our cir­cles rather than fol­low­ing where I was guid­ing her. That’s kind of funny since the point of rein­ing is that the horse is will­ingly guided—not tak­ing con­trol. Since the clinic, I’ve made a con­scious ef­fort to be more de­lib­er­ate in pay­ing at­ten­tion and stay­ing fo­cused ev­ery sec­ond that I’m with my mare. And I’ve no­ticed a re­sult­ing dif­fer­ence in the sym­me­try of our ma­neu­vers. With ev­ery show, I can eval­u­ate our scorecard to see how I’m do­ing, which also keeps me fo­cused on what we need to do to im­prove.

Em­brac­ing In­ten­sity

Joe ad­vised me to ride ag­gres­sively, but by that he didn’t mean as­sault with my spurs or pulling need­lessly on Bella’s mouth. He sim­ply wanted me to be less timid in my rid­ing and cu­ing and have more con­fi­dence in Bella’s abil­i­ties. If he said it once dur­ing the 45 min­utes of in­di­vid­u­al­ized in­struc­tion, he said it 50 times.

This was hard to hear. Early in our part­ner­ship, I didn’t trust Bella. She was dif­fi­cult to han­dle and had a laun­dry list of in­tim­i­dat­ing an­tics. I’ve con­cen­trated on be­com­ing more con­fi­dent in the sad­dle and have man­aged to “fake it un­til I make it.” I thought I was at least ex­ud­ing con­fi­dence, if I didn’t ac­tu­ally pos­sess it. To learn Joe im­me­di­ately saw holes in my con­fi­dence was a re­al­ity check—one I needed in or­der to achieve my goals with Bella.

How im­por­tant is con­fi­dence? About a week af­ter the clinic, I spoke with a suc­cess­ful young rider who’d won both world and re­serve world cham­pi­onship ti­tles in boxing at the AQHYA World Show. In her first re­serve fin­ish, she missed the world ti­tle by a mere half-point. She be­lieved that half-point dif­fer­ence came down to con­fi­dence. She set a goal for the 2017 show sea­son to im­prove her poise in the arena, and it paid off with the world ti­tle.

That res­onated. I don’t cur­rently show at that high level, but if I want to

im­prove our per­for­mance at any show, there’s more work to be done.

Dreaded Lead Changes

I hadn’t planned on fo­cus­ing on lead changes at the clinic. Ad­mit­tedly, it’s some­thing I tend to push to the back of my mind. Bella ex­e­cutes sim­ple changes quite ele­gantly, which is ac­cept­able for the shows we’ve com­peted in. Her clean, re­laxed sim­ple changes haven’t cost us points and, in some cases, have added to our score.

But it was one of the first things Joe had on his mind for clinic par­tic­i­pants. Hon­estly, I’m glad it was. I’ve al­ways ad­mired Western rid­ing com­peti­tors who can change leads ev­ery few strides. I strug­gle with get­ting the tim­ing to get one lead change, let alone sev­eral in a row. We pro­gressed from not get­ting any change to a half a lead change. It was by no means pretty, but I was com­mu­ni­cat­ing more clearly with Bella and we started to make progress. We still have a lot of work to do to per­fect this; we cer­tainly didn’t get it that day, but it started to make more sense.

Spins and Roll­backs

We made lit­tle im­prove­ment in my cho­sen area of fo­cus. Bella is sloppy with her hind feet. In­stead of plant­ing a pivot foot and cross­ing over in front, she lazily wan­ders around a pivot. Con­se­quently, our scores on these two ma­neu­vers suf­fer. But we spent less than 10 min­utes work­ing on these with Joe. In­stead, he gave me two drills to work on at home.

At first, I was dis­ap­pointed with the lack of progress on the two items I’d most wanted to im­prove. As time has passed, how­ever, I’ve re­al­ized that by con­cen­trat­ing on con­fi­dence and be­ing present in the mo­ment, I’ve vastly im­proved my day-to-day rid­ing rou­tine, and hence have more suc­cess as I work to­ward im­prov­ing these ma­neu­vers. And in re­al­ity, I had un­re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions for what we could ac­com­plish in one day.

The Take­away

The past five years of Bella’s train­ing and sub­se­quent show­ing haven’t al­ways been easy. Com­pet­ing at ranch horse shows is one way I’ve been able to mea­sure our progress. The score cards pro­vide a start­ing point for the ma­neu­vers that need fur­ther im­prove­ment. How­ever, rid­ing with Joe for a day pro­vided an op­por­tu­nity to hear a judge’s point of view on the de­tails that we need to re­fine for fu­ture suc­cess.

While there’s still much room for growth, I’d call the clinic a suc­cess. Re­ceiv­ing con­fir­ma­tion that some things were work­ing, iden­ti­fy­ing what isn’t as far along as I’d thought, and find­ing new ways of think­ing about our strug­gles pro­vided per­spec­tive and has helped me set goals for fu­ture ad­vance­ment.

Look­ing for more ad­vice about what to do be­fore rid­ing in a clinic? Read “The Dif­fer­ence a Clinic Makes” on­line.

When I bought Bella, I fell vic­tim to many horse-shop­ping pit­falls—in­clud­ing choos­ing her largely based on her color. But in six years, we’ve made progress to­ward be­com­ing the horse-and-rider pair I’d hoped we’d be.

In a sin­gle day with trainer and judge Joe Hayes, I learned to ride more in­tensely and with more con­fi­dence. I also ac­knowl­edged a few weak ar­eas I can work on to achieve my long-term com­pet­i­tive goals.

Where do Bella and I take it from here? The sky’s the limit! The clinic couldn’t of­fer mon­u­men­tal im­prove­ment in just one day, but it put us on a path to suc­cess and greater en­joy­ment in the sad­dle.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.