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Pat Burgess Clinic - Day 1

Wow. So that was a clinic and a half :) Over two days I:
- learned a ton!
- felt my riding improve significantly
- laughed more than I have in a long time
- provided comic relief for everybody else

HUGE thanks to Pat Burgess for flying all the way out here to teachus, being an amazing clinician who managed to make a difference in everybody from the most novice rider to the Advanced level competitor (and all the rest of us inbetween :), AND for being sucha great inspiration! If I'm still going the way she is at 80 I'llbe one very happy person :)

More thanks to Arthur. This could take a post all in itself. First for once again providing this amazing facility for the clinic,getting everything ready, hosting and organizing. And then as if that weren't enough, for going so far above and beyond and lending me his absolutely amazing horse for the second day when mine couldn'tmake it. I'm still stunned he did that, honoured that he did, and still grinning from the ride :) You should see the pictures :)

And equally huge thanks to Suzanne who had the facility spotless when we got there, stayed late after day one to harrow the ring for day two, came early to help move fences on when day two got rained on,took pictures day one, totally spoiled me with taking care of "thered-headed Connemara" when I inherited him for day two, spent allweekend setting fences and hauling poles around, and just generallymade the whole weekend an easy and pleasant experience.

Also thanks to Trevor, Sue and Suzanne (again!) for the wonderful photos!

That's the short version.... For the looonnnnngggg version, feel free to read on :)

Consider yourself forewarned!!! As always,comments welcome -- especially from those who were there!

Day 1:

First group rides at 8:30, my group to ride at 10:30. But me being me, the chance to learn something, even from the ground, I'm going to be there before 8:30 :) Any chance to vulture a good coach's lesson I'm likely to take, but one like this??? No way I'm missing out. But this does mean getting up stupidly early to get to the barn and feed Sienna, pack up while waiting for her to eat, get her ready, load in the dark (I'm forever grateful for how well she loads!) and head out. Drive was just a little over an hour, pretty much as Google promised. Suzanne met us in the driveway (which until she said I'd had no idea she was working there now :) and directed me to parking and Sienna's stall. Got Si settled pretty quickly (I've never had a horse so easy to take places. Alone in a strange area and she's happy as can be so long as she has hay :) and headed out to the ring where people were moving poles around. "I brought an extra set of hands - how can I help?" Oh well we're just about done. Hahaha perfect timing! So I met Pat, who despite having just flown in from England yesterday and being somewhat jet-lagged was radiating energy and enthusiasm. Volunteering for ring-crew duty got me a place in the middle of the ring -- right where I wanted to be :) From there you can see and hear everything and ask a million questions of the clinician that you couldn't otherwise (she might've been ready to be rid of me by the end of the weekend :) And since day one was all about gymnastics, ring-crew actually *did* have a job to do!

Now I have to say, I learned almost as much listening to that first group as riding in the second group. The first group was all 4-5yo horses so Pat took things a little slower and as a result, added in more detail. The first focus was on breathing. Breath in and out in a steady rhythm that matches your horse's stride (and thus their breathing). Ie, in for four beats, out for five. Etc. Pick whatever number works for you and focus on it. Relaxes you. Relaxes your horse. And if you're BOTH used to do this every time you get on, then when you get on in a tense environment it can significantly increase your odds of success.

Another of her first suggestions was teaching your horse "ho" as a halt voice aid as opposed to "whoa". Why? Because when you need it at X in your dressage test you can sigh a *ho* without it ever appearing you've said anything to your horse. Woah isn't quite subtle enough for that :) hahaha And always "love your horse" -- let them know when you're happy with them in a way they understand (hard scratch at the withers, strong pat, etc - as another horse would communicate with them) so that it's to their benefit to do what you're asking them to do. And then your responsibility is to do it right. Have good enough position to at very least, never be in their way, at best, to help. The focus of the clinic was on jumping so she didn't speak much to flat position, but did do a lot about jumping position.

"Jumping is 60% balance and 40% grip. And the grip must be your calf NOT your knee or thigh (as that will throw off your balance) and above all else, not your hand!" She suggests having the foot touching the inside of the stirrup bar -- which was new to me. Felt weird weird weird, but I admit it definitely helped make my leg a little more secure. Tricky though -- after 20+ years of riding w/ my foot on the outside bar it was more difficult to change than I would've thought. hahaha Then there was the conversation about folding at the hip instead of the waist -- eventers tend, as a group, to do the later as it's more secure and has a faster recovery time, but it doesn't allow the horse the same freedom to jump (hence why showjumpers don't do it). Pat was great for long thoroughly involved analogies. Here was the jumping position one:

- you're sitting at home in your favourite chair. There's a glass of wine on the coffee table in front of you and you're watching your favourite tv program. If you get up, somebody's going to steal your chair. So you stretch way forward for your wine (conveniently located about half way up your horse's crest :), while keeping your seat in its position so as not to lose your seat. And that tv show is just so exciting you're not about to take your eyes off it :) And your feet stay on the floor all the time.

Ok so it's a bit random, but it amused me :) And she made a point of emphasizing the use of the stirrups. Put your weight in your feet, not the saddle. Keep your weight in your heels and calf tight -- once you lift your knee up you have no support and will be thrown into the back seat. Alternately if your leg comes back you'll be tipped forwards. Either way, no good for the poor horse who's trying to jump under you! She did come around to each person and position them and have them practice sliding in and out of said position. Because of course her other thing was timing; you should be sitting UP on the approach -- no jumping position until the horse takes off. Most of the injuries in riding come from jumping ahead of the horse. Not only does this throw off their balance and make it much harder for them to pick their feet up, but it also puts the rider in a precarious position should the horse chip or quit. (hmmmm "jump first, jump alone" sound familiar anybody?) She drilled this in the gymnastics having the riders come back to a full vertical position in the one-stride (which some found very challenging!) and forward again on the out. And as though that weren't enough, when you come back to the vertical, staying light so as not to hollow or restrict the horse. This was turned into a bit of a game, scoring on a 1-10 scale. hahaha It worked though – by the end everybody was much better at it and the horses were jumping much freer.

