As I mentioned before I was really looking forward to this clinic. Last year I didn’t feel like Maestro was ready to do some of the more intricate courses involved and actually I hesitated a bit to even do it this year. Of course my barn friends told me I was crazy and reminded me that I was doing it to learn anyways.
So Saturday of the clinic Mark right away zeroed in on getting my heels down. This is one of my big struggles with Maestro. I find I want to jab him with my heel and essentially lift my heel to try to get him to be more responsive (I miss my responsive chestnut boys sometimes!). Obviously this is not the right answer and something I’ve been trying to improve unsuccessfully. We continued through the ride and generally his chorus to me over the one gymnastic exercise was “heels, heels, heels”. Where it gets interesting is on Sunday. At the beginning of the session he was talking to me again about my heels and I mentioned that I felt like I couldn’t get my lower leg against my horse when I was trying to get my heels down and hence couldn’t keep him moving. Mark had me stop and moved my leg around – turns out my issue was that I hold my knee in and thus my lower leg cannot be against my horse. Such a light bulb moment for me and so simple.
Otherwise Saturday I had a great time jumping around. Maestro struggled a bit with lead changes with some of the tighter turns but he jumped well and was nice and responsive over fences. We had no issues getting strides (an issue that had come back right after I proclaimed that it had been going well in a previous post and reappeared on Sunday too – argh). Below is a video from Saturday of an exercise I really liked. We did a gymnastic that was a one to one, cantered around and jumped a single (where video starts) then went down the outside line doing the strides in 6, around to the same line but this time in 7, then around to a plank oxer. After that we cantered a line that was a pole, 4 strides to a one stride of X’s, then 3 strides to another pole, but that’s not in the video (I biffed it a bit that time but I was over my 1 minute for IG anyways, lol).
I will admit I have taken a bit to write this up because I was disappointed in myself Sunday. Maestro let it be known early on that he was tired and wasn’t the horse I rode the day before. This is not new either and something I struggled with at shows as well. I had planned ahead and put on my little spurs but they proved insufficient so I had a friend grab my larger soft touch ones. After I got them on and got after Maestro a little he got quite angry, did a lot of hopping, and proceeded to charge through the exercise we were doing, which was just cantering in and trotting out between two poles. So he got to do it a few extra times with some added hopping, lead changes, and halts. After he got to chill a minute while others went he then did some nice cooperative but forward work cantering the poles in 5 strides.
I think maybe the hardest part of the clinic format was that every time my horse sat he then was angry about moving again. Good training for him really but annoying to deal with and ultimately a detriment to our courses. We struggled with getting the strides Mark requested in various places because Maestro was scrunching up against my leg instead of moving forward. It was very clear that once my horse got moving it wasn’t so much of an issue but a line early on was tough.
On the positive side my horse really only showed one green moment when I took a more direct line from a fence that was a bending 5 strides to a 1 stride. I felt him waffling left and right like he had last winter while learning bending lines but I kept my legs on to form a box for him. I did decide to just do the in of the one stride on an angle at that moment (versus attempting to straighten by going left right before and over the fence) and ride off instead of going through the whole thing as I’m pretty sure he would have had to stick two strides in there to make it work in that situation. We came back around and actually stuck to doing the bending in 6 strides and got nicely through the one stride.
Despite accomplishing several difficult courses (often with pieces to redo) I was really upset after my ride on Sunday. I missed riding Stampede in that moment. I know I would have made fewer mistakes and he would go forward when asked. I was disappointed that I couldn’t seem to ride my own horse better.
Looking back now I’ve been trying to focus on the positives of what I learned and what I can continue to work on over the winter to improve. Maestro is back in “you will go forward when asked or else” training (I stopped after he got sore following some time I spent working on it a couple of weeks before the clinic and have adapted my methods a bit now). So far it seems to be going okay besides some theatrics here and there (he often kicks out or bucks when hit with a crop, especially behind my leg). I’ve been focusing a lot on retraining my leg to lay differently – pointing my knees out a bit to keep them loose and trying to let my heels drop. With that I’m trying not to sacrifice my leg position because my horse is lazy – sorry man if you don’t maintain your own pace you are getting a reminder!
Overall Mark is fun to ride with, insanely patient, and very positive. Clearly the issue is my expectations of myself and my own riding. I love complicated courses and historically I am quite good at them. At one point Mark called me a softie and it’s something I’ve continued to think about because generally in my life I would not be described that way, lol. I do tend to try to massage Maestro into cooperation to avoid him kicking out but I do always make him go forward. I think maybe my issue is that I don’t want to make people wait until I get my horse where I want him to be to start a course so I sacrifice a bit too much.
Maestro is on vacation from jumping for a few weeks since we don’t show again until February and I believe breaks are good for everyone. Plus we have plenty to work on otherwise. Onward and upward!