Michelle and Sherri ride in an April clinic
I didn’t intentionally let 2 months drift by before getting around to writing this post, which was going to be a report about a private clinic that Feather gave to some nice folks who live in Silver Springs.
Originally I wanted to write about the clinic while it was fresh in my mind, but alas, it is not to be.
There is always so much I want to say that I get overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes to think about the lessons and write something that might be at least a little different than the previous post.
I guess a reoccurring theme has been about how much I’ve learned through education in the Classical methods and how I wish more equestrians would embrace this art.
I’m finding that using the term “Dressage” to novices (or even long time equestrians) can cause them to have a very specific picture of riding which they would never dream of undertaking. If you just hope for pleasant trail rides with your horse, why would you want to take a lesson in a discipline that means you enter a show ring, salute a judge, and then ride a test, all while dressed in fancy togs and sitting in a funny looking saddle?
So I try to explain the term “Classical Training”, expounding the virtues of how we can help our horses become happy, healthy, obedient and safe mounts because of our own efforts to become more capable, knowledgeable riders. And it won’t matter what kind of saddle they ride in, as long as it fits their horse well.
This big boy focuses his attention on Feather before he begins work on the lunge line
Therefore I give credit to anyone who decides they’ll at least try a lesson or two and discover what this “dressage” training is about. Which brings us back to that very hot day in April when I accompanied Feather to help out while she conducted a private clinic.
Karen is a friend and riding companion of our fellow student Sherrie C, and along with her husband Dan and another couple (Daniel and Michelle) they sponsored a one day clinic with Feather to get help with problems that had cropped up with their horses. Karen has a sturdy Halflinger mare, Tigra, and a strapping mustang gelding that she recently purchased for her husband.
Michelle and Daniel brought their sweet bay mustang mare Honey, who had been to a trainer awhile back, supposedly “desensitized” and able to handle any kind of scary situation without spooking. However, she did indeed shy away from something while being ridden in a paddock area, and if I recall correctly, she then bolted, whereupon Michelle took a tumble and injured her shoulder.
Anyone who has attended a clinic, either riding in it or auditing, knows what a huge undertaking it is for the teacher to comprehensively evaluate every horse (there were four in this one) and rider (two, Karen and Michelle). Observations are made of the smallest and seemingly unimportant details; hoof care, nutrition, tack fit, attitude at the hitching rail during grooming, liberty work, on the lunge, under saddle, and athletics of both horse and rider.
There’s just so much to look for and I’m finally getting the idea of what “addressing the priority” means.
Amy didn’t intend to ride, but Feather had other thoughts on the matter. Amy and Honey bonded within a few minutes
As Feather watched, Tigra worked in the arena at liberty for Karen and then Feather continued with further requests for the horse such as turn on haunches to reverse, instead of allowing the mare to turn her rear to the middle before changing direction. Tigra seemed to enjoy the work, showing off and definitely loving the praise she received for her performance.
This is one smart mare and she is most likely a very reliable mount who would be happier when her human mom can learn to become a quiet and patient rider. Tigra has figured out what to do to intimidate her mom, therefore Feather asked Sherrie C to climb into the saddle for a little work before putting Karen on her.
Next thing, I was being asked to ride Honey, who had already worked on the lunge for Feather; Honey is a cautious horse, and it was apparent that she has had some hard times in her past ( Michelle essentially rescued her from a bad situation). Feather talked to Michelle and Danielle about upping Honey’s daily food intake because she was on the thin side, and probably in need of special supplements along with extra calories to get her in better condition. She had a recent vet check and teeth float, so it’s possible her tendency to worry may hinder the absorption of nutrients from her food.
I felt that Honey had retreated inward, sort of like Sage was in the beginning of his training. Too many things have happened in her life that were unpleasant, and horses like Honey and Sage seem to not act out in anger like another horse would (imagine Flicka if she had been mistreated….), but instead find other ways to become defensive.
Feather told me to just “do nothing, don’t ask her to flex, keep a light rein, stay quiet and let her find out that you will not hurt her”. okay, that’s the old “do less” mantra. Honey had a very short, stiff stride, but after a few times around the arena she began to warm up and stretch out as best she could. My leg stayed quietly “on” her and soon she was comfortably walking with no concern that I would be abrupt. At the request for halt, Feather reminded me to exhale while softly closing leg and seat; Honey obediently halted and never tried to pull through the reins. I had an intense feeling that she was happy to finally have a human who was patient and quiet.
Then the call for “Half Turn Left on the Forehand”. Well. It was clear that Honey had no idea what this move was, but there was the ever present voice (Feather) in my ear, “ride the horse as if he knows the move”. Applying the aid, I requested the turn on forehand, expected little, and….she slowly but very surely managed a brilliant turn on forehand! I heard Danielle and Michelle ask Feather how come Honey understood what I had asked her to do. How do you explain that this is what Classical training is about?
Honey gave me the best lesson that day. I was very proud of her and I hope she continues to find a safe, comfortable and happy home with Michelle and Danielle.
Sherri also rode Karen’s new mustang gelding. She said to her friends, “I trust Feather and know she wouldn’t put me on a horse if I wouldn’t be safe”. Sherri rode beautifully. All the skills she has gained showed in her confidence and ability to ride a horse she was unfamiliar with. She is “riding every horse the same”. Good job, Sherri!
After Sherri had warmed up Tigra, she dismounted and handed the mare over to Karen, who next rode under Feather’s ever perceptive eye, and last, Michelle received a lesson while also riding this versatile horse. Tigra worked admirably for each person during their individual evaluations.
All of us were wilting by the end of the day, so we sat in the shade with cool refreshments, discussing what these folks could do to continue working effectively with their horses. Simplify, be consistent, don’t rush, take the time to just BE with your horse even if it’s only grooming them for 15 minutes. Never worry that you’re not doing enough, we usually do too much.
Wouldn’t it be nice to start off on the right path with horses from the very beginning? The lucky young lady in the photo below gets to do just that!
Maddie, Chief and Judy, having a day of fun
Maddie has been visiting Judy every other week to learn all about horses, their care, management, and the best part, how to ride. I found Maddie to be far more mature beyond her 10 years, taking instructions well and following through in a competent manner. She helps clean the stalls (at her age I would’ve skipped right over that chore), groom each horse, pick out the hooves, and then helps get the amazing Chief Ten Bears tacked for her riding lesson. She is also learning how to do groundwork, at liberty and on the lunge. What an excellent start!
The fellow in the photo below isn’t as lucky as Maddie. Here he gets instruction from Feather in how to correct his position and quit squishing baby birds under his legs. He’s been riding horses for many years, but as we all know, there is so much we don’t know! And it’s definitely difficult to step over to the right path when we’re older…but it’s never too late to start, especially for the horses’ sake.
Joel on his mare Annie, finding out what it means to “ride dressage”