This weekend, Carter and I were fortunate enough to participate in a JJ Tate Dressage clinic at Sunflower Farms in Bristol, WI. That’s right, we participated!
Luck has it that there were a few open spots and my trainer asked if I was interested in riding. Are you kidding me? Yes! As soon as the words flew out of my mouth I thought, “Oh no! We can’t get a consistent right lead canter. We aren’t on the bit all the time. We’re still having issues with our right side. I am not ready. Am I ready?”
Like one of my favorite sayings “Your moment is now!” and so we made the leap from auditing to participating — into the deep end.
Because we were late entrants, there wasn’t much time to deliberate or brush up on skills to ensure we had them nailed before the weekend. Not to mention I had about a week off because I was traveling for work. This was also our first time “away”, too, since we’ve been at the new barn so there were a lot of “hmmm” moments.
Let’s jump to the good part. It was an awesome experience! Yes, I was exceedingly excited. I think all my Facebook friends could tell you that. Yes, I was beyond nervous! Here are just a few things that had nervous written all over them.
1) We were training in a coverall. Now, I’ve never ridden in a coverall. I’ve played tennis in one years ago and know that a breezy day can feel like an air tunnel. Not to mention everyone whom I talked to gave me a look of complete and utter fear when they heard we were in our first clinic in one. To top it off… we were expecting storms accompanied by 30 mph wind gusts. Great. Just great.
2) See paragraph one quote. Add to that I felt like I was going to some sort of initiation ritual where I had to hand over my “new rider” card for admittance. (I’ve only been riding 22 months this month… yes, forever…just 22 months.) So I’m thinking, what am I doing thinking that I can ride in a clinic with riders who have been doing this since they were 22 months old??? (A bit of an exaggeration, but not by much!) After all, Carter and I are still tackling Training Level Test 1 and Test 3. Everyone is going to laugh at us newbies. Oh great. Just great.
3) What do I wear?! Although the least of my worries, I felt that if I didn’t look the part I certainly couldn’t ride the part. I know, silly beyond silliness. Do I layer? Do I matchy-matchy? Can I wear bold colors (I like bold colors, but isn’t that too LOUD)? Great. Just great.
Packaging up all the fears – putting them into my little anxiety box that I’ve carried with me since I was a little girl performing at ballet recitals – we went. Carter was a trooper. I thought I’d never be able to breathe… I enjoyed every second. Thank goodness JJ trains my trainer, Laura, in the winters because there was a rapport and instantly felt welcomed as part of the family. Laura hopped on Carter before my ride to make sure that the scary beasts that are hiding in the coverall weren’t going to eat us (did I say thank goodness for my trainer, yet? If not each paragraph should start with that phrase!).
So Carter and I, with our training level experience joined the others who were schooling at Fourth Level or above in their journey. (Did I say, it was awesome!?)
Our first ride started with turn on the haunches on the square. My first thought was “crap… how do I do those again?” Recollection is straight line, half halt inside leg back to scoot his behind around. Phew… all good (thank you, Jill). Yay, Carter! He did great on the left…switched directions… that’s when the demon secrets came out. We are both bad; not awful, not a train wreck, just not good yet, to the right. I’m stiff. He is certainly still holding on to the left-side tendency of horsey infancy, so guess what we got to do for a lot of the rest of the clinic? That’s right. Right. Right. Right with some Left just to ease the pain. JJ was determined to push us through our right-sided issues. Luckily (insert thank goodness for my trainer again) we had been practicing right side canter departs so that he picks up the right lead.
Our second ride was a continuation of… yep, you guessed it, right-side work. My right calf muscle is calling out for help and likely will be for a few days. The rest of me is just… tired. But a good, well deserved, well-earned tired. I can’t wait to practice right side everything again…in a hundred years or so!
Here are some of the things JJ taught at the clinic (I hope I do this justice).
- Our right elbows are, and are not, our friends. If your elbow is not glued to a position at your side – do it now. Just get the double-sided sticky tape…better yet, super glue…and just plaster that thing to your waist. It appears our left elbows are more obedient more often, but that right elbow…. renegade!
- Power comes from the seat into the leg. There’s a pretty good diagram that JJ posted a few days before the clinic and she referred to it multiple times. If you can start the engine in this manner, the motion is much more fluid.
- In the canter and the trot, establish the horse’s cadence and sit into it. In the trot, solidify the connection to the right… give right shoulder back, right shoulder back, right shoulder back. In the canter, to keep the connection, give a little left shoulder, left shoulder, right shoulder, right shoulder, left shoulder, left shoulder give the right rein (with the beat of his footfalls). Or do this on single beat/half-time (this is my favorite and will stick with me forever now).
- Hold your reins with thumbs up and bent with the reins firmly in your grip, no pinky tea time. Move with a strong seat and be a baby (gentle) in the hand.
- Inside leg to outside rein. JJ, Steffen, Scott, Charles, etc.… this is a consistency that goes beyond trainer generations. Commit it to memory.
There are a ton more but this is a blog, not a novella, so I must resist continuing. It was awesome watching and learning from the other riders’ training ride (including my trainer Laura working on her Prix St. Georges test moves). Here’s a little clip of our right-sided shenanigans with a little left side redemption for your viewing pleasure ending with a little praise for my cutey patootie, Carter.
JJ returns in November. I am so ready to show her that we have a ride-side when she gets back. For those of you who have the chance to school with JJ… take it! She is awesome and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to meet her and learn so much!
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