Sunday, 28 September 2014

Sandy Alexander Clinic

Last weekend I was lucky enough to be able to drive down and ride with Sandy Alexander again.  The first time I rode with him it changed how I looked at riding and how I rode in general so I was really looking forward to this second chance to drive down.  Everything was set, had the truck looked at the weekend before (new tires and minor transmission work), trailer was packed, Koda and I were ready to go.  As I pulled onto the farm road, a light dings on my dashboard.  Nothing too big, just one of the tires are low.  Ok, no problem, the BO has a compressor at her place.  I pull in and get the compressor out, give BO a call to ask how to get it working, and then we're off to the races.  Got the tires pumped up to where they should be (while getting drenched by rain), hitched up, got Koda loaded, and on the road we go!  Or so I thought...

Sunrise over the Peace River
 Twenty five minutes down the road, the light goes on again.  Ok... I'll check them again in the next town.  Get to a gas station, check the tires, all are well, not sure what's going on, but really don't want to haul 600km with lights going off on my dash.  I call the clinic organizer, we can change my time to later on Saturday, and we head back home.  Early the next morning, find out that the mechanic didn't reset my tire pressure indicators properly!  Thankfully, the mechanic is along one of two routes down to the clinic, so got that sorted and off we went.

We're on a boat!
 Once we got down to the clinic site, I unloaded, tacked up, and was in the saddle within 20 minutes.  I'm sure Koda wasn't too impressed with that situation, but it's how it goes some days!  The first lesson was on the flat with three other riders.  The main lesson behind all of it was your horse must accept the leg, and you must allow it to take your hands forward while maintaining pace, rhythm, relaxation, and straightness.  Sounds simple, right?  But the great thing was, during the lesson it was broken down to focusing on one or two things at once.  One wonderful thing that I took out of it is realization and acceptance of what Koda can do and what he simply can't.  He's not going to be an amazing mover since he's not built for it.  What he CAN be is a very solid training/first level horse as long as I ride him as correctly as I can.  I have to play to his strengths, which is consistency and lightness.  If I stay light and correct, we will make it at the training and possible first level.

Over the suspension bridge that always makes me nervous
 One thing I needed to hear from him was to stop getting hung up on what people told me before about what is necessary before you can do certain things.  It was kind of funny but extremely illuminating when we came in after doing some trot work and he looked at me and said "those spurs you're wearing are USELESS!  Why aren't you using bigger ones?!".  My response was "I was told you need to have good legs before riding with spurs".  At this point, we'd already done the go around about me thinking so lowly of my abilities and to expect more from myself.  It was a realization that I can use those spurs that I thought were only reserved for the "good riders" and that I wasn't in that category.

Got to love self reflection!

Sunrays in the morning
 The next day we had a jumping lesson and we did some really cool exercises.  I've done walking over poles and logs before, but not actual jumps.  The first exercise was to walk on a loose rein over soem logs and 2'3" fences.  Walk.  Not trot over, but walk.  Ok... let's do this.  Realization: Koda can walk over 2'3" fences easily!  Every time we walked over the larger "poles", Koda would trot or canter off, which indicated that he had never been allowed to jump, but been forced/pushed to jump.  Now, when I heard that it totally clicked in my head.  I've been pushing Koda over fences, and not really allowing him to take me there and him do the job.  The over-bearing mother comes to mind :)

For the rest of the lesson, the objective for all of us was to ride the track and allow the horse to figure out the fences.  As long as we set our horses up in a nice rhythm and rode our track, we would have perfect rounds.  It was pretty amazing, to tell you the truth.  I'd get Koda set up in a nice trot or canter, keep my reins soft and my legs off completely, and off we'd go!  He would set himself up for the distances, and as long as I stayed soft and allowing, we'd have no chips or launches.  Every distance was perfect, as long as I didn't get in HIS way.  Even if I picked up my reins a little, or changed the pressure of my leg, we would get a slightly awkward distance.  It was truly amazing and was a HUGE turnaround point for me.  As I focused on the track, Koda was allowed to do the job I was asking him to do without me nitpicking in his way.

Absolutely wonderful.

Autumn colours on the drive home
It's strange how not having to do anything and yet be prepared to correct if necessary is one of the hardest things.  I started singing "canter, canter, canter, canter" in time to his strides in my head so that I wouldn't start nitpicking about distance or what have you.  There was no slamming on of the legs 3-5 strides out of the fence, nothing.  Just letting him flow through my hands along the track I wanted and he'll deal with the obstacles in the way.  Amazing.

One last thing that really resonated with me during this clinic was we are in the business of TRAINING our horses, even if we don't consider ourselves trainers.  There's a lot of emphasis in our world about the rider seeing the distance to a fence.  During this exercise, every time I saw a distance and did something about it, we'd chip or launch, but when I left him alone, he did it himself.  Essentially, he knows his stride length better than I do, and he can figure it out better than me.  Yes, I'll still ride certain fences certain ways, but after this clinic I think there is a lot to be said for just riding the track and letting the horse do the job you're training it to do.

Homeward bound 
If some of you saw this and thought, td:dr, here are the highlights:

Expect more from yourself, that's the only way you'll go further
Consistency is key
Play to Koda's strengths - lightness and consistency
Allow Koda to flow through your hands
Allow Koda to take you to the jumps
Allow Koda to do his job!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like such a great experience for you two!! I can't wait to get to the 'flowy' quiet part of cantering a course.