I have never done a clinic before. I have been riding for 8 years and have never been in a clinic. Lame...
Anyway, we went to a clinic with Greg Best at Fox Run. I rode on Friday and today, Sunday.
On Friday, we rode with a girl who was riding a stallion and another girl riding a mare. I'm not going to lie, I was extremely intimidated. Not only did these girls act and look like they had been riding forever, but they both knew each other and were on very conversational terms with the clinician, as they had both ridden with him in years past. Plus, Coco and I come from a relatively ghetto barn and I didn't have my trainer with me, which stressed me out even more. My friend Jackie was there, though, and she was great moral support! :)
Greg immediately was all over me for my lower leg being too far forward. He demonstrated how difficult it is to get out of the saddle with my leg too far forward and said that I should never ask him if my leg is far enough back, because it never will be. It will always feel like I'm overexaggerating how far back it is, but it will only look barely far enough back to anyone else. Good to know. He also mentioned that I have a terrible problem with riding with my upper body twisted to the right, always looking to the inside, no matter the direction. Also interesting. He said that I should try to focus on keeping my eye to the outside and my shoulders to the inside. He was also quick to realize that tracking left is both mine and Coco's bad direction. My upper body looks OK tracking right, but as soon as we turn to the left, it looks silly, because my body is still facing the right and Coco is flexed to the right. At this point, I felt like a bit of a failure, as he definitely said more about my position than anyone elses. :( He was brutally honest, but that was ok. I hadn't come to the clinic to be told how awesome I am as a rider, but to learn about what I could fix.
Then we started to jump. I tried to focus on keeping Coco consistent to the jumps and following him with my body. We had a few good jumps and a few not so good jumps. Greg Best asked if Coco was a machine, and I responded that he pretty much was, very rarely refusing jumps and generally liking his job. Greg went on to say that he may be a machine, but he's a "crooked machine." We jumped a few courses, nothing too huge or exciting. I really had to focus on keeping my shoulders controlled, especially to the left. I have a tendency to drop to the inside after jumps, which allows my horse to drop to the inside, which is not good for either of us. Then, Coco had to go and make a liar out of me. Coming to a jump across the diagonal, Coco just wasn't into it and ended up refusing for no good reason. I got after him a little bit with my spurs, he kicked out, and we circled and took the jump just fine. Later, Greg was telling a story about how he got kicked at a clinic once, and I felt terrible. Not only was he all over me for my position, but now, I almost killed him. Now I get why he doesn't like me! As the lesson was ending, Greg said that he was actually very impressed with how I jumped Coco. He said that he was initially worried how we would do over jumps because of my obvious flaws on the flat, but he thought I stayed with him over the jumps very well. He then suggested that I use Saturday to lunge Coco in side reins with the inside side rein one hole shorter than the outside, to encourage inside bend, joking that after that, all our problems would be solved and we'd be ready to go on Sunday.
Saturday Kris and I lunged Coco in side reins. He was very good to the right, but to the left, he had constant right bend, despite the left side rein being shorter than the right. I didn't know that was possible! He was very good with the position of his head, though, and giving to the bit. He walked into the bridle despite it encouraging him to put his head down and use his hind end more. I was actually very impressed with him. I don't often lunge him, and especially not in side reins, and he was really well behaved. A lunge whip would have been helpful to keep him out on the circle, but he wasn't pushy about coming inside or anything. I guess we'll have to practice using side reins more! :)
So today, the oragnizer of the clinic called and said that I wouldn't be able to ride until noon (I was supposed to ride at 9:30am), because the classes had to be switched around a little bit. I was fine with it. That meant I got to watch more of the people in the morning ride. He did this one exercise that I thought was very interesting. He would take both of the stirrups and leathers off the saddle, attach the leathers to themselves, and then put the whole contraption on top of the saddle, so that the stirrups are only connected to one another. This exercise encourages balance in the lower body, and we was using it for one rider to help with not changing the weight distribution in the saddle during flying lead changes.
I had 2 people riding with me. One had been in both of the previous groups and was on her third horse for the day, a thoroughbred with a tiny head. The other one had approached me earlier to ask if there were three people in our group, as she was hoping there would be more down time for her than on Saturday, when she had only 2 in her group. They were both very nice!
Greg first had us do a posting trot and mentioned that it would be helpful for all of us to practice the positng trot without stirrups to encourage the use of the correct muscle groups and solidify the position of the lower leg. He said that it doesn't matter how long we post the trot without stirrups but that we should be able to do it well. I thought he was asking us to actually do this exercise, so I dropped my stirrups. Greg immediately said "pretty good" and asked me to pick up my stirrups, which I did while continuing to post. He was very impressed that my leg didn't move while I was picking up the stirrups or after I had picked them up. He asked me to do this exercise several more times and said that I was able to keep my leg in postion better than anyone he had seen in a while. I was soooooo excited!!! Finally!!! Something he thought I did well!!!
