Kate Chadderton, the Australian eventer, has generously hosted a winter clinic series at her Sunset Hill Farm this year. She has been housed in Florida for the winter season, but she has returned to her home base to teach both her regular students and the occasional outsider, like me, each month.
Charlie Brown and I had an acceptable, if tenuous, outing back in January (click here to read about our experience ). Our February date got nixed due to our blizzard, so this past weekend we returned to give it another go.
We deliberately arrived very early so Charlie would have a chance to settle in. It’s amazing what happens with the extra time for a leisurely unloading, some hand grazing and a brief lunge. When it was our turn to ride, Charlie was relaxed and attentive. While we warmed up Kate was doing some basic ground work with a freshly off-the-track mare who was not used to being handled. Charlie didn’t give her much mind at all. We trotted around the arena including some relatively close passes by the mare, and he dutifully stayed on task.
When the mare left, we began our lesson. Kate asked us to show her our canter. What was a hesitant and timid effort back in January was a more definitive and intentional effort this time. Don’t get me wrong — our transitions weren’t perfect, but they were ours, and they were on purpose.
But we didn’t maintain our canter for very long, mostly as a function of my lack of commitment. Our first attempt got us about a quarter of the way down the long side. Our second try we got about half way down. Then, something clicked. I knew what I had to do and that I had to tell Charlie what we were doing, exactly what we were doing.
He wants to do the right thing, so it’s my job to tell him how to succeed. Kate gave the example of a stick shift car that’s stumbling. You need to give it some more gas, and push it up into the gear. With that in mind, we picked up our canter at the beginning of the short side. I sat fully up and back, kept my leg on, and pushed him up into the canter gear. As we rounded the corner to the long side, I could feel the power coming from underneath, but he wasn’t running away with me. It was controlled and sitting right there, waiting for me to say what was next. It was amazing!
We held that powerful canter about half way down the long side, then continued to canter all the way around the arena. Kate said that was because that was my plan and that I told Charlie that’s where we were going. It didn’t feel crazy or fast or out of control. It felt fabulous and I spent the rest of the lesson working to get back to that place.
Kate was happy with our effort and improvement on the flat, so we moved on to jumping — nothing huge, just a collection of cross rails, trot in and canter out. We started with a single jump, then moved to a two stride, then the two stride with a bending line to another single. As we strung them together, creating a course, something magical happened. No, my form didn’t suddenly become perfect. Charlie didn’t instantly discover a lovely round bascule.
What happened was that we took a step forward — together. I trusted him. He listened and responded to my requests. That allowed me to give clearer instructions. We jumped. Not pretty, but we jumped. Not with perfect form, but we jumped. And we jumped with gusto and passion and confidence, working our way up to an eight-jump course. By the end, I was exhausted, but elated.
POSTSCRIPT: A horse friend’s local hunt club had their annual fundraising auction, and they offered another lesson with Kate Chadderton. After my January experience, I snatched it right up. So now, I have another excellent reason to head out to Sunset Hill Farm. I’m hoping they will go out cross country schooling. Stay tuned…