So I had learned all this before I ever even got ON my horse :) hahaha and *this* is why I vulture other people's lessons. Particularly theory is sometimes easier to absorb when you're not also trying to ride.

The exercise itself that they were working through was a gymnastic on the centre line. Started with several trot poles with "sticks" running along the sides of them to keep the horse centered. The idea throughout the whole day was that the horse should have complete freedom in their head or neck to stretch. Then there was an X in the middle. Then the X became an oxer. And a new X was added at the beginning. And then the oxer became an X again and a third fence was added at the end (so now you've got a one to a one with ground lines in the middle of each). Then the last ground rail became another X giving one to a bounce to a bounce. Lastly the last fence became an oxer.

So a couple things with this -- oxers always had a groundline on the landing side as well. This was one of my many questions -- why :) She patiently explained that the groundline on the landing side helped encourage the horse's bascule as they would drop their eye to it in the air. Cool :) I felt less silly for asking when another rider whom I really respect asked the same question an hour later *g* The bounces are used to teach balance, coordination/thinking, and proper jumping technique. Jumping green horses, esp at the trot, they'll often push off of only one leg. The bounce forces them to use both hind legs together to push off. Coordination/thinking -- how to get both feet in and out without knocking anything over and without panicking. And balance for both horse and rider to do all this without ending up ahead or on the forehand. She uses Xs rather than verticals to get them to tuck their knees up evenly. And lastly, never end on a bounce (was the first I'd heard this). After you've backed them off and made them really rock back and compress, it's important to get them jumping forward again. Essentially the same concept as finishing collected work in dressage with stretchy/forward work. So she opened the gymnastic back into a one to a one and had them do that a few times, and then worked on a single fence off on the side all by itself in canter. Most of the horses were cantering *really* nicely after all that gymnastic work!!!

Then it was my turn :) I went and tacked up my pony -- was very proud of her for standing in x-ties despite being in a new environment with other horses unloading right outside the door! Took her out and hopped on and she walked around as quietly as an old school pony. She hasn't been offsite in several weeks so I wasn't sure what she'd do, but she was awesome! Stayed quiet through everybody getting ready and the intro discussion. Was an absolute pro-star through the pole exercises. A little sticky though – we didn't really do the warm-up she needs (ie there was no canter work before we started jumping, and she rarely relaxes and stretches properly before we canter). I gave her a tap with my stick once in the gymnastic -- and the stick promptly got removed and replaced with a dressage whip. A very long dressage whip *g* Like Denny, Pat recommends if you're going to carry something it should be a "tickler" that you can use without shifting your balance or your contact. But of course once I was carrying that, Si wasn't about to hesitate at anything again and we were good to go. After two or three rounds I was able to drop it. Pat prefers the dressage whip to the crop or spurs (very much against spurs) but was happier still with riders needing nothing extra at all.

Anyways Si was jumping around all the aforementioned exercises like a pro-star so I was able to focus solely on me. Pat tweaked my position slightly and what a difference it made. Wow. Played with stirrup length a fair bit trying to find the "sweet spot" and ended up at the length I generally ride with anyways :) I was pretty excited though. Sort of interesting she put my leg where she wanted it to be and asked me how it felt -- and it actually felt like it was off the horse, but when I looked down, sure enough it was solid. My EQ's generally pretty reasonable, but this felt like it solidified it. That final level that I just haven't been able to apply consistently. So yeah I was pretty over the moon excited. And then I went to go again -- it was the start of the "opened up" gymnastic after all the bouncing. We'd had a bit of a long break while a horse had a meltdown in their turnout field and had to be brought in... And when I started to trot, Si was way off :( I was so disappointed. Got off her - no heat, no swelling, nothing in her feet. *sigh* Only thing I can think is that the bruise she had this summer maybe wasn't completely healed and she caught it somehow. :( Booo. So we hung out in the ring and watched the rest of the lesson.

After that was lunch -- which was provided for us! Woohoo :) How very civilized is that??? So I grazed my pony for an hour or so while others were doing the lunch thing and then let her hang out in her stall again while I watched the next lesson. All the while trying to figure out what I was going to do the next day. Rachel gave me permission right away to take her horse, so I figured I'd lunge Si in the am and then decide what I was doing. Even contemplated bringing both horses and figuring something out once I got there. Cause I really wanted to school my horse. But I'd rather ride anything than not ride at all. And while I was concerned Moe wouldn't be fit enough to do the whole class (2h of jumping is a little much for his current fitness level) I figured half a class would be better than none. Somewhere in there Arthur mentioned to me sort-of off-hand "well you could ride one of mine", but I didn't really know if he was serious or just being polite and definitely didn't want to take advantage, so I just thanked him and let it go.

The last group was a repeat of the previous two, this time w/ T/P level horses so the jumps were up a little higher. But was interesting to see the same principles being applied with the same results, regardless of level. And to watch the comments and changes Pat made to the riders.

When they finished up, we cleared the ring of the jumps, I cleaned out Si's stall, loaded her on the trailer and headed home...

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