Then we started jumping. I don't know what clicked in Coco's head today, but he was a jumping fool. He was taking the jumps like they were nothing, getting good distances to pretty much everything. I just kept thinking about trying to keep his strides consistent by counting 1,2,1,2... in my head and it worked pretty well. Greg got mad at me during the warm up for looking for the lead after the jump and had me calling out whether the lead was correct or not without looking. It was really good practice. Something Kris has me do at home, but not nearly enough.
So then we started to do courses, courses with left turns... well, they had right turns, too, but the left turns were the only ones that were hard. Coco would come off jumps to the left on his right lead and swap the front end only when I would ask for the lead change, which is just awkward. Greg asked what percentage of the time my horse lands from a jump and can be trusted to switch to the correct lead if he is incorrect. The answer was 0%. My horse will never switch to the correct lead after a jump. He is perfectly content to continue on the incorrect lead or have the front end correct and the hind end incorrect. Annoying!!! So Greg posed a challenge. I would get a point for every simple change I did correcting Coco to go from the incorrect lead to the correct lead. I would get no points for landing on the correct lead and keeping the canter to the next fence. And I would get negative one point for swapping the front end and not the hind end or for coming off a jump on the correct lead and bringing him down to the trot. Sounds simple enough, right? NO!!! It was VERY VERY VERY VERY hard!!! My horse anticipates everything. It also doesn't help that I tend to lean to the inside after the jumps and send mixed signals with my body by keeping my inside leg on him and my hips to the right of the saddle, but bringing my upper body to the left. Coco doesn't know if he should follow my hips and leg and stay right or follow my shoulders and go left. At first, he was hard to control enough to bring down to the trot. Then, when I was able to get him to trot, he would anticipate that I wanted him to pick up the opposite lead. Towards the end, he would kind wait for me to ask for the lead, but not really. What we were working on is control. Making Coco wait for me to tell him what to do. Me being the boss and Coco waiting for me. According to Greg Best, there is not such thing as give and take with horses, it should always be "the rider takes, and the horse gives." Coco should wait for me to tell him what to do instead of wanting to be in control. However, I also have to make sure I am asking him in a way that's consistent and correct. Towards the end, we were doing courses with a majority of left turns and starting to get some transitions with Coco waiting for me to tell him how long to trot before picking up a canter again, but it never did go particularly well. This is definitely something we need to work on. It was also nice to hear Greg remark that he was impressed with how I was handling myself. I was clearly frustrated with myself and my inability to control my body in a way that sends the correct signals to my horse, but at no point did I attempt to take my frustrations out on him. He said that this is a quality that speaks well of my personality.
In the end, Greg said that I have a lot of great qualities as a rider, like my ability to feel what I have underneath me and my patience, but he also remarked that I have a lot of things to work on, including my control of my body (he suggested yoga or ballet). He also said that Coco is a "cool horse," which made me very happy. It was definitely a great experience and I would be happy to do another clinic with Greg Best.
The weekend had gone so well! Something was bound to go wrong. Oh, and believe me, it did. Coco was totally terrible to load onto the trailer home. It was so bad that I was tempted to make him walk the 3.5 miles back to our barn. It was a straight load trailer, which may have been part of the problem, and he was by himself, which probably didn't help. We made three attempts to load where he got his front legs in, but then backed up before he would put his back legs on. Then, he started rearing. I attempted to get after him, but apparently mom isn't as effective as she should be and he ended up rearing and running away from me. Luckily, we were in a pasture, so there wasn't really anywhere for him to go. Some girls came over and helped us. They had a chain we used. Coco got into the trailer but then broke his halter trying to run out of it again. We got a spare halter and used the chain and he was almost in the trailer. I went to him him gently with the lead rope to encourage him to get on the trailer and he did a quick kick-out, hitting my left index finger. What a jerk. So then we got a lunge whip out and gently tapped him on the butt to encourage him to move forward and we finally got him onto the trailer. 30 minutes later. I felt so bad for the people helping me, but I really appreciated it! I definitely couldn't have done it without them!
We got home and Coco got a linament rub down and was turned out. I think he missed turnout, because he immediately went running away. I actually unloaded my car and put everything into my locker, something I rarely do when we get back to the barn after shows. Usually horse show stuff sits in my car for weeks before I do anything with it. I was proud of myself! :)
Overall, it was a good weekend! I think it was worth the money and I am definitely looking forward to going to the clinic again next year to show Greg Best all the progress Coco and I have made!