The Ever-rising Bar

I rode with Gary Rockwell this weekend, in a clinic organized by Gray Horse Dressage.  He is one of a handful of 5* dressage judges in the USA and he judged at the Rio Olympics this year.  He has an excellent eye, notices everything and is very exacting.

I had good rides, and still have a long way to go, and while I get frustrated with myself and my seeming lack of progress, I was able to remind myself that I do keep raising the bar.  My hands are still terrible in the posting trot, and still need work sometimes always.  I still let my reins get too long, I’m too active in my seat…but, with all my faults, I am improving, at a glacial pace, but still…improving.  My horses are happy and I do enjoy it.

Gary said “She is very agreeable” about Bali, and that is so true, and he also said that he thinks there is a lot nicer movement in there, I just need to learn to ride to allow it.  Oh…and I ride half-passes very well, there was definitely lots of encouragement.

Some themes that were consistent throughout the clinic.

  • Recovery – Have a plan to recover, no matter what goes wrong, don’t go flying off, taking too long to recover.
    • If your horse falls out of the canter and you have been doing walk/canter work, don’t let him trot around and pick up the canter from the trot, immediately walk and from a good walk, do a correct canter depart.
    • If your horse is spooky in one area of the ring, catch it in the first step, have a plan to catch that at the first step, not 5 steps into the spook.
  • Straightness – overall, Gary wanted to see the horses straight
    • There is no bend in a canter depart.
    • Not too much bend in shoulder in
    • Keep the horse straight on straight lines.
  • Accurate lines – This was part of the exacting standards he holds.  Look where you are going and stay accurate.
  • Hands – the outside hand needs to allow the bend, the rider needs to really feel the connection in the outside rein.

Then I have my notes on various elements that showed up in rides.

  • Tempis – ah…to be riding these…someday!
    • stay centered in the saddle
    • just use your legs, not swinging your whole body, just squeeze at the girth with the inside leg to change.
    • Look up and where you are going.
    • Don’t be in a hurry, get the horse straight on the diagonal before starting.
    • Work on straightness in canter departs.
    • Counting – on the two’s he said 1 -2 – and, 1 – 2 – and,  with the AND being a half beat.
  • Spooking
    • When the horse is spooking at something on the left, when going right, think leg yield left, to the spooky thing, don’t let him spin left, and don’t let him look left, keep turning right.
    • Look ahead and soften your reins.
    • When riding towards something the horse is scared of, you need to give up some control, loosen the rein down the shoulder to still influence.  You cannot be facing something they are scared of and hold too tight a contact, the horse may rear.
    • Correct after the FIRST step, immediately, not halfway across the arena.
    • Do not turn them toward the spooky thing, it will escalate.
    • As long as you are moving, you are safer.
    • When on a trained horse, if one area is spooky, when you give up some control with the reins, the horse is trained to stretch down and relax, and that can help reset them.
  • Half pass – the exercise collects, don’t try to collect before the movement begins, think forward.

My observation…changes are hard.  Even the advanced horse and rider pairs had to return to basics for the changes.

On riding through the corners with proper bend. “The rider ends the corner, not the wall.”

On using your leg for forward – “One bang, not 1000 tickles”.

Exacting? If the walk/canter transition has a single trot step, do NOT canter. Walk and repeat the transition until it is crisp.  Everything is precise, don’t accept mediocrity.  Just stay correct and repeat until you get the correct response, and then reward.

There was a lot of encouragement to all the riders to use their voice to praise, I think a lot of riders are so worried they’ll forget and use our voice in a show that we are too silent, I know I often say too much so I’m often the opposite in lessons.

If the opportunity arises, I will definitely try to ride with Gary again.  Excellent clinician, for riders and auditors alike.


About Mel

Random musings in a riding journal
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